To Build A VoiceOver Studio For Under $1000? $500? $100?As a talent advisor for The Great Voice Company one of the questions that I hear all the time is: “Can I create a studio, suitable for voiceover work, for under $1000? Under $500? Under $100?”
The answer is “yes, of course”!
Buy hey guess what, I’m not enough of an engineer to give you many specifics that you could actually benefit from, so I reached out to my friend and equipment guru, Robby Resnick of Sweetwater Sound. Over the past couple of years Robby has become my “go to guy” when it comes to all questions “studio”. He’s always been honest, candid, respectful and understanding of where I am in the world of VO work, and thoughtful of my finances. Bottom line is I trust him, so I asked him to answer the question!
So, if you have ever been one of those who asked the question…please take the time to read this article in detail, because I know you’ll get some surprises along the way. I did!
Sidebar: By the way…just so you know…Robby and I agreed upfront that this would be an informational article and not a sales pitch. I only read one “shameless self-plug” in the entire article, so I think he nailed it.
Robby…it’s all yours!
First and foremost let me say that I was honored that David came to me and requested information on voiceover studio ideas for under $1000. I always appreciate a good challenge!
Before I begin, I feel the need to point out a couple of things.
1.You only get what you give: Your voiceover studio and the quality of your productions will only be as good as what you invest in them. Now that doesn’t mean you should rush right out and spend foolishly…what it means is that while there are certain products that are a better value than others, at the end of the day, your investment should be proportionate to your desire to succeed. Someone that is doing this part time, for fun, may not care to invest in a lot right out of the gate. However, if this is your livelihood, you may want to invest what you can to make things the best you can, for now and then add or change gear as you can afford and justify it along the way.
2.Gear does not equal talent! I hear it all the time honestly. “I bought all the right stuff” doesn’t get you anything aside from really good gear. These are tools to produce a product and that’s all. You, the talent, must take on the roll of performer, engineer, producer, tech staff, etc. Understanding your tools is just as important as having them. A carpenter must know what each nail is used for and how every measurement tool is used. As an example; I recommend educating yourself on how different processors (EQ’s, Compressors, DeEssers, etc) work and when they should be used. If you stumble into a term you don’t understand while you learn, check out our site’s glossary by clicking here: http://www.sweetwater.com/expert-Pocenter/glossary/.
3.Environment goes a long way: The mic and your voice are a part of a larger system at play. Acoustics of a room can make or break the sound you’re going to capture. Many voiceover artists like to have a room very dead and I would agree. There is a lot you can do to get low-cost acoustic solutions to help get you that right sound. My personal favorite is a coat closet, but with that said…acoustics is a science. I would recommend checking out www.acoustics101.com it is set up by my friends at Auralex and provides a lot of really good, free information. As your business grows, Auralex offers many affordable acoustic solutions that can be custom tailored to your needs.
4.Computer: These little devils are the heart of nearly every recording facility these days. This article will assume that you do have a computer. Not only that, but you need to make sure that your computer is capable of handling the work load. On the Mac side of things, almost any Intel-based Mac will work well. On a PC, there is a lot more to entertain. Make sure that whoever you are speaking with on the subject is knowledgeable in compatibility. You should always consult a professional when in doubt. Shameless self-plug, but my peers and I here at Sweetwater are always happy to help.
Mics: Of all the questions I typically entertain, this one intrigues me the most. For better or for worse, there are a lot of mics to sort through when making your choice. These days, most mics are very good, even the ones manufactured overseas. That said, not all mics are created equal. It is important that you speak with someone who is familiar with microphones to get assistance in choosing the right mic for your voice. I personally like to talk to people over the phone about mics, because hearing your voice helps me suggest the right mic for you. Any professional you talk to should have the same approach, in my opinion.
Special Considerations- Mics and Gender: One of the other more frequent questions I have been asked is: “Are there different mics for a man and woman?”. This is a very complex question, but the short answer is “no”. If that were the case, studios would have many more mics than what they have now. But, having said this, there are some obvious considerations, especially if you step back and take a semi-scientific look at human anatomy. Generally speaking, woman and men have a different timbre to their voice. Men usually emit lower frequency content relative to a woman. Given that assumption most women would then require a mic that would translate higher frequency energy more accurately. Here’s an example of what I mean: For a man, I would lean more toward a Blue BabyBottle where a woman may find a better fit with the Audio Technica 4033 since these mics tend to accent different ranges. This is another reason to consult a professional before purchasing a mic.
Another great way to check out what mic or mics might be good for you is to listen to demos of folks who appear to have the same basic ‘timbre’ as you do and then contact them and see what their mics of choice are. There are a lot of sites where you can do that kind of discovery… VoiceOver Universe and VoiceBank.net are a couple of good ones.
Microphone preamp: A mic preamp (referred to as a “pre”) is generally an after thought in the process, but it really is critical. A mic pre is a device that takes the small voltage a mic puts out and boosts it into something usable. Many recording interfaces have a mic pre built in, and in some cases this is fine, but as you grow, you may find your pre is holding you back. Like a mic, it helps to know someone that knows about pres. Many USB mics have a pre of sorts built in and a lot of folks like the Microport Pro when it comes to connecting a mic to their laptop, as an example.
Convertors: An AD\DA convertor changes an analog voltage to a digital signal or visa-versa. These are also built into a recording interface. It is important to note that convertors, like mic pres, are sometimes an afterthought. This step in the chain is very important and you should be aware of its ability to affect your clarity upper-frequency content.
