Over the course of the pandemic and lockdown I’ve been able to help a lot of people set their voiceover studios up. Many of these people have previously either had no need for a setup at home, or they had nowhere for one to go, so have managed without. Lockdown changed that! I thought it might be a good opportunity to go through a few things to consider if you’re planning on moving your studio, or creating a recording space for the first time.
You need somewhere quiet. This may sound obvious, but it’s not quite as straight forward as it sounds. Why? Because our brains work against us. From time to time I get asked to go out and do some location recordings, and I’ve requested a quiet room from whoever I’m going to record.
Unfortunately what most people interpret as ‘a quiet room’ simply means ‘somewhere we won’t be disturbed’, and these out-of-the-way places are discovered to be quite noisy when it’s too late! The issue is that our brains are really good at ignoring those sounds we don’t need to hear so this ‘quiet’ space is actually right next to a busy road, or it’s in a big empty reverberant room.
For recording we need somewhere that’s actually silent.
We can soundproof a space, but if we can find somewhere that’s quiet to begin with it will make the soundproofing process a lot less painful for our wallets.
How do you tell if a space is quiet?
I have two ways. If you have your recording equipment already, simply set it up and leave it recording for an hour or so and then listen back to it. Our brains interpret recorded sounds differently, so we get a more accurate assessment of how noisy a space is if we listen to a recording. Or secondly you can sit in the room for a while with your eyes closed. Keep them closed and have a good listen.
I wrote about comfort a few months ago, but it’s definitely worth mentioning again. Our studios are a creative place, and if we’re not comfortable in there then our creativity is stifled. So think carefully about your space. Are you going to cope if you have no natural light? Does it have enough room for you to move as you read? Can you stand up comfortably in there? These may seem like little things, but you’re aiming to spend many hours a day in that space, and that’s when little things become big things.
And the other thing to bear in mind when planning your space is how it’s going to impact on your day to day life and the lives of the people you share your living space with when it’s not in use. This also has bearings on the next point.
The need for good quality audio is a given, but so should be the need for consistently good quality audio. If your audio differs wildly in quality it may as well be consistently bad, as your clients are going to stop calling, or start asking you to redo audio that doesn’t meet their standards.
Inconsistent quality also suggests a level of either carelessness or technical inability, neither of which is good for your professional reputation.
All good so far? Let’s muddy the waters.
Sound works in ratios and proportions, and that especially effects the performance of small booths. For example, if you have a studio that’s 5m x 6m and you move your microphone 25cm to the left, that’s a 1/20th of the width and the chances are that’s not going to have a noticeable effect on your audio. But, if your booth is 1m x 1.5m that same 25cm move is 1/4 of the width and it could totally change the tone of your recordings. If your booth is really small even something as innocuous as wearing a thicker jumper in winter can have an effect on your recordings.
Over the lockdown period especially I’ve come across many VOs who need to construct and disassemble their booths every time they need to record, and whereas I realise that may be unavoidable if you find yourself in this situation you need to ensure as much as you possibly can that your putting together of your setup is as close to identical as you can possibly make it every time you recreate your recording space. Slightly different shapes and slightly different gaps don’t make for recording consistency.
A permanent set up is always going to yield a more consistent result. But even if you have a permanent set up, you shouldn’t rest on your laurels regarding quality.
Acoustics and Soundproofing
The final thing we’re thinking about is the most obvious one, and we’re not going to go too far into it as it can get quite complicated and science-y. When all things are considered this is the big one. It doesn’t matter what your studio looks like, or how long it takes you to put it together, if the sound isn’t good you’ll seriously limit the amount of jobs you get offered.
Firstly regarding soundproofing, you need to minimise the sound ingress as much as you possibly can (see point 1). And if you can’t manage that entirely you may be able to work around the noisy times of day if they’re predictable. But be honest with yourself about that approach, your clients will hear noise even if you’re trying to pretend it’s not there.
With the room acoustics you’re trying to create a good clean sound with no reverberation, but it also needs a neutral tone. This is particularly difficult in small rooms. Small rooms exhibit odd acoustic properties and more often than not they sound ‘boxy’. Overcoming that boxiness can take some doing.
Wander around your house talking to yourself (you may want to wait until everyone else is out!) and listen to the room you’re in as you walk through it. You’ll hear the difference between your kitchen, bathroom and living room. Now continue and go into the cupboard under the stairs or walk in wardrobe and you’ll hear a different change. Go outside (you may want to wait until the neighbours are all out too!) and hear what your voice sounds like with probably the least amount of reverberation of all the places you’ve just been. Even better if you can record yourself on your phone as you walk around and then listen back to the recording.
When you’re voicing you don’t want your recordings to give away what room you were in when you recorded. This is the point of the acoustic treatment.
So there we are, some of the things you should be looking for when you plan a studio build. Lots of factors to balance, creating what will be the hub of your business should be given the time and attention that it deserves.
And if you get stuck, you can always give me a ring.
Rob offers studio advice remotely – from set-up and upgrading your kit, to troubleshooting any issues you have.
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