Now more than ever it’s critical to be able to deliver broadcast-quality audio from your home recording environment. Even before the pandemic, voice actors from all around the globe have been recording from home studios more and more. A professional home studio with high-quality equipment and full connectivity is a must-have to operate as a voiceover talent in today’s market. In this Part 3 of my series on How to Get Started in Voiceover, I’m going to cover essentials for setting up a recording space, talk about the types of equipment you will need, and discuss how to connect and deliver high-quality audio to your client.
Tools of the Trade
It’s easy to get excited about creating a career in VO and all that goes along with it, especially the studio and the gear! :) However, if this is something you are not entirely sure about yet, you can be strategic and build your studio over time while you are still researching and coaching to spread out the cost. (Remember, this is a marathon.) Contrary to popular belief, you don't need to have a complete studio built to start coaching, but a microphone, headphones, and a quiet space are great places to start. If you are smart and do your due diligence, you can cost-effectively build a professional recording environment without breaking the bank.
Start by Going with the Flow
Let's think about how your voice becomes a finished recording. There is a flow to the process. It starts with you speaking in a space that is quiet and acoustically treated. That sound is picked up by a microphone, and that analog signal is carried via a microphone cable to an interface that converts your voice into a digital signal that can be captured on your computer software. You'll need to listen to this audio for accuracy and ultimately edit out your breaths and extraneous noise for delivery to your clients. Keep this sequence of events in mind when you start your hunt for the tools to help you record. Let’s start at the beginning.
You may think you sound great when you sing in the shower. All that reverb and echo makes the voice sound great right? Well, that's not exactly true for voiceover. At all. In fact, that is the exact opposite of what you’re trying to accomplish when creating a space to record VO. When you have too many reflective surfaces where you record, it creates a whole additional set of problems. You have to deal with a myriad of physical sound issues, including standing waves, delayed vocal reflections, room tone, and strange harmonics that, if not treated, will cause your listener to grimace when listening to your recording.
A great place to start off with would be someplace quiet, such as a walk-in closet or a quiet room in the center of where you live, and if possible, away from windows. You want to try and treat your walls with things that absorb as much sound as possible. Inexpensive materials such as pillows, moving blankets, heavy curtains, or hanging clothing work really well for little cost. You can also hang sound blankets from a PVC frame booth that is easy to DIY, or check out the conveniently packaged Tri-booth from George Whittam and Rick Wasserman. I have one that I used for a while before I got my custom studio built in my new home. It is awesome and serves as my travel rig now. When traveling, voice actors typically have to work in hotel rooms and acoustically treat the spaces with comforters and pillows. A great example is my pre Tri-booth travel set up in Italy, or check out the great pics in this article about voiceover on the road. The main idea is to treat your larger home space similarly, with sound-absorbing materials all around your mic as well as above and below the mic.
Your Space 2.0
If you’re looking to up your game, you can create acoustic panels out of material like Owens Corning 703, or like mine with Rockwool insulation. For more information, check out Modern Acoustics on the VO BOSS podcast as well as my blog on soundproofing. And of course, I would be remiss if I didn't post Tim Tippett's amazing video on how to create your own DIY panels! In case you didn't know by now, Tim Tippets custom built my booth (see time-lapse below) and I have 23 of these panels hanging in my booth as well as my office! For the record, my panels are 4" thick which I highly recommend for great sound.
The goal of this quiet recording space is to have your microphone only pick up the source sound of your voice. You only want the listener to hear what comes out of your mouth. No reverb from the room, or echoes from hard surfaces. This way your voice is clear and clean.
You can build a room within a room (like mine) if you’re looking to upgrade from a walk-in closet, or PVC and blanket booth. You’ll need to do some homework and either hire a carpenter that’s familiar with acoustic isolation, you can read up on it in this great book called “Home Recording Studio” by Rod Gervais. For best results, consult with a professional to help you plan your construction. Of course, I highly recommend Tim Tippets. He built my custom booth and I’ve never sounded better! Make sure to check out my blog on my studio build with him here.
Your Microphone -
Check, Check, 1-2, 1-2.
Next in the signal flow is your microphone. You want to be able to capture the full range of frequencies of your voice. A great mic will absorb your voice accurately, cleanly, with all the subtle nuances that only your voice has. If you are sure about this business, look for condenser microphones that use an XLR cable. You'll have a wide selection to choose from, and almost everyone has their favorites in this business, including me. While USB microphones are fine for podcasters, YouTubers, or Zoom calls, and even beginners while coaching, they are not ones you would use as a professional in the voiceover industry. You’ll never see a professional studio using a USB mic, and there is a reason for that. These mics offer a broader range of response to your voice. Feel free to check out my favorite recommendations on my Studio Gear Glow up page.
