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

Your Home Studio

A SIMPLE, COST-EFFECTIVE HOME STUDIO IS ALL YOU NEED:

You’ll find lots of different takes on an equipment list for a home studio. I’m not really an engineer, so I don’t have (or need) the most “tricked out” studio. My equipment is not expensive, it’s simple and sounds great.

Home auditioning is pretty straight forward. You record single track performances, do retakes, edit them down and email them in. This process requires less expensive recording technology than most would think. Less is more for a voice actor like me.

The sound quality needs to be decent, but it’s an Mp3 audition that probably won’t be heard under optimal acoustic conditions anyway (it does need to sound technically on par with the other auditions your agent is submitting). I’m not a fan of the whole “ProTools” set up that many get in order to feel they have a “professional” studio. I find it way too expensive, overly complex and a pain to learn and operate in general. My set up is simpler.

Here’s what studio equipment I use and how much it cost me:

1. I record to Garage Band that comes pre-installed on my Mac mini. I like the Mac mini because it is pretty much silent– no cooling fan since its cooling is passive. The software is incredibly simple and intuitive and can record multi track and more if I want. It sounds great. It’s easy to drop in a karaoke Mp3 from iTunes for a singing audition, as well. For auditioning purposes, it is all I need. You could also do this from an iMac as well. About $1000 for the computer/monitor/pre-installed software.

2. I plug my XLR mic (XLR refers to the connector on a professional quality mic) into an inexpensive digital audio interface (e.g., Mic Port Pro- a “D/A converter” that is about the size and shape of a magic marker). This plugs directly into my Mac’s USB port. It has separate volume controls on the converter for the mic level and earphone level. Pretty awesome. This nifty device allows me to plug any professional quality XLR mic into my computer to record. $200.

3. I “warm up” the tone of my voice via the mic with a microphone pre-amp which features “tube emulation” and a built in compressor to guard against sudden fluctuations in sound level. This can run you anywhere from just over $100 to well over $1000. For me, this is the second most expensive sound hardware in my studio, after my computer. 

4. I use a relatively inexpensive SE Electronics XLR mic that my friend, voice-actor Corey Burton, recommended. He also really likes the Studio Projects C-1 mic, which I also own. Sure, you can buy an industry standard Neumann mic if you’ve got a few thousand sitting around. Me? This inexpensive Burton-approved mic sounds pretty great and I’ve never had a complaint. There exist USB mics that may fill the bill these days, but I’ve not tested any. Make sure your production quality is at least as good as your agency’s so that they also feel good about the sound quality of your read and your production. Around $400.

5. I record my auditions inside an 8’x12′ “vocal booth” studio that I purchased on the web and set up in my garage. I got mine from VocalBooth.com a good while back. Whisperroom is also popular.

There are also new (and cheaper) options now for home recording, including “porta booths” that allow recording in a closet or small room. These are essentially a small sound-deadening foam-padded box which houses your mic with an open side that you speak into. The foam swallows much room sound so that your vocals sounds like you’re in a studio. Pretty cool! You aren’t entirely closed off from all external sound bleed, but these porta-booths are designed to swallow much of the ambient room sound. Hunt around online for examples of home studio options and read the reviews. It may even be possible to cobble together a home made version of this as well…

6. A decent pair of headphones, preferably over-the-ear, to avoid “noise bleed.” The “on ear” headphones don’t contain sound well enough to record vocals. Pony up some moolah for comfort as your ears will get tired quickly from cheap headphones. Most headphones I see in studio are Sony brand. Maybe $200-$300 new.

7. (advanced) I have an old Telos Zephyr ISDN codec that I use on occasion to work from my home studio- many of the A-list voice-actors I know have one of these. It’s an expensive piece of hardware that facilitates a special broadband phone connection that allows studio quality sound recording remotely. It ain’t cutting edge, but neither is the electronic infrastructure of most of Hollywood. (Most all of my type of voice work–animation, movies, interactive games–is recorded in a professional studio with director and cast present.)

This set up requires your purchase the codec (a couple thousand, I think) and then have the phone company install a separate ISDN line to your home (if they do that- some areas don’t have this). You then pay a flat monthly fee for the active line and also usage fee on top of that.

You probably don’t need an ISDN setup. I rarely do these days. I needed it at first to be directed remotely from my agency’s office when I wasn’t as skilled at self-directing and I had to stay close to home (was starting a family). These days I mostly use my codec to do an occasional promo read. Voice actors who focus on promos have a laptop version of this where their connection is facilitated by a company called “Source Connect.” This is a web-based ISDN third party that sets up your ISDN session over the web so you don’t need the hardware.

When your career gets more advanced, you might set up an ISDN set up (or equivalent) so you can actually work from home (or even from a laptop in any hotel with an ISDN connection). The actors I know that take it this mobile are doing promos and perhaps commercials, not animation or ADR, remember. As I said, an ISDN set up is pricey and may become advantageous later in your career.

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Make sure you consider my page “Death by Home Studio” before leaping into auditioning from home!

I like purchasing my equipment from http://www.zzounds.com, sweetwater.com, B & H Audio/Video or even random places on Amazon. Read reviews, compare prices and shipping and return policies on anything you order. 

23 Responses »

  1. So I am totally a beginner when it comes to this but I am very interested and wanting to give it a good shot. Now there are some bundles on Amazon such as ( http://www.amazon.com/Focusrite-Scarlett-Recording-Interface-Package/dp/B00BXM0N88/ref=sr_1_28?ie=UTF8&qid=1462806750&sr=8-28&keywords=recording ) I am not sure if this will work or if you have any other tips for a $400-500 budget?

    • I’d almost rather a “total beginner” spend your money on good improv or acting training. The important part of becoming a piano player isn’t buying a piano, but gaining musical experience and competence as well as enthusiasm. If the hardware helps you towards gaining these fundamentals, that’s fine. A beginner can go cheaper and get a USB mic and plug it into a Mac for a hundred bucks or so. The items I list on this page are suggestions, but don’t focus your VO early career on solo home VO, since you need other ears and probably an engineer to make your performance as good as it can be. And a beginning actor needs a live audience and a cast to learn how to act. The system Focusrite package you reference looks like a sweet deal, just keep the focus on improving your acting and live improv abilities.

  2. What pre-amp and compressor do you use at your home studio? Then do you go from your pre-amp to your mic port pro as your dac?

    • I’d be much more concerned with your acting performance than the warmth your pre-amp’s mic emulation adds to your recorded audition. I’m gonna bet no audition ever was rejected because the compression wasn’t set just right, either. My pre-amp also has a compressor. It’s not even made anymore. Specific type doesn’t really matter and I don’t believe would help. My studio hardware is an unremarkable set up. Get something well-reviewed (not expensive) plug it into your DAC and that’s it. It ain’t about the tech. It’s about performance.

  3. This may not be the page to ask this but I’ve been meaning to know. can you do cartoons for TV in your home studio? Or is it just, videogames, audiobooks, and commericals?

    • Television animation is recorded in the studio as are video games and most commercials. Some are able to establish themselves enough to produce audiobooks, commercials and promos from their home studio or from a remote studio where they are traveling.

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