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Normalization

Hey, there!

When auditioning, giving a loud, clean sound to your submissions is essential. The level at which you safely record those auditions, being careful not to overdrive the microphone or recorded signal, can leave you with a properly recorded, but weak sounding final product. Here’s how to fix that.

Electronically, you can “turn up the volume” by using a process called normalization to tweak the audition’s overall loudness before exporting to your MP3 file for submission. Normalization is a process available in any sound editing and recording software, including ProTools and Audacity.

Here’s a before-and-after example of normalizing a piece of audio. The top graphic is as recorded, and the bottom graphic is after normalizing the audio to full 100% digital volume. To hear the difference, click on the links below the graphic.


Listen to the audio as recorded


Listen to the audio with 0.0 dB normalization

Two things you’ll notice: the normalized version is louder, and the room noise is more noticeable. That’s because normalizing increases all audio evenly, by the same percentage. This means that your words will be louder, but depending upon the amount of room noise in your space, that noise may be louder as well.

You’ll find the Normalize… command under the Effect menu in Audacity. To use it, highlight the entire audition, then go to the Effect menu, and choose Normalize…. You’ll be presented with a screen that lets you choose the level of normalization, where 0.0 is the loudest, and for every full dB you choose to go down, you lower the loudness by about 8%. Audacity is usually set at -2.0 dB, and you can change that to -1.0 or 0.0. Leave the other checkbox (zero crossover error correction) checked. Click OK. You’ll see your waveform increase in height. You’ve now normalized the audio, and you can continue on with exporting your work.

Do this with every audition you perform, if needed. It really does act like a simple volume control, and adds to the power and presence of your auditions.

If you have any questions, feel free to comment below.

Hope this helps.

David

17 Responses to Normalization

  1. David Britz September 6, 2011 at 3:29 pm #

    Great article. David also told me that if you normalize and hear the sound floor, your mic input level needs to be turned up in system preferences. :)

    • David H. Lawrence XVII September 6, 2011 at 11:17 pm #

      Gentle correction – the term is “noise floor” – the ambient noise in the room that is also part of the overall sound that is normalized. You shouldn’t notice it much, but if your sound is softly recorded, you just might.

  2. Craig Bruenell September 24, 2011 at 11:06 pm #

    What about Audacity’s “Noise Removal” effect? You record a few seconds of ambient noise to get a “noise profile” that is used to set the proper level.

    • David H. Lawrence XVII September 25, 2011 at 12:27 am #

      Noise removal has nothing to do with proper levels. That function removes, in a not so predictable way, background noise from a region, based on a sample of noise within that region. It is rarely clean and precise, rather it’s meant to be able to distinguish words spoken in a high noise level recording environment. Noise removal should never be used to enhance an audition, as there’s damage done to the overall quality of your voice and performance.

  3. David Britz October 19, 2011 at 4:14 pm #

    Waaaaay better than “remove noise!” As we learned, that damages the voice and is usually used to forensic analysis…. no place in VO. :)

  4. Deborah Geffner February 21, 2012 at 9:55 am #

    Is normalization available in Garage Band? (I have not yet been able to learn to work efficiently in Audacity, but I’m very familiar with Garage Band, so I’ve been using it, and I’ve been very satisfied with it.)

    • David H. Lawrence XVII February 21, 2012 at 11:32 am #

      I actually don’t know – I don’t use garageband ever. If anyone does know, please post.

      David

  5. leslie ellis March 21, 2012 at 2:40 pm #

    I’m using the AT2020 and trying to find the best input level to find a good balance of room noise vs. hot mic sibilance. I’ve been recording at .5 or 50% input but find that there is a LOT of mouth noise and sibilance after normalization and compression. Do you ever eq after all this to take that out or should I use a lower input level and then just deal with the room noise increase?

    • David H. Lawrence XVII March 21, 2012 at 6:56 pm #

      Mouth noise, I wouldn’t worry so much about. Sibilance, you can EQ with a lo-pass rolloff at between 9 and 10k – you’ll need to set your playback to loop a particularly sibilant passage, then use a parametric EQ to sweep across that space to find where your particular sibilance is, and then notch filter that particular frequency or range of frequencies down to lessen the harshness of your esses. It will also help with the same quality in your fricatives – an “f” sound is often as harsh as an “s” sound, and similar in construction and frequency range.

      Hope this helps!

      David

  6. leslie ellis March 22, 2012 at 7:22 am #

    Awesome, Dave, thanks!

  7. Kat Negrete January 7, 2014 at 9:41 am #

    Can you do a post on sibilance, EQ, and lo-pass rolloff? :-)

  8. Ian Freeman January 7, 2014 at 11:11 pm #

    Ah, yes. Team Four Star told me about normalizing audio as well. Although I didn’t know it could also be used to amplify the sound. I tend to use it when the recording peaks (gets too loud, like when I’m screaming). Looking back, I guess it makes sense that the reverse would hold true as well. Very useful, all the same.

  9. Ben Atkinson January 8, 2014 at 11:52 am #

    Hi David,

    Is normalization replaced by the use of levelator? Or would you recommend using them in tandem? If so, in which order?

    Thanks!

    • David H. Lawrence XVII January 12, 2014 at 1:01 pm #

      My recommendation is to use one or the other – Levelator for audiobook mastering, and Normalization for other VO work. I wouldn’t use them at the same time – you’ll raise the noise floor as well as your recorded voice, and then Levelator just has to deal with that higher noise floor. Let it do its work on the raw audiobook recordings you’ve made.

  10. Otis Jiry January 12, 2014 at 12:23 pm #

    A really nifty way to clean up your audio files is at a free website called Auphonic.com which essentially masters you audio. It does a wonderful job of making you sound your best.

    • David H. Lawrence XVII January 12, 2014 at 1:05 pm #

      I’ve just recently discovered that site – I’ve been meaning to do some tests and report back. Thanks for the heads up!

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