So you Want to Do VO? - Part 4: Soundproofing and "Creative Inelegance"

This is part four of an ongoing series dedicated to new and aspiring voice artists.

Last week we talked about getting the gear needed to start recording voiceover.  This week, we're exploring the space around the microphone.

Deadening the space
One of my first jobs was running live sound for bands at a local amusement park. From this, I learned a lot about about acoustics and noise. (I also learned a LOT about working with demanding customers) So I figured that with this previous knowledge, I was fairly certain I could construct a recording environment that would work for voiceover. I found the quietest place in my house I could find - my closet - and using some heavy duty clamps I picked up, I clamped heavy blankets and comforters around the inside shelves of the closet. If you can afford them, heavy duty quilted moving blankets work really well to absorb the sound. If you can't afford that, just use comforters, regular blankets, or anything you have on hand, as long as they're thick and heavy. I also bought some cheap throw rugs and placed them on my concrete floor to help absorb the sound there too.

I originally couldn't afford a mic stand, but thankfully the USB mic I bought came with a desk stand. So I placed the mic on one of my shelves, then surrounded it with a couple of old pillows I had.

And to my surprise, this set up - as "ghetto" as it was - worked pretty well. The audio that came out of this rig was remarkably noise free.
TIP: Never be afraid of what I like to call "creative inelegance." Necessity is the mother of invention. No matter how kludgy it may look, no matter how much your friends may laugh when you tell them, if it sounds good, that's all that matters.
And why in the Hell are you telling your friends in the first place? Just say that you built a voiceover studio in your place. That's all they need to know. That's what you should tell a potential client. Tell them that you've custom built your studio with a focus on acoustics. Because that is exactly what you've done. 

A thing about acoustics

There are two kinds of unwanted sounds you're going to be dealing with when you work on your studio: noise from the outside and reflective noise - or "flutter echo" - from the inside.

For the average voiceover artist working from a home studio, there's not a lot you can do about outside noise. Unless you live in "the sticks," most artists are going to have to contend with the inevitable sounds of modern life around them. Using a closet can help. The hanging clothes work well to absorb the incoming sound, but when my neighbor down the street rolls by with his wanna-be "Fast and Furious" car with the coffee can-sized muffler, no amount of hanging clothes and heavy quilts are going to prevent that sound from being picked up by the microphone. The best you can do with a situation like that is to figure out the best times to record that have the least amount of noise being generated. For some, that means recording at night. Thankfully for me, I have the afternoons and two weekdays off, so I can get a lot of work done in between the times when people are commuting to/from their jobs or school.

As for inside noise, this is something that can be controlled more easily. Again, the hanging clothes and heavy quilts are your friends. In this regard, they absorb the sounds of your voice and keep them from bouncing off of hard, reflective surfaces.
It looks like you tacked
a mattress pad to your wall,
but so what?
TIP: Those egg crate-looking foam mattress pads are a good budget-conscious alternative to expensive acoustic foam used in professional recording studios. They may not be as thick, but they work nearly the same.

Remember, there is a difference between sound proofing and sound dampening. You aren't going to be able to eliminate ALL stray sound with this stuff.  You're just reducing (or the fancier term: "attenuating") the reflective sounds of your recording environment so it doesn't sound like you're recording in a tile bathroom.

Once you've started pursuing a career in VO, you can improve your recording environment. In last week's post about gear, I mentioned that I had switched from using my tablet to a laptop to record the audio. This eliminated one extra step in my audio chain and sped up the time it takes me to deliver finished audio to the client.

However, because there was a laptop in the studio with me, I now heard the noise of the fan in the silent parts of my recordings. It wasn't a lot of noise. Unless you were wearing headphones and listening to just the voice without music behind it, you would never hear this noise...but I heard it. And I wanted the quietest environment I could get. So I experimented with ways to dampen the sound. I ended up putting the laptop on a shelf that I then covered with a heavy duty sound blanket. This allowed the laptop to still get air, (which is kind of important for a computer) but the fan noise was eliminated. I then bought a separate LCD monitor and a wireless keyboard and mouse so the laptop can sit on its quiet little shelf and I can still edit my recordings from my desk in the studio.
It ain't exactly pretty,
but it works.

I also bought an "isolation box" for my microphone that helped eliminate any other stray sounds that may occur. There are several styles of iso boxes on the market. Check out the design by voice actor Harlan Hogan for an example.

You could also build this box yourself, like the one pictured to the right, and save some money.

And here's something they don't teach you in voice over training: 
Getting the quietest, noise-free possible sound out of your recording set up will become a part of your life as a voice over artist. For some, it's the hobby within the business. For others, it becomes an obsession. Some guys I know obsess about it to the point of lunacy.

There are any number of things you can do to help quiet your recording environment.

In your foam-lined coffin,
no one can hear you scream.
You can buy real acoustic foam and attach that to the walls of your recording space. You can hang specially designed acoustic blankets (that look like moving blankets but are designed for audio recording) to absorb the sound. There's the Kaotica Eyeball - a hollow foam ball that works pretty much just like the DIY foam-in-a-milk-crate idea - but looks a lot cooler (and WAY more expensive.) You can also buy completely encased, insulated vocal booths that "float" above the floor on vibration-reducing cushions. Some guys renovate their basements and install special soundproofing insulation into the wall spaces, then add a double layer of drywall, followed by a sound dampening panel that hangs suspended off the beams to eliminate vibrations. And the obsession goes on and on.

If you have the money, there are any number of companies out there that manufacture products to take advantage of this obsession (and take your money.)

But remember: never be afraid to use some creative inelegance to fix the problem first!

In the next post, we'll get into how to put all of this together and start getting some work.





----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
About Rob Marley - 
A Los Angeles native, Rob is an accomplished voice talent, producer and writer, now living in the hill country of Austin Texas. For more information, visit his website at MarleyAudio.com