Picture the scene…
It’s a lovely summer afternoon. The windows are open, and you can smell the fresh scent of cut grass on the breeze that fills the room.
Inspiration strikes. You grab your microphone, turn on your computer, and open up Audacity.
As the words spill from your mouth, you feel yourself effortlessly gliding through the text.
The words sound elegant, clear and honest.
You’re in the zone, and it’s a perfect take first time round….
You grab your headphones and listen back to the recording, eagerly awaiting to hear your performance.
BOOM. Your voice sounds great. Intimate and warm, yet clear and natural at the same time.
But… there’s a problem. A big one.
Noise. Lots of it.
Wind, distant traffic, lawnmowers, birds, dogs barking…
The perfect performance is ruined.
Defeated, you feel the inspiration flee from your body. As you record a second time, the words don’t seem to fit in your mouth. They clumsily stumble from your tongue.
I’ve been there more times than I care to admit.
It’s not always summer. It’s not always the same noise. And it’s not always when I’m recording voice overs.
But it always ruins my vibe. Nobody likes to record the same thing twice, when the first performance was perfect.
Fortunately, this situation can be easily avoided with some simple preparation.
Rather than trying to fix a noisy recording with noise removal tools (which rarely sound good), you need to address noise at the source when recording voice overs.
In this guide, I want to share 28 ways to prevent noise from ruining your voice over.
To make this guide easier to follow, I have split it in to six clear sections. If you’re coming back you can skip to the chapter you want using these links.
The easiest techniques for preventing noise and isolating the sound that you are recording. These are simple, practical tips that you can implement right now.
These are more permanent solutions for removing ambient noise. They may be more difficult to implement. But, you only have to do the work once (and reap the benefits forever).
If you already have a noisy recording, you can’t go back in time to apply the previous techniques. How annoying! This section will concentrate on noise removal effects, editing and other options.
Not all noise comes from around you. Some components of your recording chain can introduce electrical noise.
If you have a noisy recording and noise removal software isn’t working, here are some last resorts.
Lastly, I’ll share with you the best general tips for approaching noise removal and reduction.
1. Use a dynamic microphone
This one is easy. The first mic you buy in a home studio should be a dynamic microphone.
Why you ask? Dynamic microphones are less sensitive than condenser microphones.
For this reason they tend to capture high frequency background noises less, such as computer fans.
They will also be less sensitive to room irregularities and reverb/echoes.
2. Use a cardioid pattern microphone
In a home studio environment you should also be using a cardioid pattern microphone.
These mics reject sound from the rear, so you can point them away from noise sources.
Yep, it’s that easy!
If your computer fan is noisy, put it on the other side of the room and point the mic away from it.
If the noise is coming from outside, point the mic away from your windows.
If you live with noisy people, shoot them.
Ahem, only kidding…
Just point the mic away from them!
3. Exploit the signal to noise ratio
This might sound complicated, but trust me, it’s not.
The closer the mic is to the sound source, the less background noise it will pick up.
The closer a mic is to the sound, the louder that sound will be.
But the background noise stays at a constant level.
So when the sound that you want to capture is louder (because it is closer to the mic), you don’t have to bring up the gain as much. Because of this, you aren’t increasing the level of the background noise as much.
On the contrary, if the mic was really far away from the sound source, it would capture it at a much lower volume. You would then have to turn the track up to hear it properly, and in doing so you would also be increasing the volume of the noise.
Of course, you can also move the mic away from the noise source (e.g. the window). Then it will be even quieter!
4. Put a heavy blanket or duvet over the sound source when possible
This one can get a bit sweaty (as I mentioned earlier) if you’re recording your voice and need to get under the duvet with your mic.
But it’s such a quick an easy way to isolate a sound.
If you’re recording an amplifier it’s a no brainer.
Packing blankets work well, but feel free to just get in to bed and use a duvet (I’m not sure this would help with productivity though).
5. Get in the wardrobe and close the door
Another common technique. Mainly for vocals, voice over work and podcasts.
This trick works in multiple ways:
- You get some nice reverb dampening from the clothes.
- You avoid the echoes that come with larger rooms.
- You have another door blocking the sound.
- You can easily put your laptop/computer in another room to get rid of fan noise.
- There are generally no loud electrical devices in your wardrobe.
- There are generally no windows.
6. Turn everything off
This one seems obvious, but it’s easy to forget.
