Building a Home Recording Studio

Setting a small home-based recording studio is becoming a mandatory step. Seriously, being a freelance voice talent with easy access to record anytime is essential to being successful in the modern age of voice acting.

Thanks to the growing availability and use of in-home recording systems and technology, voice talent are now, and have been able to for much of the last decade, produce broadcast-quality audio recordings from the comfort of their own home studios.  The quality of the recordings is on-par with recordings done in much more elaborate recording facilities.  How?  Because a professional talent uses a high quality microphone, digital audio recording software and work from an acoustically treated room.  Let's see how you can join a growing number of voice talent with home studios.

Home Recording Studios

Is there a significant cost to building a home recording studio?

Listen, we're not going to tell you that all you need is a mic and a computer to get started. That's kind of like starting a roofing business with a hammer and nails but no ladder. It just won't work. If you want to climb the ladder of success in voice-over, you need to invest in the tools of the trade.

The good news is that the overhead is relatively cheap compared to other business start-ups. Assuming you already have a personal computer, you can expect to spend $2,000 to $5,000 on setting up your home recording studio. You could spend more of course, but it's not necessary. Once complete, you'll have a studio space to work in that helps you sound great - and you'll always have front row parking!

What are the must haves?

As mentioned earlier, we are assuming that you have some basic technology in your home to begin with such as a desktop computer, be it a MAC or PC, and a high-speed Internet connection. Following those items, you will need:

Microphone

One of the most common questions we're asked is: "what microphone should I get?" It is nearly impossible for someone else to give you a definitive answer to that question. The type of mic that works best for your voice and your budget will inherently be different from one person to the next. Think of it like trying on shoes. Go to a music store, tell them that you need a voice-over microphone, and ask if you can test 4 or 5 out to see which one sounds the best within your budget. Just keep in mind that the best does not necessarily mean the most expensive.

It is about what sounds best with your voice. For example; large diaphragm mics are excellent at picking up low frequencies such as the bass drum, bass guitar and a deep male voice. A small diaphragm mic or small capsule mic will beautifully pick up higher frequencies such as an acoustic guitar, cymbals or the treble of the female voice.

Every microphone on the market has a property called directionality (or polarity) which defines how sensitive the mic is to the ambient sounds around it. A Cardioid mic picks up the sound directly in front of it while limiting the ambient noises other mics pick up. This is the best directionality type for voice-overs. A Hypercardioid mic works in the same way but picks up even less ambient noises. Microphone kits are wonderful for those just starting out as they will include your microphone, a desktop stand, shock mount, XLR cable and a pop filter all in one box.

Pop Filter

A pop filter (or pop screen) is an essential part of your microphone kit. It lessens the amount of distracting ‘mouth noises' the mic will pick up by blocking the air that's pushed out from your mouth when you speak from reaching the microphone's capsule. Pop filters will help you get a nice, clean read even if you're having a dry mouth day.

Audio Interface

An audio interface is a piece of hardware that enhances the sound of your voice as it travels through your microphone, down your cables and into your computer. A good one will have the microphone preamp (boosts sound) as well as Phantom Power (direct current voltage that powers condenser mics) built right in making it compatible with whichever microphone you select now, and if you choose to upgrade your mic in the future, it will also work with high-end microphones like the Neumann TLM 103.

Recording and Editing Software

If your mic is the most important piece of equipment, your recording and editing software is second. It is what will allow you to enhance your voice-overs with music, sound effects and edit out pauses and loud breaths. This is what will allow you to produce broadcast quality voice-overs for your clients. There are a number of choices out there depending on your budget but eventually you'll want to invest in one of the better programs.

Here are our recommendations:

Audacity is free, easy to use software you can download right to your computer. It is compatible with both Windows and MAC, and other operating systems. It is good when you're just getting started and are not sure you want to pursue voice-over full time. If you are trying to build a business though, you'll want to look into one of the better products on the market.

