Voice recording

A few days ago, a friend of mine contacted me on Facebook for help. I said, “Sure”. Then, “Uh, what do you need me to help with?” She said it’s a voice research project, and she needed people to just read for her. The criteria are:

  • Must be male
  • Must be Singaporean, Singapore Permanent Resident (PR), or Malaysian
  • Is between 17 to 40 years of age
  • Can speak English or Malay fairly fluently

A small monetary token will be given to the participant. Click here for more details. (They still need people to help as of this writing)

But since you’re 95% likely to be non-Singaporean and non-Malaysian, that’s not relevant to you, and you can continue reading to find out what happened.

Well, I agreed to help her. I believe I can speak English fluently. And I get paid. Hey, a man’s gotta eat.

So I wondered what kind of voice research she’s working on. Maybe she’s testing fluency or vocabulary (can you say “prestidigitation”?). When I arrived at the venue, I was jittery. What if there’s a word that I don’t know how to pronounce? What if I was to read a large number in words, like three million twenty five thousand eight hundred and sixty four (horror memory of a high school English teacher who forced me to do just that)? What if my pauses were at the wrong positions, my breathing disrupted, and my voice cracked in the middle of the recording session?

Well, she told me I was to read a total of 330 sentences. Some of the sentences will be grammatically incorrect. Most of them had no punctuation and capitalisation (so no clues to where to pause). As an example, we have

she still needs to use the bathroom get them to arrange meeting Monday he says

I learnt to quickly glance at the end to get hints such as “he says” or “the representative said” to know that it was a quote. So the example should look like this

“She still needs to use the bathroom. Get them to arrange the meeting on Monday.” he says.

My friend told me to just breeze through the sentences if the mistakes I make are minor. I think those minor mistakes are the “the”, “a” and other common words. Sometimes I obviously misread a word, and she’ll give me a signal to reread the sentence again (which wasn’t often). I myself, on my own judgment, reread a few sentences that I wasn’t happy with.

I still didn’t know what the research was for, so by trying to inject some coherence and pauses and inflection, I could be sabotaging her research. I know the reason for her research, but I’m not sure if she wants it known to the public at this point. So if you want to find out, you’ll have to participate and then ask her on the spot.

Each sentence took about 5 seconds to read, and I paused a little at the start and end of each sentence. I’ve done some audio recording before, so having a little white space helps in the editing. What happened was, she had me put on a headset (that microphone must be way better than mine because it captured sound crisply). She also had an iPad in front of me doing backup recording (ooh, high tech…). On the computer, she ran a program that displayed sentences. I read the sentence, she clicks on the “Next” button to display the next sentence, and we continue in this manner.

Remember, I had to read 330 sentences. Let’s say each sentence took 8 seconds in total, which would account for the repeats I had to do as well. That means the whole voice recording session was about 44 minutes long (yeah, it’s around that long). I’m not a very talkative person, so I’m not sure if my voice could hold up. Sure enough, about 60% in, I could feel a scritchy feeling in my throat. Oh no. Should I tell her to stop while I clear my throat? Should I just cough and clear my throat in between sentences? Maybe I could cover the microphone and cough politely.

I went on anyway, swallowing to try to ease the discomfort, hoping that my voice wouldn’t crack (that’d be embarrassing). I could hear myself swallowing, and hoped the microphone didn’t capture that too. I was so happy when I was at the 80% mark. The sentences started to repeat themselves (wait, they were repeated!). President Nixon was around. Stock markets weren’t good. There was grocery shopping to be done. Company profits were up by fourteen PERCENT last quarter. My voice threatened to crack on me.

328 sentences read. 329 sentences read. And then the last sentence was read and recorded. I punched both my fists into the air in silent victory (we were still recording until my friend said otherwise). I wanted to cry for joy. I needed to cough for relief.

And you know what was my main concern on all this? I kept reminding myself to add a bit more baritone to my voice so it would sound more sexy.