How long does it take to record a voiceover?

Many people (including ourselves, sometimes) are surprised at how long it can take to complete a voiceover project, relative to the final length of the recording. This means that there are often misaligned expectations with planning a voiceover project and also with expectations of cost.

In our mind’s eye, when we think about a voiceover, we might imagine the end result, a short audio file, perhaps 30 seconds long, if it is for a radio or TV commercial, or perhaps a few minutes long, if it is for, say, a narration over a PowerPoint presentation. So, we imagine a voiceover artist walking into the studio, with an engineer sitting there, everything plugged in, switched on and ready to go. The voiceover artist has the script, which he was sent earlier, walks into the booth and lays down his voice. He might do it once or twice, but being a professional, he gets it pretty much spot on. The engineer thanks him, spends a few minutes cleaning up the gaps and breathing sounds, adjust a little bit of timing, then outputs it to a WAV file or MP3 to emails to the client. How long could all of that take? 15 minutes? Half an hour?

Try 2 or 3 hours …or even more. Here is why:

The voiceover artist and the engineer don’t always magically arrive at exactly the same time. Either one of them could have been caught in traffic or held up at a previous engagement. So there is at least a brief period of time where the studio time is being taken up by one person or another waiting for the other. And don’t forget the client, who might have wanted to sit in on the session. The ‘client’ could be three or four people including the actual client who is paying for the session and perhaps a PR/marketing person who wrote the script or is producing the event, and a media or video person who might be taking care of the production of the final project, which includes the audio component. In the end, you might have 6 or 7 people all turning up for this recording at different times.

The script may not be complete or accurate. The one that was supplied to the voiceover artist is almost always a draft and the client or producer is expecting to correct it all during the recording session, after they hear how it is sounding as it comes together. There might be difficult words that no one knows how to pronounce. There might be legal issues about the content or claims made in the script that nobody thought about until they all got together in the one room to record it. Now all of a sudden there are phone calls and emails flying around to check pronunciation, permission and accuracy, not to mention time to rewrite, print out and scribble notes on the script. This might all be going on after the voiceover person has finished his recording as he had quoted and now is being expected to do it all again, because the decision maker arrived late or was unavailable. Of course, the budget is already fixed so there are problems if all of a sudden everyone wants more money for this extra work and studio time.

Everyone has a different opinion on the style and emphasis of the delivery. Even though the voiceover artist was selected for his particular tone and style, every script is different and the way the artist came across in their demo reel may not be the same as is required for this particular recording. No mater how professional a voiceover artists might be, every session can present challenges and demand variations that require more “takes” and thus take longer.

Digital recording technology allows for an infinitely variable audio texture and colour, with equalization, compression and many other “plug ins” that can affect the final sound. With such control, it can take time to determine and achieve the desired effect. The old adage of “too many cooks” can make things take more time than expected, as each stakeholder has a different set of ears and a different opinion. The engineer usually knows best, but the producer may be after a particular emotional impact or may be thinking of the final application of the sound, so might have certain considerations.

To arrive at a final mastered audio track (or perhaps multiple tracks) there is often a significant amount of time required, working meticulously through the recording, identifying the best “take” deleting or saving the alternative takes, reducing breathing sounds and other unwanted noise such as paper rustling. There may be a need to move the parts around on the timeline to fit the required time or to improve the dramatic timing of the delivery to suit. In the case of a PowerPoint presentation, the track might have to be split into many separate files, all named individually. This can take quite some time. If it is created for someone else to work with, it needs to have each slide spaced out in the time line to make it easier for them to work with.

The script needs to be checked and cross checked to the final file to make sure nothing was missed. Sometimes a word or two might need to be rerecorded, due to the producer or client either missing something or changing their mind.

So, when considering a voiceover recording project, keep in mind that even a short final audio file might take hours to produce, even with everyone doing their best along the way. It is a process with many variables and many facets that simply must be taken into account. Of course, once it is finished, it is all worthwhile, as you end up with a fabulously polished end product. It is worth the effort and the investment, to do the job properly.

Quick tips to reduce the cost of a voiceover project:

  • Make sure the script is the final approved version, before sending to the recording studio and voiceover artist
  • Clarify any difficult pronunciations before the recording commences
  • Hire a professional voiceover person who will give you the best chance of getting the right version recorded in the least number of “takes”
  • Try to have only the most essential people attend the recording session
  • If possible, provide an example of a similar voiceover recording that you are hoping to emulate, so that the engineer has some direction on tonal quality and colour

We hope this article helps explain the voiceover recording process and what is involved, so that you may appreciate the value of doing the job well and how long this process might take.


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