Q It Up: Do you mic and process female VOs differently than male VOs? Do you have them work the mic differently? Are your EQ settings different? Compressor/processor settings? What do you do to key into the warmth of the female voice without compromising her own natural flavors, tones and frequency windows? Do you use a different mic for female VO? What works for you?
Mitch Todd [Mitch.Todd(at)siriusxm.com]: When recording in our production rooms, we generally use the same mic set-up in all studios: A Neumann TLM-103 and either the Focusrite Red 500 series or the DBX 376 tube channel strips (with upgraded tubes). We have most set for flat response (on the DBX units) with a touch of limiting as a “safety net” only. We then go digitally into Avid HD interfaces (console feeds 1 & 2, mics 3 & 4).
In post-production, most Producers have their own set up generally having several vocal bus chains (often a C-4 to start with or other various “virtual channel strips”). In my studio, I personally use the “hot-rodded” DBX 376 pre with a touch of EQ boost in the presence band and no more than 3db of “over easy” compression with a ratio of approximately 3:1. Unless I have any sibilance issues, I pretty much use that as a “stock” setting as I don’t like post noise gates or de-essers. I will then create a vocal bus for each mono VO talent/bus, then customize accordingly AFTER I’ve tweaked the “mastering” plug-in for the session. That will vary depending on what I’m doing. For more “vintage” channels (such as 70s on 7 which I produce), I like the T-Rax rack. I often use the Ozone 5 Maximizer as well.
I approach each person in a different way depending on the characteristics of their specific voice. I’ve really never considered gender per se, but I generally try to avoid heavy proximity effect and plosives when using large diaphragm mics such as the TLM-103/U-87, C-414, etc. I like the “crochet hoops with stocking” to keep the talent’s mouth at least 6” from the mic and at a bit of an angle. The final tweaking to the VO I do once the whole mix is virtually complete so I know exactly how the VO will sit precisely in the mix. That can vary wildly depending on the project. Having been recording for radio, TV or music for more years than I want to admit, I never really used stock pre-sets in my plug-ins. I do create some of my own as starting points, but still always still tweak from there.
Therefore, I don’t treat any specific voice in a “standard” way, and will often have significantly different set-ups even if it’s the same voice on two entirely different projects.
David Boothe, CAS [DBoothe(at)hopefortheheart.org], hopefortheheart.org, Dallas, TX: Every voice is different, and so requires individual treatment. It’s not just about male or female. That said, I suppose that whenever I use a ribbon mic, it is almost always on a female voice. There, the ribbons can help tame sibilance and/or add warmth of female voices. A male voice through a ribbon mic easily tilts toward muddiness.
Processing also depends on the individual voice, but also on the context. Does it need to be hard sell or warm and friendly? Cut through music or nestle into the track? For these reasons, I go light on processing during recording, setting a minimal baseline or correcting obvious problems. Hearing the voice in context of the mix, it’s easier to make informed decisions about EQ, compression, etc. In recording, I rely more on proper mic selection and placement.
True story: I once had a long-time radio guy tell me to record him with a Sennheiser MD-421. I thought to myself, “You must be joking. That’s a great drum mic, but who would use it on VO?” So I tried just about every other mic in the locker. They all sounded terrible. Finally I tried the 421. He was absolutely right. Sounded great!
Tim Hammond, Southern Cross Austereo, Bunbury, Australia: Short answer is yes. Long answer is also yes, but it changes.
Much like there is no one EQ for a man’s voice, the same is for women. The basic processing chain remains the same for me but the settings on the EQ especially change. I run a REQ6 to shape the sound into a PuigTec-1A to beef up the bass and give it a special sound. Then into a RComp and a limiter before the Master.
I would like to be able to use different mics for Male and Females but we don’t have any, and unless you really know what you’re doing it won’t make much of a difference.
EQ wise, women’s fundamental frequency’s (the ones that give it a the power/push) sit quite a bit higher than males and as such I roll off the low end a lot higher and take a high Q scoop anywhere between 175 to about 300hz to remove any annoying frequencies.
Bumping up 2ish dBs at 2.5-3.25 kHz-ish and again at12 kHz to brighten it up.
PuigTec is there to provide body not shape it, so it remains subtle in the mix, boosting a little in the low end and again a higher up.
RComp. I tend to keep the threshold the same, might speed up the attack a little as the bass is less important and to catch the higher sounds. I like the RComp because it has warm/smooth character function. In men, I feel I don’t need the comp to boost the bass more so I keep it on Smooth, where as with females I change it to Warm to give the VO just a little helping hand.
