Part 4: Home Studio (Microphones)
An extremely important and crucial part to any voice actor's success is the ability to record from home. This is huge because many people don't have microphones laying around and think if they become successful in VO.. they will just use the pro studios right? Wrong. You as a voice artist have to be able to self record/edit. Another vital skill to begin learning as soon as possible.
There are many tutorials, blogs, forums all of over the internet about the "best" audio equipment for any and every step of your career. The best things you can do is invest in a decent mic that you can afford and eventually upgrade. Start with "lower end" microphones first. With whatever you decide on you will absolutely need to be able to create clean, clear recordings. The people who will be searching for you to work for them will listen to a crystal clear recording vs. a bad recording on a phone or something and immediately count the bad one out. No exceptions. Let's talk about some first steps to starting your home studio.
---Checklist. Don't have preventable accident's... make yourself a checklist. You need to figure out first and foremost where you will be putting your home studio. You can make a temporary portable studio as well, it doesn't have to always be out. Be creative... you got this. Here is a sample checklist to help you start brain storming.
Microphone (XLR or USB... see below)
Software to record with
Quite area for recording
Audio Interface (if XLR microphone)
Now again, it is not essential that you start by actually building a private studio space only for VO immediately. Essential pieces to start are obviously a mic,computer, and software everything else can be constructed from items around the house.
---Research.. take action. Once you have figured out your list you must take a moment and research everything on your list. Look up and compare the differences of each item, make sure to do some homework before jumping in right away on a purchase. Assuming you have a computer to record on... the most important decision to make in a home studio is with your microphone. So this is where we will begin. Let's take a look at the different types of microphones you can purchase right now... and where the best place to put your money is when just starting out.
---Microphones: XLR vs. USB. As you move into the market for a quality microphone for recording VO... you will notice there are many different types of microphones on the market. It may seem overwhelming at first, but the closer you look the main two things you will be looking for are is it XLR or USB. As a general rule for VO, don't buy USB microphones if you can avoid it. You gotta start somewhere... and if where you have to start is a cheap $50 USB microphone so be it. However, if you can save a little longer and get yourself a decent XLR microphone with a audio interface... you will be saving yourself later on. If you stay working as a VO artist you will likely end up with an XLR mic in the end anyways so it's better to begin early.
What the "XLR" and "USB" are referring to is the type of connection. In this case it's the cable names used to hook up the mic to whatever interface you are using. The ONLY reason you should settle for a USB microphone for a voice over studio over XLR is because of convenience. If you cannot afford it, or you just want a simple microphone to learn on that is great! Go for it! But if you are serious about VO, I would look into purchasing a XLR.
---Dynamic vs. Condenser. Another thing you will need to consider and understand before purchasing a microphone is what types of microphones exist. Condenser vs. dynamic microphones is a question people ask about a lot, typically for studio environments you want to go with condenser microphones. Again the internet of things will tell you everything you need to know, but for now.. here is a fantastic chart explaining the differences between the two from DirectVoices.com
---XLR Microphone. This type of microphone should be your #1 choice for a microphone. You do not need to get the samples I list below, but do try and find a good XLR mic. XLR cables have 3 pins inside a circular connector. Because of this they are more balanced cables that make the microphones more suitable for live and studio situations. To put things simply... XLR microphones sound much better than USB. Plain and simple.
RODE microphones, an Australian based company are one of the top used microphones in the industry. This XLR microphone is a great starting point for any work in VO. Quiet and neutral sounding, it creates high-quality recordings with a wide dynamic range. It comes packaged with a shock mount and an exclusive “studio secrets” DVD, offering recording tips and techniques. Decently priced, this is a good place to start. Here it is on amazon.
Yet another great microphone by RODE. Check out the procaster for XLR. It is the big brother to the USB version called the "podcaster" listed below. This microphone is a great starting point for work in VO. It has a built in pop filter, it has some nice smooth quality and is a great over-all pick. This mic WILL give you more of a bass heavy podcaster voice sound so make sure you listen for that. Here it is on amazon.
-Sennheiser mkh 416
This microphone is for the pro's. The Industry standard... at a very high price point you will likely not want to buy this right away... it is something to work towards. This is where you will want to end up in the end. I personally use this mic and you will be using them in the booth many times, especially in professional vocal booths. Here it is on amazon.
***IN ORDER TO USE YOUR XLR MIC YOU MUST ALSO HAVE AN AUDIO INTERFACE***
---XLR Audio Interface(External Soundcard).
Only if you buy an XLR microphone will you need an audio interface. Essentially this is the bread and butter of your studio setup. Computers contain internal sound cards but most of the time it is an overlooked piece of your computer. It doesn't work as well producing sub-par sound especially for what we are using it for. This is exactly why you need a good audio interface.
