I’d like to take a break this week from what has become our usual format of discussing equipment and construction to talk about perseverance. It’s easy to get discouraged when undertaking a new project. This can apply to something as simple as hobby, or as complex as starting a career in Voice work. The key is to remember that it’s a marathon, not a sprint. But if we take the running metaphor one step further (pun intended) we can also say that daily practice will increase your ability, until you are able to make it to the finish line. Take time each and every day to work on your craft. Maybe an hour, or maybe just thirty minutes. Whatever you can spare. Daily practice will increase your range and the quality of your voice. Start with warm up exercises, then go on to read and record samples of the kind of voice work you’d like to do. If you want to do commercials, find and record a commercial script. If you want to do audio books, try to record one chapter a day from your favorite book. Continue reading and recording that same commercial, or that same chapter each day until you feel that you have mastered it. Then, move on to the next one. For most of my life I worked for other people. Then several years ago, I had the opportunity to start my own business. Having never been self-employed before I was nervous. So I went to a friend of mine who has work for many years as an independent general contractor. I asked him “what is the secret to running your own business?” He said, “first of all, you need to figure out how much money you need to make each day in order to stay in business. If you could make $100 a day as a supermarket cashier, but only make $80 a day as a plumber then it makes no sense to be a plumber. Figure out what your daily minimum is. Then each day make three lists: must do, should do, and can do. ‘Must do’ are the things you have to get done that day. It might take one hour, or 10 hours, but you don’t get to quit until that list has been completed. ‘should do’ are the things that it would be nice if you could accomplish, if you had the time. Typically today’s ‘should do’ items become tomorrow’s ‘must do’ list. Finally ‘can do’ are the things that could be beneficial but are not mission-critical.” I encourage each and everyone of you to view your potential career in Voice work through the lens of these two rules. First, don’t quit your job as a waiter or waitress until you are making more doing voice work than you are as an hourly employee. That’s not to say you shouldn’t pursue a career in Voice work. Just don’t consider it your primary occupation until you have establish yourself. Then, when you are working for yourself as a professional voice actor make those three lists each day. It will keep you on track and insure your productivity. I know it can be frustrating. I know it might feel like the pieces are never going to come together. But they will. Believe in yourself. Stay committed. Given enough time and effort, you will achieve your goal.
In a previous post, we covered ways of soundproofing your
studio to protect it from external noises. But what about noise being generated
inside your recording space?
After I had successfully set up my own home recording studio
and began practicing with my equipment, I was surprised to find that there was
a persistent hum in the background of all my vocal tracks.
Unwanted background sound has no place in voicework. Not
only is it distracting to the listener, but it is also highly unprofessional
and may even cost you a job.
I did everything I could to isolate the source of this
unwanted noise. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that it was coming from
the fan inside the computer I was using to record my audio tracks!
In order to avoid this problem you have four options: the
first is to upgrade the fan in your computer. There are several quiet options
on the market, but you may lack the expertise to perform such an installation.
The second is to purchase a brand new computer with a quiet fan. This is the
most expensive option, and should only be used as a last resort. If your home
recording studio is inside your house or apartment, you can simply drill a hole
in the wall and place the computer tower outside of the recording environment.
but because I opted for a stand-alone structure, this was not an option for me.
The 4th auction, and the one which I chose was to build what my friends
affectionately refer to as a “whisper box.”
A whisper box is basically a tiny soundproof room for your
computer. This post will focus on how to make one. I’ll include links to all
the materials we discuss at the end.
The first thing you’ll need to do is choose the box. I opted
for the greenmade storage tote (see fig 1). In addition to being 100%
recyclable, at $12 each it certainly won’t break the bank. And at 30 inches
long by 20 inches wide and 14inches of deep, it should provide ample room for
most home computers. You will, of course, want to measure your computer before
purchasing a box.
After you’ve got your box, the first step will be to cut a
square hole in one of the shorter side walls. (See figure 2). I recommend
making it square, because it will be easier to cut than a round hole, and also
easier to cover with duct tape. The tape will protect your fingers and your
cords from any rough edges.
