Home Studio Set Up Overview
What do you need to work from home?
- Good acoustics
- A good microphone/interface
- Good mic technique
- Simple recording software
- Proper sound level
- Save your work as a mono 48 kHz 24 bit .wav file
- A hardwired ethernet internet connection- as fast as possible.
Thankfully, a home VO studio isn’t about expensive technology or you having advanced sound engineer skills. Your mission is relatively simple.
Don’t worry about compression, pre-amps or plug ins or recording multi tracks. Most of that intimidating and expensive audio equipment along with most audio recording software is superfluous overkill- designed for making music, not the simple task of delivering a clean non-produced mono track of your voice. You don’t need all that.
Most advice you’d get at a music store (or from a musician) is not tailored for a voice actor.
The hardware recommended by your typical record store dude or musician dudette will almost certainly be overkill because they sell/use equipment designed for the complicated multi track production of music, not the simple needs of mono track of VO.
If you walk in to a music store know going in exactly what you want to buy, otherwise you will be oversold a lot of expensive equipment not designed for VO, sold to you by a musician, not a voice actor. They aren’t evil, they just don’t understand a voice actor’s specific needs.
Your mission is simple. Deliver a useable, clean, unmodified mono track of you. (If an audition, it’s an mp3. If it’s work, it needs to be a 24 bit, 48 kHz .wav file.)
Here’s a revelation that’s also a relief: A sound engineer doesn’t want a modified or “produced” track from you. They want raw and unprocessed good sound. The less done to your recorded performance on your end the better, as far as the engineer is concerned. Don’t be tempted to meddle with the simple thing they want from you.
Shhh…Get a quiet computer with a decent sized hard drive and memory.
Macs work best for recording audio. I use a Mac mini with a solid-state hard drive, which tends to be very quiet. Most modern laptops are powerful enough to do the processing, but there may be fan noise.
You’ll want to isolate your computer’s fan or spindle noise from your recording. There are options for isolating your booth from any computer noise, for instance, connecting your computer to an iPad via bluetooth to use the iPad to use as your script.
A laptop should have a generous sized solid state hard drive (not a spinning spindle hard drive) and plenty of RAM (memory). Newer laptops run cooler and hence won’t add as much extra fan noise.
Personally, I prefer not to use a laptop. Because the computer must power not only the audio and video software as well as a monitor, a laptop’s resource usage often requires fan cooling. And if your laptop is your monitor, you can’t isolate that noise. Also, you are stuck with a less than favorable angle with a laptop’s built-in webcam.
This is why I prefer a computer separated from a monitor for VO recording.
Recording a VO session requires processing both audio and conferencing video, which uses a lot of computational resources. This workload will trigger the computer to cool itself to avoid overheating, which means fan noise. Hence, you probably want to isolate your processing power away from your mic and probably even outside of your booth.
I’ve seen some engineers encase their computer in a “quiet box,” though even that needs to allow airflow for the computer to cool itself (overheating can damage a computer). It is probably preferable to locate your computer external to your booth then get longer cables to connect it to your in-booth mic and monitor.
Most audio software is overkill for a voice actor.
Don’t use ProTools unless you’re a musician. It’s for musicians and sound engineers. For voice actors it is bloated overkill loaded with distraction and frustration, plus it’s expensive. Forget that! Ditto for Logic Pro.
When voice actors record, we don’t need multi track recording or anything approaching what a musician needs. We are best served by the least distracting recording software you can find. Remember, all they want from us is either an mp3 (for auditions) or a mono 24 bit 48 kHz .wav file (for a gig). That’s it. Most any recording software can do that (though, surprisingly, not Garage Band).
Good voice actor friendly options include: Twisted Wave (simple as pie, what I use), Adobe Audition (requires a subscription), Audacity, or Ocen Audio (simple and free). They all do basically what we need- simple editing of a mono .wav file. It’s not about fancy software features for us voice actors. I tried these all and while they all do the job, I found Twisted Wave the simplest and most helpful with quick editing.
Apple’s Garage Band (designed for music creation, not VO) typically records and sends a stereo signal. Set it to “mono.” It also default records at 44.1 KHz (as musicians use) instead of 48 KHz (which post and animation use). This can cause other software (such as Source Connect) to also record at the incorrect bit rate of 44.1. For these reasons, I’d say avoid Garage Band.
Forget using effects or “VST plug ins” to modify your performance. It’s not wanted by the engineer and is distracting to you.
If you are using Source Connect or ipDTL (where the remote engineer is recording your performance), your home recording software may not be needed- unless you are requested to record your own performance as backup and file share that.
Note: Source Connect isn’t perfect- it can experience “drop outs” even with a good internet connection. It is always wise to record your performance on your end, at least as a back up.
A simple home recording software option:
A dead-simple option for recording at home is Apple’s already installed QuickTime player. With your mic gain properly set, you can record your entire audio session using QT as a simple recorder. You set the level, press “record,” record a single take of your entire session, then press “stop” whereupon you are prompted to save it as a high quality AIFF file.