Robby’s “Law of Equivalence”: The above factors (and a few others) form a system. It is my belief that, within a system, you should invest your funds relatively equally. For instance, if you purchase a $100 interface, you probably don’t need a $1000 mic. The components in the interface are not going to be a high enough quality to keep up with the mic. Just like you wouldn’t purchase a high-end up-scaling blue-ray player to go with your 13” CRT TV, keep it even here. It will serve you better. If someone is trying to sell you a $1000 mic to plug into a $50 mic pre, make sure if nothing else, you ask “why”? It’s ill-advised.
There is a slew of free software out there to get you started. For beginners, I typically recommend Audacity. It’s a free program (http://audacity.sourceforge.net/) and very easy to get around. Understand though, that it lacks many critical features for in depth processing and editing. It is Mac and PC compatible as well. For you Mac guys (of which I am), you have a couple more options. Garageband is always a great tool. For someone looking to dig deeper, Ardour is an Amazingly powerful freeware solution brought to you by tireless hours of open-source programmers. It’s making waves in the community and I’ve been Very Impressed. There may be a PC equivalent, but I have not found anything yet. Word to the wise, Ardour is not for beginners, but keep it in mind.
To pair with this, I would recommend a basic USB style mic. My personal favorites is the Blue Snowball. It sounds great and doesn’t cost a lot of money. It comes in three styling finishes and has its own stand.
First and foremost, it’s important to note that many professional users work in Pro Tools. Admittedly, there is a lot of great software out there, but Pro Tools has really captured the industry. The route that follows will allow you to keep maximum compatibility, enabling you to attract more customers and submit sessions in a format most people recognize.
Recently, M-Audio made a bold move by creating Pro Tools M-Powered Essentials. This software bundle is the little brother to Pro Tools M-Powered. The main differences are track count (limited to 16, still many more than most VO people use), insert count (2 per track and limited to Digidesign plugs, which are very good processors), and limited audio routing. But most of this will not matter to you in the slightest! Realistically, this version of Pro Tools is more than most voice over artists will ever need… and you get it free with most M-Audio interfaces. What isn’t to love?!
As an audio interface to get you running the above, I’d recommend the M-Audio Fast Track. It’s priced competitively and comes with the software that I mentioned. With this, you’ll need a mic and a few studio essentials. You’ll need headphones, a mic cable, mic stand, and a pop filter. I typically recommend the EX29 headphones from direct sound, not because they sound the best (though they are good), but they keep bleed out of the mic which is a real touch of professionalism. All in all, this gear should cost you under $200.
So now we’re sitting pretty with $200 to spend on a mic! The right mic is critical and, in this range, there are some real winners.
Rode NT1a- One of my personal favorites, is the world’s quietist mic. It’s clean, and transparent. It has a little hype on the top, but is very good and comes with cable, shock mount, and pop filter to save you a little money. For most people, this mic is my recommended mic.
AKG Perception 220- This mic is great if you struggle with a little AC noise in your environment or you have an exceptionally boomy voice. It’s killer clear and doesn’t struggle on the top quite like the NT1a does.
Audio-Technica AT2050- If you’re also a musician, this is your little darling. While it costs a couple of extra dollars, you get multiple pickup patterns. This is great for people that work in teams or have a really nice room. It’s a jack of all trades, but not my go-to. Select this little guy if you intend on doing more than just voice.
Just like our other options, it’s vital to establish a base line to work with. In this solution though, we have a lot more flexibility financially.
To start, upgrading the interface a little will bring a new level of preamp and convertor to the table. My choice is typically the MBox 2 Mini from Digidesign. It sports the same components as its big brother, the MBox 2, at a smaller price tag. Again, we’ll need a selection of accessories (stand, cable, pop filter, headphones).
Once accomplished, it’s back to looking at mics. This time though, we have a budget of about $500 to play with.
Blue Babybottle: One of my favorite studio mics for male vocals, this mic has a warm, vintage heart and great flavor. Choose this mic if you are looking for a little of that “vintage warmth” in your work.
Rode NTK (Warning this could be a budget breaker) One of my favorite all around mics, this mic combines the clarity of the Rode line with a little warmth. This tube-based mic is great for men and women alike. Sometimes, you have to know when to spend and this is well worth the step up.
Audio Technica 4033- If you can’t afford stepping up to the NTK, the 4033 is a very clear, open sounding mic in an affordable range. Again, great for men and women alike, this mic has the clarity and accuracy to get you through almost any job.
EV RE20- the RE20 is primarily thought of as a broadcast mic. For this, it has done exceptionally well. But don’t let its reputation stand in your way. Since it is a dynamic microphone, this mic can really smooth out excited voices while maintaining the performance. While it’s not my go-to, sometimes it is right.
Armed with the right tools, a lot of talent, willingness to network, and a pinch of luck, your voiceover business can be successful. As you grow, additional considerations will rear their head. Remember, there is no magic formula. If there was, it wouldn’t be called “engineering”. These tools are meant to serve you and, to make sure they do, you’ll need to take the time to master them. Best of luck in your business endeavors!
If I can ever be of assistance to you, with no obligation whatsoever, please contact me:
Sweetwater Sales Engineer
Robby… I can’t thank you enough for sharing your expertise.
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Copyright 2010 Dave Brower