Next you’ll need to choose a method of insulation for the
box. I recommend Owens Corning’s “Foamular” rigid foam insulation. A
2 inch thick board sells for about $30. The boards are 48 in wide and 8 ft
long, which should be more than enough to cover the inside of your box.
Foamular is very easy to cut using a standard utility knife.
Just draw a line with a ruler and pencil, cut, and snap. But make sure before
cutting the board that you measure the length of each side at both the
bottom and the top! These boxes tend to be slightly smaller at the bottom
than they are at the top in order to allow you to stack them inside of each
other when not in use.
once you have the dimensions necessary for each of the long
side walls and short side walls, cut the pieces and slide them into the box.
(See figure 3) Protip: measure twice before you cut & always make the
pieces a little larger instead of smaller. You can always trim some off, but
it’s impossible to put some back on.
Once all four pieces fit securely inside the box, use your
utility knife to cut a matching hole for your cords in the foam board (see
figure 4). I did this by leaving the board in place and simply cutting through
the pre-existing hole in the box.
Add more duct tape to secure the board to the sidewall, and
add an additional strip of tape all the way around the bottom of the board
securing it to the base of the box as well. This will protect it from leakage
during the next step (see figure 5).
You will have noticed in figure 4 that there are some
remaining gaps between the outer wall of the box, and the inner wall of the
foam board. In order to truly soundproof the box we are going to fill the gaps
with spray foam insulation. I used Loctite Tite Foam. Make sure you buy the can
for small gaps and cracks.
Protip: spray foam expands dramatically. So when applying
it, less is more.
Another reason why I chose the greenmade storage tote, is
that it’s unique lid has a rectangular depression which just so happens to be
the same sickness as the Owens Corning foamular board.
We don’t just once to insulate for walls and let the sound
leak out through the roof, so cut your last piece of foam board, inserted into
the depression in the lid, and secure it with duct tape. (See figure 7). You
won’t need to insuklate the bottom of the box, because the ground will absorb
any vibrations strong enough to make their way through the plastic.
Congratulations! You are ready to use your whisper box. Put
it in place, and run all of the relevant cables through the hole. I recommend
plugging the hole with a small hand towel. (see figure 8)
Remember: computers have fans because they are designed to
work at cooler temperatures. A computer that overheats will shut itself down.
So do not leave your computer running in the whisper box with the lid on
unless you are recording. (see figure 9)
Now that we have a quiet place to record, it’s time to talk
about equipment. Think of your recording equipment as having three primary
pieces: an ear (microphone), a mouth (monitor), and a brain (computer). For all
of the equipment we’re about to discuss I’ll offer 3 price levels: low, middle,
There are many options, and a wide price range, when it
comes to buying a professional quality microphone. Obviously, since you’re just
starting out, you’ll want the highest quality you can get, without breaking the
bank. If you’re looking to do voice work, you’ll want what’s called a
“Condenser Microphone.” Condenser mics draw power from a battery or external
source. As a result, the audio signal is stronger signal than that from the
other kind, which is called a “Dynamic Microphone.” Here are 3 examples:
Condenser mics are very sensitive, so they usually come with
a metal ring-and-spring harness called a “Shock Mount” which prevents
vibrations from reaching the mic. Many models also include a “Pop Filter” which
is a noise protection shield that reduces or eliminates the popping sounds
caused by fast-moving air from your mouth impacting the microphone. If you buy
your equipment used, be sure all the original accessories like the shock mount
and pop-filter are included.
You could spend up to Twenty Thousand Dollars on your
But just like it is with luxury cars, after a certain point
its all about perceived value.
You’re going to need a microphone stand. Depending on your
setup, you can opt for a standard floor stand, or for a dektop stand. If you
choose the desktop, I recommend a solid-base model, like this one:
Because condenser mics take in sound from all directions,
ambient and reflected sound can be a problem when recording acoustic and vocal
tracks. The isolation shield blocks or absorbs unwanted sounds, preventing them
from reaching to the microphone.
In the days before computers, a microphone was plugged into
an audio mixer which Amplified the signal before sending it both to the users
headphones and to the recording device, which was typically tape driven.