The limiter is there just to catch anything the compressor missed and bring up the RMS a bit.
That’s about it when it comes to FVOs. This changes of course depending on the talent and the read but remains a base at which to start.
Matt Redmond, Southern Cross Austereo, Bunbury, Australia: Thanks for the question. I keep mine pretty simple at the moment and there is no “one” special way to EQ and Compress a VO.
All voices are different and should be treated accordingly. My VO Chain consists of EQ 7-Band / R-Compressor / Limiter the VO channel is usually bussed to an Aux Channel with some Reverb (minimal and natural)
As I said it’s fairly basic but lately I have been toying with the idea of not putting a lot of signal input into the first plug-in on the chain (EQ-7). I read that this particular digital plugin’s optimal performance is around -16 dB.
On the EQ, generally speaking, Males have more lower frequencies so a roll of around 95Hz gets me to a starting place and then just mould it from there case by case. A cut of around 3db at 220Hz (Q4) is a good starting place too, and then just sweep along to cut out some muddiness. Add some presence in the higher spectrum around 4.5kHz. I increase the output of the EQ now because there isn’t as much going into it anymore.
Comp: The screen shots show roughly where I start. I usually increase the gain and reduce the threshold a bit until I find it’s beefier without changing too much. Reducing or decreasing the release can control a nice balance in the attenuation where I try not to let it fall below -6 -- not very technical explanation I know, I just try to listen each time and fiddle until I think it sounds good.
As I’m not throwing out as much volume compared to what I used to after EQ and Comp, my final limiter usually has a bigger threshold now. I keep it capped at -3 and never let it attenuate past -6, and I just try to get as much volume out without it hitting the ceiling too hard and sounding horrible.
I just learned off Tim that changing the release of the Limiter can change on how quickly it can snap back to zero, and shortening this I’ve found in the brief experience can sharpen up the VO too.
That’s me basically – no right or wrong but it’s what I’m doing at the minute, which will probably differ at some point in the future.
The screen shots are just presets to get me to the initial mark quicker not a set and forget setting.
Brodie Green, Southern Cross Austereo, Bunbury, Australia: Often overlooked in the discussion of “Which mic to use” is the fact that a microphone is only as good as it’s pre-amp. When talking about using a microphone, we always need to think in terms of mic and pre.
In other studios I’ve worked in, FVO’s were usually tracked in using a Large Diaphragm Condenser into a Quad 8 403 channel strip, Neve 1073, or for singing, an LA-610, using the inbuilt compressor going down to tape.
MVOs were tracked with either a Large Diaphragm Valve microphone, or a Small Diaphragm condenser/shotgun mic like a Sennheiser 416, usually into the same preamps.
PulTec EQP1-A was used on both voices. MVO for more low body, boosting and cutting at 60Hz. FVO boosting and cutting at 12 or 16kHz. We called it “the nicer-izer”
Here in radio production, we don’t have the luxury of umming and ahhing about mic and pre-choice, so a one size fits all approach is used for both MVO and FVO with only slight differences in EQ and Compression.
The truth is that radio is the last place still limiting audio to within an inch of its life, and I would argue that by the time all of that processing takes place, both in our studios and in the engineering department, any subtle audio EQ or compression is largely lost. It highlights a bad vocal sound. It is more noticeable when things don’t sound right, so having a reliable, good uniform “sound” for VO is best. Starting with a good, clean source sound in a must.
I use my Sytek preamps with a Rode NT2 – basically a clone of a U87. The Syteks have clean gain for miles and the NT2 does a great job of copying the U87 sound.
My basic VO workflow: A clean sound for both MVO and FVO, make sure the compressors in Pro Tools aren’t absolutely pumping. A bit of brightness & air here, and bit of body there. Pull out some muddy low mids maybe. Secret spice is a nice small room reverb to put the VO in a space -- mixed in so you can barely tell, but you feel it when you listen to the voice. Sounds human & more pleasant.
Heikki Wichmann [Heikki.Wichmann(at)nrj.fi]: My answers are quite simple :-)
I use the same mic & preamp as for male voice. Only difference is on post-production EQ on MIC channel, I usually use higher low-cut on female voice (like 90Hz for male and 120-150 for female). Since we’re quite heavy with the processing on our broadcast network, I must use heavy low-cut filtering.
