Building A Home Recording Studio
I’d like to try and help voiceover professionals who haven’t yet set up their own home studios so that they don’t make some of the common errors that I made.
I want to point out that I’m not a technical whiz so this will be very low tech. These ideas and opinions along with my personal experience and observations are mine alone.
Many others will have different views. This is just an attempt to help those who have not yet set up a home studio. This is my progression through the business of recording my voice work and getting it to my clients since the mid-nineties.
First of all, it’s a good idea to think about whether you need one, and then, if you do, what you want to accomplish with one. As I see it, there are two basic types of studio.
One is for someone who wants to send voice work only to clients…no production. The other is for people who produce, or want to. In my case, I have never been a producer and I send my clients voice only.
ISDN or MP3?
The people who have already spent time in production will be way ahead of the rest of us in knowing how to put together a production studio, whether at home or elsewhere. This article is basically for the rest of us, who only want to voice material for clients and send it back to them.
With that in mind, you still have two choices. You can either opt for installing ISDN lines and using them to do sessions with clients in studios outside your home, or you can record your clients material in your little studio and send it to them using mp3 or an ftp site.
I find today that there are a great many clients for my work who want me to send them mp3 files, either attached to email, using an ftp site or burned on a CD.
I also have friends who have ISDN studios in their homes and use them…some more, some less frequently. Most of them do at least some audio production work as well as just doing voice work. In my case, I do not use ISDN in my home studio. I do have access to it though, if required, through a benevolent producer friend.
Ok, assuming you don’t do audio production, such as creating radio and television commercials complete with music background, and don’t want to get into the ISDN thing…I can give you the benefit of what I’ve discovered over the past several years.
Recording studio equipment
I chose an ElectroVoice RE27ND microphone. Someone advised me to buy the microphone I sounded best on. This particular microphone was in use at the radio station for which I did commercials and promos. The technical people at the station told me I sounded good on it, so I bought one. A lot of radio stations use it’s cousin, the RE20, as their standard microphone.
I had no dedicated studio room so I used the dining room table. I ran the microphone through a Symetrix sx202 pre-amp and recorded on a Sony MDS-302 Mini-Disc recorder. I still have the system, including the computer that powered it, all long since retired.
This was in 1995-96, so it was pretty early in the home studio game. There was little access to CD burners. Only the biggest studios downtown had them. But I could record on mini-discs and then transfer them to tape cassettes and keep the quality pretty high. At least to the cassette!
At this point, the only way to record and edit was by using the software that came with the sound card installed when you bought the computer (usually SoundBlaster by Creative), or that came with Windows. Now, there are further choices as to what software you use to record. I’ll have more on that topic later.
I was doing a lot of work in the commercial sound studios in Toronto and area and didn’t really advance much further in the home studio field until coming to San Diego in 1999.
I had a reasonably fast computer for the time, and eventually got a DSL hookup. It was dicey with the DSL because I was living at the outer limits of service from the phone company office (or CO) nearest me.
By the way, I suspect most of you might have tried DSL and then cable, or the other way round, as a connection for your computer. I started with DSL, which worked (there were some stressful times when PacBell first started offering DSL, as many may recall), but when I moved to a new house in a new subdivision, I opted for cable. I’m quite happy with my decision, but there are also lots of happy DSL users. It’s your choice…either will work for you.
Shortly after arriving in San Diego, I began to upgrade my home studio. Very early in that process, I went from a dialup 56K modem on EarthLink to DSL. That made it much faster to transfer audio to clients over the net.
I did find that longer .wav files were still a problem and a lot of people were still asking for them. I tried attaching them to email, but for longer audio files, I had to cut them up into sections. In a lot of cases, I was dealing with studios where they could patch the audio but it was still a hassle.
In the next while, things happened fast in the audio field. People started using mp3’s more extensively, so I did as well.
Better sound cards were becoming available and eventually, I bought a SoundBlaster Platinum Plus Live 5.1. It has a front panel for connecting microphone and headphones, including volume controls, as well as optical connections for people who want digital outputs.
I started hearing about a new microphone…a producer friend called it a Neumann knockoff. It’s a Rode NT1000. I tried it out and it was an quite an improvement over the ElectroVoice. There was one problem for me though. It was also a lot more sensitive.
The RE27ND has a very narrow pattern, meaning there wasn’t as much room noise picked up. The Rode has a much wider pattern, and it’s just so much more sensitive, I had to rethink the studio space. I had been getting along with a minimal amount of soundproofing. Not so with this microphone.
Soundproofing a home voiceover studio
I know voiceover people who are using their walk-in closets as studios. I’m using one of the bedrooms in my house. There are many ways to sound proof.
A friend of mine bought himself a prefab sound booth and it works well for him. You need a bit of space for the prefab booths, although they do come in different sizes.
I found that buying inexpensive acoustic blankets or comforter and hanging it on one wall has helped immensely. You can also get soundproofing material from your local pro audio store. I will be doing more in regards to my soundproofing in the future.
Audio Processing Gear
In the same conversation with my producer friend that ended with my purchase of the Rode microphone, he suggested I should be running it through the same system he was, a dbx286A preamp/mic processor. I picked one up at the same time I bought my Rode NT1000. I also acquired a pro windscreen and microphone stand.
With my recent purchase of a new Dell computer system, I ran into a small problem. The Creative Audigy 2 sound card that came with it doesn’t have the front panel I had been used to, and I was left with mini-plugs on the back of the sound card for connections.
I didn’t feel comfortable with that so, after asking around at sound stores and consulting other voice pros, I bought a sound card called a Mia from a smaller company called Echo, based in Carpinteria, California. It is a very good pro card, with ¼ in jacks in back as well as digital outputs. I have both cards installed but all my voice work goes through the Mia.
The most popular editing choices seem to be Cool Edit and Sound Forge by Sonic Foundry. You can spend more and buy Pro-Tools or SAW, but these programs are intended for people who are actually doing audio production.
This is the system I currently use
The Rode NT1000, into the dbx286A, into a new Dell dimension 8300, into an Mia sound card – by Echo, edited on Sound Forge by Sonic Foundry, and either burned on CD, attached to email and sent out or loaded on a client’s ftp site. I have my own ftp site, so my clients can simply download from there. I do have Cool Edit and use it to edit music mp3’s but not for voice work. There’s nothing wrong with Cool Edit, I just prefer Sound Forge.
If you have a questions about anything here, please email and I’ll try my best to answer you.