Headphones are commonly used in recording situations. When recording voice, what are some effective uses for headphones? What are some pitfalls to avoid?
NOW HEAR THIS!
Sometimes recording technology can exaggerate the sounds that voice actors make: plosives, sibilance, proximity effect, mouth noise. If it isn’t too distracting, it may be valuable for a voice actor to hear these undesirable sounds. Actors can perform some sounds more softly, change their mic technique, or have a drink of water if they know they are contributing to an issue because they can hear it in their headphones. When actors are recording themselves (for an audition for example) headphones can save time by allowing the actor to adjust during the recording, rather than re-recording because the problem was heard afterward.
Veteran voice actor and favorite human Jennifer Hale made the point that headphones are important for actors to monitor their performance when voice matching. If actors can listen to the target voice then hear their own performance in headphones it helps them get closer.
But if voice actors are not matching, monitoring their own performance may be more of a distraction than an aid. Jennifer reminded that voice director Kris Zimmerman intentionally asks recording engineers to NOT put out headphones for actors so that they give a better performance. But why? I believe it is because active listening requires brain power. If actors can be free from the burden of listening they have more attention to give their acting.
Likewise, hearing technical problems and worrying about them can be distracting. First and foremost actors need the space and comfort to act. Instead of helping, headphones may work against a great performance by focusing attention on problematic plosives, sibilance, proximity effect, mouth noise, etc. instead of crafting a believable character.
In addition, headphones may provide the illusion that an actor is speaking loudly. Some people find it difficult to project while wearing headphones. Sometimes the engineer can lower the actor’s level to the headphones to encourage the actor to perform more loudly, but projection is typically restored by simply removing the headphones all together.
For any of these distractions the simple solution may be: take off the headphones. If headphones are uncomfortable (don’t fit well, are too hot, cause listening fatigue) then removing them may be appropriate. Don’t let anyone tell you that you should wear headphones. Use them if they are helpful, make a change if they are not helpful.
Of course there are situations where headphones seem like a problem, but there are also good reasons to wear them. Are there any good options? Next: Headphone Alternatives for Voice Actors.
Additional topics: dealing with headphone cables, headphone sizing, clicky/rattling headphones, and more.
On Facebook, Sean Hebert brought Balanced Armature technology to my attention. It’s fascinating stuff you can read about, along with other useful information about how headphones work, on this Wikipedia entry.