Turn off your dishwasher, washing machine, speakers, fans, A/C or anything that makes noise in your home.
7. Put your laptop/computer in another room
This is common practice in any studio environment.
Computers and laptops have fans in them to keep them cool. Audio recording software is generally processor hungry, so your fan will speed up when you’re recording.
This in turn creates a lot of noise. It’s probably the most common noise source in a home studio environment!
The easiest thing to do is to put your computer in a different room so that you can’t hear the fan.
If this isn’t possible, point your mic away from the computer when you’re recording.
Using a laptop stand can also help cool your laptop. Then the fan won’t have to work as hard (so it will be quieter).
As a last resort, you can download software that limits your fan speed. This only works for extremely short recording sessions. You don’t want your computer to overheat!
8. Shut all of the doors and windows in your house
This stupid-simple tip will make a huge difference.
Don’t just close the doors and windows of the room you’re in, but walk though your house or apartment and shut every single door and window.
If there are others in the house, ask them to remain in the room they’re in. Or wait until you’ve finished a take.
You don’t want doors slamming half way through your recording!
9. Use a shock mount
Buying a shock mount is an instant win.
A shock mount will prevent rumbles from footsteps outside of the room. If you like to move around and sometimes accidentally kick the mic stand, this is a must-have!
A lot of people have never seen a shock mount before, so here’s an image. As you can see, it uses elastic bands to suspend the microphone and reduce vibrations.
10. Use a reflection shield
Another great accessory that will improve the sound of your recording in addition to reducing background noise.
They block out sound from behind pretty well. Use one with a cardioid mic and put it between the mic and the noise source (e.g. computer, or another instrument if multi-tracking).
You can easily create your own using acoustic foam and a plastic box. Attach the foam to the inside of the box and then put your mic on a small stand inside facing outwards!
11. Use a floor stand, not a desk stand
Desk stands are very common nowadays, especially for podcasting and voice over work.
However, they are best avoided. You can’t move them around the room as easily, and it’s easy to knock a desk when recording.
If you start typing, wave goodbye to your recording!
The microphone will pick up every vibration in the desk, from your own movements and from your computer or laptop.
Put the stand on top of some sound-isolating material, such as a cardboard box or acoustic isolation pads.
12. Try a different room!
Maybe there’s equipment in the room that you can’t turn off. Or your usual recording room shares a wall with your neighbours.
In some cases you might just have to try a different room.
If you move room, leave your computer or laptop in another room and use a long mic cable if you can.
Don’t forget to consider the acoustics of the new room. It might be quieter but sound a lot worse. Find a happy medium!
1. Get a bookcase
If your problem is a noisy neighbour or road, add a bookcase to the shared wall.
You’ll need to fill it with books though!
An added bonus is that books work great for absorption.
2. Put up heavy curtains over windows
A lot of external ambient noise comes in through the windows. Yes, even when they’re closed!
You can counteract this with heavy curtains. Just remember to draw them when you record.
Again, heavy curtains will also help with absorption.
3. Add rubber door seals to your all doors in your recording room
This is perhaps the cheapest and easiest form of sound proofing.
You can get these from most DIY stores. They are cheap and easy to install.
Sometimes they are referred to as draught excluder’s.
There is usually quite a large gap under the door. This is an easy way for sound to leak in to the room.
Adding a door seal will easily block noise from inside your home.
4. Seal your window frames
Use a sealant to seal any gaps in your window frame if it hasn’t already been done.
These gaps are usually around the edges where the window frame meets the wall.
5. Hang heavy drapes a few inches from the wall
The crucial element here is the gap between the drapes and the wall.
The basic principle of full room soundproofing (and double glazing in windows) is creating an air gap.
Hanging drapes directly on the wall will make a slight difference. But moving them a few inches away will drastically improve the amount of sound proofing.
6. Properly soundproof your walls
Proper soundproofing is the best way to reduce background noise in your home studio.
Unfortunately, it is also the most expensive.
It’s quite easy to do yourself if you’re confident with a bit of DIY, but will require a lot of time.
The name of the game is to essentially build a room within a room.
The first step is to create a new frame of 2″ studs within the room, on top of the current walls.
Then fill in your stud frame with acoustic insulation wool.
Finally, put up drywall on your new frame using soundproofing clips or a resilient channel. And there you have it – a room within a room!
