Top 3 Questions - Home Studio Set-Up For Voice Over
Every so often, I receive a message via Instagram from an aspiring voice over artist asking for pointers but since quarantine began, I have received messages from aspiring and established VOs alike, asking for advice about one thing in particular - home studio set-up. There is a bit of an assumption that the microphone will take centre stage in the studio but my advice is always to initially focus on the recording studio space. So I thought I’d dedicate today’s column to answering some of the common questions I’ve been asked recently, concentrating on the sound treatment aspect, so you can hopefully benefit from the experience of my mishaps, observations and approved trials and tests.
Is Setting Up A Home Studio Worth Doing?
I suppose this question is borne out of the fact that nobody quite knows how long the lockdowns will go on for and even once the restrictions are eased up, how the industry will have shifted. In my opinion, yes, it is worth setting up a home studio. The amount that you invest into it though, should be dictated by how you get your voice over work and how much you will realistically attain.
When setting up a home studio, the first thing you need to think about is where is the best place for it. Your studio needs to achieve 3 key things - stop sound reflections within the space, block external noises from outside the space and provide a consistent sound environment. Therefore, if you do not have a suitable place that you think you can set-up and sufficiently soundproof to record quality audio from, then it is not worth you moving onto the next stage of investing in equipment just yet. Perhaps you just need to think a little more practically about the spaces available to you, such as inside a wardrobe.
A key point to note is that buying a good quality microphone will not make up for the fact that your recording space is not high quality. This was something I learnt the hard way, by investing a lot of money in a Neumann TLM103 microphone when my studio space at the time was not ready for it. The quality of my studio was not at all bad but a high quality microphone like the Neumann will pick up on every bit of ambience in the room, including the bits you don’t want it to. The result will be a bad quality recording. At the time, to produce better quality recordings from that space, I actually used a considerably less expensive microphone.
How Do You Sound Treat A Voice Recording Studio?
Once you’ve established a convenient place to set up your studio, make sure it is a space that you will be able to shield from outside noise. You might want to consider your proximity to a busy street / noisy neighbours the other side of the wall or upstairs / the distance and positioning of the washing machine or TV and other people in your house using them whilst you’re recording.
The next issue is the interior as your chosen recording space will dictate the type of sound treatment that you need to do. Your efforts are aimed at reducing sound reflections by absorbing them so the only sound being picked up by your microphone is your voice. That means that you want to remove or cover any hard surfaces that sound can bounce off of, like windows, doors, mirrors etc. Next you want to add mass and damping to the walls, ceiling and floor, which you can do with various materials. For those on a budget, I’ve seen this be done with duvets, mattresses, sofa cushions, piles of clothes etc. Cork, rubber and foam are also great materials for sound absorption and you will likely have noticed that foam panels are a popular choice for voice over artists when treating a studio. Layering up carpets on the floor of your studio will prove beneficial. If you have your microphone placed on a tabletop, make sure you have also dampened the surface with something reasonably soft and thick like a towel or blanket.
The first time I set up a home recording studio, I created a DIY booth using wooden panels covered in foam panels. Creating a smaller space was a good move but where I went wrong was in dealing with the ceiling. The room was cubic and had high ceilings which I didn’t treat, creating a bit of an echo which was picked up in recording. Treating the ceiling can be done in the same way you’ve treated the walls, with more foam panels, or pinning draped fabric up there to soften the surface. Also you can aim to create a more triangular shape to the ceiling space, not forgetting about the corners of the space, which will reduce echo.
How much does it cost - money and space?
This depends on your budget. On the financial upside, the sound treatment of your studio is the area where improvisations can be made. As I mentioned earlier, duvets and clothes can be used to effectively absorb and deaden the sound within your studio space. If you have the means and feel that the life and positioning of your studio has some longevity, it is worth upgrading and investing in more permanent materials. This will allow you to achieve key criteria #3 - a consistent recording environment and sound.
Spatially, the recording space doesn’t need to cost you much of your living space at all. It is actually better being small since it makes it easier to dampen, although be careful about making it too small as that can lead to you having issues with ‘boxy’ sounding audio quality. However, do factor in how you feel comfortable recording and the length of time you will be recording. The old trick of recording in bed while under your duvet does create an effective environment - but also a pretty hot one that you can’t stand up in. If you like to sit, make sure you can get a chair in there. If you do voice acting and prefer to stand up and be expressive with you arms, make sure you have allowed enough space for that without constantly knocking into the sides of your treated studio.
These are observations I have made from experiences of creating and working from home studio spaces over the years, researching advice and implementing creative solutions to my practical needs. I mentioned in a previous article that part of the advice I would go back to give myself when starting out as a voice over artist was to invest in myself. In further testament to that piece of advice, I can undoubtedly say that investing my time, patience and money into creating the quality home recording studio I have now has been one of the best investments I think I have ever made in myself.