GarageBand comes free with most MAC computers and is an excellent choice for experienced or aspiring musicians. It allows you to sound like a rock star and even record multiple tracks at the same time. The downfall is that it's only available for MAC computers and may not offer as sophisticated mixing capabilities as other programs when it comes to your voice-over needs.

Adobe Audition is widely held as the preferred recording and editing software for professional voice talent. It's easy to use and offers advanced audio mixing and editing capabilities. It also has excellent effects features that give voice-over tracks a rich, nuanced sound of the highest possible quality. This is professional grade at a reasonable cost.

Pro Tools is the recording and editing software that you'll find in most state-of-the-art recording studios. It allows you to record, edit, mix and master any audio recording on both MACs and PCs. It's a serious investment for the professional voice talent who understands recording technology and already has a solid book of business. Pro Tools is designed to meet any audio recording need and will satisfy any creative endeavour, whether that be voice-over or music.

What are the nice to haves?

  • Headphones (for live direction)
  • Music Stand (to prop up your scripts)
  • Blank CDs (to mail your demos)
  • iTunes (for converting file types)
  • USB Flash Drive (to backup your hard drive)

Next, we'll take a look at selecting a studio space in your home and treating the room for sound absorption.

Let's grab a coffee first, shall we.

RememberSound Proofing

You've probably heard the term "Soundproofing." Well, soundproofing a room in your home or building a recording studio from scratch can be an overwhelming endeavour and involves major investments like hiring contractors to install thick plasterboard, steel sheeting, or a combination of the two.

What's the good news? You don't need all that stuff! Unless you're starring in an animated film with the likes of Tom Hanks or Angelina Jolie, a state-of-the-art facility is not required. Movie productions and televised cartoons are generally recorded at full production studios in major city centres. For most voice-over purposes treating a room for sound absorption (controlling echo, slap, and boom in a room) is all that is needed and can be improvised to high audio standards using elements already available around your home.

Here are a few tips on creating the ideal studio environment in your home.

  • Take a look at the rooms in your house. The ideal room is cozy but comfortable to stand in and you should be able to move around a bit. A room without windows and a heavy door are best. If it has doors and windows, these areas are the most important parts of the room to treat as those are where the majority of the sound quality will be lost.
  • Install insulation over windows, walls and the ceiling. Cork, rubber, or foam insulations are good options and are readily available from your local home building store. Large pieces of PVC piping strung up around the edges of the room also help to absorb sound.
  • Alternatively, hang heavy fabric around the room that you may find in your storage room such as thick moving blankets or you could use several layers of heavy old curtains. If the room is cubic, hang fabric in the corners to create more of a triangular shape to the ceiling to lessen echo and boom. It's also a good idea to hang a duvet or quilt behind your mic to soften 'esses' and absorb sound.
  • Some home based studios simply push mattresses or couches up against the walls to help create density and absorb sound from bouncing around the room. When selecting this alternative it is wise to employ the 'clap test' to see if you've effectively treated the room. How does the clap test work? Stand in the room and clap your hands. If you hear an echo, more sound absorption is needed.
  • The floor of the room should have thick carpeting as well. In fact, carpeting the entire room including the floor, walls, door and ceiling is an alternative option to cork, rubber, or foam insulations. Ask your local carpet store for their miss-cuts for an affordable, albeit colourful, option.

It's extremely common for voice talent to set up their first studio in a closet. Within it contains many useful sound absorption items, such as linens and clothing. If you're building your studio space in a closet try leaving most of the contents but situate them far enough from your body so that you won't brush against them while recording. If you create your recording space in a closet, remove the existing door and replace it with a heavy fabric secured with Velcro to create the best sound absorption for the doorway.

You're well on your way now. You've got your equipment set up and your studio has been treated for sound absorption. Now for the exciting part! You're ready to start using it. We are going there next!

 
THE BEGINNER'S GUIDE TO VOICE ACTING