It takes time in any industry to fully understand all the components which help to make your business a success. Aside from voiceover training, great demos, and marketing and business prowess, a voice actor needs to be able to produce quality audio, now more so than ever. In order to get you there, it is helpful to understand the basic audio concepts of soundproofing, acoustic treatment, and noise mitigation.
I count myself fortunate to have cultivated relationships with many experts in this industry - especially most recently, with my good friend and booth builder extraordinaire, Tim Tippets (aka the VO Tech Guru). Tim recently built a custom booth for me in my new home, and boy did I learn a lot! In addition to now being the owner of a seriously AMAZING booth (affectionately nicknamed "The Beast" by Tim), it also inspired a brand new series of VO BOSS podcasts with Tim all about the topic of what he knows best: audio!
Soundproofing, acoustic treatment, and noise mitigation all have an impact on audio quality, but they are all completely different concepts. I know - kind of confusing right? During my booth build, I got to see firsthand the very important nuances between each of these. I'd love to share them with you, Anne style :)
Soundproofing: In Space, No One Can Hear You Scream.
You know what? You have to Think OUTSIDE the box. Soundproofing essentially is done in response to noise on the outside of your space trying to get in. To help mitigate sounds coming from outside my studio, Tim built my studio with double walls insulated with Rockwool and acoustical green glue in between, double doors, and no windows. It was super effective! My studio is about 6 feet away from my outside windows which are located on a relatively quiet street outside my house. (Notice I said relatively - there is still a bit of construction happening as well as the typical landscaping that happens every Wednesday so I still need a solid build to keep out a certain level of noise.) By the way, it's important to know that no studio is ever 100% soundproof, which is why you typically see signs in commercial studios telling you to keep quiet when a recording is in progress.
So now I have an isolated and decently soundproofed room. Yay! But how come when I record in it, I sound like I’m inside a tin can? Until it's properly acoustically treated, It’s actually because you are. Tim used this analogy: Think of your voice like a baseball pitcher and your microphone like the catcher. Except the pitcher isn’t going to throw just one ball, he’s going to throw a hundred balls all at the same time in every direction. If you’re outside in an open space, this isn’t a problem. The catcher will only be able to grab 1 ball because all of the other balls will just travel away and not return. But when you put your voice and microphone in a small enclosed space, all of those balls bounce around and eventually make it back to the catcher at different times. This is what causes that boxy, echoey, honking kind of sound. When the sound of your voice bounces off or reflects off of a surface it will eventually make it to the microphone and create unwanted tones and harmonics that are unpleasant.
The way to stop those unwanted reflections is to treat the space with materials that will either absorb or diffuse the sound that is bouncing around your room. That’s what is meant by the term acoustic treatment. Every recording space is unique, and there is no one size fits all approach. There are however some great common practices to help treat your space. For a budget approach, you can use anything soft and dense. Things like pillows, blankets, carpets, heavy drapes, anything that will absorb sound. For a more professional approach, you’ll want to create panels made from 4-inch Owens Corning 703 or Rockwool. Tim has a great video on youtube that shows you exactly how to make the panels like the ones in my booth. These professional materials are proven to absorb a broad range of frequencies that will eliminate unwanted acoustic reflections from reaching your microphone.
For more info on the science of soundproofing - check out our podcast below:
The concept of noise mitigation is pretty simple. Basically, you want to eliminate or mitigate anything from your recording environment that will cause unwanted noise that could be picked up by your microphone. This includes body noises such as your stomach growling and the dreaded mouth noise that most every VO artist fears. There is also a wide range of objects that can create sounds that your microphone will pick up. Computer fans are a very common culprit of noise in the booth. But there are also other things you wouldn’t think of as well. Fluorescent light bulbs can emit a high-pitched frequency. A squeaky chair can be a real nuisance. I recently had to buy new headphones because the plastic on my old ones was squeaking when I talked or moved my head. Some people use music stands to hold their copy. Metal music stands can have a sympathetic vibration from your voice that will create a kind of ringing sound. When I used to use a music stand in my old booth, I used to lay a piece of carpet on top of it and then envelope it in fabric to stop sound reflections. If you have a microphone on a stand that sits on your desk, any vibration from that desk can transfer to your mic and show up as very low-frequency booms and bumps in your recording. Bottom line, be very selective when it comes to what you let in your booth with you.
For more info on sound mitigation from inside the booth - make sure to check out our podcast below:
The Sweet Spot
Audio quality is a subjective, broad, and multifaceted subject for voice actors. There’s almost an infinite number of elements that comprise the concept of audio quality. Here’s the advice I received. Go into your booth, record 15 to 30 seconds of copy. Save that recording as a .wav file. Then listen. Listen on headphones, then listen in your car, then listen on your stereo or your Bluetooth speaker. While you’re listening ask yourself a few questions. Does my voice sound natural? Can I hear all the frequency’s in my voice? Can I hear any background noise? Is there any buzzing or humming? Is the recording free from cracks and pops? What about that boxy sound? Is there anything out of the ordinary that is distracting or pulls focus from what I’m saying? Does it sound professional? Then to be really sure, pass that recording onto a professional. A professional can listen to your recording and help track down the source of any unwanted noise and make subtle adjustments to your recording settings to help bring out the best qualities of your voice. A professional will also be able to coach you on mic technique that can make a huge difference in sound quality.
There is so much information online about what makes up a professional sounding recording space. Be careful, there is a lot of less than stellar advice floating around. If you find a tutorial that claims a cheap and quick set up, take it with a grain of salt. If the cheap and quick method really worked, then you wouldn’t have professional recording studios that invest thousands of dollars into creating beautiful sounding recording spaces. Go ahead and take a deeper dive into my BOSS Audio Podcast series with Tim. For an even deeper dive into Audio, I highly recommend Tim's Audition Ready Online.
So YES, armed with your new knowledge, you can absolutely set up a fantastic sounding recording environment at home. In fact, it’s a necessity these days. I encourage you to take your new knowledge and dive deeper. Spend some time researching and studying. Once you start to understand the basic concepts, you’ll be surprised at the amazing sounding audio that you can produce!
Much love and Keep on rockin' 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.