Quickly set up a professional & affordable home recording studio now.
At Voquent, we're all working from home due to the global pandemic, and there's no denying that everything is a little bit tense. We're currently not sure what the world will look like in a few months. But all we can do is try our best to get through it. And one way of doing that is to keep busy!
If you're an actor or performer that's currently in lockdown at home and unable to work - this article is for you.
We've still got a regular stream of voice acting projects here at Voquent, so there is still high demand for performing talent and narrators. However, since there is a 'de facto' lockdown (at the time of writing), most projects need to be recorded by the voice artists in their home recording studios.
Over 60% of the voice actors on Voquent already have home recording studios. You guys already have got this under control.
However, that still leaves thousands of great set performers worldwide currently unable to do any voice-over work.
This blog is a super quick summary guide of the basics you need to get a functional and high-quality home recording studio fast.
I'll refer to specific brands throughout this article, some of which you may not be able to get due to the societal upheaval we are facing.
However, I will also explain the basic concepts behind why you need each item, and the minimum specifications of what you need, so you can work out exactly what to buy for yourself, depending on your budget.
IMPORTANT: this list does NOT include the computer. You must already own a computer or laptop suitable for recording audio. Anything from the last ten years should be fine, but it's best first to double-check the minimum computer specs for the software/hardware you are purchasing.
Here is the list of the bare minimum you will need:
- Audio interface
- Microphone & accessories (XLR cable, stand & pop-shield)
- Studio Headphones
- Acoustic Treatment
- Recording software/apps
Click on each link above to go to the full blog detailing your options and why you need each item. Here, though, I will suggest some basics you can get cheaply and (hopefully) quickly to get things ready for home recording ASAP!
Audio interface minimum specs: one XLR input with phantom power. Headphone output. Correct output cables for your computer.
The main thing you need to consider when buying an audio interface for your computer is: “how does it connect to the computer”? First, look at your computer and see what inputs it has.
It will most likely be USB 3.0 (usually a blue fitting) or USB 2.0 on a PC and Thunderbolt on a Mac. If you’re not sure, look it up online! Make sure you get something with the correct connection. The two options I would suggest for audio interfaces are either the Behringer UMC22 Computer Audio Interface (approximately £35/$40) or this Focusrite studio bundle (approximately £200/$235).
The Focusrite studio bundle comes with a microphone and headphones, and an XLR cable), so it is maximally convenient. You could get everything you need for a home studio for £200 / $235 with this.
However, if you are on a very tight budget, the Behringer u-Phoria and shopping around separately for a microphone would be slightly cheaper.
Microphone and accessories minimum specs: ANY large-diaphragm condenser powered by phantom power. Microphone stand. 3m (at least) XLR cable. Pop shield.
If you click on the link above, you can read the full article about why a large-diaphragm condenser is required. For now: trust me. You can recognize one by the fact that it usually has half of the mic taken up with a grill and has a single XLR (three pins) input on the bottom.
A small diaphragm condenser is often called a “pencil mic”, so don’t get one of those! You can tell when you see one of them because it looks like a pencil.
They didn’t call it that for no reason, you know!
For speed, any large-diaphragm condenser that you can get your hands on will suit. Even the £27 (~$30) Gear4Music MC1, which I usually strenuously advise against, is acceptable.
However, if you have a slightly better budget than that, I would strongly recommend getting something like the sE Electronics X1 A for around £80 ($95).
If you stick with your home studio set-up for the future, you’ll end up needing to upgrade the Gear4Music MC1 quickly anyway – so while it is cheaper now, it could be a false economy!
The accessories you need are relatively cheap and the same for any microphone.
A basic floor-standing mic stand is about £10 ($12), an XLR cable is about £6 ($6.50), and a pop shield is about £6 ($6.50).
There are more robust and “fancy” versions of each component, but they’re not an absolute requirement.
Headphones minimum specs: any. It really doesn’t matter that much as long as you are not editing the audio yourself.
It might seem weird that I am saying there are no minimum specs for headphones – but in some cases, there aren’t. If you are setting up the home studio to record, then you can use any pair of headphones at all.
I previously cautioned against using the headphones that come free with iPhones because they’re rubbish, but Apple (in their greed) decided to change the connector so you can’t use them anymore anyway. That’s one problem solved for me!
If you are setting up your home studio to edit your audio to a professional level you will need to get much better quality headphones. The primary reason you need headphones is to prevent feedback when you listen back to your audio or have the client dialling in for live direction.
So, anything will realistically do. You can spend as little as 4 GBP ($4) on essential in-ear headphones for the cheaper end. If you want something a bit more reliable, though, then the AKG K240 MKII are perfectly good enough at about 50 GBP ($40).
The Focusrite studio bundle (£200/$235)I mentioned previously does come with headphones, too, so bear that in mind when comparing costs!
Acoustic treatment minimum specs: a non-reflective room.
Ah, acoustic treatment, one of the most complicated subjects going. Rather than going into all the countless variations there are now, I will point you to the section titled “The Recording Environment” in this article about portable voice-over studios.
The same principles apply wherever you are. Some essential tips and tricks, though, and ways to avoid spending any money on acoustic treatment at all, are:
- Put a rug under your microphone stand.
- Don’t record in a room with laminate or tiled flooring. The carpet is best!
- Close the curtains – glass and windows are super reflective.
- If you have a wardrobe where you are recording, open the doors! Clothes absorb sound excellently.
- Don’t put the microphone near bare walls. If the room is small, stand facing the window with the curtains drawn.
- Bookshelves are great for diffusing sound, too – if there is a wall filled with books in your house, record near that!
- Keep a consistent distance from the microphone, and follow good microphone techniques. Moving around will introduce lots of constantly changing reverberance, which is impossible to remove
- Tweak your set-up and position constantly. Record something, listen to it, then shift things until it sounds natural but not highly reverberant.
- Never record in an empty room.
I hope that helps. As I say, acoustic treatment is an enormously complicated subject, but if you follow these tips and do some reading of the other blogs, you can get a great sound with no extra equipment! If you do find yourself with a bit of budget left over, then an sE Electronics RF-X (£80/$110) would be a solid investment.
It will nullify any reflections from behind the microphone and give you a bit more flexibility to place the mic to record.
Audio editing software minimum specs: able to record at least 44.1kHz 16bit wav files. Works with your operating system.
This might be a bit more complex for the less “techy” of you, but it’s not that difficult. The audio editing software doesn’t need a wealth of features, and it just needs to record at a high enough quality. Look on the manufacturer website if you’re not sure whether it works with your computer operating system or that many voices use Audacity, a freeware program, for their recording.
I would not recommend this for recording.
Audacity is not the most reliable piece of software and should only be used if you do not have the budget for a professional recording program. Mac users are in a better situation, as they have Garageband for free, and that is plenty good enough. If PC users (and Mac users don’t like Garageband), I would recommend Sound Forge (which I like to call ‘fancy Audacity’). It is around £50 ($60) for the most basic version, and that is plenty suitable for voice-over recording and even some in-depth editing.
So, that’s basically all you need to set up a home studio! If you know what you’re doing, you can set up a professional home studio for as little as £80 / $90 (assuming you already have a computer). If you want to “future-proof” your equipment a bit more by getting some decent headphones, a decent microphone, and a proper DAW (digital audio workstation), then you can still get everything for £250 / $300 or less.
I hope these tips will help any performers out there to get set up quickly to do voice acting work from home during this crisis and should do you well for years to come! When you do set up your studio, remember to add it to your Voquent Profile.