But in the digital age, the mixer has been replaced by a
small box that converts the microphone’s output to a digital file before
sending it on to the computer for recording. It also alllows you to adjust the
“Gain” or the microphones level of sensitivity. Higher gain makes noises sound
lounder, etc. Models range from simple cost effective solo mic models (which
are usb powered) up to and including those with their own power source, and
eight separate inputs for microphones, instruments, etc. Here are 3 options:
The other function that the audio interface provides is that
it allows you to monitor the audio going out to the computer through a
headphone jack. You’ll want a pair of high-quality headphones for that.
Focusrite offers an excellent turn-key package covering
everything we’ve discussed up to this point.
Finally we come to the computer. Everyone has one these
days, so is there something special that sets an “audio recording
computer” apart from the one sitting on your desk? The short answer is,
not really. At the end of the day, its all about the software. Perfect
entry-level software can be had for FREE with “Audacity.”
Pro Tools is widely considered the industry-standard for professional audio editing software.
When I setup my home recording studio, I tried to spend my
money where it would count most. I bought a mid-range microphone and USB audio
interface. I reasoned that I could save a few bucks if I started out by using
the free audacity software on my home computer, a 3 year old Dell Inspiron
running Windows 10. To increase my recoding capacity, I purchased the largest
solid-state external hard drive I could find.
Luckily, it worked well, though I don’t know if my old machine would be up to the challenge of running the Avid or Adobe software. So when the time does come to upgrade your computer. You will want a machine with the most RAM (memory) possible. At least 16GB. Hard drive size isn’t really an issue if you use an external drive that has a USB 3.0 connector. CPU speed is surprisingly low on the list. Mostly because it’s less of an issue than it was, say 10 years ago. Even a modest off-the-shelf computer today is powerful enough to create professional voicework audio. Especially if you’re not mixing a ton of tracks the way you would making music.That isn’t to say you shouldn’t go for the fastest machine you can afford. Just as with RAM, more is better. With a computer’s CPU, faster is always better for longevity of use. I recommend a desktop model, but if you’re wedded to the idea of editing audio on a laptop, using the external drive becomes even more important. Here are 3 desktop possibilities:
When you think about soundproofing there are two factors to consider: exterior sound, and interior sound. First and foremost, whenever possible you want to put as much padding and distance between you and the outside world. I’m going to be covering a fair amount of materials in this post, so rather than wreck the flow, I’m going to post all the links at the end. If you’re setting up a Converted-Closet Studio, you might want to start by putting up a layer of “Airguard” or a similar underlayment. If money is a Factor, you could also consider using cork underlayment, for about half the price. And of course, the Bargain Basement option is to use heavy blankets scavenge from your local Goodwill or other charity store. As is always the case, the less money you spend, the less effective your overall outcome will be. If you’re renting rather than owning the space you’ll want to consider using industrial staples rather than drywall screws when affixing the underlayment to the wall. As they say, “Start with the end in mind.”
After putting up the initial layer of underlayment, it’s time to choose the inner layer. Ideally, this should be made entirely of plywood. Once again, the thicker the wood, the more it will insulate you against outside noises. For the most cost-effective option, you could opt for particle board which runs about 50% of the cost per square foot as that of regular plywood. Don’t forget, that everything you’re putting up on the interior walls must also be done to the inside of the door! It would be awful to do all this work only to have a bunch of noise come in through some crappy hollow-core closet door.
Finally, if you are building this in an apartment, be mindful of the ceiling and the floor. It makes no sense to put additional material down on a concrete floor, but if you are living in an upstairs apartment, additional layers may be necessary. The same for your ceiling if you have neighbors upstrairs. The ceiling may not require a full layer of external soundproofing, but would most likely benefit from a single layer of insulation and drywall. As always, use your best judgement.
If you choose to build your studio as an exterior structure, be sure when finishing the interior to use a single layer of insulation and a layer of damping compound between two layers of 1/2” thick drywall. Hang the first layer of drywall., then apply the compound, followed by the second layer of drywall.
