Successfully Recording Your Lines At Home

4. Recording Software

There are a lot of audio recording programs out there. It would be impossible to list them all, or to explain how their settings work. For most of them you have to pay a fortune. Many of them are also capable of cleaning and editing, but if you consider yourself a voice actor in the best manner of speaking, you don't need to worry about that. I have heard about some productions who treat their cast badly and require them to clean up their recordings by themselves, but in my opinion, this is utterly bad behaviour and tells a lot about such productions and the minds of their producers.

It is not arrogant of you to say you're an actor, and no 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 kinds of processing recorded lines are part of the post-production and belong nowhere else. Good editors want you to submit your recordings unspoilt, uncompressed and raw. 

Some programs with great recording features are Adobe Audition, Magix Music Editor, Sound Editor Deluxe, Garage Band (for Mac OS) and Logic, as well as Cubase. Only to name a few. There are many more, and their prices differ a lot. But there are a few programs which are shareware and can be downloaded for free, like Audacity, which is open source and a true marvel, and easy to use as well.

  • Audacity

I cannot praise Audacity enough. It's free, it's detailed, it's easy to use, and it even comes with a complete, easy-to-read manual. Use it.

Go to their download site and select the 1.3 Series/Beta. Link.

Now download and install it, and I'll be having a cup of tea, so we can meet again below after you're done.

  • Your First Recording

There are some basic settings and functions in Audacity which you need to know before you start. But apart from that, you're pretty much ready to go when you open it for the first time.

Go to Edit >> Preferences.

  • Now look up Devices. Your host should be set to MME, the playback should be your speakers, and the recording should be the microphone you're using. Then go to Quality. Your default sample rate should be set to either 44100Hz or 96000 Hz, and the sample format to 32-bit float.

Click OK.

Then on the upper bar of Audacity's main window, see the microphone and speaker symbols. Set both sliders to maximum for now.

Now it's time for some tests!

Press recording and speak some words. Once you've pressed the Record button, a new "track" opens, and while you're speaking, a so-called "waveform" is building itself up. Press stop now and listen back to it by pressing the Play button.

  • Does the waveform look nice to you? Your settings are best if it covers about 1/2 to 2/3 of the size of the track.
  • If there are frequent "peaks" touching the roof and bottom of the track, they are most likely "clicks" or explosive "p-poppings". You can avoid them by using a pop filter (see part 2 of the guide for pop filters).
  • If the whole waveform is a thick blue mess all the way through, then your recording is officially distorted. In this case you need to reduce the level next to the microphone symbol to some extent.


A. Recording volume is too low

bad
B. Recording is distorted

bad

 

C. Recording contains artefacts

bad
D. Recording is well balanced

good

 

Delete your track by simply clicking the X to the upper left, and press Record again, which starts a new track. Repeat similar test recordings and adjust your levels over, until your waveform looks well balanced as in example "D".

If you like, you can now save or export by going to the "File" menu.

  • If you choose the save option, your recording will not be saved, but your project will.
  • To store your actual recording file, choose EXPORT and then the format you want to export your recording. The preferred format is wav 44100Hz/24 bit PCM.

For more details about everything in Audacity, visit the User Guide by clicking Help >> Manual (in web browser). I did not include any screenshots here because the manual is very detailed, written without much techno-talk, and there are lots of pictures and screenshots included everywhere.