Scenarios for Remote At-Home VO Recording
Voice actors are quite used to recording at-home auditions, saving and sending Mp3s, but the sudden imperative to produce on-air usable VO performance from home demands a higher standard of record quality. It is suddenly also a more complex process, one that can shifts constantly.
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 or BlueJeans. Some projects record their voice actor remotely via Source Connect, not requiring the actor to record at home at all.
Most producers seem to favor at home recording by the actor who then uploads the files, with a few projects also creating a back up recording via Source Connect.
If the actor’s home recording set up isn’t ready for prime time, their performance might be able to at least serve at a “temp track” for storyboarding or animating, to be later picked up in ADR after the animation comes back and a professional recording studio option has hopefully become available. With most voice actors rapidly setting up adequate home recording studios, this option is rarely needed.
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 directing.
There may or may not be a parallel Source Connect recording of the performance on the sound engineer’s end, giving the producers an extra copy as a backup.
The potential downside to this is having to rely on a voice actor for some sound engineering and oversight that they may not be either suited for or that may distract them from their performance. Generally, though, this seems to work well.
The session is typically directed via Zoom or BlueJeans conferencing apps, either with video or just audio.
Record at home, remotely engineered by a sound engineer
This scenario I’ve experienced once, yet it seemed to work beautifully. It plays out the most like VO sessions used to play out- with the actor just acting and the engineer doing the engineering.
Conferencing software such as Zoom allows full commandeering of a remote computer. 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.
When I experienced this scenario, the studio sent me an Apple gift card to purchase their preferred software, which I installed. They used this when the commandeered my machine remotely for the record. It was quite simple for the actor (me) and the engineer had full control of all variables.
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 seem to 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.
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 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/BlueJeans software.
ADR I’ve seen work so far as a “play it and say it” process: Producers play the scene which is shared over the screen share option of the conferencing software and the at home performer immediately then records performance to match the timing of what was just played.
So far, I’ve only seen this attempted in discreet dialogue fixes, rather than extended scenes, although it could possibly work, as the shared video on the conferencing software isn’t piped in to the actor’s home recording software, which only records their vocal performance, not audio from the conference software.
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.
I’ll be doing a song session soon for the first time and will update this info.
Recording a “temp track”
This isn’t a preferred scenario as it requires double the session work, but it may be workable if the actor’s home studio isn’t up to snuff or if time doesn’t permit setting up a home studio and performance is urgently needed.
The actors performance can be recorded by the actor and uploaded, but conferencing software such as Zoom also allow the recording of the performance conference within the Zoom software, which could then be edited and used as raw material for animatics or even animation to be later ADR’ed when animation returns (7 months, maybe?).
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.