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Opuzz Voice : Featured Article

Voiceovers for the Web: An Overview"

by Joe Malchow


The Internet world has moved on, from the glory days of bi-tonal midi files and the occasional distorted 4 bit wav. In a world where Flash is king, audio is being implemented into the web in ways more synergistic than ever before imagined. In this article, I will go over the fundamentals of implementing quality audio (and particularly, voiceovers), into your website.

The computer applications referenced in this article are Flash (Macromedia), Cool Edit Pro (Syntrillium), and Pro Tools (Digidesign). The latter two are largely web-programmer friendly, so don't be afraid to play around with your audio!

Let's begin with audio quality. We will concentrate on Macromedia's Flash, which is the application used to create most animated websites. It uses MP3 technology. MP3, which is the Motion Picture Expert Group's Codec 1, Layer 3 technology, is a file format that can encode CD-quality sound in a fraction of the space. MP3s come in two flavors: constant bit rate and variable bit rate. Always use constant bit rate, even though it uses a tad more space. VBR is not supported by some playback applications. For optimal sound in Flash productions, use 64kbps, 44.1kHz, single-channel encoding. Your sound will be monaural, but miniscule in size and hardly distinguishable from a compact disc.

Now let's talk about tonal quality. You have two considerations here. First, you must take into account any other audio in your website. Be sure that background music is very quiet and the voiceovers are at a significantly higher level. Do not insert audio elements that could potentially clash. More importantly, construct your audio so that it sounds pleasing to your audience, regardless of where the visitor's mouse pointer is. In terms of editing, you may find that you need to change your voiceover files so that they sound good encoded and played through computer speakers. If you are lucky, your voiceover talent will be able to calibrate the audio before he sends it to you. If not, purchase Cool Edit Pro, or, if you are adept at audio editing, Pro Tools. These applications will allow you full control of the tonal quality of your voiceovers. 

The average web surfer will be using a two or three piece speaker system that sounds nothing like the studio monitors that you may be acclimated to. You will want to be sure that very low frequencies and very high frequencies are not emphasized. Focus on achieving a smooth middle-high bandwidth. Remember, the human ear senses the middle frequencies more readily. For voice, your priority should be intelligibility. Ergo, accentuate the middle band when equalizing voice files.

A tip for newbies: When you are listening as you edit, try turning the subwoofer and treble all the way down on your speakers. Achieve clear sound that way, and the majority of visitors will experience the same.

In terms of production values, certainly you are out to keep the audience interested in the website. This is easily accomplished by filtering out all unnecessary audio. Keep the 'on-hover' sounds to a minimum. Do not assign short voice cues to each button in a navigation bar (Home, Purchase, About Us, Contact Us, etc..). These repetitive cues get boring, fast. Instead, focus on a polished intro with one or two lines of voiceover. When you have longer voice cues for certain pages (an About Us page, perhaps), have the voice cue activated with a small speaker icon rather than having it play on load.

The golden rule of voice on the web is understatement.

I hope this article has helped focus your audio-integration endeavors. Good luck!

Joe Malchow is a voiceover artist and audio producer in the New York area.
His experience in audio production and broadcasting span many venues and
formats. His production company, WJIM Audio Services,
is his creative services outlet.


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