First of a series of tips for Voice Over Artists
A common request heard by studio-owning voice over artists is “can you just play that take back for me?” You’re in the middle of a remotely directed session, you’re recording everything yourself – so probably not using a highly robust communication system such as Source Connect Standard/Pro or ipDTL where you would most likely be connected to a recording studio at the remote end (where they could play back their own recording), and instead this session would be happening over Zoom, Skype, Bodalgocall, Source Connect Now or similar. So you try to play the just-recorded take back, and you can hear it playing, but the client at the other end says “I asked you to play it back for me. Are you deaf or what? Hello? Is this thing on?”
Most voice artists would have the remote software set up with ‘mic’ set to the microphone channel of their audio interface. This of course works perfectly in sending your voice to the client while you are recording into the mic but when you play back from your DAW or audio recorder the sound is now emanating from an entirely different source and so isn’t transferred across the ether to your listener. So what’s the solution? If you trawl the internet, voiceover Facebook groups and the rest, the usual response is to use loopback. Briefly put, this involves re-routing the audio output signal that is used for playback into your audio interface microphone input, so that the played back recording is picked up by your mic channel and hence fed into Zoom et al. There is an almighty catch though; it isn’t particularly simple to either understand or set up. Some audio interfaces have some kind of loopback facility built into the control software for the unit, implemented differently according to the manufacturer. And sometimes you also need to cable a connection from an output to an input, which you need to disconnect when you go back to normal recording. Or there are third party software solutions that perform virtual cabling which are either fiendishly complex, such as VoiceMeeter if you’re on PC, or haven’t been updated for many years such as Soundflower for Mac. Worst of all, if you don’t set your loopback up quite right and fail to mute the relevant input channels on your DAW then you create a feedback loop with potentially catastrophic effects on your ears and headphones. Tinnitus is not something you want in your voiceover career or indeed your life.
Surely there must be an easier way? Yeah, there is! You don’t have to change anything in your recording software. And it just takes one cable to do it. All you need to do is route the signal from the line out on your audio interface (either the quarter inch jack sockets marked 1 and 2 that you would usually plug powered speakers into, or if you have a slightly higher end interface, outputs 3 and 4 so that you never have to disturb any speakers you may be using) to the audio line in stereo mini jack socket on your computer.
If you only have a mic or a single combo headphone/mic socket on your computer you can still do it with care. And if you only have a headphone socket (hello Mac users!) then you’ll need to buy a USB to mic/line in adapter which are generally about £15. Detailed instructions below.
Connecting to line in on a PC
1) You’ll need a cable with a stereo mini jack plug at one end and two quarter inch jack plugs at the other. Or you probably already own a stereo phono/RCA jack cable so you can just get some inexpensive adapters to plug onto each end. Plug it in to your computer line in and the audio interface outputs of your choice, either 3 and 4 or 1 and 2.
2) Open the Sounds applet in Control Panel and select the Recording tab. You should see an item labelled Line In. If you don’t, then right click any other device in the list and check both Show Disabled Devices and Show Disconnected Devices. Right click on the Line In device and select Properties – in the Listen tab ensure Listen to this device is unchecked, and in the Levels tab set the input level to about 60% (you can adjust this further later if necessary). OK and close.
3) Open Zoom or whichever communications app you need, find the audio settings, and under Mic or Microphone select Line In as the source. Use the app’s test facility to check that you are getting adequate volume when you play back a recording from your DAW and adjust in Zoom or in the Sound applet.
Connecting to mic or a combo headphone/mic socket on a PC
1) These are mono only (not a problem for you as a mono voiceover!) so you’ll need a cable with a mono mini jack plug at one end and one quarter inch jack plug at the other. Plug it in to your computer mic socket and the audio interface output of your choice, either 3 or 1.
2) Open the Sounds applet in Control Panel and select the Recording tab. You should see an item labelled just Microphone. If you don’t, then right click any other device in the list and check both Show Disabled Devices and Show Disconnected Devices. Right click on the Mic device and select Properties – in the Listen tab ensure Listen to this device is unchecked, and in the Levels tab set the input level to about 30% (you can adjust this further later if necessary). It’s important to keep the initial level relatively low because a mic channel offers less resistance than a line in so there is a risk of overloading and distortion. Also look for any settings that imply enhancement or boost facilities (variable from manufacturer to manufacturer) and turn these OFF. OK and close.
3) Open Zoom or whichever communications app you need, find the audio settings, and under Mic or Microphone select Microphone as the source. Use the app’s test facility to check that you are getting adequate volume when you play back a recording from your DAW and adjust in Zoom or in the Sound applet.
Connecting to a mic socket on a Mac
1) Hey, Macs are so intuitive you don’t need any instructions do you? Probably something in Finder. OK, seriously, I don’t have a Mac to test this on, but you’ll need to buy an adapter as mentioned above, USB-C to mic/line in if you have a fairly recent model, and then proceed more or less as above but instead of Windows Control Panel use System Preferences, Sound.
Once I had implemented this solution on my own recording setup, not only did ALL my recording and playback audio get sent to the client at the remote end, but I got an additional benefit because I could also now boost the signal level being sent to the client from my microphone. Previously I would sometimes be asked to turn up the volume, but could do little about it because software like Zoom was taking the signal direct from the microphone input (and not from the DAW). The only way of adjusting the level was via the trim control on the audio interface mic input. I already have this set at an optimum level (as should you) so that the mic input is not clipping, so there is little room for manoeuvre to increase the level at this input stage without overdriving the signal. So forget about loopback and bring joy to your clients this way instead.