One thing that I get asked to do from time to time is to put together effects stacks. A voiceover sees the need to process and polish the audio. They, quite understandably, want the quickest and easiest way of doing it. A chain (or stack) of preset plugins to suit their voice seems like a good shortcut to get the job done.
It’s a fairly straight forward job for me to put effects stacks together, but it’s a job that I’m not keen on doing for the following reasons.
1. Minimal processing needed
Firstly, the way I approach audio production almost seems at odds with the idea of effects stacks.
My approach is that your raw studio sound has to be good, and a dry VO should have minimal processing done to it. If you’ve spent time, money and energy getting your studio sounding right and you have a professional quality mic and interface you don’t need much processing. I’m convinced that this is the right approach, but it does mean that I’d be charging people for a high pass filter and some light compression, and I don’t know if they’d feel it to be good value for money!
2. Shopping list
The second reason is a more practical one. Although it would be possible to make presets out of the stock plugins that come with whatever piece of software the client uses, they may have bought third-party plugins that I don’t own. It would be possible to get a list of available plugs from a voice wanting a stack, but then I’d need to be downloading trials and maybe buying more plugs which would become expensive.
Plus it would mean that when creating that initial stack I’m not going to be over-familiar with the plug and that may result in the stack not being as good as I’d want it to be.
3. Inconsistent audio
The third reason is the big one. I just don’t think stacks are a good thing.
The way most voices want to use stacks is to have a single chain of processes that they can just apply to everything. To me that’s just not practical. If you’re a working voiceover you’re probably going to do many different types of work. The energy levels in your reads are going to differ from job to job, let alone between styles. If your levels are different then the audio is going to hit the processing differently and be differently processed – maybe under processed, maybe over. We could normalize the audio to compensate for that, but that’s going to affect the noise floor.
And then we need to consider the potential for lack of consistency in your studio sound. The need for consistency is something I do bang on about quite a bit. Hearing the variations in tone and levels that comes out of some voiceover’s studios it would render a stack totally ineffective, but even if you’re an experienced VO and have your sound and consistency nailed there’s always the possibility for various spanners to be thrown in the works. Maybe roadworks outside the house that raises your noise floor that little bit. Or a piece of equipment that’s operating below par for some reason. These things happen to us all, and your stack very probably won’t be set up to cope with the unknown and unpredictable.
So at this point comes a confession. There will be a few people reading this who say to themselves, ‘Hang on a sec. Rob did me a stack. What’s he on about?’
Yes, I have made stacks for people, but hopefully I do it with all the above in mind. Depending on the software it’s going to be used with I can either offer a range of stacks, all based in the sound of the voiceover and studio and taking light processing, heavier processing and different style reads into consideration. My preferred method is to create a stack and then teach you how to use it. Including how to make adjustments to the processing if it’s just not doing what you need it to or if that spanner raises its head.
But my very best preferred method is not to create stacks at all, but to teach you how to make your own and then just use it as a starting point to custom-shape the processing to suit the read, or to replicate the sound of what you’ve previously done for that client, providing maximum flexibility to your sound and consistency in your audio quality.