Tue, 09 May 2023

When is the right time to record a voice over?

Author: Nick Willett

You're about to begin putting your first commercial video production together; you've got your script written, you've sketched out your storyboard, you've shot the footage, so now you're ready to get stuck into the edit.  Once you get that out of the way, you can then begin to think about music, and for those really wanting to push the boat out, perhaps even a voice over?  Even though I have long since lost count of how many productions like this we have under our belts, this is more or less exactly the mindset I had at the outset of my video/film making career, except perhaps for the bit about the storyboard, which I hadn't even heard of at that point!  It was at this stage in my very first paid video project, that I was about to learn a fundamental rule... the hard way.  

The edit was done, and having spent a certain amount of time searching through music libraries and eventually finding some appropriate music that my client liked, the only thing I needed now was the voice.  A friend of mine who sounded particularly good on the phone patiently spent an evening with me recording a rather fragmented rendition of the script for a small fee.  All I had to do now was put the 3 elements of video, music and voice together and 'bish bash bosh' the job would be done and I would be able to put my feet up.  How wrong I was.  As with so many things in life, the reality turned out to be quite different from what I had imagined, and I freely admit that I really struggled.  The job took longer than the five minutes I'd budgeted for.  A lot longer!  In fact it took an extra five days of pain to complete the job to a level of quality I could live with.  The first hint of the problems I would face emerged when I put the music in the timeline of the video edit that I had previously completed; it just didn't fit.  For a start the music was the wrong length, all the dynamics of the music were out of sync with the image, and every cut in the edit was off the beat of the music.  All of this resulted in an uncomfortable effect which can accurately be described as a spanner in the works when attempting to unify the audio and visual experiences.  I fixed the length problem with a bit of chopping and copying, but it still didn't feel very good.  Oh well, it seemed a little more fiddling around would be required to pull it all together; just an extra hour or two then, not the end of the world!  When I came to introduce the voice recording I had cobbled together into the mix however, I suddenly came up against a wall.  Having not given much thought to how much time was required to voice the text on a single side of A4 paper, I had essentially taken a wild guess at how long the video needed to be, and edited it based purely on how it felt visually.  It turns out that a full side of A4 really is quite a lot of text to read out loud, and the voice recording as a result overshot the mark by almost two whole minutes!  I essentially had to start the edit again.

So what is that rule that I learned through this experience?   Well if you haven't guessed it already, it is very simple: record the voice over first, then edit the video second.  It really is that easy, but I guarantee that remaining faithful to this rule will go a long way towards saving you from a world of pain.  If for whatever reason however it is not possible to record the voice over before you begin the edit, using a suitably paced recording of yourself speaking the words as a place holder guide for your edit until your actual recording is available is perfectly acceptable; you just swap it over once you have it.  Further to that, I would also strongly suggest that it's a really good idea to select or commission the music at this stage too, as this will help to define the mood of the production and provide the tempo and rhythm for the edit which will really help things to come together in a pleasing way.  In short, following this simple rule boosts quality and reduces time wastage; two productivity bonuses that no video producer or film maker can afford to ignore.

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