Little things that trip us up in our voiceover studios

Little things that trip us up in our voiceover studios

Owning a studio is ace isn’t it! Casually dropping into the conversation at parties, ‘Oh yes! I own a recording studio,’ and watching the wonder agog in people’s eyes as they imagine you creating the next ‘Sgt Pepper’s’ every day.

But it’s also a massive pain in the arse when you try to start work on a Monday morning and it’s not bloody working. Everything seems to be fine, but you just can’t seem to get a signal from A to B. Or sometimes you can’t even get a signal to A. So let’s have a quick look through some of the flies in the ointment that would have George Martin using language my mother wouldn’t approve of.

Mic clips

Not mic clips as such here, just the question I get asked fairly frequently – “I bought x mic. What mic stand can I use with it?” The answer to the question is; “Any (with a small caveat).

The question usually arises from seeing that the clip/shockmount screws onto the mic stand, and needing to ensure the mic stand has the same thread. The good news is that mic stands use 1 of 2 standard threads, and most – if not all – mic clips and shock mounts come with an adaptor so you can use any mic on any stand. The only mics I’ve come across that don’t come with an adaptor are Rode mics, and they have both threads incorporated in the SM6 shockmount (and probably other shockmounts they make).

The caveat? Some multipoise stands are designed with a weight range in mind, so if you try a heavy mic on a stand designed for light mics it will droop. And conversely a light mic on a heavy stand will spring upwards. The boom arm on a boom stand may also be prone to droopage if it’s not tightened enough, or if it’s cheap/old and the arm is extended too far, Other than those considerations you can use any mic on any mic stand.

Turn it off and on again

It’s slightly embarrassing how true this is.

The main purpose of a computer is to make you look like an idiot in front of clients. It does this by working flawlessly often enough for you to think it’s your friend. Then it will pick its moment to do something unexpected and contrary to what you need it to – usually when you have an important deadline or clients on the line or similar.

When something goes wrong we launch into full troubleshooting mode and go through everything – unplugging and replugging the mic, checking the broadband speed, swearing at the printer – when all we need to do is reboot the computer and whatever glitch has occurred will be cleared and everything will function as it’s meant to. At least nine times out of ten there’s nothing broken when something isn’t working. Maybe a half out of ten times (or one in twenty if you insist on mathematical correctness) it may be a button that should be pressed and isn’t. There is always a very small mathematical possibility that something is actually broken, but well over 9 out of 10 times when something goes wrong, you can bet your bottom dollar that your computer is sniggering to itself and just needs a talking to.

Honestly. Reboot it. 

Mic wrong way round

This is such a simple mistake to make, and often difficult to spot. This little whoopsy is more often than not made by newbies, but is far from exclusively made by them. You know the scene. You’ve just bought a mic and it sounded great in the shop or your friend’s studio. But in your studio it sounds distant and reverberant. Is their room that much better than yours? Or maybe it was working fine on Friday, but come Monday it’s just rubbish (see the point below).

There are very good reasons why we use directional mics for voice over work (cardioid mics specifically), it’s all to do with achieving a good tight dry sound to the recordings. But that means there’s a right and wrong way round to use the mics. On some mics this is more obvious than others. The good news is that’s this one’s a really easy fix. If your mic is sounding a bit shonky, spin it 180˚ and see if that improves it. Alternatively, if fancy a giggle and have a friend who is a voiceover, you could sneak into their studio and spin their mic round. Oh, how they’ll laugh about it later!

‘The cat was on the desk’

No judgements here. Some of you may recognise yourselves in this bit. And you may be right, I might be talking about you!

There have been a number times I’ve had panicky calls or had to make panicky visits to a voice artist’s studio because something is amiss. And once I’ve solved the issue (usually a button pressed/not pressed or a knob not in the right place etc.) I’m greeted by a slightly cross face and the blame for the erroneous positioning (or the mic being back to front – see above) gets laid squarely on the cat, dog, children or cleaner (hint: it’s never been blamed on the cleaner). This claim is often accompanied by a face that says ‘Please don’t figure out I’m fibbing and it woz me that did it’. The more buttons and knobs you have in the studio the more likely this is to happen, and if you have a mixing desk it may be a button or knob that you don’t usually use that’s screwing things up for you.

The solution? Either keep the kids/cats/cleaners out of the studio for an effective preventative measure (your face was flawless – I didn’t spot that you were fibbing), or as a backup to that, keep a good log of the position of every knob, fader and button. Photos can be a really quick and easy way to do this, but make sure you can see the position of every button, as sometimes these can be tricky to see on a photo from straight on. If you have a mixing desk there often a blank pic of the desk towards the back of the manual that you can scan and use as a log of your desk setup.

I forgot to press record

There’s no coming back from this one. We can implicate the computer, the cat, the manufacturer for many of these, but this one’s definitely on us, but we’ve all done it. We’ve got to the end of a take and it was magnificent, then we hit stop and recording commences. Our wedding video was made up entirely of shots of people’s feet and the camera being raised to something interesting just as it was being turned off.

I’d say it’s a mistake you only make once, but that may not be true. You’re certainly more careful once you’ve made it. You double check yourself and never joke about the possibility ever again. And yes, I have done it. I did a full half hour session recorded onto DAT with the player in record pause mode. Get me drunk enough and I may tell you the rest of the story.

So there you have it. Just a little article outlining exactly how we’re all idiots. And you shouldn’t worry too much if you metaphorically discover you’ve been wearing your underpants backwards all day. If you actually discover that, well that’s a different story…

If you should find yourself with a studio emergency, feel free to contact me. And remember I also offer 1-2-1 training and studio consultation to help you get the most out of your recording space.

Photo by Sarah Kilian on Unsplash

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