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Building a Home Studio – How to Assess Your Space

As a voice actor, creating a suitable space to record your voice overs can be a daunting task. From what size and shape of room is best, to the hidden factors that can impact your sound (like duct work!), it can feel like there are a lot of considerations to weigh and measure.

Luckily, you’re not alone – Voices is right there with you. At the Voices office, an ordinary storage room (with significant acoustic challenges), was transformed into a suitable recording studio, thanks to the help of Bob Breen from Armor Pro Audio Visual and the hard work that went into building a home studio.

Bob and I know each other from the Ontario Institute of Audio Recording Technology, an audio engineering school and one of the top ones in the world. Bob taught a OIART for years and I graduated from that audio engineering program and go back nearly every year to speak to the students.  

The learnings gleaned from the Voices studio build can help you on your journey to create the best space for recording great sounding voice over – starting with how to assess your space for suitability as a recording studio.

This four-part series with Bob Breen from Armor Pro Audio Visual Inc., will get you started with ideas and help you work towards creating the ideal recording space without breaking the bank.

Building a Home Studio – How Can You Setup a Suitable Studio Space for Voice Recording?

Whether you’re new to the voice over world and need a few tips to get started or you’re a seasoned pro, you need a suitable studio booth at home.

Whether you already have a room in mind that you want to turn into your voice over recording studio, or you’re still trying to locate the perfect space, don’t let ‘analysis paralysis’ hold you back.

One of Bob Breen’s first tips for starting out is that any space can be made to be suitable for recording voice overs with just a little work. So, go ahead and pick the space that you feel most comfortable in. After all, you’ll be spending many hours in your home recording studio working on various projects – you want it to be a space you enjoy being in.

Once you’ve settled on a room or space that you want to use, the next step is a simple one — listen to your space!

How to Assess the Acoustics of Your Room – The Example of the Voices Recording Studio

Don’t be discouraged if your space appears to be unsuitable from the start. Even Voices’s would-be-studio had flaws at first, and yet it was able to be turned into a suitable recording space. Discover what some of the issues were that Bob Breen encountered initially (and eventually overcame) with the space.

Bob described the sound in the Voices room as ‘atrocious’ before any changes were made to the structure of the room, but what exactly does that mean? It means there was a lot of external noise entering the room, such as the ‘ding’ of the elevator and the chatter of nearby employees. This less than ideal sound quality was something that needed to be corrected.

So How Can You Tell if the Sound You Are Hearing is ‘Bad’ Sound?

Beyond what you may hear initially from simply speaking and listening in the moment, you can also take a recording of your voice in the space you intend to use, play it back, and let your ears be the guide.

This means listening to the sound of your own voice in the recording and noting any boominess, high-ringing sounds or any echos. All of these flaws in the playback voice over recording are indicators that you may need more ways to absorb external noise in the room (more on that in part two of this series).

You can also try plugging headphones into your microphone and listening to anything it may be picking up. Do you hear noise that doesn’t belong – such as construction down the street, or the din of voices talking in the next room?

What Types of Rooms are Best Suited for Your Home Studio?

As Bob Breen noted, the shape of the room can impact the sound of your voice.

So what shape is the best shape of the room to prevent your voice from sounding less-than-ideal or accurate? If you have a small room, you can still work the room into becoming the perfect voice over recording space. 

A rectangular or square room is said to be the best shaped room for producing great quality sound, as the way the sound moves within rooms that are shaped this way, is much more predictable.

You should also take into account any windows or doors in the room, as they are hot spots through which external sounds may enter, and sound in the room will be able to escape.

However, since the shape of the room is often not something that can be easily changed without massive renovations, before you start tearing down walls, note that you can easily correct the sound flow by adding insulation or foam paneling to your walls.

Despite being rectangular, the shape of the Voices studio was definitely not ideal. Sound bounced back in an unpleasant way, and the open ceiling created more challenges – however, you can still output great voice over work no matter the shape of the space you are working with.

