Upgrading Your Home Recording Studio

You’ve got the voice. You’ve got the experience. But do you have the quality? If you’re auditioning from home frequently but not landing many gigs, it may be time to assess your recording equipment and home studio environment.

Realizing The Importance of a Well-Tuned Home Studio

With fewer and fewer clients holding live auditions and in-studio sessions, going from a simple computer recording setup to a home-based studio is inevitable for all voice talent who want to work in this industry professionally. When clients listen to your audition demos they are listening to the audio quality as much as your performance.

If you’ve got the voice but not the quality, they will move on to the next audition. So if you think you’re nailing the scripts performance-wise, but you haven’t been getting a bite, take a step back and look around.

Listening To The Room Tone

Are you recording in an open space? Clap your hands. Hear that echo? You need to get rid of that. Play back one of your audition demos. Do you hear those b's and p's popping? Are your esses over pronounced? If so, you need a pop filter and more sound absorption for your mic.

If you’re a skilled performer, it’s your equipment and studio environment that will really make the difference in your career. It may be time to take a look at upgrading your studio space. Most likely you need a better location for you studio or need to treat it for better sound absorption.

Treating The Room

For most voice-over professionals, complete soundproofing isn’t necessary as it's a costly and laborious endeavour at best. What is needed is sound treatment in order to control the echo, slap, and boom in a room.

All the white noise in a room that we barely take notice of is loud and clear on a mic, decreasing the quality of the audio. Microphones pick up every little nuisance from the hum of your ceiling fan in the room next door, to the air-conditioning and traffic noises 5 floors down.

The good news is that it’s reasonably easy and cheap to select a better location in your home and improvise the sound treatment to high audio standards, mostly using items you already have scattered about your home.

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

  1. Take a look at the rooms in your house. The ideal room has a heavy door to close it off but no windows. Doors and windows are the most important areas of the room to treat as those are where the majority of the sound will be lost. This is often why many audio recording artists opt to set up their studios in a roomy closet instead. 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.
  2. You will need to install insulation on the walls and ceiling as well. Cork, rubber, or foam insulations are good options and are readily available from your local home builder's or improvement store. Large pieces of PVC piping strung up around the edges of the room also help absorb sound.
  3. Alternatively, hang heavy fabric around the room that you may find in storage such as thick moving blankets or 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.
  4. Some home based studios simply push mattresses or couches up against the walls to help create density in the room to absorb the sound. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. If you’re building your studio space in a closet try leaving the linens or clothes in there but situate them far enough away from your body so you won’t brush against them while recording. These items are wonderful at absorbing sound.

What about a portable isolation booth?

There are many prefabricated portable isolation booths that you can use both while on the road as well as at home that produce excellent noise cancelling qualities and are good alternatives when space is limited.

While professional voice talent are traveling or attending events, they often receive an urgent call from a client who is desperate for them to record a quick turnaround project. A portable isolation booth offers an excellent solution to wow those clients and deliver their project.

Portable isolation booths provide acoustic treatment around your mic keeping ambient noises out of your recording while capturing the sound of your voice beautifully. Some come with a mic stand built right into the framework which will accommodate one or two mics if you happen to be recording as part of a team.

They are big enough to accommodate your mic, its stand, and there’s usually enough room that you can prop up your script behind your mic so you can read straight into the booth. They are small enough to carry with ease and usually come with their own carrying case.

Do your research to see which product would suit your needs best. The prices range radically, between about $150 to nearly a $1000. Seek out product reviews from voice-over professionals in particular as your needs would differ slightly from other vocalists.

Selecting The Right Equipment

What recording equipment is necessary? Ultimately, a noise cancelling or condenser mic, a good preamp, and digital mixing board will be your saving grace no matter where you decide to set up your recording studio space but there are a few specific items that you should have to create a high-quality broadcast-ready audio recording.  Here are some suggestions for the hardware and software. You'll need one item from each list of recommended products:

Hardware:

  • M-Audio FastTrack (Review)
  • Digidesign MBox (Discussion)
  • Edirol AudioCapture
  • Lexicon Lambda
 

Software:

  • Adobe Audition
  • Cubase
  • Logic
  • Pro Tools

 

Microphone Suggestions

The microphone is likely your most important piece of equipment because it captures your voice. Every microphone is slightly different, and you should try out several by actually recording your voice and hearing how it sounds before settling on one. It's amazing that while someone else will rave over the quality of their favorite microphone, in truth, it may not compliment your voice well. It's for that reason why it's important to test out the microphones and decide for yourself. Still, having said that, here are some reasonably priced popular microphones used by voice actors and narrators around the world.

  • Audio Technica AT 3035
  • Neumann TLM 103 (Review)
  • Shure SM-7B
  • Rode NT1-A

Next up, we’ll talk about how even demos have an expiry date!