The Voice Over Home Studio
High Quality Audio Begins with a Properly Treated Space
More than any piece of equipment, home studio essentials begin with a properly treated space. If your recordings pick up outside noises, room echoes, or anything but your clear voice, then they will not be deemed of professional quality and your auditions may not be given full consideration.
Your space doesn't have to be anything fancy or expensive, especially when you're just starting out. In my first year, when I wasn't certain how much time I would be able to dedicate to voice over, I invested in the Porta-Booth Plus by Voice Over Essentials, a light and portable sound booth that I mounted on a rolling stand. I added in a modestly-priced USB microphone with a pop filter and began experimenting in different areas of the house. I eventually settled on two areas: a walk-in bedroom closet filled with clothes and another walk-in closet filled with boxes and stored items.
The clothes closet worked best. Clothes are a great insulator, especially when the microphone is placed in a corner area where the hanging rods converge. Make sure that there is a rug underneath to further absorb the sound and close the closet door behind you. I also discovered that the back seat of a parked car is a handy area to record when an audition comes in while traveling.
Later in that first year, because there was too much noise from family activities encroaching on my "clothes studio," I moved the mounted Porta-Booth to the other closet, which was partially underground, much larger than the standard closet size, and situated off a guest bedroom on the bottom floor. I cleared out most of the stored items, most of which I ended up trashing - a job I'd meant to do sometime anyways. I was rewarded with a very quiet area, though I was beginning to find that I needed more a more open space than the Porta-Booth offered. It was supposed to be a travel solution, after all.
After conferring with some industry pros, I called on "Uncle Roy" Yokelson of Antland Productions, a master audio engineer in New Jersey who performed wonders for me. Remotely, he tested the sound in my space and made a number of recommendations to treat the entire closet, order better (but still modestly priced) equipment, and switch to Adobe Audition for recording and editing my audio files. He taught me the basics of Audition and created customized shortcuts for me to use to transform my raw audio files to finished audition quality. I love my new voiceover studio, with sound quality so good that my demos are now all recorded from my own space.
What do I have? Uncle Roy directed me to Vocal Booth to Go, where I ordered a number of grommeted acoustic sound absorption blankets, hanging rings, and a ceiling track from which to suspend them. This enabled me to slide the blankets on their track as needed to access the stored items behind them. (A dual function room! My practical, multi-tasking self loves such efficient organization.) I laid a rug on the bottom of the closet and moved in a small table to serve as my desk, which holds my Mac (or the option of a remote screen), Steinberg UR12 interface, Sennheiser headphones, and IK Multimedia iLoud Micro Monitor speakers, which are plenty powerful enough for my space and perfect for taking with me when I'm presenting at other locations. My Rode NT1 microphone is mounted on an adjustable stand, with a music stand with mounted light nearby for holding copy. The last piece of necessary equipment? My multi-color LED "Voice Over Recording" sign from Voice Over Essentials, which I mounted on the outside of the closet door to alert family members that VO work was in progress and not to disturb me except in cases of emergency. They learned quickly that emergencies did not extend to asking Mom where I thought they may have left their calculators, extra pair of socks, etc.
Voice actors use what makes sense to their space and budget. Home studios range from converted corners of bedroom closets or spare rooms all the way up to customized whisper rooms. There are all sorts of solutions out there, from using pre-made acoustic soundproof panels to building standing booths with PVC pipes. The costs can range from under $100 for inexpensive do-it-yourself projects to over $10,000. Just remember, as with everything, you often get what you pay for.
Check out these websites by experts on the home VO studio:
You'll also find advice on microphones, interfaces, and recording software (also called digital audio workstation or DAW) from these sources. I won't begin to list all the possible devices and their price points of the microphones and interfaces - I'll leave that to the experts - but I can say a few words about several popular audio recording and editing tools:
There are others, of course, but these three are most commonly used. TwistedWave is an ideal choice for beginners for its intuitive interface and ease of use, though many pros use it extensively, too. It's also very handy if you're an Apple user on the go. If an audition comes in while you're away from your studio, you can record on your iPhone and submit it directly. Or you can transfer the audio file(s) to your Mac, edit as desired, and then send from your workstation.
Audacity is a favorite because of its price point and powerful features. Mac users will need to install an audio unit plug-in (available on the Audacity website) to have it work properly on their systems.
Many pros use Adobe Audition for its extensive and very powerful toolset. The downside is that it's the most expensive of the three and requires a monthly subscription lease.
You can also learn much about creating home studios - and pillow forts in your hotel room while traveling! - by attending industry conferences. I have a list of popular conferences, as well as links to recommended training resources, in this article.