Photos of the Voices studio

Photo of an empty white room under construction with just a ladder.
Photo of a fully functioning voice recording studio

Other Home Studio Build Examples

Voice actor Curt Palmer completed his professional-grade home studio in 2009 after he decided to make voice acting his full-time job. In just 3 months, an extra room in his basement went from storing household items to an amazing home studio:

Deciding on Seating for Your Home Recording Studio: Chairs or Stool?

Another thing to think about is whether you want to be standing or sitting while recording. Some spaces may be too small to sit and not every voice over artist sits in a chair while performing.

You want to make sure that you have a microphone that suits your voice, and a pop filter to help keep away any other unwanted noised.

While most voice over talent prefer to stand to record commercials and shorter projects, what do you do when you have to sit and record an audiobook, a 75,000 word iPhone app or a training manual for a large corporation?

While most voice over talent prefer to stand to record commercials and shorter projects, what do you do when you have to sit and record an audiobook, a 75,000 word iPhone app or a training manual for a large corporation?

Standing does give you a number of benefits, however, sometimes standing for too long can be impractical and could possibly even affect your read.

Find out what some voice over professionals consider to be the makings of a perfect voice over chair in today’s VOX Daily.

Standing vs. Sitting

Although not every voice artist sits in a chair when performing, you may find that investing in a solid office chair is a great idea for a number of reasons especially when you consider how much time is spent editing, producing or going about your daily work outside of actual voice over recording.
That, and you might end up booking an audiobook! What might the ideal office chair embody?

If I had to choose, three of my top requirements would be that the chair is sturdy, comfortable and quiet.

For you, the criteria may look a little bit different. Perhaps a good chair is no chair at all!

What Many Voice Talent Are Doing

When I asked people in the Voices Facebook group about the kind of office chair they used while recording long form narration, this is what I heard:

“Whether a two minute gig, or a day long job, I always stand even if my feet are killing me at the end of the day. I love to stand and work. Sitting makes me edgy and I really like to use my body when I work. So it’s no chair for me, just a nice fluffy sheepskin rug under my bare feet when I record.”
Jonathan Tilley

Others favored the tall stool, including Robert Ready who said, “For ads and other short (under 5 minute) pieces I actually get the best results standing, better breath control. I use a tall stool for longer-form (audiobooks/narration) gigs.”

“None for me. I stand. I’d like to sit, but I breathe so much better standing. Comes from years of singing, I suppose.”
Donna J. Shepherd

“Well I actually stand. Right now I can’t fit a chair in my closet, but if I could it would be one that could be raised high.”
Earnest Johnson Jr.

“I prefer standing as well, but when forced to sit, the best chair is a quiet chair.”
– Diane Havens

“I’m a stander, too. Like with singing, it just allows for better control and technique. But for editing… it’s all about a cozy seat with good back and neck support! Especially if you’re spending hours between speakers or under headphones, you’re going to need something that minimizes the inevitable fatigue.”
— Dana Detrick

“I played French Horn, so I can breath just fine sitting down. But you have to sit up really straight and can’t lean back. You have to sit forward in your chair, or sit on a stool. I sit on an old wood piano stool. It used to creak a little if I shifted my weight too much, so I re-glued the legs and it seems to be ok now. My piano stool is padded. It was my wife’s grandmother’s piano stool and is older than I am.”
Jerome Santucci

Not quite a stool or a bench, Greg Phelps shared that he prefers the Salli Saddle chair. I took a look at the site and can appreciate why it may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but so far as Greg is concerned, “It’s awesome… it may look a little different but the results are nothing short of incredible. Always better when I stand while performing a gig.”
— John Bigl

“At the radio station I sit during a shift but in the recording studio I like to stand. I like the bar stool idea for my home studio. I too have a great office chair for my editing time.”
Eric Espinosa

“I sit in a nice comfy leather executive computer chair. It doesn’t make any noise, and it’s, well… comfortable.”
Dave Smith