Adam Venton [adam.venton(at)ukrd.com]: In short, I EQ every single voice differently, whether it be male or female. Each voice is unique, the frequencies of each are unique, therefore they need treating accordingly. Some men have high voices, some deep, etc. No two voices are the same. We use some simple EQ settings to clean up recordings across the board (cut the muddy frequencies for example), and then use a frequency spectrum analyser to see exactly what’s going on and tweak the EQ accordingly for each voice. The aim is for a relative even plateau from around 200hz up, with 60-200hz rolling off gradually. The way you keep the warmth and flavor of the voice is simple - trust your ears. The above isn’t a hard and fast rule, it’s a guideline – if the voice is sounding harsh I’ll put down 2k, etc. In imaging, I don’t want the lower end of the VO to clash with the music and fx, I want it to sit nicely on top of it. But that is my opinion and my method; other producers do different things and whatever works for them!
With regards to mics, we don’t have VOs recoding in our studio; they all work from their own facilities and therefore have their own mic setup. They’re professionals and the mics are of excellent quality, so it’s never been an issue working this way. They know how to use their equipment and get the best out of their voice, and we trust them to do that. After all, I wouldn’t book a session guitarist and tell him how to set up his guitar! Same thing applies to VOs. This allows us to focus on delivery, pronunciation, diction etc., all the creative elements rather than technical.
Craig Jackman [CJackman(at)Loyalistc.on.ca], Loyalist College, Belleville, Ontario: With a good mic, a really nice large diaphragm condenser, I haven’t had the need to have a separate mic for female voices. With female voices I’m trying to enhance the natural brightness so it cuts through without making the voice harsh. My go to EQ settings are cutting 1-2dB at 120Hz and boosting a similar amount at 8kHz. If I need additional EQ in context of the spot, I’ll do that. For compression I’m using more than I have in the past, up to a 5:1 ratio. I always use very fast attack and release times of 0.5 and 50ms. My exact compression settings vary, totally depending on context of the spot and how it sounds. I may even add a limiter on top of using the compressor, but lightly, just to clip off the peaks.
Rafe Sampson [rafe(at)sampsonmedia.com], Sampson Media, Inc.: Generally, I have females that I use in projects record in their own studio. I request a clean, unprocessed (no EQ, normalization, compression, etc.) file from them, which makes it easier to match with other VOAs from disparate studios. On the rare occasion that they do record here, I use mics with minimum coloration (love the Rode NT-2 and the slightly brighter, but still true, CAD e100s) thru a UA 710 Twinfinity pre. Any EQ, which is always as minimal as possible, and other processing is done in post.
Sorry the response isn’t specifically in line with your questions, but as I mentioned, the majority of my multi-voice projects are all voiced by talents in their own studios. The key is vetting them and their recording environment ahead of time. Unfortunately, the majority of folks calling themselves Voiceover Artists tend to record into USB mics hooked to a laptop, often in a closet or other substandard room.
Dave Stalker [dave(at)combinedcommunications.com] Combined Communications: I don’t do any different processing for female voiceovers. I use a script that runs in Audition 3.0.1 which applies 7 processes to their voice. It incorporates an FFT filter, Dynamics Processing, then a Normalize followed by 2 consecutive Filter & EQ-Quick Filters at different settings, Normalize again, Dynamic filter again and a final Normalize.
Due to some ambient noise in my studio, from the air-conditioning compressors directly below me, I also run an FFT Kill the Mic Rumble, and under Restoration, I sample the ambient Air Conditioner noise and remove that from the waveforms.
I have different mics in my studio than they do in the on-air studios, with a pair of RODE NT2-A mics that are very different in their quality from the Electro-Voice RE20s that are hanging all over the place in on-air studios.
What I do different with female VOs is more in the coaching than in the processing. They don’t need to be what I call “Male Basso Profundo”. By using the same Audition Script, I deliver a consistent sound quality for my 5 stations for female and male announcers.
(Note: the Script feature was dropped by Adobe in more recent releases of Audition. There’s nothing like it at all in CS6, and I think it’s the most useful tool for broadcast applications, so that’s why I still use Audition3).
Darryl Hogan [darrylhogan(at)tadavoiceworks.com], Ta-Da! Voiceworks: My name is Darryl Hogan, Sr. Agent and Audio Engineer here at TaDa! Voiceworks. I have been an audio engineer by trade for 14 years recording and producing everything from Voice Over castings, to foley, and music to full post production for Radio and Television, and based on my experience, here is my two cents:
In regards to your question about micing and processing differently for different genders, ultimately it depends on the requirements of post-production when modifying a Voice Over.
