The Next Best Thing to Being There In Person
Thanks to the pandemic, home voiceover studios are “in.” In-person recording sessions at outside studios are largely “out.” True, the industry trend had been slowly moving in that direction anyways, prior to Covid-19 paralyzing the world business community. But no one can dispute that the movement has been vastly accelerated within the past year. Nor that it’s unlikely to completely reverse itself once the pandemic is over.
Professional home studios are here to stay, at least for the foreseeable future, for so many reasons: convenience for the voice actor, cost savings for the production company, a greater availability of talent without the restrictions of physical geography, to name just a few. With the home studio comes the ability to remotely record and direct voice actors in live sessions, thanks to so many available – and affordable! - options.
Here are a dozen of those terrific options available to voice actors and their clients. I’ve divided them into three categories: Professional high quality remote audio recording, video conferencing, and audio conferencing.
Professional remote audio recording
These high quality, or professional, remote audio recording options rival those available in professional outside recording studios. In no particular order, they are:
1. ISDN or Integrated Services Digital Network
ISDN was the unchallenged communications standard for many years. It works over the telephone network to transmit top quality audio between recording studios. The voice actor from a home studio and the director at a recording studio each have an ISDN box that “talks” to the other. They can hear each other in real-time, with the director listening and directing the voice actor during a live session. It’s an expensive option requiring extra hardware that today’s newer digital solutions don’t need. It’s mostly fallen by the wayside, though a few older studios that haven’t upgraded to one of the digital options below may still regularly use it.
2. Source Connect
Source Connect has recently become the industry-standard standard replacing ISDN. Instead of channeling audio through telephone lines, Source Connect uses the Internet to connect studios remotely. No hardware is required, though each studio needs the software installed and configured on their computers. The technology is solid and secure, with excellent sound quality. Source Connect offers monthly subscription services or a one-time purchase option, with several tiers of capability. Voice actors will find the Standard version perfectly suitable for their needs, while production company studios will invest in the Pro or Pro X solutions. (Talent, please note that the free Source Connect Now version is no longer accepted by many production studios.)
ipDTL, so named for “IP down the line” (IP being Internet Protocol), remotely connects studios. Like Source Connect, it’s a software platform that works through the Internet with no hardware acting as the middleman, and it provides excellent audio quality. Sessions are initiated and managed through the company’s website, which also features a recording capability. ipDTL is available via a software subscription, though day passes can also be purchased.
Offered through the voice casting site Bodalgo, BodalgoCall is an ultra-high quality audio chat for groups of up to five people. BodalgoCall resides on the user’s browser, it’s free, and does not require a subscription to Bodalgo. As they say, “such a deal!”
SessionLinkPro is a Chrome browser-based solution that provides yet another alternative to ISDN. It’s used more in Europe than in the United States, and has remote recording, video, and conferencing capabilities. Audio recording and video, however, require two browser tabs to be opened for them to work together. SessionLinkPro is a subscription-based service.
ConnectionOpen is a non-browser based standalone application that provides high quality audio between multiple users. It works through an easy to set up computer-based app that features a built-in digital recorder. Usage is via subscription or day pass.
Video Conferencing Only
If the voice actor will be recording the directed session within his or her home studio, then several other free options may work just fine. In this case, the talent will be responsible for recording, managing, and delivering the raw audio file to you afterwards. I highly suggest a “dry run” check a day or two before the scheduled session to ensure that the recording levels and quality meet your expectations. Ask for a sample recording from the “dry run” to be emailed to you so that you can hear the quality for yourself, and then make any adjustments before the live session takes place.
The current standard for video conferencing, Zoom works well for the director and voice actor to see and talk with one another. The talent can even screenshare the DAW recording, if the audio engineer wants to see the setting and levels for him/herself.
An alternative to Zoom, Skype is another way for the director and voice actor to see and talk with one another. Although Skype offers recording ability for Skype to Skype calls, the talent should be recording the session with his/her own DAW (the recording/editing software) for highest quality.
9. Google Meet
Google users may opt for Google Meet, which (as the name implies) provides virtual real-time meetings.
10. Microsoft Teams
Microsoft Teams offers unlimited chats, audio and video calls, and is another option for clients or directors wishing to see and hear the voice actor record the live session. The voice actor will have to be made a part of the “team” to be able to participate, so companies with closed, secured employee team networks may want to choose another option for the recording session.
Available on Apple platform products, FaceTime offers group calls and yet another way for clients and directors to lead the recording session.
Audio Conferencing Only
Sometimes the simplest option is all you need:
The old phone patch has evolved to needing no other equipment than – wait for it – a phone on each end of the recording session. The drawbacks? No video. And the client or director will have a devil of a time hearing the recording played back at a proper quality level (translation: they can’t). They CAN, however, listen and direct the voice actor as needed.
On the voice actor’s end, the phone can either be on speaker mode or, most likely, he or she will just wear either a one-ear headset or a single earbud. This way, the talent can listen to the client while listening to the playback on his/her computer’s DAW. But not at the same time. While we have two ears, we only have one brain, and processing two people talking at the same time rarely works out well. But, hey! This method is free and if the client or director has worked with the voice actor before and trusts that he/she’ll deliver a top quality recording, then this method should work out just fine.
So who determines which connectivity option to use? That would be you, the client or the director. Most production companies state the technology requirements up-front to the voice actor or agent. Many auditions coming through my agents ask the talent to identify their home studio capability in the name of the audition itself, usually requesting Source Connect or ipDTL. Others that come through casting sites are non-specific or simply don’t need to engage the talent in a directed session. Whichever the case, decide what you want or need, communicate that to the talents before they audition, and then verify the technological capabilities before hiring a voice actor. After all, he (or she) who offers the job makes the rules.