Successfully Recording Your Lines At Home 

6. Recording Your Lines

  • General

As mentioned in Part 4 of this guide ("Recording Software"), it is not arrogant of you to say that you're an actor, and not a sound technician. If you record for a quality production, then all the cleaning work will, of course, be done by their editor(s), since all aspects of processing a recording belong to the post-production team. Good editors want you to submit your recordings unspoilt, uncompressed and raw.

There are, of course, some "other" productions that require their cast to clean up their recordings by themselves, but in my opinion this is bad behaviour and says a lot about such projects and the careless minds of their producers. 

  • How Many Takes?

The requirements differ from one production to another. However, the chance of being asked for re-do's increases if you just deliver one take of every line, because if that one take has a click or explosive hidden somewhere, or if the performance is over- or under-acted, there is no alternative take the editor can work with.

At the end of the day, all scenes feature interaction and chemistry  between characters, while you are sitting alone at home and have your dialogue counterpart, who is left completely to your imagination, just talking to you in your mind. So the recommended way of delivering your lines is THREE TAKES PER LINE. Maybe you want to perform differently in every take as well, so that the editor can choose the one which fits best into the scene and situation. 

  • One file per line vs. One file per scene

Opinions are divided whether an actor should submit his 15 lines of dialogue in a certain scene in one go, or as 15 separate files. Some productions require the submissions "per line", because each line of their audio scripts are numbered as so called "cues". If you are requested to record that way, you have to consider the following:

  • Make sure that your environmental settings, and overall quality, are exactly the same from the first to the last line/file. You don't want to sound slightly different at the beginning, middle, and end of a scene. And the editor doesn't want you to, either.

As to recordings for Black Wall Productions, the recommended way is not to have one file per line, but ONE FILE PER SCENE.

Take your time, make pauses between the lines and takes, but just let the recording continue until the scene is finished, regardless of how many takes of every line you're performing, or if you know yourself that one take you just spoke was rubbish. Was it really? Well, here are the pros:

  • In post-production, the editor can do the basic processing (e.g. cleaning, basic pre-equilizing) in one go for the whole scene.
  • You are making sure that your settings and environment, as well as the position where you're sitting or standing during the whole recording, will be the same. It's a matter of "continuity" that is herewith resolved and secured.
  • Even if you're accidentally coughing, hissing, sneezing or breathing heavily between two lines or takes, the editor might actually want to include one of these sounds somewhere. There are occasions where breaths have to be erased completely, and there are other occasions where such "random" things can be more than welcome and add to the realism. So there is no need to be afraid of a cough.
  • During the dialogue editing, when the editor then has to import the files for each actor into his project, he can easily use the program's "scissor" function now and hack them into pieces, line by line and take by take, and has everything to choose from, and to shift around, immediately at hand.

So please: files up to 10 minutes in length should be nothing for you to worry about. Just bear in mind three rules:

  • Leave blank seconds both at the beginning and the end of each file.
  • Take your time and leave pauses between all lines and takes.
  • Don't try to cut anything out by yourself. Don't mess with the finished file and leave everything else to the editor.
  • Listen Back To Your Recordings

It is most important for you to assure that the sound quality of your recordings is good. Make sure that you listen back closely to everything before you hit the save or export buttons, and it's even more important that you have appropriate speakers you can trust.

Speaker systems have developed a lot over the last 10 years, so if you still have very old ones, or if you dare to listen back to everything just via your in-built laptop speakers, the chances are high that your recordings might sound fine for you, but not for the editor or producer of the project you are recording for.

In Part 2 of this guide, I strongly recommended not only to throw out your old junk, but also to get a speaker system with a subwoofer. The subwoofer can be important for you to hear if your recording is too bassy, and more importantly, it will allow you to hear the so-called "explosives" noticable on letters like "P", "B" or "T". The effect is often referred to as "p-popping", and old tabletop PC speakers wouldn't let you know that these bad artefacts are there. A subwoofer will. If you submit lines which come across like a cannon thunder, you might be asked for re-do's because these effects can't be erased properly and would diminish the overall quality of a production.

Read also Part 2 of the guide for further information about appropriate speakers.

But speaker system or not, the headline says it all: Listen back! Don't just send over what you've got. Take care with your performance, your character, and never be lazy or sloppy in the end.