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When Your 'Pickups' Don't Match The Original Recording - Prepare For Sound Matching
May 31, 2016

By William Williams

Voice Actor & Coach

OK, you finished a long, involved business narration. 

You've done the slicing and dicing and sent the client flawless edited files. 

Maybe you underbid this job a little, but you stuck it out and you finally uploaded the files, invoiced the client and breathed a sigh of relief.

And then the dreaded email arrives. They love the delivery and the audio quality is spot-on ... but … you mispronounced several words - including the company name! (I'm not going to nag and tell you to check ALL pronunciations before you record.)

No problem! You'll fix the mispronounced words with "pickups" of each sentence and replace the faulty sentences. 

You record the first sentence and … oh, oh ... it sounds completely different than the original! OMG! 

Now you have to re-record the entire job! Gasp!


Never fear! You can fix this problem - and avoid it in the future - by sound matching. 

Here are some hints on how to set up your recording gear to get repeatable results when you record. And by understanding these concepts, you can also adjust your gear to get a recording that matches an earlier recording.

Hint 1: Keep it Simple, Studioperson

Yeah, the old "KISS" rule strikes again. Don't put a lot of strange equipment between your mic and the box that digitizes your signal. 

I've seen signal chains with compressors, EQs de-essers, and noise gates strung between the mic and the interface box. 

Each of those gadgets responds differently to both dynamics (loud and soft) and frequency. And they each affect the next guy in the chain.

If you throw all that gear into the signal path you will never get the same sound twice. The clients want your basic audio to begin with. Not some de-essed, compressed, EQ'd, gated version of your audio. 

If you don't write down ALL the parameters of these boxes you've used, you'll never find your way back to the original sound.

Hint 2: Set it and Forget it

Use your creativity on your read, not your recording technique. 

Once you've figured out how to record at a good level, set any knobs and never touch them again. 

OK, I'll allow you ONE knob. The gain control. If it's a louder read, turn the gain down to get the right level. Quiet read? Turn the gain up. 

Then make sure your pickup performance matches the energy of the original performance and adjust the gain so the recorded audio is at the same level.

Hint 3: Make Note of Your Mic Distance

Here's a secret many beginning recordists don't know. 

Most voice over microphones have a "cardioid" pattern of sensitivity. That means they "hear" really well from the front but reject sounds from the back. 

This is good because it eliminates sounds from around the room from your recording. But cardioid mics also have a "proximity effect." The sound of your voice gets more "bassy" as you get closer to the mic. And a small change in distance can have considerable effect on the "tone" of your recording. 

If all the other things haven't changed and your new recording doesn't sound like your original, this may be the culprit.

If it sounds too bassy, move back a bit and turn up the gain to match the original recording level. If it sounds to "treble," move a touch closer to the mic and turn the gain down a bit.


To summarize, when you record pickups, the sound of the new recording must match the original.  

To make sure this happens start, with a simple signal path: USB mic into the computer or conventional mic into the interface box, then into the computer.

Experiment with the level that will give you a good recording level, and then stick with it for most jobs.

And pick a good mic distance - 6 to 12 inches for most condenser mics - and then stick with that distance.

If you need to vary from these settings, then make a quick note-to-self:
"I really had to scream so I turned the gain to X and my mic distance was Y."
And then your pickups will match, you'll swap those sentences in the original, anD the fix will take minutes - not hours.
William Williams has worked for the last quarter century as owner of Aliso Creek Productions. As a voice talent, he has voiced national, regional and local commercials for AT&T, Apple Computer, Radio Shack, Princess Cruises, Chicago Tribune and many more. He has directed Nancy Cartwright, Michael York, Yakov Smirnoff, Jack Mayberry and other top voice talent. And he teaches commercial and animation voice over, offers private coaching and demo production in his studio in Burbank, CA and online.


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Comments (9)
Carol MacPherson
6/2/2017 at 9:50 AM
Thank you for this article. I have had this issue once or twice and suspected it might be the mic distance. I had done some extra noise reduction improvements to my booth, so I had forgotten exactly where I had recorded the narration I did a month ago. When the client came back a month later to get one sentence re-recorded, I had quite the issue with getting it to sound the same.

Thanks again. Often, it is the simple stuff that trips us up!

Lynn Benson
6/10/2016 at 2:04 AM
Thanks for the share. It is so evident. Distance makes a huge difference. Use your hand. Turn it sideways and spread it out for a measuring tool. Various projects will benefit from changing your placement, however, as you said "set it and forget it."
6/7/2016 at 2:30 PM
These are great tips. Thank you
Mike Carta
6/5/2016 at 3:52 PM
"If" you do use a few pieces of audio gear between your mic and computer, take a picture of your settings with your smart phone. Refer to it when you need too.
Tracy Elman
6/1/2016 at 3:52 AM
Thank you William, something known but forgotten. Write it down. In the digital world yes, and I still have paper and pencil.
Howard Ellison
5/31/2016 at 4:37 PM
So true, so true, William! For a long time I used a ribbon for narrative jobs, and condenser for more commercial or shouty stuff. But of course there's always material that's halfway between, with opportunities for uncertainty. When I used paper script I made a note of the mic, but stopped doing that when I went to a monitor instead. Shock horror! No log!

For other reasons, I rarely use the ribbon now and if I change from default proximity I have learned to put a meta-note on the audio file

Even so… even so… Morning Voice ain't the same as Evening, as Greg points out.
Larry Wayne
5/31/2016 at 4:22 PM
William...Good tips! Regarding volume of pickups....I never try to second guess recording louder or softer by adjusting my gear...That too is a guess. Making sure I do not make ANY adjustments on gear prior to recording, I record the correct line at end of file, copy it and paste it where it needs to go. Then, I have an instant comparison of both files...before and after, if you will. If any adjustment is needed to the volume, or eq, or anything, I do it there thru the controls on my software rather than change any equipment settings.Then delete the original, and I'm good to go!
steve hammill
5/31/2016 at 3:38 PM
In the case described, I've found punch-ins very difficult. I prefer to reread the two preceding sentences and the one following. It is more work but usually a much better match.
Greg Downey
5/31/2016 at 9:13 AM
Thank you, William. I've also found that it makes a difference, for me anyways, what time of day I record. Morning time for me, the voice is a bit more raspy. Later in the day, depends on what I've had to eat/drink and how much I have used my voice.
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