As discussed in previous segments in the past few months, in the current market, a home studio is imperative. Most cities, particularly on the coasts, or major markets are still on some sort of lockdown with strong COVID restrictions. If you do happen to book a job, you may be required to record from home and need more of a broadcast quality set-up. But even if you are booked into a professional studio, all auditions are currently being done from home studios.
There are many factors to consider when producing good audio quality. I’ve broken this down into three key areas.
THE RIGHT ROOM
The room where you’re recording should be quiet and not have any echo or reverb. Basically, a good space is anyplace where the sound is dead. Find a space and snap your fingers. See if there’s any echo. If so, there are things you can do to deaden the sound. A full closet is one great option and one often used by pros. Another is a corner of the room with sound proofing blankets hung all around, or sound deadening panels. Another good option can be to build a booth frame out of PVC pipe and hang sound blankets. It becomes a makeshift booth. This is not as soundproof as a walk-in closet because a closet has real walls and all the clothes help diffuse the sound. The denser and more sealed the space is, the more soundproof it is. When you regularly book jobs out of your home studio or have a few regular clients, only then should you consider investing in a costly external, stand-alone vocal booth. They are pricey, but with one of these, it’s like being in a professional studio. Even if you go that route, find the quietest room or space in your home and plan to build it there. It should not be touching an exterior wall in your home, or you can opt to purchase a WhisperRoom, StudioBricks, or VocalBooth.
Place your microphone where the least amount of ambient noise will bleed in. A good mic will pick up all sounds possible, so it is very important to have a quiet space to record. It is also likely that your computer has fans that make noise. Make sure your computer is in a place where your microphone does not hear the sound of the fan. Purchasing an isolation shield is not necessary. The only use of an isolation shield like this is to reduce the amount of reverb or echo in your room. It does not soundproof your recording.
THE RIGHT MIC
The second thing to consider is your microphone. Remember that if the room around you and your preamp are not good, it won’t sound good no matter what. There are a ton of options for microphones, and I won’t spell out everything right now, but it boils down to two things: cost and sound.
USB mics are the most affordable option. They are condenser microphones that have a microphone, pre-amp, and analog-to-digital converter built inside them. They plug into the computer directly and work immediately. They are easy to use, but remember: USB microphones are not broadcast quality. However, USB microphones are great to do auditions on, or perhaps a Podcast. Two of the most noteworthy USB mics are the Blue Yeti and the Blue Snowball. The Blue Yeti is more expensive and has better audio quality than the Blue Snowball and is very affordable and has acceptable audio quality. It’s easier to use, but will not produce sound as well as a microphone/pre-amp combo. The following rankings are from mid-quality to highest quality.
Mid-quality: These have passable audio quality, but not professional or what is often referred to as ‘broadcast quality,’ which often I interpret in today’s market as ‘you could record a high-quality pro job from home studio’. In the mid-quality category, I would recommend (in order of recommendation) USB mics such as Apogee HypeMiC, Audio-Technica AT2020, Blue Yeti USB, and Blue Snowball.
Broadcast Quality mics: A higher quality mic that you would need to do jobs from home would be XLR microphones (which use a standard microphone cable), such as Neumann TLM 103, Neumann U87, Audio-Technica AT4047, and Sennheiser MKH-416. These are microphones that are the industry standard. I suggest trying out these mics before you buy them. Some mics sound better on your voice than others, even if they all are good mics. You can’t go wrong with any of these, but it’s your home studio, so you will want to choose one that showcases you. All of these microphones require phantom power because they need to be plugged into something to work – they have no electrical components themselves.
THE RIGHT SET-UP
Pre-Amp: Condenser mics will need a pre-amp. A good pre-amp and interface combo is a Universal Audio Apollo Twin. It has great sound quality and a bunch of great features that will increase the quality of your recordings. You could also go with an Avalon 737 or Focusrite Scarlett 2i2.
Computer: You can use a PC or a Mac. Record using GarageBand, Audacity, or Twisted Wave. GarageBand has more limitations and won’t provide good enough quality for animation jobs, although it will work for auditions. I use Audacity because it’s not only free, but it’s also easy to use, and you can download a file at a recording level that’s acceptable for high-end pro jobs.
You can use headphones while recording, although many pros don’t want to be too concerned with listening to their own voice while recording. You will however need them to hear playback, edit, and listen to your recordings on your computer. It’s recommended to either purchase computer speakers, studio monitors, or listen and edit with a pair of decent headphones.
Most agents and casting directors are now requiring you to have Source-Connect, software that allows you to record and mix at home. It replaces the costly, hardwired ISDN line. Source-Connect simply works through the Internet. It allows the client (those people who are paying for your awesome voice talents) to listen to your performance live. There are 4 different versions of Source-Connect, but Source Connect Standard version is what the studios require.
Much of this information is taken from my new book, Creating A Home Audio Studio. For a copy of the book, consultation, or coaching you can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit my website www.kathygrablestudios.com. Join us next month when we discuss some basic voiceover info from an insider, including things like the distance you should stand from the mic and audition tips.
Kathy Grable is an L.A. voice-over prototype with a warmth and sincerity that reminds listeners of a close friend. You’ve heard her in animated shows like Tom & Jerry, Rocket Power, and Futurama and commercials for Pepsi, Disney, Dunkin’ Donuts, Burger King, and as the Baskin-Robbins “Talking Spoon.” Kathy was also the voice double for Nicole Kidman in the hit film Batman Forever. On-camera, she’s been seen in Mike & Molly, Harry’s Law, Last Man Standing, and The Wedding Band on TBS. She’s a sought-after V/O coach, director, and demo producer. When not performing, Kathy co-owns and operates a company that distributes e-books, comics, audio dramas, and her own podcast, In My Voice, with guests from all aspects of the voiceover world. Find it on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts and Spotify, or go to https://anchor.fm/kathy-grable0 for all the episodes.