“No chair at all – standing always helps me breathe better!!!”
— Anne Ganguzza

“I sit and stand, depending on what I am voicing. Otherwise I have a computer chair that my neighbor was throwing away that I took the back off of. It makes it easier for me to slide it right under my desk and give me more space to move around when voicing my scripts when I stand.”
Brad Dassey

“Well, my main chair is one of those executive type high backed things with arms, BUT, some of my best work has been done on a ‘ball.’ Call it a birthing ball or an exercise ball! It’s a big ball that lets you move… they are really good for posture! Just a tad difficult to get the positioning right in relation to the mic!”
Carole Richards

What Some Audiobook Narrators Are Doing

As I sought answers to the question of what one sits on when recording long form narration, it occurred to me that sharing the views of the audiobook community would do us some good and prove interesting as well.

Sean Crisden shared, “Call me old fashioned, but I alternate between a wooden stool with a padded seat cushion (proper posture anyone?) to an armless padded office chair. Depends on my mood I guess, although my mood has been preferring the padded office chair for a while now. Granted, it took some time to find a chair that didn’t favor adding its own background sound fx to a read. Chair testing and WD-40 are your friend. I’m waiting for the purists who claim that the only way to narrate an audiobook is by standing! I can do plenty of arm flailing and physical emoting sitting down with good posture, thank you!”

Simon Vance added, “I used to use one of those kneeling stools as it prevented back ache… but somehow I got over the aching back thing (I learned to relax) and now I use an office chair. I did try a nice padded executive chair, but as another correspondent has indicated, those have a habit of developing a squeak. So now I use a VERY solid, standard, four legged, padded chair that will never develop a squeak in my lifetime… I hope. It was not expensive, around $100 from Office Depot I think, a couple of years ago.”

If you’ve been wondering whose chair is gracing this article, it is the very same chair that Simon records in and described in his quote.
Ann Richardson remarked, “I use a cheapo tall wood-laminate chair from IKEA to record, and when I edit, I have to leave my recording space, and then I sit on one of those big exercise balls.”

Dan Deslaurier shared, “As for me, I’m still standing in my ‘sanctum’ (fans of the Shadow pulp novels will know what I mean.) My goal is to design a studio space with the hardwood armchair we currently use at our computer table–very comfortable, with great back support which enables better posture for breathing and reading!”

Johnny Heller replied, “I have a swell desk chair that doesn’t hurt too much but any chair bugs me after I’ve been in it for a long time. Sadly, I can’t fit a La-Z-Boy in the studio. Today I was at a studio with a brand new office chair with padded armrests that squeaked every time my arm hit them… so don’t get armrests!”

While the scent of WD40 isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, your chair may require some oiling every now and then.

Andre Stojka offered, “I’m usually leaning toward the mike so a really comfortable chair doesn’t do me any good. What I need most is a QUIET chair… something that doesn’t squeak or make any noise if I move slightly. I’ve solved the problem in my own studio with a liberal dose of WD40. I used to stand and I still stand when recording commercials at studios but I have taken to sitting for most animation and audiobooks.”

Standing does give you a number of benefits, however, sometimes standing for too long can be impractical and could possibly even affect your read. You may find that investing in a solid office chair is a great idea.

Final Thoughts on Assessing Your Home Studio Space and Set-up

Finding a suitable space for recording voice overs plays a role in the success you will have as a voice actor. You want to provide high quality recordings to your clients and one of the best ways to do that is to ensure that your space is properly set up for recording.

Remember to let your ears be the guide. Take many recordings, and listen back as many times as you need to, in order to ensure your voice overs sound great.

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  • Avatar for Mayur Mahajan
    Mayur Mahajan
    August 29, 2019, 1:53 pm

    Yes I am ready

  • Avatar for Alice Carroll
    Alice Carroll
    May 28, 2020, 7:14 pm

    You made a good point that with proper paneling, I can technically change the shape of a room and make it more applicable for a music studio. My daughter recently joined her school’s glee club and would like to start publishing her own music online outside of extracurricular activities. As such, I’m going to need a lot of acoustic paneling in order to transform one of our guestrooms into her personal studio.