Dee Bradley Baker's "All to Know About Going Pro in V.O."

A Do-It-Yourself Closet VO Booth

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I wanted to share with you my own recent DIY studio-in-my-closet that was simple and relatively inexpensive to hopefully give you some ideas for making your own.

Plan and Sketch

The studio needs to be comfortable and quiet with a wired internet connection. Above all, the acoustics must offer a “dead” recording environment.

Consider: What are the potential sources of sound- both from inside and your side your booth?

It should be in a quieter part of the home (or garage?) and have a wired Ethernet internet connection available. You may need to use an extension cord from your router in another room (I strung mine through my attic and over my roof and into my garage at my home studio!).

Tip: design the walls to be a few inches shorter than the dimension of the acoustic blankets you will use to make the blanket placement more even and easier to cover everything.

I select a place in my closet that is quiet, accessible and already padded with clothing. Use clothing to your acoustic advantage! And what’s happening on the other side of those walls? Avoid walls that exhibit any unwanted sounds from the other side (plumbing, and outdoor AC unit, people talking, etc.).

Creating the PVC Cage

I start by creating a frame of 3/4″ PVC pipes that I can custom cut to fit the space (off of my design).

Inexpensive PVC pipes can be purchase at a hardware store in 10′ lengths or less (You can have them cut a 10-footer in half for easier transport). At my hardware store they run about $3 each. I use 3/4 inch sized. You can then cut them to fit your home space and assembled the pieces like tinker toys into a frame with PVC couplings (must match the size of the pipes- 3/4 inch!) also findable at the hardware store.

I’ve decided to make my frame about 3′ wide and 8′ long and six and a half feet tall because I perform standing. (You could design it any shape depending on where it will fit in your home). Note on the design sketch that I reinforce the roof and walls with extra pipes to make it sturdy enough to carry the weight of heavy acoustic blankets.

If you discover during your build that you need to reinforce your structure, you can easily add support pipes to your original design. Arriving at your final design can be a bit of an improv. Be ready to switch up your original design if need be!

Purchase the PVC couplings for straight connection and for corners and T’s (sometimes in bulk containers or bags of ten). Of these pictured, I won’t need the 45 degree elbow on the left, and I’ll need to find some three holed corner couplings as well for the cage’s corners.

Here’s a rubber mallet to knock things into place (or to break it down), a regular PVC cutter, and you’ll need gloves.

You can cut PVC with the inexpensive cutting tool above, but I’ve used PVC extensively for years to build Halloween yard creatures, so I ponied up for a rechargeable PVC pipe cutter, which is a thing of beauty (pictured below). Cuts through all that pipe with no effort and in no time! Can you tell I’m into PVC?

Here is my basic cage assembled. I make it fit the space, but not too snug- you always need a few extra inches for the width added by the audio blankets. The booth interior needs to be at least a bit wider than your desk/stand and give you sufficient head room clearance to stand (or sit, however you record).

Notice the reinforcing pipe above and on the side to give it enough strength to hold up the heavy acoustic blankets. The orange clips secure the blankets to the frame, but can be moved or used to hold open the entrance to allow cooling. You can also use office clips, but they gotta be big ones.

You might also use S-hooks which can be handy for hanging your headphones or securing your acoustic blankets if you purchased ones with grommets along the top (like a shower curtain- see link below).

I later add some USB-powered LED lighting inside the studio, dimmable to keep things as cool as possible.

I’ve designed my cage around a mobile computer cart which also has a nice monitor stand. Most VO home sessions require three or four applications running so a generous sized monitor is a must!

A roll away computer cart with monitor arm. My mic boom peeks in from outside the cage, my Mac mini is on the cart’s bottom shelf, though it may be banished from the inner area if it gets noisy!

I’ve affixed my microphone boom clamps to a shelf not attached to my computer station so that no computer fan noise or humming can translate to the sensitive mic. The mic boom peeks in from outside my studio through a corner break in the overlapping curtains.

After testing this out, I decide to switch this to attach the mic boom inside the booth and move the Mac mini outside the booth, to better isolate any potential fan noise from the computer from the mic. Remember, you must kill noise both inside the booth and from outside as well!

Depending on your closet’s design, you may be able to use clips to secure blankets to shelving or clothing rods- possibly eliminating the need for the PVC skeleton altogether!

Your Home Studio is a Stage!

I’ve perched a webcam on top of my monitor.

Notice my little work station has pose-able light rings- not just to illuminate the workspace. Since you use a webcam to be directed via Zoom, why not light yourself up a bit? I consider VO as sort of an on-camera gig these days!

I’m also fond of adding some LED lighting effects or interesting visuals behind me as well to set the tone for how my performance is perceived. Your frame can imply a lot about you!

My adjustable ring lights are USB powered. I found a small power bar that gives me three grounded plugs plus four USB plugs to power my interior studio lights and to keep my iPhone charged.

Long standing sessions are easier with a comfy stand pad!

Hardware

For more on recommended hardware and a broader discussion on sound requirements for a studio, along with other resources and ideas, check my other home studio pages.

This is much of the hardware of my studio’s computer workstation. Mac Minis are comparatively quiet, but you still may need to isolate it -running resource-hogging audio and video conferencing software can really overheat a computer and lead to fan noise!

Kill the sound with blankets!

The clothes hanging in a closet are probably not enough to dampen the sounds sufficiently (but it’s a start). As much as possible, you need to kill echo and reverb inside your booth, in addition to muffling or killing all outside sounds.

You will probably need to add blankets, and more blankets, depending on the extraneous sounds of your home and the noise floor your sound booth room presents. I get proper acoustic blankets (though moving blankets can be fine as well).