Now that we all have a room with a finished interior, it’s time to talk about dealing with inside sounds. If you were to Simply to leave the walls bare, every noise would bounce around the walls and ceiling like a pinball in an arcade machine. There are basically two options for dealing with this problem. Composed of compressed foam, sound absorbing acoustic panels “catch” sound waves to reduce general noise, clarify speech, and limit reverberation in enclosed areas. When sound waves travel through the air and strike wall or ceiling- mounted noise reducing panels, the foam pores vibrate, increasing friction. These vibrations quickly reach a point where enough friction is created for the conversion of sound energy to kinetic energy, which is simply the energy of an object in motion. Since kinetic energy can’t be contained, it dissipates quickly, leaving no sound waves and, no sound. The only problem is that acoustic panels can be expensive depending upon how many you require, but they are truly the best solution for absorbing sound interior. I’m not going to go into all of the options here, but suffice it to say a quick Google search should give you a wealth of further information on acoustic panels.
The other option is to cover the entire interior space with a different sound absorbing material. I chose the least expensive, high traffic, shag carpet from my local carpet supply store. I then cut it (always measure twice!) and attached it to the walls using industrial strength wallpaper paste, with a few drywall screws at the top to get each piece started, then finished each piece with a staple gun. This was not only a cost effective solution, but its also very effective, as it provides one more layer of soundproofing from outside noises, and there is literally no surface left from which a sound can reverberate.
After several weeks of working with Lesley, I know that the time is rapidly approaching when I will
want to start recording demos and (hopefully) commercial work.
One option is to rent out some time in a professional studio. Right now in Portland, it costs about $40
per hour to rent studio time for voiceovers. This is absolutely a reasonable option. But given that I am
also capable of recording and editing audio, I decided to build a home studio instead.
In this first post, I’m going to go over two options for you to consider when choosing a space for your
home studio. In future entries, I’ll also cover soundproofing, recording equipment, and software. We’ll
keep a close eye on budget along the way. No one wants to spend too much, but buying professional-
quality when possible is important with something that is is intended to make you money. After all this is an investment, like a mechanic buying a fine set of tools.
“There are three things that matter…location, location, location.”
Depending upon your living situation, you have a couple of options: For renters, as well as homeowners, converting a large closet into your
recording studio it is definitely a viable option. The upside to this is that it keeps the cost extremely
low, because it requires no new construction. The downside is that the location of the closet in your
home or apartment may be less-than-ideal when it comes to soundproofing. Outside walls, pipes, or
noisy neighbors may bleed through. So some of what you saved will have to be spent on upgraded
soundproofing down the road.
If you own your home and have even a modest yard, you may want to consider new construction. A
quick web search will give you an idea of some options for having a small shed built on your property.
Let’s start with the barest bones scenario:
I was quoted around $1,500 to have an 8 ft wide by 8 ft long by 7 foot 10 inch high shed built behind
my house. It’s the smallest size available, and ample for a home voicework studio. The other nice thing about it is that since it’s 8 feet wide by 8 feet high it’s easy to do the math on how many 4 x 8 sheets of sheet rock, plywood, or other soundproofing materials you’ll need to purchase to cover the interior.
After the structure is built, the more labor that you can do yourself the cheaper the price will be. For
additional soundproofing, and by virtue of the fact that it keeps your workspace warm in the winter and cool in the summer, I absolutely recommend putting insulation up before drywall. There are, of course, innumerable videos demonstrating ever step of this process on YouTube.
Ten rolls of R-13 “faced” insulation (meaning it has paper on one side when you unroll it) cost about
$22 each. For a total of $220 You’ll need 10 4 x 8 sheets of drywall. They’re about $15 apiece, so that’s
only $150 more. So far, “finishing” the interior has only cost us $370. Let’s add another $50 for
incidentals (drywall screws, etc.) And we’re up to $420. Which, when added to the original $1500 for
the building brings us to $1,920.
Just under two grand for a home studio isn’t bad. Especially when there is a possibility that you could
deduct at least some that on your taxes as a business expense. But for that kind of info, I sincerely
encourage you to contact a professional accountant.
Next time, we’ll discuss a few additional finishing options as we move into soundproofing.