(By James Alburger, Acting Magazine Contributor, Voice Acting)
As with most industries, voiceover has it’s own language that includes terms or phrases that might be confusing to a new-comer. This month, I’ll cover some of the more common terms and phrases to make your experience in the studio a bit less stressful. Some of the more common studio equipment is included as well, since you will often hear the engineer or producer referring to it. Descriptions for some of these terms could easily go on for pages, but here they will only be explained briefly. Once you understand some of these terms, you can casually drop them into a conversation during a session and really impress your engineer and producer. These aren’t in any special order, and the list certainly isn’t complete. Please feel free to write with any additions for the list:
SLATE: The audio identification that precedes a portion of a recording. Slates are used at auditions and during sessions, but in different ways.
For an audition, the “slate” will often include the talent’s name, date, and agent, and sometimes other information like the title of the project and take numbers. You will normally do your “slate” before the first take of your audition. Some auditions will have you “slate” every take, while others will ask you to “slate” only once. During a session it is not necessary to “slate” your recording because the engineer will normally take care of that. The engineer will also “slate” each place just before you begin recording. This could be for a new track or for a “pick-up” to continue something you’ve already started.
MIC: Pretty self-explanatory—”microphone”. Most studio engineers have their favorite mic and enjoy referring to it by it’s make and model number. All you really need to know is that the mic is what initially picks up the sound of your voice. You also need to know how to properly use the mic (speak across it, not into it), and how to use the mic to enhance your performance (moving closer to the mic will generally increase the low frequencies of your voice, thus creating a warmer and more intimate sound; moving away from the mic will create a more open sound by allowing more of the natural room echo to be picked up by the mic.
COPY: Your script. When making copy changes or corrections, always use a pencil. There’s a very good chance that you may be changing the changes.
TWEAK: A “technical” term most often used by the engineer in reference to minor adjustments he/she is making to affect the sound of your voice before it is recorded.
EQ: Equalization. The engineer will often “adjust EQ” to increase or reduce certain frequencies of your voice, either to improve the overall quality or to create a specific effect. Think of EQ as a very sophisticated version of the tone controls on your stereo system.
COMPRESS: The process of reducing the dynamic range of an audio signal. Too technical? OK, look at it this way: Imagine a mountain range with high peaks at 1000 feet and valleys as low as 200 feet. If you were to “compress” that mountain, it might still reach a height of 1000 feet, but those valleys might be brought up to 600 feet. Basically, an audio compressor increases the volume of those parts of your performance that fall below a pre-determined “threshold”. The result is that your voice appears louder. Compression is often used in radio and television ads to make the commercial stand out or “cut through” ambient noise. This is why some commercials appear to sound louder than the program.
LIMITER: Another piece of studio “gear”. A limiter is generally often in combination with a compressor. While a compressor brings up low volume sounds, a limiter prevents the loudest sounds from going above a certain volume.
PICK-UP: A re-start of a portion of your recording. Let’s say you got half-way through the 2nd paragraph of your copy and made a mistake. The engineer might say something like: “pick up at the top of the 2nd paragraph”. Your job is to have your new recording of the 2nd paragraph sound like it is a perfect continuation from the first paragraph—as though you never stopped. The best way to have a seamless pick-up is to actually begin at least several words BEFORE the place where you will be starting the pick-up. So, in this example, you might re-start your performance with the last sentence of the first paragraph so you can move flawlessly into the 2nd paragraph. Pick-ups can happen anywhere in a script.
PUNCH-IN: A “punch-in” is the technical term for when the engineer switches from play mode to record mode during a playback. The engineer will “punch-in” to start recording at the exact point where he/she wants to “pick-up” with your new recording. There are two types of “punch-ins”: “manual” (the engineer manually presses the record button at the proper time) and “rolling” (the engineer has his computer or recorder set up so it will automatically go into record at the appropriate spot. When you are working with a punch-in edit, you will find it to your advantage to be reading (ie: performing) out loud with the section prior to the punch-in so you will be in the flow of your performance and the punch-in will be seamless.
LEVEL: Referring to how loud you will be speaking during your delivery. The engineer will ask you for a level before starting to record. He/she uses your “level check” to set volume, EQ, compression and other nifty things to make you sound great. When asked for a level – don’t just say testing 1, 2, 3 – that does no good at all. Instead, use your level check as an opportunity to rehearse your performance in character and at the volume you will actually be performing.
“DO IT DIFFERENT”: A favorite term of producers for when they liked your previous take and they want another, but they’re not exactly certain of what they want. The common phrase is “That was great, now give me the same line again, but can you do it different this time?” Your job: build on what you’ve already done to make it even better.
DO-NUT: Do-nuts are tasty, but in this case the term refers to something which has a “hole” or space into which your performance will be inserted. Singing jingles often come in the form of a do-nut: Sing-Instrumental-Sing (and many variations). The overall format is referred to as a do-nut. Your performance would fit over the instrumental “hole”. When working with do-nuts, you will usually be required to deliver your track within a specific time, and you will rarely have the opportunity to actually hear the music.