Unfortunately, sometimes blankets aren’t enough to kill all extraneous sounds. Hopefully adding another layer or two will do the trick, if one isn’t enough!

I get my acoustic blankets from vocalboothtogo.com (CLICK HERE) I like the ones with grommets along the top so you can use S hooks to hang them like a shower curtain, from, say, a clothing rod in a closet or your PVC frame.

I’ve also purchased “US Cargo Control Large sound blankets” off of Amazon. They also have grommets and are 96 inches by 80 inches.

Tip: I design the wall dimensions of my closet booth to line up with the dimensions of the sound blankets I order. I make the height of my booth about 77 inches high so it accommodates the 80 in blanket width. My booth footprint is about 30 inches wide and 60 inches deep so I can cover the walls entirely with two 96 inch long blankets. The roof is small enough to be covered by a single blanket folded in half.

Clamps

I use 6” Workpro clamps (from Amazon) to secure the blankets to the PVC frame or a closet shelf. (It’s also nice that you can break it all down and put it back up pretty easily too).

There are many other ways to go about this kind of project! For a deeper dive into home studio basics from others who know more than I do, along with a list of more affordable but still acceptable options for things like microphones and headphones, go to my studio hardware page: CLICK HERE.

Costs

I’ve try to choose affordable components that still fill the bill. You don’t need a huge investment.

Hopefully, you have a powerful enough computer, but sometimes an upgrade is called for (ah well, a business write off, right?). If you must purchase new, the most expensive element in my little set up is the Mac mini computer, keyboard and trackpad or mouse (maybe $1700-2200, new).

You might use whatever computer you have, but you’ll need to make sure it can handle the processing needed for audio and video along with sufficient memory.

Very important: Any computer fan noise must be isolated from your mic and the surface it sits on or its boom is clamped to.

It’s probably best to have your computer outside your booth- it can get noisy when running video and audio software. I set mine on a shelf near the sound cage. Just the monitor and keyboard/mouse need to sit inside the booth along with the mic.

Tip: wired connection of all devices is preferable to wireless or bluetooth! There will be less interference to contend with.

Next is your mic: You could get an acceptable new one for a $200-400. A used mic might be an acceptable option as well. Good news: You don’t need to get an expensive mic!


(The following item costs are approximates, most items I purchased on Amazon, B&H Electronics or at my local hardware store:)

Acoustic blankets w/ grommets: $55-$63 each (I get mine from vocalboothtogo.com.) -US Cargo Acoustic Blankets on Amazon are about $60 each for the 96×80 sized blankets.

Option: moving blankets $28 for four on Amazon. (not at good at blocking sound, but can help if the room is already pretty quiet- you can also get creative with things like blankets, pillows or even mattresses).

PVC pipe 10 foot length $3/ each (or less)

PVC couplings, $10-18/ bag of ten, maybe three bags- corners, T’s, and X’s to fit your design.

PVC cutter: $16 (manual), $220 (rechargeable automatic- worth the splurge!)

Trond powerstrip outlet extender w/ 3 USB ports to power the LED lighting- $18

Super Danny 10 foot surge protector w/ 4 USB ports, six plugs: $25

27” Sceptre monitor $200 (or whatever fits your booth and computer stand). T, the bigger the monitor, the easier to see both the video conference as well as your script and monitor your sound software.)

Studio Projects C1 is also great – Just $250 new! I’ve never heard anything but praise when I use my SP C1.

Other mic options:

sE 2300 XLR microphone -$400

AT 2035 – $150 (I’ve had this recommended for home recording by a major animation studio, but haven’t tried one yet.)

Ergo driven stand mat $100 (optional) -I can stand for hours on a remote gig and this helps me keep my feet happy.

6” work pro clips, eight for $22 on Amazon

Webcam ring lights w iphone holder, usb charged $33 -remember to only use LED lighting- it’s much cooler. You will probably have to kill your home’s AC when recording, so you want to do what you can to keep things cool!

Line Leader AV cart w/ keyboard tray, laptop stand and monitor mount $260 -This fit my space, but you can get something smaller or cheaper. You might also opt to build your sound cage around a small existing desk.

Autofocus webcam $65 (I actually prefer a more expensive Logitech webcam, it just gives a better image- perhaps not that important.) You can go cheaper on this as well.

Beyerdynamic DT 770 Pro headphones $180 (The key is “over the ear” to kill any sound bleed through.)

More affordable headphone options:

Sennheiser HD280 Pro headphones $100

OneOdio A71 headphones $40

S hooks by Ruiling 15 for $7 (Off of Amazon. You may not need this.)

Ethernet cable 200 feet length $45 (If needed, this can be shorter or longer. At my home, I’ve snaked a 200 foot long indoor/outdoor ethernet cable from my TV room router, out of my attic and over my roof and down into my garage! You can also have an ethernet jack professionally installed wherever you place your studio).

Adjustable microphone suspension boom, $26 (This depends on your set up. If you’ve enough table surface (and your computer isn’t sitting on the table) you might be able to use a weighted table-boom, as long as it can get the mic placed correctly.

Also, you don’t want your computer sitting on the surface that your mic boom is attached to- any whirring of your computer fan will translate through the shared surface to your microphone!)

FocusRite Scarlett Solo interface $110 -These are great. Simple and quiet. Might be the one piece of audio hardware I’d insist you purchase.


Remember as you build this: The overriding concern of the booth is the acoustics, that is, killing echo in your booth and deadening sounds from outside your booth.

© Dee Bradley Baker 2020

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