Select the mic input and quality to “maximum” level in QT (the little arrow drop down menu next to the red “record” button on). Select “New Audio Recording” from QT’s File menu. Record your entire session and when you close QT, it prompts you to save it (as an uncompressed, high quality AIFF file). Then file share the recording of your session you saved when the session is finished.
Note: This is a single take session with no start-stopping. It’s probably best for a shorter session, as you can’t pause it. QT records your entire session as a single take. There is no pause function in this, as pressing “stop” while recording ends the session and prompts you to save it.
Proper Sound Level:
The signal you record should not be too loud or too soft. When setting for animation VO, you need to allow for a more dynamic level of sound than other forms of VO (that is you get softer and sometimes very loud).
So, set your mic’s meter levels so that the peaks (loudest) of the recorded wave form you see on your sound meter is around -6 to -10, no “hotter” than that (no closer to “zero”). If you are yelling, dial it back a bit further to stay in the -6 to -10 zone.
If your performance is too loud for the sound level setting (the “gain”), the recording will distort and will probably be unusable. Same if the sound level is too low. So- make sure to do a test run with the audio level first, making sure the sound levels are set to best capture your performance before recording.
Your home recording setup needs good room acoustics!
You want low extraneous external noise (airplanes, traffic, computer hum) but also you want to deaden any and all echos or reverb of your voice inside your booth. This might be achieved simply by stepping into a closet that blocks surrounding sound and echos. Maybe you strategically add towels or blankets or moving blankets or foam. Other options and ideas are shared on videos below.
You need a good microphone- not necessarily an expensive one!
Here’s a relief: You don’t need more than a decent low-priced condenser mic that is properly angled and properly used. Don’t be tech-obsessed. It’s not about a pricey mic (TLM 103s run about $1100, but you can find more expensive ones in professional studios). Expensive mics can actually be too sensitive!
Expect to pay around $200-$400 for an acceptable new mic- but you can also shop for a used one as well (recommendations on my Studio Hardware and Components page).
A well-positioned good condenser mic that you use with proper mic technique will do just fine, and it shouldn’t have to break your bank.
Use proper mic technique. (also, CLICK HERE)
Voice actors don’t have to be sound engineers, but we have to angle our mics properly to provide good sound and avoid gusts of wind, the “plosives,” like “p’s” and “b’s.”
A condenser mic is best. It should hang in front of you at about nose level and be angled slightly back to avoid wind and plosives. Don’t speak directly into the middle of the mic, as you’ll get wind and p-pops. You usually want to angle your voice a bit “off center.”
Add a metal pop screen to help with this. (A foam cover can slightly degrade higher sounds, I’ve heard, though some engineers are fine with it.)
Focus! The “sweet spot” on a mic is the grid area directly below where the company logo or the “pick up” pattern is displayed on the body of your upside down hanging mic. That logo is there for a reason. It’s there to point you to the area on your mic that is your vocal target, maybe angling your voice a little off-center, so you’re not blowing directly into the mic.
Quiet tip: Avoid having your computer sitting on the table connected to your mic/boom. That can cause hum to infect your recording’s “noise floor.” Also be aware of any fan noise from your hardware. Mac minis and many solid state hard drive laptops are very quiet, but nothing is always silent.
An “interface” is a small metal box that facilitates audio connection between your computer and your microphone. You plug your mic’s XLR mic cable into the interface and a USB cable from your interface into your computer then select that input in your audio software. You control your recording level during a session from the front dial on your interface.
What to get? Easy and cheap is a Focusrite Scarlett Solo. Universally beloved. It is powered from the usb connection to your computer and can also power your XLR mic with a press of the “48v” button on the front of the interface.
Any problem with it (e.g., lost connection)? Just unplug the usb cable on its back and plug it back in.
Consult with an expert!
Work with an expert or the engineer at the studio used by those who hires you to listen to and tweak the adequacy of your sound.
Good, clean sound is what matters. Let the expert assess your sound and help you find what works to get it show ready.
In addition to good internet connection speed and the quality of your voice, they’ll want to confirm the deadness of your “room tone.”
Unwanted room echo can be muffled cheaply with a closet or acoustic blankets, pillows, mattresses or even super-cheap moving blankets (see my home studio Hardware and Components page).
The mic is particularly sensitive right in front of its sweet spot but your voice can put out a lot of energy in front of you as well, so you want to absorb echos front and back. It’s important to not just kill ambient room sounds but also to deaden or muffle echos all around you.
You’ll need a fast, wired internet connetion.
You’ll need to run multiple programs for video and audio. This typically requires a lot of bandwidth. Wifi will rarely not suffice. You’ll need to somehow get your recording computer connected to your modem (the internet) with an ethernet cable (maybe a very long one, connecting your computer to your internet modem).
Call your internet service provider and pony up for the fastest speed they can get you. Then get an ethernet cable sufficiently long enough to connect your computer and the modem. (My cable strings up through my attic, over my rooftop and down into my basement through a ceiling vent). You can pay extra to have it professionally installed if you want.
For my Home Studio Hardware & Components Page CLICK HERE.