When recording VOs for auditions or gigs that will be going to broadcast for clients, raw and unprocessed audio is best. I recommend always using the bottom end roll off for all VO applications as it removes the un-natural “boomy” sound that our ears normally do not hear naturally. Also, mediums like Radio and TV, squash audio with dynamics when broadcasting often adding a fair amount of unnatural bottom end or bass to the voice. You can often tell the difference between Radio commercials that are produced in house at the station versus 3rd party production facilities like I just heard listening to the Bill Carroll show on the radio as I compose this e-mail.
Each post production element often has different dynamics. Music beds and SFX are never the same sonically, and compression and EQ are often needed to help the Voice Over sit properly in the mix, cutting through the elements enough to getting the clients message to the listener clearly and effectively.
To answer your questions more directly:
Do you mic and process female VOs differently than male VOs? No, I mic each gender the same and capture their natural voice as best as I possibly can.
Do you have them work the mic differently? Not necessarily, depending on the sound the client or myself is looking to capture, I would direct the talent accordingly in regards to mic technique. Each talent is different and sometimes requires more mic technique than others.
Are your EQ settings different? During recording my EQ is zeroed. Depending on the elements in post-production, often EQ needs to be adjusted to make the Voice Over cut through the elements in production. Each element is different, with different dynamics and frequency ranges.
Compressor/processor settings? Not while recording, if it is required in post-production the settings are often similar. Some talent, more often males, often have more presence on the mic, and I’m not talking “radio pipes”, but more of a natural presence.
What do you do to key into the warmth of the female voice without compromising her own natural flavors, tones and frequency windows? Warmth is best captured at the source, close to the mic. If you try to add warmth that is not there, you are just adding mud, and no one wants to hear a muddy voice.
Do you use a different mic for female VO? What works for you? No, As long as you use a decent mic and capture the full spectrum, you’re golden. It’s always better to have to scale back or take away from existing capture than to try to add something that is not there.
Andrew Nelson [andrew(at)strategicmediainc.com], Strategic Media, Inc.: A lot of what we go for when casting and producing a voice follows the guideline of “the right voice should be tailored to the script.” The result is that a lot of the production that goes into the process is designed to ensure that the tone matches what we envision.
Many of our voice talents use their own rigs and know their voice and gear well enough to record themselves. Whenever possible, I give gear direction based off of their audition audio. When that’s the case I do try to mic FVOs differently than MVOs. I usually like to use a large diaphragm condenser, with a cardioid pattern, and have them slightly off-axis with the mic, so it’s not overly bright – something that can happen easily with female voices.
As far as EQing, it all depends on the voice. Sometimes I’ll pull up around 10kHz and drop a little after 12kHz to give some openness to the sound, usually leaving much of the mids alone, and dropping some of the low-end for mid clarity.
Compression is a must on nearly any voice we use, mostly to make sure we get the desired vocal weight we’re looking for. Typically, I use a 3:1 compression ratio with a pretty quick attack and a medium release. I won’t drive too hard into the compressor, but I’ll usually boost the output gain a bit for desired effect.
Gary Michaels [gmichaels(at)schurz.com], Schurz Communications, Lafayette, Indiana: Interesting question. I use EV RE-20s for all vocals here at my stations for both male and female voiceovers and have both work the mics about the same. I try to keep the processing as flat as possible and that allows me to add whatever I like in post-production. Most my female talent has fairly limited vocal range so I’ll typically add about a 2:1 compression and perhaps EQ a smidge of the highs out depending on the voice. Adding about 2ms of slap-back will also tend to make female vocals pop out a bit. The big job comes with mixing with music beds, so I use a trick I was lucky enough to learn in my early years. So many of my beds have a lot of dynamic range and will bury female vocals, so I’ll find the bed that compliments the read, then EQ the mids out of the music beds around the vocal. I do that quite a bit with female reads and with some male reads where their vocal range is limited as well. I usually will manipulate music beds much more than the vocal reads by using volume envelopes, EQ and EQ frequency envelopes.
Suzan Goritz [sgoritz(at)jpbg.ca], The Jim Pattison Broadcast Group, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada: I rarely do anything different. I usually use my go to EQ / Compressor settings in Pro Tools. Sometimes I tweak the VO a bit, but it’s based more on tone rather than gender. My goal, as a producer, is to find the best person(s) for the script in front of me then direct accordingly. I’ve been very fortunate in my career that our on air talent have been very open to direction and will stay in the voice booth until we are both happy with the final voiceover. Thus, the read sounds natural.