So, this is a quick and honest overview of how I invested in my first home studio set up.
I’m not extolling this to be the best way of going about it as quite a lot of the stuff I mention here you may already have or be able to improvise more cheaply. This is more an example of how someone (relatively) internet savvy went about getting everything together on a limited budget.
So, the integral parts for a home studio are:
Some (decent) headphones
A pop shield
Most of these were quite easy to get. I already had a computer (a two year old Macbook Pro) which still managed to deal with my editing my acting showreel on without too much wheezing, so I was relatively confident an upgrade wasn’t necessary.
As to software, there are an abundance of exciting and sexy looking choices at a frightening level of prices, but the free, open-source Audacity was recommended to me by a number of established VO as an excellent entry-level program. Being open-sourced, a whole Audacity community are constantly beavering away on useful additions (plugins) designed to make your life easier. Obviously some are more effective than others, but there are regular FREE updates and a wonderful community on facebook who are happy to help fellow users.
For a mic, again I searched up and down for the best entry level mic that wasn’t going (a) require upgrading immediately, (b) didn’t require lots of add-ons to work and (c) wasn’t going to be a really delicate piece of kit that I might accidentally break while setting up. There is a whole debate on which is most suitable for voiceover work, a condenser or dynamic mic, which I won’t begin to try and cover over here, but the Rode NTA-1 came with several recommendations, is an established and trusted brand name, and came with a shock mount, pop-shield, dust cover and 10 year warranty.
Getting some decent headphones (I’m not calling them cans yet) and a jack for them were relatively elementary purchases . Lacking a single musical bone in my body, trying to choose an appropriate pre-amp (basically the interface between mic and computer where you can control your recording level at source) was a little overwhelming, but the Sapphire Focusrite had enough excellent reviews and a affordable price to be a strong contender.
Which brings me to soundproofing – probably the single most important aspect for a home studio, and often the trickiest – though by no means the most expensive. Soundproofing requirements will greatly depend on your chosen recording location. Outside noise such as traffic, roadworks and people walking past could all be factors, as well as noise created by anyone above, below or in the same living area as you. Furthermore, the sound of a recording can easily give away the size of the room you are in if not proofed correctly, as sound waves bounce back from further away causing reverb. Investigating this whole topic rapidly heightened my sensitivity to countless day-to-day sounds I’ve typically just accepted as part of living in a busy city.
However, there are countless ways to improvise soundproofing treatment, and one of the most useful videos I came across was Trish Basanyi’s below.
As I was setting up in quite a large bedroom with single-glazed windows, one of my biggest challenges was reducing reverb and also adding some layers to buffer outside noises. Initially, I improvised like mad and used a spare bed sheet tied to a oar mounted on a step-ladder to create my first effective 'surround'.
I eventually purchased some folding partitions that I could place directly behind me when recording, and I also invested in some acoustic sound blankets to drape over them which really made a difference, absorbing the reflected sound and eliminating the dreaded reverb. I also bought a vocal booth to go around the back and sides of the mic.
It was with the set-up above that I started working on a few P2P sites, and my recording quality was comfortably sufficient to book work. My corporate narrative read for Zantos on my homepage was done with the above.
So let’s return to that first list of components and a break down the prices I paid (with links to where I bought them from):
A computer – n/a
A pop shield – Included with mic
Script holder – Pin board to scripts £7
TOTAL COST: £390
In all honesty it cost me a little more than I initially budgeted as I was adopting a low risk strategy to some purchases , paying a little extra for a well-reviewed brand (see mic and pre-amp particularly) when something a bit cheaper would have done the job as well. And I also invested a bit more and improvised a little less in soundproofing as I wanted a set up that could be put together and taken down quickly without any fuss. Happily, I made this and my first P2P subscription with The Voicerealm (£100 for a year) back within the first three months of sporadic auditioning – but the value of making the time to play around with all of these new toys and getting the hang of them can’t be underestimated.