This post is an update of a series of posts written by Dan Lenard for Voice123.
People new to a home voice over studio, whether they’re a newbie or an experienced voice actor, are filled with wonder at the ability to do it at home. With that wonder comes the technology behind it, and the anxiety and intimidation that comes with not knowing how to use it. So many people give me the phrase “I’m not a techie,” or “I’m computer unfriendly,” or “I don’t get any of this.” I also hear; “What’s the best this, and the best that?” I ask, the best for what? Seeking the best equipment means little if you don’t know how to use it or even what it’s for. Besides, what’s best means different things to different people. If you’re just getting going and planning a state-of-the-art production facility built in a new wing to your house, understand that it’s not the equipment that will make you a good voice actor. It’s you.
Rules of Equipment Purchase
Never walk into an audio retail store and say, “I’m building a home voice over studio. What do you recommend?” Know what you specifically want before you walk in there. I’ve got nothing against the guys behind the audio counter. Their knowledge base is MUSIC and recording music, not dry voice in a home voice over studio. The difference is in the level of complexity needed to record and capture a variety of sounds in an acoustically sterile environment. You only need to capture your voice as others hear it, in one mono track. You’re not trying to record your voice so it can be heard above Metallica. A HOME voice over studio is a relatively new phenomenon and a unique environment. There’s no one right way to do it.
Read the online forums for ideas and perspective, but take recommendations with a grain of salt. Much of the discussion on “What’s best” is based, again, on the limited perspective of each home studio voice actor. What works best for them, with their voice and style, in their basement, isn’t the same as what will work best for you in your closet. It’s a starting point. You can learn some new techniques from there. You can learn about something you might want to consider. Just don’t get sucked into the “mine’s bigger or better than yours” debates that the uber-geeks online like to engage in. Listen to those with a good reputation and talk to them directly.
While a Logitech, off the shelf, computer mic might sound better than your old cassette recorder mic, it won’t hack it in this ever increasingly competitive market. The good news is a good mic that is more than adequate is under $300!
You need a studio condenser mic. Choices abound, but remember, the recommendation of one brand or model over another is not as critical as some audiophiles would lead you to believe. You live or die by the quality of your performance, which can be captured accurately by any $250+ mic. The more critical factor is the acoustics in your studio. In fact, 90% of the quality of audio in a HOME voice over studio is the acoustics of your space. A $1000 Neumann TLM 103 will sound like a cassette recorder mic if your room acoustics are not proper and you don’t understand proper mic technique. Cheaper mics are cheaper because they can’t capture the dynamic range of your voice as accurately and are not as sensitive as more expensive mics. But you don’t want TOO sensitive.
Remember, we’re talking HOME studio. A $1000+ mic will hear you… and some kid skateboarding down the block, the Mr. Softee truck a mile away, and that fly that got into your studio. So, which one does the Home Studio Master Recommend? Just remember what I said about price and you’ll be OK. The sound of you in your space will be unique. Your microphone plays only a part in that. If you use anything in the price range that I mentioned and use it right, the only thing that will determine your competitiveness is how you interpret the copy.
Recently, a client contracted me to audition kids of voice actors with home studios. To my pleasure, all of the kids seem to have inherited their parents’ ability to act. So I guess it is genetic. Unfortunately, I had to cull some of the auditions based on the audio quality of the submissions, and in some cases, an older voice actor’s studio.
What were some of the problems? They were mostly acoustics. Room reverberation is a no-no. You have to have a room that is not only quiet and isolated from outside noise, but also non-audio reflective.
What do I mean? You can’t sound like you’re in an empty room with no furniture. What concerns me is that the majority of auditions I had received, suffered from very minor to hyper-acoustical reflectivity (a distinct echo). I think there are a couple of reasons for this.
Clearly, if you’re a beginner to a home studio environment, you may not even be aware of that requirement. It’s not just plugging in a mic and talking. You have to be aware of more than just the direct sound of your voice. You have to know what to listen for as well. It is essential to recognize the difference between a lively reflective room and a lively “dead” room. While that might sound like an oxymoron, it is true. The reason I think most do not recognize it is because they don’t monitor their playback in a proper fashion. Your laptop and desktop computer speakers will play back what you say, but they won’t reveal the subtle additions to your audio that will ruin it – and your chances of landing a gig.
The answer to this usually starts an argument. I recommend “close field” studio monitors. They aren’t loudspeakers like you had in your dorm room. They are…what they are…“Close Field.” That means they are powerful but don’t project far. They’re meant to be less than a few feet from you. What makes them the proper tool is that they reproduce what you recorded with far more accuracy. They’re not cheap either. But, if you’re producing quality audio, they are a necessary investment. Add to that, the room you use to listen to the monitors (logically next to your workstation computer monitor) also has to be properly tuned and not reflective.
Good headphones are ok too, but they have to be excellent. The output wattage studio monitors produce a much cleaner clarity to your audio. That power reveals the imperfections needing correction that your cheap speakers just cannot. Headphones, with their lower power, in my opinion, tend to distort the true nature of your audio. But, if you have to be considerate of neighbors and housemates, that’s what you have to use.
You need to reduce noise by increments to where you can get your audio to a point where you can electronically eliminate background noise seamlessly. Not as hard as it sounds, if you’ll forgive the pun.
You can reduce some of the exterior bleed by sealing yourself in somewhere. And I mean seal. Find a closet, preferably to the center of your home or apartment, away from windows. For starters, create as much of an airtight seal as you can using storm door insulation and door sweeps. It won’t keep out a jackhammer out front, but it will reduce it by significant “dB’s.”
If you’re not in a closet and are setting up in an office or a small room, close the door. We’ve talked here before about shutting everything off in the home when you record, including your family or roommates. Turn off the furnace, AC, TV, dishwasher and laundry. Those are things you have control over.
But, here’s the worst offender. Your computer. Especially PC’s. Computer fans are too loud to have in the same room you’re recording in. Do everything you can to get your CPU in another room from your mic. That’s what microphone cables and monitor and USB extension cords are for. Also, learn how to turn the fans off from the computers operating system when you record. Better yet, use a Mac. The newer ones have solid state drives or even if they have hard discs, run very quiet. When iPads and other tablets come along with compatible interfaces that can record more easily hit the market, go for it. They’ll make NO noise.
Here’s a little tip that makes a big difference when it comes to computer noise. Don’t mount your microphone on a desk stand. Especially if you didn’t listen to these previous points and threw your computer under the desk on the floor, or have your laptop on the same desk. Mount your mic on a floor stand with a boom and a SHOCK MOUNT. The vibrations that come from a computer in proximity to a mic are transferred easily through furniture. I hear it all the time. When I tell people to get it off the desk, it makes a significant improvement!
The standard I look for is getting your noise floor under -50dBfs. If you can achieve that, then we can talk about the use of noise gates, and occasionally, other electronic noise suppression programs. What’s -50dBfs? It’s a measurement of volume. -50dbfs is very quiet, but not inaudible.
The following video will help you find the best location for your home studio. Watch and enjoy!