Over the last couple of the weeks while the UK has been on lockdown I’ve spent a lot of my time advising voiceovers who have previously never had need for a studio at home how to rapidly put one together. So I figured I could save myself some time by putting together a blog about it, so I can send people to it as a first port of call and then pick up the thread from there.
It’s worth pointing out that if this were a regular ‘how to put a VO studio together’ blog there would be differences, but as we’re in an unprecedented situation I’ve made a few alterations to my normal advice to cater for the new circumstances. I will also point out that this advice will still get you a studio that is capable of broadcast quality sound (small caveat on that – the recording space and it’s acoustics are key to that, but a bit more about that later) even though there are one or two bits of slightly unorthodox advice here. I’ve had years of experience putting studios together for VOs in a variety of circumstances, so the below are options that I think will work well in the current climate.
I’ll also note that the links I put up to products are from the manufacturers websites rather than online shops. This is because at this time there’s no guarantee of stock levels anywhere. There are plenty of stockists around the country, but the ones I’ve used in the past include (in alphabetical order) Absolute Music, Andertons, PMT, Studiocare, Studiospares and Thomann.
So firstly we’ll deal with your recording space. Voiceovering is the area where your recording space is most critical. With a lot of music production or broadcast the space needs to be good, but with VOs it needs to be as perfect as possible as a lot of what you record will be played out over system as a dry voice recording, so every little noise and imperfection in the recording will be heard by maybe millions of people for the duration of its use. Therefore it’s imperative that you find and create as good a space for recording as you can. Acoustics is a huge topic, so we can’t go into it in detail here, but in essence you need the quietest possible place, and you need to acoustically treat it so there are no acoustic reflections. So first of all you need to find the quietest place in your house/flat that’s going to cause as little disruption to the other people you live with. It doesn’t need to be totally soundproof, but the closer it is to silent the better as it will mean you can work more flexibly. If you have a space that isn’t silent, but the noises are infrequent or manageable then that will suffice. You can always work around the noisy times or pause recording while noise happens. For example I’ve previously had clients who live near schools and they just don’t record or don’t schedule sessions while the children are outside playing. Don’t forget to close interior and exterior doors and windows to help with the soundproofing.
Then we need to think about acoustic treatment. The aim here is to create a space with little to no sound reflections (reverb) but maintain a neutral tone. This is the bit where you may need most help as acoustics isn’t an easy thing to master, but basically soft furnishings are your friend! The cheapest/easiest way to do it is to create yourself a sectioned off area of a room where you’re surrounded by duvets/sleeping bags/heavy blankets. This will give you an immediate dry booth, but there is still the possibility of recording reverb from the rest of the room, so adding soft furnishings into the wider room will help dry those out. An alternative plan is to use a cupboard under the stairs/walk-in-wardrobe. This will give you a greater degree of sound proofing (depending on the door), but small rooms can exhibit undesirable acoustic properties that may take a fair bit of tweaking to get rid of. Here again a trained set of ears will help you tweak and tune the treatment to get that neutral tone you need.
If you need some inspiration as to what you can build there is a Facebook group called the Pillow Fort Studio Gallery dedicated to constructions VOs have made whilst in hotel rooms. Although I would recommend trying for a more permanent construction than these suggest, so you can record without having to set up every day and achieve a more consistent tone to your recordings.
If you have the budget and there is stock held in shops you can do a more professional looking job with acoustic tiles or acoustic blankets. Long term if you keep your studio after the current crisis is over you may want to upgrade your ‘booth’ to something more permanent and these are some of the products you may want to look at. If you need more info on these acoustic treatments now then give me a shout rather than me making this blog longer than it currently is.
Now we get onto the studio hardware. You don’t need much. I’m going to assume you already have a computer of some sort. Mac or PC will do fine. You’ll need to get your hands on a mic, mic lead, mic stand, pop screen, audio interface, headphones and software.
Just a quick note here. Every person you ask about these things will give you different recommendations. Some will be better than others! What I’m considering here is the current situation and the probability that you’ve had to throw together a recording booth and your home may not be as quiet as it normally would be. So here the mic choice I’m advising is different to normal. I’m going to recommend 2 mics. The reason I’m recommending these is firstly because they are good broadcast quality mics at a good price, and secondly because they’re not too sensitive. A top-end mic such as you’ll find in a professional production house studio will be really sensitive and will show up every imperfection in the room it’s in, so you probably don’t want that. You need a good mic that will be more forgiving of your booth, that will miss the reflections coming from the other side of the room, that won’t pick up the boiler when it clicks on. So here we go 2 mics for your consideration.
The Rode NT1a is a great mic. It’s one of the quietest self-noise mics on the market making it technically excellent. If you buy the pack it comes with mic lead, pop screen and shock mount.
Secondly is a mic you can only get as part of a pack. The Focusrite CM25. Not as quiet as the Rode NT1a, but little is. Included in the pack is a Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 (or solo), a lead and some headphones.
There are plenty of other options on the market, so if you want to consider something else then feel free. I’m recommending these on the basis of the current crisis. Get in touch if you want to discuss further options.
I’m still not recommending USB mics. There are a couple on the market now that are fairly decent, but I want this article to allow you to easily upgrade one item at a time if your studio becomes a permanent feature in your home. If you do want to go down the usb route for simplicity’s sake or need a usb mic for your travel kit the 2 usb mics that are the decent ones are the Rode NT-usb and the Sennheiser MK4-digital.
The above Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 is an excellent interface. Focusrite also do a Focusrite Solo which only has 1 mic port on it. I’d normally recommend the 2i2 as it gives you a bit more futureproofing for not a lot extra money.
The mic stand you get is going to depend on whether you want to stand or sit to voice, and whether you’ll have a desk/shelf in the booth with you. But most shops have plenty of options available. Cheaper stands tend to have joints that aren’t as hardwearing, but if you’re going to set the stand up and leave it up that’s not a major factor.
Your pop screen needs to be a bigger circumference one as you’ll be closer to the mic than singers would be. Again plenty of options on the market, I’d just avoid the foam filter version as I don’t think it’s good for VO.
Headphones need to be closed back to help prevent sound leakage getting into the mic. They need to be comfortable if you’re going to wear them for a long time. Be aware that studio headphones do a different job to your commuting/hifi headphones. So although you can use your regular headphones at a pinch, you won’t get the best results from them.
Again there are many brands on the market, but the ones that get recommended time and time again are the Beyerdynamic DT770 pros. Just be aware of the Ohmage rating when you buy. The lower the number the louder the headphones, and if you’re getting a Focusrite interface the headphone output isn’t the loudest.
Finally is the software. I’ll refer you to another article I co-wrote for Gravy For The Brain to deal with this.
Once everything is assembled I can take some time with you listening to audio samples from your studio to make sure that it is capable of professional quality audio. I can also help you get the hang of whichever software you’ve chosen to use.
So there we have it. Everything on this list is upgradeable if you decide a home studio will become a permanent feature.
If you have any questions or need further assistance then email me and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can. We can then start addressing your specific needs.