3: Setting Up A Home Voiceover Studio

Before we actually discuss setting up a home studio, let’s take a moment to consider why set a setup is a “must” if you’re serious about a career in voiceovers.

Because of the changing nature of the business, it’s very competitive out there. And because most new VO talent will start small, it’s an absolute necessity that you be able to record, edit and delivery your voice in digital form WITHOUT having to pay an outside provider for studio time. With established studios commonly charging $60-125 per hour in mid-sized markets, there will be nothing left for you if you have to pay someone to handle the recording side of things. Not to mention inconvenience (and sometimes the downright impossibility) of trying to schedule time at a studio on short notice.

But, possibly the biggest reason to have a studio is because you can afford it. Prices are so low for a PC-based system these days that you can get everything you need for a few hundred dollars, and your work from home can sound like it’s from a solid professional recording environment. And, broken down on a per-job basis, you’ll eventually get down to the place where you ended up spending pennies for what would have cost many, many dollars recording at a studio. Of course, if you’re really established over time, you’ll be recording at outside studios anyway. But that doesn’t make the home-studio market any less valuable.

THE ESSENTIALS
A Microphone – You’re looking for a good large-diaphragm condenser mic. Some of the good choices for entry level include the Behringer B-1 for about $100 or so, or the Studio Projects C-1 at around $200. You can spend much, much more on a very high-end microphone (up to about $4000…), but we’re assuming for now that you want good, but not great, or classic. The Behringer and Studio Projects models are nice, affordable, microphones. Make sure you don’t skimp on a good quality, shielded microphone cable. You’ll also need a microphone stand. And you’ll generally want a music stand to hold your scripts…especially with longer scripts. Here’s a page with a number of other mic options, especially on the high end.

A Professional Sound Card – These can vary in quality and price from a couple hundred to a couple thousand dollars. Some people are using single input USB interfaces, while others will use a PCI-based system or a Firewire device. This will be the most expensive part of your system (assuming you have a pretty decent desktop computer already), so don’t skimp. Plan to spend $400-500. There are so many options, and the choices change so often…we won’t get into detail now. If you’re looking for a good quick choice that can be incorporated without having to install hardware inside your computer, consider the Digidesign mBox (under $500). It also comes with ProTools…the state of the art in recording and editing software.

Recording/Editing Software – You can spend $50-500 for software. Basic recording and editing doesn’t require a lot, but you might want to have some solid sound processing options as well (for example, normalization and compression). You’ll also need to export to MP3 as well as WAV files. The most popular options are SoundForge (PC) and ProTools (Mac & PC). A more affordable (free) option is Audacity. Keep in mind that, if you’re planning to offer your voice combined with music (for example, commercials or on-hold messages), you’ll need a multi-track program and not just a mono-stereo track editor like SoundForge. ProTools is very good for this. A much more affordable option would be something along the lines of Magix Music Studio. Adobe Audition is also popular.

THE ENVIRONMENT
Your Space – Most people don’t have an extra room in the house to dedicate to recording…so you’re likely to have to improvise to get started. Look for a space that doesn’t have a lot of activity so you can customize it without having it disturbed often. Maybe a storage room? A clothes closet? You’ll need your microphone to be in there, and possibly a music stand. And some sort of lighting.

Noise Levels – The amount of ambient noise in your pace is very important. In heavier traffic areas, many people like basements because they ofter more insulation from low-frequency (rumbling) noises. Noise reduction foam can be very expensive. But you can work around it with options like these: insulated ceiling tile (common in basements with drop ceilings), carpet and wall coverings. Here’s a great idea for affordable wall coverings: Go your local Salvation Army Thrift Store and buy up some old thick comforters or sleeping bags for a few bucks apiece. Use some nails, screws or clamps to cover the wall with them. You will be AMAZED at how quiet your recording space will become. All this being said, there are most likely still times when you’ll need to pause to allow noisy traffic to pass, water to run thru pipes, etc. This is just part of working from your home. With all the pluses, there are the occasional inconveniences.

Sound Booth – If you have plenty of budget to work with, you might want to look into a dedicated sound booth ($2000-$5000). These self-contained, stand-alone rooms can be placed in a large room (especially a basement area…they are very heavy… many hundreds of pounds), and can provide a lot of isolation from sound. Whisper Rooms are very popular for this purpose.

Next: Self-Instruction (Books About Voiceover)