VORG #38 jan-feb-mar-apr 2003

You Mean, I can Work in my Pajamas?

Affordable technology has made it possible for more voice artists to think about recording at home. While this is a great idea for rehearsing, honing your skills, even for sending auditions to your agent using highly compressed MP3 files, please know it’s more difficult than it looks. There are reasons commercial recording studios have a half million dollars in equipment, and employ sound mixers who are called “engineers.” However, I’ve been doing professional quality recording at home since 1982, and offer a few things for you to consider, if you’re thinking about a Home Studio.

First of all, you will need to develop your computer skills far beyond checking email on AOL. If you think a file is “lost” if it’s not in the “My Documents” folder or if computer ‘file extentions’ scare you, then perhaps this digital recording at home is not for you. You will need to become familiar with the many different kinds of digital files, bit rates, sample rates, how they convert, or don’t convert to other formats. All digital formats are not created equal.

If you hope to be doing work for air, MP3 files may suffice for “pickup lines” and quick fixes. Full live sessions are accomplished by an ISDN codec. I recommend the Telos Zephyr, in the $5,000. price range. Do NOT get the one with a built in mic preamp and mixer. It’s NOThigh quality enough for professional sessions. Setting up ISDNequipment is not for the technically challenged. Hire a professional.

Second, is the microphone and mic preamp. If you’re to do studio quality recording, you’ll need a top quality microphone, price range: $1,000-$2,000, and a professional preamp, in a similar price range. You will need a recording studio technician to make sure all of your equipment is compatible and connected in phase.
This is not like hooking up stereo equipment. Mixing and matching consumer grade gear and pro gear is not recommended (they utilize different gain structures).

I suggest that your home studio does not use a small mixing console. Sure they are “cool,” but they sound cheap, and can constrict the sound that your expensive mic preamp puts out. Little mixers also encourage the talent to fool around with EQ (complex tone control), and most voice actors do not have the training to make decisions about processing. Processing is post production. Your job is to be a performer only. Your home studio should deliver a clean, quiet flat signal to the client on the other end of the line. Let them do the sound processing.

The recording environment is tricky too. The sound panels you see on the walls of a studio do not sound-proof the studio, they only help control the “bounce” or echo of the room, so that what the sound the mixer hears is not ‘room altered’. A room, or closet that “sounds quiet” to you, is usually not suitable for professional recording. (check out the leaf-blower three houses down, or the plumbing when they flush the upstairs toilet, or the crows in a tree outside.) For professional recording at home, the best solution is a prefabricated isolation booth, $5,000-$12,000 or else have a floating isolation booth built by an experienced recording studio contractor.

Even with a studio at home, unless you’re one of the 800 pound Gorrillas who have enough clout to get producers to use you around your schedule, clients will still want you to record at the studio of their choice. If you want to record at home, your mission is to make sure the sound of your studio matches that of the top studios in town, so that producers will have not reason to balk at recording this way. And soon, you too will be going to work in your pajamas.

- Beau Weaver