How it works
Think of the audio interface as the hub of communication between your XLR microphone and your computer. The microphone XLR cord plugs into the interface... the interface plugs into the computer. The audio interface will come bundled with a USB, you will just need to plug that USB into a port on your computer... then the microphone into the interface. THATS ALL! I simply recommend buying the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2. It is cheap, and gets exactly the job done. You can look into buying a more fancy expensive audio interface at a later date.
---USB Microphone. This should only be your choice for convenience. If moneys tight, you're not sure if VO is your thing, or you just need to have something you can easily access. USB microphones have a direct microphone to USB connection which often times will not give the type of sound recording quality you need. The sound can be decent with USB; however when your clients expect crystal clear recordings... you should be giving them crystal clear recordings. I myself went through two USB microphones before I went ahead and purchased an XLR... I wish I would have sooner. If you would like a simple mic for ease of use and even more convenience look into possibly purchasing the Motiv MV88 for Apple products (iPhones/iPads).That all being said, here would be a few decent picks for a USB microphone option.
RODE microphones, an amazing company. The podcaster is a pick because it is quite the full package for a USB microphone. It has a very full sound and quite a bit more sound reduction then the others built in to the mic which is important while recording. I encourage you to look up comparison videos online of different microphones you are considering purchasing before you do so. Here it is on amazon.
Another USB microphone pick would be the NT-USB. This microphone is great for travel, or if you have to pack the microphone away from time to time. It comes with this little stand and spit/pop filter which is nice to have. The recording quality is good enough to submit auditions as the other USB's listed here are. I personally had this microphone and got some good usage out of it, in the end XLR is always the way to go. Here it is on amazon.
-Blue Yeti USB
I only put the Blue Yeti microphone on here because it is the popular and most commonly referred to USB mic. I personally am not a fan of blue yeti, the sound quality is sub-par at best and most people go with the cheapest option by blue called the "snowball" at $49. To be honest your iPhone's microphone is probably equally as good if not better. Don't waste your time. If you are going to buy a USB mic from blue get the yeti... still I always recommend a XLR. Here it is on amazon.
-Motiv MV88 (iOS Devices)
This little microphone is not a USB but is worth a mention if you own an iOS device. It comes packaged with a little travel kit and a pop filter to put over the top of it. This microphone is equally as good as the USB microphones listed above and should only realistically be used for auditioning in a pinch. It is a great microphone to have and it's also a cute little guy. Here it is on amazon.
---Soundproofing. Sound proofing is equally important when designing a place to record in. Microphones will pick up any of the little noises around you, even the ones that you can't hear. Refrigerators, fans, computer, anything that pops, ticks, or buzzes will be heard. This is a very important step and should not be over-looked. The same with microphones you gotta just start somewhere then upgrade. For example, I began using blankets, pillows and coats in my closet 6 years back. Eventually I tried making my own collapsible soundproofing, and now my wife and I have made our own closet space (pictured below).
You can also look into purchasing a portable VO booth. There are several variants all over the web, similar to something like this booth from sweetwater.(below)
Here is a great checklist from voicebunny for you to consider while making a space to record.
Start small, then upgrade! I use my walk-in closet, and the clothes provide an extra layer of sound protection! Clothes are NOT enough, though.
Invest in legit soundproofing materials (not the egg crate mattress topper you get at Walmart). I recommend the Auralex Roominator kits they sell on their website. These are designed to keep your voice from bouncing back off the walls.
Cover everything! For example, if you are using a metal mic stand to hold your script while you record, cover that baby with a piece of carpeting or something to dampen that noise because your voice will reflect off of it.
Get your computer out of the room. Your microphone will pick up fan noise from your computer. Unless you have a solid state drive that is completely silent, you will want to set up a monitor in your studio and run cables through your wall to a computer outside the room. You can use a wireless keyboard and mouse to control your recording software. This also cuts down on the heat of your studio. Trust me, once you get a lot of equipment in there, it heats up fast!
-List from Voicebunny
If you live in Burbank, CA or nearby there is fantastic place you can go to buy soundproofing right now called Foam Mart. Go check them out you can go into the store and pick your soundproofing.
As you can see there are many choices when it comes to building your home studio. Remember this, like everything else you have done to this point is a process... it can't and shouldn't be done over night. You should do a lot of research before making your purchases, and also make sure you know how serious you are going to take this before jumping in. You don't want to purchase a bad microphone to find out a few months later that you absolutely love the industry and should have bought the better XLR. Alternatively you don't want to buy the best of the best everything then find out that VO isn't for you. Research, you got this.
Of course I am here if you have question's, feel free to ask below and I will do my best to help out.
Best of luck!
My name is Andrew, I am an Actor | Voice Actor | Singer based out of Burbank, CA. To contact me click here. You can also email me at firstname.lastname@example.org