In the world of voice over production, where the voice takes stage, every subtle nuance and inflection carries meaning.
Amidst the stages of production, there exists a critical yet often overlooked step that is vital for delivering a polished voice over project; mastering.
Voice over mastering is more than a checkbox; it is an art that ensures the intended impact, emotion and clarity of the voice resonates regardless of how or where it’s heard.
Mastering is a step that even experienced professionals sometimes omit, for example, when sending auditions.
I submit, that whenever some clients say: “Oh, an audition recorded with your smartphone is just as good”, while well-intended, it’s mostly influenced by tight deadlines.
The decision on who to hire, however, is very much influenced by the quality of the audio, as well as its frequency balance and overall audio level, which are all part of the mastering process.
Imagine listening to a voice over that fluctuates in volume—crystal one moment, muffled the next – or one that causes discomfort due to excessive sibilance.
These inconsistencies undermine both the message being conveyed and the credibility of the voiceover artist.
This is why mastering voice over audio plays a role – it acts as a guardian of consistency, adding polish, to ensure that the intended message always shines through.
It’s important to note that while often confused with mixing, mastering and mixing are separate processes.
Mixing refers to the process of combining tracks into one cohesive file, while mastering involves refining the mixed track.
It entails adjusting the audio to ensure that it sounds well-balanced and clear on playback systems, such as car stereos, smartphone speakers, headphones, and home theater systems.
The goal is to maintain quality, volume, and tonality in the voiceover for an enjoyable experience.
Mastering plays a role in voiceover production, especially when a precise and authoritative delivery is required.
It aims to make the voice clear and present without any distracting issues that could undermine the message.
Essentially, mastering voice recordings is an act of respect for both the talent of the voice actor and the audience’s listening pleasure.
Understanding how mastering contributes to voiceover production allows us to grasp its impact.
Through manipulating dynamics, enhancing frequencies, and controlling resonance, mastering adds depth and vitality to a monologue or narrative.
Mastering voice over audio also plays a role in the localization and global marketing campaigns.
For example, when we produce a spot or a product video in numerous languages, mastering ensures that each version maintains the same audio quality and impact.
This consistency is vital for upholding brand uniformity and engaging markets effectively.
Moreover, mastering goes beyond providing a polish; it also involves future-proofing the recording.
As technology advances and new playback devices emerge, a mastered voice over will withstand the test of time preserving its quality and effectiveness.
The technical expertise required for mastering voice recordings is extensive and profound.
Merely having top-notch equipment isn’t sufficient; one must also possess the skill and knowledge to use them effectively.
High-end compressors, limiters, equalizers, and digital audio workstations serve as tools of the trade.
Understanding how to leverage them can make all the difference.
For example, a skilled audio engineer possesses the knowledge to use EQ in order to infuse warmth into a person’s voice and/or eliminate frequencies that may cause shrill, or sibilant sounds.
They have the expertise to apply compression techniques, which balance the range of dynamics and maintain a powerful voice without compromising its natural fluctuations.
Limiters are employed to prevent any distortion or clipping ensuring that the clarity of the voiceover is preserved at all volume levels.
But most importantly – mastering engineers must have an ear for the nuances.
Their ability goes beyond perfection; they listen for resonance and how the recording sounds within different environments and emotional contexts.
One of the most arguable discussions in the audio world, coined “The loudness war”, created a divide between audio engineers favoring loudness, over others who favored dynamic range.
Can the two co-exist? Well, let’s consider the trade-off.
The dynamic range is essentially the difference between the lowest and highest amplitude peaks.
When we amplify those peaks uniformly, we can only go as far as 0 dB before clipping. This is done through a process known as Normalization.
To get the overall audio signal louder, we would need to reduce the dynamic range through compression, before increasing the overall amplitude through what’s called make-up gain.
An uncompressed audio signal.
A compressed audio signal without makeup gain.
A Compressed audio signal WITH Makeup gain.
Well, it depends.
For projects that require a dynamic performance, like animation, a video game character, or even some commercials, over-compressing the voice over will diminish the effect that you actually want – like the volume difference between a whisper and a scream.
These are occasions where you want the recording to sound as natural and organic as possible, so compression (at least in my opinion) should be applied lightly.
Other projects, like e-learning, audiobooks, IVRs, and others – where the overall delivery is fairly consistent, will not be affected too much by compression, because the dynamic range is low to begin with.
Mastering serves as a connection between precision and artistic expression; it bridges the science of sound and storytelling artistry.
A skilled audio engineer can use mastering techniques to enrich a voice making it more appealing and captivating for listeners.
This goes beyond adjusting volume; it involves achieving clarity and personality.
A voice that may appear to lack emotion can be given life and depth through mastering.
This allows the voiceover to stand out in a market, where capturing attention is crucial and every moment counts.
Whether aiming for a commanding tone for a video or a warm and inviting vibe for a podcast, mastering plays a vital role in achieving that desired sound profile.
Mastering is both an art and a science with defined standards and practices.
These standards encompass benchmarks for levels, such as adhering to the Loudness Standard (LUFS) which is essential for broadcasting and streaming platforms.
Additionally, they involve utilizing resolution audio formats during delivery to guarantee top-notch quality and compatibility across various media platforms.
Alongside these guidelines, there are also practices that serve as guidance throughout the mastering process.
The table below provides the loudness targets for each online platform. Each platform has its own mastering algorithm to ensure the audio reaches this target (in case your audio hasn’t).
|-16 LUFS (±1.0 LU)
|-16 LUFS (±1.0 LU)
|-9 to -13 LUFS
|-13 to -15 LUFS
|-14 to -16 LUFS
|-8 to -13 LUFS
Mastering serves as a mark of professionalism for your voice over work.
It is an investment in the quality and durability of your brand.
By dedicating time and resources to mastering you ensure that your voice overs carry the impact and emotion regardless of the context in which they are heard – be it a city or a quiet home study.
Engage with an audio engineer who can navigate through the intricacies of sound enriching your recordings with the clarity and presence they deserve.
Embrace industry standards while remaining adaptable to changes in consumption trends.
Optimize for playback environments that your audience may come across and above all else, honor and value your craft.
In your pursuit of excellence always remember that your voice is an art form. Master it.