Your Cable (Plug it in)
Next in line is getting your signal from the microphone to the interface via an XLR microphone cable. A high-quality cable is more important than you might think. Cheap cables often create noise like cracks, pops, and hiss. Sometimes they’ll even pick up electrical interference and in some cases radio stations. Investing a few extra dollars on a quality cable will pay off in the long run.
Your Audio Interface
Converting your analog signal that the microphone picks up, to something your computer can understand is the job of a little box called an audio interface. You plug your XLR mic cable into one side of the interface and your voice gets converted into a digital signal. That signal is then fed to your computer's recording software through another cable that is provided by the interface manufacturer. The interface also serves as a source of electrical power for your microphone. Condenser mics need to be powered, and this is accomplished using something called “phantom power”. Usually in the 48-volt range. You should consider the reputation and quality of the interface you decide to purchase. A great starting interface is the Steinberg UR22. It’s a solid lower-cost interface that can serve as a great beginner piece of gear. I used mine for a good 6 years when I first started.
Your Computer Software - The Digital Audio Workstation
Once you have a digital signal, your computer will need a piece of software called a DAW, (Digital Audio Workstation) to be able to edit and save your voice. There are a number of great software applications that you can find to accomplish this goal. A lot of beginners start with Audacity, which is free. There are lots of great tutorials on it that you can reference while you are learning. I personally use a low-cost software solution for my Mac called Twisted Wave. I LOVE Twisted Wave. It's simple to learn and use, and it gives me all the features I need in order to deliver great audio to my clients. In fact, I started with this software years ago, and throughout the growth of my career, I’ve never needed to change. Twisted wave has all the functionality that a VO talent needs. You should work with a DAW that you are comfortable with. If you’re familiar with Adobe Audition, or Reaper, or any of the other many popular DAW’s out there, go ahead and use them. As long as you can edit your audio file, keep track of your recording level, and deliver high-quality audio, use what software is most comfortable to you.
Once you have your audio in your DAW, you need an effective solution for listening to the raw audio for mistakes, mouth noise, loud breaths, and extraneous noises (like your dog, the kids, or the neighbor's lawnmower). You want to be able to listen to the barebones audio without any effects such as added bass or "prettying" effects that you might hear through a traditional sound system like your TV or music headphones. I always use Studio monitoring headphones - LOVE my Audio Technica's - or you can use a set of studio monitors. It is critical that you are able to hear the audio for what it is, with no added effects, and provide great audio to your client, who will then typically "sweeten" it with whatever effects they desire.
Speaking of delivery, you have to be able to deliver your audio files to your client, as well as communicate with them easily! A broadband connection is a must. An absolute must. And the faster the better. I have gig speed from my internet provider and love its speed and reliability. It is worth the price as an absolutely essential investment for my business.
Many times, a client will want to direct your recording session and will need a way to chat and/or record you while you are voicing a job. The most popular software(s) that allows you to have that connectivity is Source Connect and ipDTL. I have subscriptions to both for the convenience of my customers. I use ipDTL to coach my students as the quality of the connection is higher quality than that of Skype or Zoom, and it gets my students used to working with the software that they may use later on to provide to their customers. I also conduct the majority of my remote demo sessions using this software for its superior sound quality. As a beginner, you may not need these right away, but they are definitely subscriptions to consider when you become serious about the business and need to offer them to your clients.
The little things
Lastly, there is a multitude of bits and bobs that you will probably need eventually. Here’s a shortlist in no particular order:
A file-sharing account like Dropbox
Reality Check: Beware the bundle! You will often see gear bundled into one easy and cheap package. On the surface, this may seem like a great cost-effective idea. However, know that these bundles often include cheaply made (or substituted) versions of what you’ll need and will only last a short time. I’ve had many students bemoan their "bundle" purchases.
Whenever I’m working with a student who is new to voice over, before we can create a professional-sounding demo, they must be able to record clean, professional-sounding, broadcast-quality audio. Once that demo is produced and the student is actively marketing and auditioning, that quality needs to be consistent and deliverable on a regular basis. Be smart, research, and implement the flow above and your home studio will be able to grow and scale with you and your business! You've got this!
Next up: Recording a Killer Demo!
Much love and Keep on rockin' your health and your biz!
About the Author: Anne Ganguzza is a full-time voice talent and award-winning director and producer who works with students to develop their voice over and business skills - including VO demo training and production. She specializes in Conversational Commercial and Narration styles, including Corporate, E-Learning, Technology, Healthcare - Medical, Telephony, and On-Hold. Located in Orange County, CA, Anne offers private coaching and mentoring services to students in person and via Skype, ipDTL or Zoom.