You can improve your soundproofing even more by adding more mass to the walls. Add another layer or two of drywall using a noise proofing glue such as Green Glue.
The final step is to use an acoustic sealant to seal any gaps in the wall, such as in corners. A small hole in your surfaces can compromise efficiency by up to 50%!
It sound like a lot of work, and it is. But if you live in a very noisy environment, or need to reduce sound leaking from your room, this is the most effective option.
First, though, address the weakest areas, such as doors and windows!
7. Create a floating floor
So we’ve talked about soundproofing the walls, but what about the floor?
The same principle applies. We need to decouple the surfaces to create an air gap.
To do this we need to create a floating floor using wooden beams on rubber supports.
Unless you have a lot of sound coming from the apartment below you should worry more about your doors, windows and walls than your floor.
1. Use a noise gate or expander
If the background noise is subtle you can use a noise gate or expander to reduce the level of the noise between phrases.
An expander works in the opposite way to a compressor. It works by making the quiet bits (the noise) even quieter.
2. Use volume and EQ automation
Manually drop the level of the track between phrases, or EQ out the noise between phrases.
3. Use a noise removal tool (Audacty, Reaper, iZotope RX4)
Sometimes you’re left with no other option. There are a lot of great tools out there that will help you remove background noise from audio or video.
A lot of people like to use Audacity to remove background noise.
I’m gonna put this out there – I’m not a huge fan.
It works, sure. But if you use it too heavily, it can trash your audio.
Due to the way that the effect works, random artefacts are introduced in to the audio. You can clearly hear when audio has been over-processed.
Despite that, here’s a video showing you how to use it properly.
There are many other better options out there. Reaper has a great noise removal plugin called ReaFir. Plus, it’s completely free to download and try!
I’m also a huge fan of iZotope’s RX4 plugin. It has many uses beyond noise removal as well. Well worth the cost if you regularly edit audio.
1. Use balanced cables
Wherever high quality audio is concerned, you should use balanced cables.
Unbalanced cables can be used for instruments, and that’s about it.
Using unbalanced mic cables will introduce noise to your recording instantly.
2. Separate electrical cables and audio cables
This is a general rule in all environments.
Audio cables should not be near power cables. And they definitely shouldn’t run parallel to electrical cables.
Electrical cables heavily interfere with audio cables and introduce a hum at 50/60Hz.
If you can’t keep audio cables and power cables completely separate, make sure they cross at right angles as shown below.
3. Set your bit depth to 24 bits
Setting the bit depth of your project to 24 bit will reduce the noise on your recordings.
Using a higher bit depth also allows you to record at lower levels and lower the risk of clipping during a take.
You can read all about bit depth in this article about setting up your DAW which has an infographic for quick project setup.
Here’s a common situation. You have a voice recording that you can’t re-record. Perhaps it was an interview.
Except it was recorded near a busy road with the window open…
Okay, it’s a stupid mistake, but it happens.
Sometimes when inspiration strikes you don’t have time to think about background noise.
You’ve tried using Audacity to remove the background noise, but it just sounds… weird.
Don’t panic! There are a few things you could do to fix this noisy problem.
1. Add subtle background music
You can easily mask background noise with subtle music.
Make sure to chose a track that doesn’t distract from your voice. Chose an instrumental track that matches the mood of your voice.
Make sure it is a lot quieter than your voice as well.
2. Make it part of the performance
If you have limited options available, make the noise part of the performance.
Narrating a piece about the local wildlife? Go and record in the woods!
Interviewing a busy professional about city life? Do it in a coffee shop!
Just be sure to use a dynamic cardioid microphone in these situations and exploit the signal to noise ratio.
3. Use a professional audio restoration service
If you have noisy audio and can’t convincingly clean it up yourself, this might be your only choice.
Get It Right At The Source
It’s worth bearing in mind that it’s easier to eliminate noise at the source. And this is where you should focus your efforts.
There are of course times when this isn’t possible, though. In which case you are forgiven.
But always try to get as clean a recording as possible.
It’s far easier to spend 15 minutes eliminating noise before you start recording than spending hours trying to remove the noise later on!
Next Step (Free Resources)
If you want to get better at recording voice overs at home, I have some great free resources to give away.
Download your free copy of my ‘Complete Voice Over Equipment Guide’ eBook and I’ll also give you the ‘Effect Settings Cheat Sheet’ (that will help you to get your processing done in a jiffy).