Voiceover studio bugbares

Three Voiceover Studio Bugbears

I’ve visited a lot of voiceover’s studios on my Studio Tickling Tours and I’ve helped troubleshoot hundreds more remotely. I’ve seen all sorts of solutions to fitting a broadcast quality studio into limited living space, and a whole bunch of stuff that really shouldn’t work, yet somehow it does.

I’ve developed a sort of ‘thick skin’ over the years when faced with some real Heath Robinson set ups as experience has taught me not to judge a book by its cover, or even to not judge a ramshackle looking studio by my limited knowledge of the laws of physics.

But there are still a few things that make my heart sink every time I encounter them. Here are three.

1. Blue Yeti Microphones

I do have to hand it to Blue’s marketing team. They have done a great job of promoting these mics as a professional quality microphone. They’re really not.

I kind of get it. Beginners want an easy option to get set up and record, and these look kind of retro and stylish. Plus the aforementioned marketing and BINGO! People think they have bought a professional recording solution when in fact what they have is below par – even for a USB mic.

Why are Blue Yeti mics no good for voiceover?

The biggest problem with these mics is that they make a lot of hiss. It’s almost impossible to get your noise floor low enough with these mics to use them for professional voiceover applications. Plus the sound quality from them is muddy and lacks high frequency response and detail.

They’re just not good enough to be in a voiceover’s studio. And yet I encounter them far too often in that environment. I wouldn’t even recommend them for podcasting with, they’re just awful mics.

What microphones do I recommend?

I don’t recommend any USB mics, but there are better ones than this on the market – much better ones! So when a voice over comes to me with a USB mic I will try to steer them in the direction of getting an XLR mic and audio interface. I can often sugar coat it by saying that their USB mic will be a good mic for a travel kit if they need to take a mic on the road with them. But with the Blue Yeti I can’t even say that because they’re so big and heavy they take up too much room in a suitcase and eat too far into the weight allowance for your flight (it weighs 0.5kg, and the stand weighs a further kilo).

2. Moving blankets

Acoustic treatment is arguably the most important part of setting up your studio. You need to get rid of as many reflections and reverb as possible from your recording space, and various options are explored and taken by voice artists setting up their booths. Good acoustic foam is expensive, so your voiceover-on-a-budget researches cheaper options and many fix on moving blankets (or movers blankets if you prefer). They really do look the part, but the problem is they don’t do enough.

Why are moving blankets no good for studios?

Acoustic energy is killed by mass and changing the media it’s traveling through. The lower the frequency of acoustic energy the more energy it has and therefore more mass/changes/thickness is needed to control it. Moving blankets are thin and light. They will kill a bit of top end frequency reflection, but no more than that.

What should you use in your studio?

Yes, I am using blankets in my studio to control the acoustic, but although my blankets do look like moving blankets I’m using proper acoustic blankets. They’re much heavier than moving blankets and specifically designed for the job of killing acoustic energy. They still don’t work down to the lower end of the frequency spectrum, but they do work as well as a decent acoustic tile does.

“So,” says the voiceover-on-a-budget, “I’ll just layer up my moving blankets and create mass and layers. Will that work?”

Yes it will, but you’ll need about half a dozen layers to get to a similar level of effectiveness as acoustic blankets, and you’ll have spent more.

Here are links to the blankets I use and recommend:

If you want to go down the acoustic tiles route and find that – once you have your booth treated, there’s still a little bit of resonance or boxiness – a couple of these tiles will work wonders – Studio Spares – Pro absorption foam tiles.

3. The term ‘Home studio’

This one must be the Mother of all Bugbears seeing as the first two probably spring from this one.

Why you shouldn’t use the term home studio

Using the term ‘home studio’ for a voiceover studio really annoys me. Yes I know your studio is more than likely in your home. But many voice artists researching how to set up a studio in their home see the term ‘home studio’ used and use such articles for advice.

And here’s the problem – ‘home studio’ is a term used widely in the audio industry to mean a hobby-level studio; somewhere where you go and tinker, strum a bit, plonk a bit, sing a bit and make music for your own entertainment or to inflict on your family and friends. It’s also called a project studio.

In a ‘home studio’ a Blue Yeti and moving blankets may be perfectly acceptable, but the thing is when you create your voiceover studio you’re needing to create a ‘professional studio’ not a ‘project studio’, so the home studio advice simply doesn’t wash. And I know that I’m as guilty as others for saying ‘home studio’ but it’s a habit that’s hard to break – especially when I mean ‘the studio that’s in your home’.

I can’t stress enough that what we need as a voice over is very niche within the recording industry. Even professional sound engineers often give bad advice to voices if they’re not familiar with the needs we have, so advice for a hobby-studio certainly isn’t going to yield the results we need.

By all means do your research into how to create your studio at home, but please do your best to ask industry specific questions to industry specific people. It may save you having to get me round to troubleshoot your setup and figure out why your recordings aren’t a professional quality.

When you should use the term home studio

[nb: Helen here! Just to add a little confusion and controversy into the whole ‘home studio’ debate, I thought I’d add my two penneth worth. While I absolutely agree with Rob about the terminology of ‘home studio’ having negative connotations, I’m also fully aware that more and more, people are searching for voiceovers with a home studio. And you DO want to use the term so your website shows up in searches (thank you SEO). But (and it’s a big BUT) make sure you also qualify the term and prove that your ‘home studio’ isn’t one of those crappy sub-standard hobby studios. It doesn’t take much – use the term ‘home studio’ but add in things like ‘professional quality’ or ‘broadcast quality’ too. You could also provide an audio sample for potential clients to download so people can hear the quality of the audio they will get when you work for them.]

So there you are. For my part I would much rather help you get your studio set up properly from the outset than help you troubleshoot it after you’ve encountered problems. Problems will diminish your enthusiasm for your studio, and that’s not good for your work. So do yourself a favour, and do my sinking heart a favour, by avoiding all of the above.

If you do find yourself in a position where your studio isn’t performing as well as it could – and possibly even losing you work – then do get in touch and I’ll do what I can to solve the issues and help you to love your studio. Here’s how I can help you…

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