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Now is the Time for All Performers to Set-Up a Home Recording Studio

March 21, 2020

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Now is the Time for All Performers to Set-Up a Home Recording Studio

This article explains how performers, actors & comedians can quickly setup a home recording studio for voice over work opportunities. 

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’ time. But all we can do is just 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 lock down 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 acting 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 own 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 and this blog is a super quick summary guide of the basics you need to get a functional and good quality home recording studio fast.

I’ll refer to specific brands throughout this article some of which you may not be able to get delivered, due to the societal upheaval we are all 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 10 years should be fine but it’s best to first double check the minimum computer specs for the software / hardware you are purchasing.

Here is the list of the bare minimum you will need:

Click on each link above to go to the full blog detailing your options and the reasons 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!

 

Hand plugs in mic to audio interface

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 on your computer and see what inputs it has. It will mostly 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 u-Phoria UM2 (approximately £30/$40) or this Focusrite studio bundle (approximately £200/$235).

The Focusrite studio bundle comes with a microphone and headphones as well as an XLR cable), so 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 for a microphone separately would be slightly cheaper.

 

Condenser Microphone with pop shield accessory.

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: just trust me.

You can recognize one by the fact that usually has half of the mic taken up with a grill, and has a single XLR (three pin) 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!

XLR male and female connectors

For the purposes of 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 fine. However, if you have a slightly better budget than that, I would strongly recommend getting something like the SE-X1 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 of these components, but they’re not an absolute requirement.

 

Professional Studio Headphones resting on keyboard

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 just 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, anyway.

If you are setting up your home studio with the aim of editing your own audio to a professional level, then you will need to get much better quality headphones

The primary reason you need headphones at all 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.

For the cheaper end, you can spend as little as £4 ($4) on basic in-ear headphones. If you want something a bit more reliable though, then the AKG K52s are perfectly good enough at about £35 ($40).

The Focusrite studio bundle (£200/$235)I mentioned previously does come with headphones too, so bear that in mind when comparing costs!

 

Acoustically treated home recording studio

Acoustic treatment minimum specs: a non-reflective room.

Ah, acoustic treatment, one of the most complicated subjects going. Rather than going in to 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 basic 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. 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 technique. 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 extremely 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 a sE Electronics Reflexion Filter Pro (£140/$165) would be a solid investment. It will nullify any reflections from behind the microphone and give you a bit more flexibility on where you can place the mic to record.

 

Computer with sound waveform being edited

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 really not that difficult. The audio editing software doesn’t need a wealth of features, it just needs to be able 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

A lot of 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 *absolutely* 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.

For PC users (and Mac users if they 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.

 

Summary

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 setup 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.

 

7 Tips & Tricks for Editing Voice Over

 

Written by Alex Harris-MacDuff

Editor: Al Black


More helpful articles by Alex:

Everything you need to deck out your home studio professionally, whatever your budget.