Scenarios for Remote At-Home VO Recording
Voice actors are quite used to recording at-home auditions, saving and sending Mp3s, but VO performance usable for broadcast calls for a higher standard of record quality.
Luckily, the new process can work, even thrive, with a number of different set ups. The first thing everyone requires is patience and flexibility as we all find our sea legs in the new stay-at-home world of VO.
At minimum, sessions are now directed via a conferencing software, such as Zoom. Most projects record their voice actor remotely via Source Connect or IPDTL, requiring the actor at home only to adjust the volume level.
Most producers seem to favor at home recording by the actor who then uploads the back up files to use if the SC link recorded on their end has any dead spaces or “drop outs.”
If the actor’s home recording set up isn’t acoustically ready for prime time, their performance might be useable with some expert sound engineering on the other end- or it may lose the performer the gig.
Here are the scenarios I’ve experienced of how at home recording can be successfully set up:
Recorded at home, engineered by the voice actor
This is the most common scenario. The voice actor is expected to record broadcast quality performance, save and send it. An engineer may monitor this remotely during the conference call that enables live directing.
There is typically a parallel Source Connect recording of the performance on the sound engineer’s end, with the actor expected to send in their studio’s saved file as a backup.
The potential downside to this is saddling the actor with the distraction of engineering their own performance. Producers also lose control of studio acoustics with a home record. Generally, though, this seems to work well.
The session is typically directed via Zoom conferencing apps with video or sometimes solely through Source Connect with audio only.
Record at home, remotely engineered by a sound engineer
This scenario is less frequent, but it happens. It plays out the most like VO sessions used to play out- with the actor just acting and the engineer doing most all of the engineering (except for the at-home actor adjusting the audio input level).
Conferencing software such as Zoom allows full commandeering of a remote computer’s recording software. So, if the sound engineer takes control of the voice actor’s home computer, all aspects of the recording process can be monitored and modified easily. The remote engineer can not only set levels but also make sure files and takes are properly labeled, saved and finally transferred.
This leaves the actor to only focus on acting (reading the script and being directed) and the engineer to what they typically do as well. This has the extra benefit of fuller oversight by the audio expert engineer, freeing the actor to do their thing. The downside might be an actor being unwilling or at least uneasy with anyone remotely taking charge of their computer.
For the engineer to have a full featured recording capacity, the at-home actor may need to install whatever advanced sound editing software the engineer/studio prefers, so performance can be captured and most easily worked with by the engineer.
This may require the actor to install whatever software the studio is using (ProTools or Logic Pro, for instance).
Remotely recorded by sound engineer, also recorded & engineered at home by the voice actor
Some studios want back up which they get if the have their engineer record the home studio performance via Source Connect and also have the actor record at home and upload their performance as well.
Table reads work fine with conferencing software such as Zoom. Those not reading can mute their home audio and just listen in. Timing and connection of actors to story flow and timing play out unimpeded by any minor conferencing delay (latency).
Group (ensemble) cast records, actors all recording at home
Surprisingly, this is do-able.
A full cast record can work if the cast members’ studios have been approved by the engineer and each voice actor is able to record and upload their home performance. The delay from conferencing software (e.g., Zoom) is slight enough that it doesn’t impede the flow of a group scene being read.
The key is that the actors each have an adequate studio and are comfortable with simple self-engineering while performing. All performers can simply record the entire session backup and upload that, or, each can stop and start and save individual “scenes,” then save/label these for the engineer to later stack and edit after they are uploaded.
As with any conferencing software directed session, the entire session can be recorded by the engineer for review in the Zoom/SC/iPDTL software.
ADR can as a “play it and say it” process or performed to picture with a slight delay on producer’s end. Producers play the scene which is shared over the screen share option of the conferencing software and the at-home performer along with it. The performance can then be played back for producers to check exact timing.
Songs are a bit different because you are typically performing along with a playing track.
To line up home music/song production at home begins to get into a complexity of home engineering that may exceed the ability of many voice actors, who are not used to multi-track producing while performing.
With the music played remotely by the producer and the actor singing from home to the track, the slight delay from the conferencing software will probably be significant enough that it won’t sound right. It won’t be easy for the overseeing composer to review the performance as the music track plays on their end.
The actor could play a track at home and sing along, but the music producer will be able to only hear the signing, not the music.
Working from home suddenly introduces a number of challenges to the “old way” of doing things.
- The once coordinated chain of command process of recording VO for animation and games is suddenly profoundly atomized. All of its players-production, actors, agents, engineers, etc., are physically separated or even sidelined. Many key roles in the process have been suddenly reassigned. The flow of work is suddenly much more improvisational or experimental in its execution. Each show must find its footing and flow, and each seems to do it differently.
- Studios my find they have a bit less organized, perhaps less coordinated, chain of command in the creative and production aspects of a show. This makes efficient oversight potentially more challenging. For instance, overseeing and confirming distribution of paperwork (contracts, scripts) is no longer with physical paper. It’s online, more diffuse and even inscrutable without an in-person overseer to confirm and notify.
- Actors are suddenly confronted with coordinating many details of a process that were previously overseen by others (engineering, contracts, accounting for number of voices recorded, scheduling with producers and scheduling separate studio checks with engineers, etc.). Actors are now working within a functioning home, not at an isolated studio. Not all actors are adept at accounting for technical or office-type details. Some voice actors are not comfortable with technology or may find challenge doing two very different things at once- acting and self-engineering.
- Agents are now more frequently left out of the loop as to what was communicated, what was signed, what needs to be done, what happened. Getting a heads up or confirmation is less certain as their clients scramble in unfamiliar new roles. Rather than dealing with a few familiar companies (animation and gaming studios along with recording facilities), the relegation of actors to their home studios presents a myriad of individual workspaces, each with its own quirks. In addition, each series or project may work in a totally different way from other projects of the same parent company, and each of these must be coordinated with agent’s individual actor client home set up. Scheduling is harder to coordinate and stay on top of when the process is now more diffuse and distributed, rather than a top-down chain, formerly localized to a handful of professional, established recording spaces.
- Engineers suddenly have less control over the recording process, its accounting and other details, including sound quality.
I list the above challenges not to complain of the disruption and discomfort of change- though some may. I list this because it is key for all the now-separated players to be aware of how this new process plays out for the other key players, who may be dealing with a variety of unseen issues as everyone does their best to collaborate under new and evolving circumstances.
With understanding and patience, we can work together to keep the work and the fun flowing.