On The Road Again” With My New Portable Studio
One of the incredible things about being a full time voice actor is the ability to work from the road. This is the 3rd year in a row that my wife Karen and I have taken a long Motorcycle trip and by taking my portable studio along I can work every night and/or early morning and never miss a gig. How cool is that?
So, with that said, here’s my ‘how to’ of putting together a portable studio for the road. Many of my VO friends have MAC’s in their studio and on the road and love them, but I’m still a PC guy. One day I’ll join the MAC crowd, I’m sure…but just not today.
POPPA’S PORTABLE STUDIO VER.1
This was my first portable studio and it served me very well for the 1st couple of years on the road. There are a lot of options for an affordable basic setup that works well. Mine is but one example and you can put this together for around $500.
Virtually any laptop
I bought one used, with a warranty, for less than $280
Choose from Audacity, Sound Forge, Wave Pad and many others…anything that’s free can work.
I chose the MXL 909 with a USB ‘mic mate’. It’s clean, simple, sounds great and is around $135 for both pieces.
Yep you gotta protect from those plosives and you can get a good one for around $50 but keep reading because the “Sharpie Fix” can save you this $50.
External hard drive
You can pick one up on the Internet along with a PCI card and a fire wire cable for $100
Grab a pair of ear-buds out of an old junk door or maybe that pair of headphones you stole from United.
This can be done with a pillow fort – yep, it’s what you think…for no cost.
DONE and you are good to go on the road and your total investment is right close to $500 if you work at it.
POPPA’S PORTABLE STUDIO VER.2
Well I decided to upgrade my studio for this latest road trip. I wanted to be able to use Pro Tools and have access to all my studio files and projects so that if I needed to change any existing projects, while traveling, it would be easy to get that done. You just never know what a client will need or when, so being on the road can’t be an excuse for not being able to deliver.
This time it took a lot more brain power and resources to put VER.2 together but it’s slick and I’m thrilled with it.
NOT JUST ANY LAPTOP
The trick with running Pro Tools on a PC laptop is you have to have 3 things in place: 7200 RPM hard drive with at least 250 GB of memory; an INTEL processor (be sure your motherboard has an INTEL chip-set); and at least 3GB of RAM. So I bought the HP Pavilion dv4i for $750.
NOTE: This is not cast in stone information, this is only my experience, so please get with a tech savy person that you can trust (like I did) before you commit to a laptop.
WINDOWS 7 – OOPS!
Everything I’ve read said that even though there is a beta out there of Pro Tools for Windows 7 not everybody was happy with it. Since I knew my systems work well with Windows XP I bought the WINDOWS 7 PROFESSIONAL software…it has a “virtual Windows XP” option…so you can run everything off Windows 7 and those few programs that only run on Windows XP you can do that too. It’s like having two computers in one. It’s weird and it’s a pain and I’m sorry to say that it didn’t work for me in trying to set up Pro Tools. Too many shared memory issues. Sooooooo I thought about what another friend had said “why not give Windows 7 a try?” So I did. I followed the Digidesign instructions for the Beta install to the letter and it worked perfectly the very 1st time. Sa-weet!!!!
NOT JUST ANY MIC
I have a RODE NTK for my studio mic so I wanted a comparable sounding mic but a quiet mic as well. One that would be better suited for the road. The RODE NT1-A was the perfect choice. $229
I needed an Mbox 2 mini for the road and Pro Tools software so I picked up both from my friend Robby Resnick at Sweetwater Sound for less than $300 and it included everything I needed.
My home studio has the Wave Arts Power Suite 5 and I wanted that on my laptop…Oops again. You see, Wave Arts didn’t like Windows 7 either and so after some advice from my friend Allan at Southwest Recording Studios I bought a VST to RTS adapter from FXpansion.com It is software that allows you to “wrap” different plug-ins into Pro Tools while using Windows 7. $99 is all.
EXTERNAL HARD DRIVE
The same exact one as I had before. That way I can take every Pro Tools session off my studio hard drive and drop it on my external hard drive. Simple. Only difference was because of the new HP laptop I needed a different PCI card for my fire wire connection. $29 at the local PC shop.
In my studio I use the Sony MDR-7506 stereo monitor headphones. I found a great pair of “road” headphones on sale at Guitar Center. Sennheizer HD-280 pro’s only $80. (They are currently on sale for $99.)
I’ve tried Harlan Hogan’s original Porta-Booth and while its works great for many…for me personally, I didn’t care for it. I took it on one road trip and used it and quickly realized I’m too big and it’s too small. I am, however, going to buy his New Model. There was one session on this trip where I could have used it and so one is good enough for me to order it. Other than that one session, with my small triangle Auralex piece behind the mic; my Sharpie; and my pillow fort I was very well set up. YES you heard right…while I do have a Pop filter for the road my friend Allan told me the Sharpie trick works just as well and takes up no space. Just rubber band a sharpie to the exact center of your mic and you are golden. Who knew, huh? So the Auralex piece and the Sharpie…less than $20.
Back in the day, I used a portable printer when I was a Marketing Manager for the 8th largest automotive group in the country and traveled to 29 different dealerships in 12 states. Man, it came in handy, so I decided to add this to my portable studio as well. Candidly there is something about being able to actually hold the script! An HP H470 mobile printer for $168.
DONE and you are good to go on the road with VER.2 and your total investment is easily under $1500 if you work at it. That’s without the printer option, of course. Here’s four different photos of my VER.2 –
One option for either VER.1 or VER.2 is an “air card” so that you are guaranteed of having Internet service no matter where you are. I know many folks who use that but for me its $60 a month for 2-years plus the gear itself, so not worth it. When I travel I just confirm that every place I stay has high speed Internet available…period.
Oh and one other thing…Be sure to check with your tax adviser first…but for the right scenarios it’s possible to travel, do voice work, and write it off. Need I say more?
Hope this post helps you to get on the road, traveling, working, and having all the fun in the world that I am having. My goal since I started doing voice work full time, on May 1st 2008, is to never ever have a real job again. So far, so good!
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copyright 2010 Dave Brower