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Creating a Voice Over Home Recording Studio

Man talking on microphone in sound boothif you don't have the ability to record at home you're missing many opportunities!

The voice over biz is rapidly moving toward the point where you'll have to have a home studio to participate. This is actually good news because it will cut down on driving and allow you to respond quickly to auditions that might come up. Also much of the production work for clients is now done at the talent's studio. It will also let you work for clients anywhere in the country (or world!) So take the plunge and be prepared.

To make this as painless (and inexpensive) as possible, I've come up with a variety of possible recording equipment suggestions that will get you up and running with a minimum of hassle.  I'll describe three levels of gear that will work.  I suggest several different products as examples BUT I'M NOT ENDORSING ANY SPECIFIC PRODUCTS!  Use this information as a starting point to do your own research and ask around to determine the best way set up your own system.

tape? what's tape?

Once upon a time everything was recorded to magnetic tape. Nowadays it's all recorded directly to hard disc on your computer. So we'll start by assuming you have a computer-- desktop or laptop, it doesn't matter although I find the laptop more convenient.  With a laptop, a USB mic and a high-speed internet connection I can submit auditions from anywhere.  But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Once you have the computer you'll need variations of the following:

  • recording software
  • a microphone
  • a mic stand
  • a pop filter
  • an interface which digitizes the mic signal and sends it to the computer
  • either speakers or headphones (or both) to listen to the audio
  • you can also add a mic preamp, compressor, a phone patch or an ISDN interface if you want to get fancy

level one:  getting started--quality audio for the lowest investment

RECORDING SOFTWARE

Lets talk about the recording software first.

Audacity Audio Recording Software LogoIf you have a PC (or a MAC including Intel Macs or Linux) you can download and install recording software called Audacity.  Audacity is a open source program that’s a FREE download that will let you record, playback and export your recordings as well.  It has some peculiarities but it produces broadcast quality audio and allows for very easy editing to clean up your auditions or do final production for a client.

The download is here:

http://audacity.sourceforge.net/download/

You also need to download the LAME library to create mp3 files.  Start on this web page:

http://audacity.sourceforge.net/help/faq?s=install&item=lame-mp3

And here's some good documentation to explain how to use Audacity.  There's the Audacity User's Manual and the Quick Reference Guide:

http://audacity.sourceforge.net/help/documentation

 

If you have a recent MAC you’re in luck.  Newer Macs come with the Garage Band application installed.  Garage Band is recording software for the Mac that allows you to record, play back and export you recordings in all the popular file formats.

Both of Audacity and Garage Band produce broadcast quality audio so with either one your good to go.

USB MICROPHONES

So now you have your recording software. Next you need a quality microphone. If you're trying to keep the cost down the most most convenient mics that I've found are USB Microphones.  These mics don't require any type of interface box--they simply plug directly in to your computer's USB port.  The mic takes your sound and then digitizes it right in the mic and sends it over a USB cable to your computer to be recorded.  You can get a good quality USB mic for $100-$250.  I prefer a better condenser mic because they have a wider frequency range and are less noisy than dynamic mics.

The upside of USB mics is that you don't need additional hardware so with your laptop and mic you're up and running.

The downside is that there can be a slight delay in the signal (called latency by us audio freaks) so if you want to listen to yourself with headphones as you record you get a slight "Elvis in the stairwell" delay.  This is more pronounced with software monitoring as opposed to hardware monitoring.

A SELECTION USB MICROPHONES

There are many new USB mics coming along all the time.  Here's are the good quality ones I'm aware of at this point.

Manufacturer Manufacturer Model Number /link Type
Samson C01U Condenser
Samson C03U Condenser
Samson G track Samson G Track * Condenser
Blue Microphones SnowBall Condenser
MXL MXL.008 Condenser
MXL.009 MXL MXL.009 * Condenser
Rode Podcaster * Dynamic
Audio-Technica AT2020 USB Condenser
* these mics have a direct-out headphone jack for latency-free monitoring

 

If you already have a quality microphone (a low impedance condenser for example -- not a headset or a rock 'n' roller's SM58) here's handy gadget from MXL that let's you convert it to a USB Mic. MXL Mic Mate
mic mate pro This is the new fancier version of the Mic Mate that allows you to monitor the mic with headphones with zero latency AND adjust the gain of the mic--all things considered, I would get this one. MXL
Mic Mate Pro

 

OTHER ESSENTIALS

You'll also need a microphone desk stand or regular mic stand.  Usually I like to stand up for performances so I use a boom stand but for long sessions or practicing I'll get lazy and sit down and then I use a desk stand.

 

And a pop filter to tame those nasty "P" and "B" sounds You might also want to get headphones to listen to your playback. Headphones let you hear every detail, noise, room echo, etc.  Good ones to get are Sony MDR 7506. They're pretty much an industry standard.

So where do you get this stuff? Well, not at Best Buy or Circuit City.  These types of products are available at most big music stores such as Guitar Center and Sam Ash and the like.

You can also shop online at Musicians Friend, Sam Ash, Sweetwater, and other online stores.

 

*** URGENT URGENT URGENT ***
DO NOT PAY "RETAIL" FOR ANYTHING!!  ALL THIS STUFF IS DISCOUNTED TO SOME DEGREE!
IT MIGHT HAVE A "LIST" PRICE OF $250 AND ACTUALLY SELL IN THE STORE FOR $99!!
CHECK OUT THE PRICES ONLINE AND PRINT THEM OUT TO ARM YOURSELF
WITH THE FAIR PRICE WHEN YOU ACTUALLY GO TO THE STORE!!
*** THAT IS ALL ***


Gasp! So there you have it.  The bare bones you need to produce broadcast quality audio and perform voice overs from home.  Obviously I can't assist each one of you in setting up and learning the equipment and software but each of the manufactures has documentation that can help.  But here's the basic scheme:

  • The mic goes on the mic stand (duh)
  • The pop filter clips to the stand and is placed between your mouth and the mic
  • The USB cable goes from the mic to the computer USB port
  • The headphones go into the computers audio out jack (usually has a tiny picture of headphones)

If you really get stuck please contact my installer pictured here:

 

two hints for recording

The LEVEL of the USB MICROPHONE is adjusted in the computer:
CONTROL PANEL >> SOUND (PCs)
or
SYSTEM PREFERENCES >>SOUND >> INPUT (MACs)

Adjusting the level is like Goldilocks and the three bears:  Not too hot, not too cool.  Here's a pic that shows good recording levels:

 

 

Always record your voice to a MONO TRACK (NOT STEREO)!! You've only got one mouth (I hope!) and one mic so you only need ONE Track.  A stereo track wastes hard disc space and can have weird audio problems (phase shifting, artifacts, echoes) when mixed to mono.

 

finally..

The only way to learn to record is to do it.  You can read a book about how to use a hammer but sooner or later you've got to go out and pound some nails.  So set it up, test it out, debug it and have at it.  There's an entire world of happy ears out there waiting to hear your golden pipes!

Good Luck and Have Fun!

Coming soon:  a more advanced system including preamps, compressors, interface boxes, phone patch, ISDN and more!

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