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Making a Recording Space

People have often asked me about my home setup, and as we've discussed before, having a home setup is vitally important for the modern voice actor. In this post I'll talk a bit about my home studio and how someone could potentially set up their own, and also share some of the challenges I've encountered and how I dealt with them. It doesn't matter if you rent or own your place, if you've a lot of room or very little. I've had to work with all of the above, and I promise you it can be done.

Currently I have a home studio in my house, but for years prior to that I had to make due in various rented townhomes and apartments. So here's a few handy tips for those situations, that hopefully won't break the bank (especially as most of your investment money will likely be going towards equipment like your mic and pre-amp). While there are things you can buy now that are like pop-up recording booths, they weren't really common back when I started out. My first “booth” was a walk-in storage closet off the living room, with acoustic foam glued to boards that I mounted like pictures (so very little damage to the walls, no loss of deposit). There are many voice actors who use closets as booths, as most homes have them and it's a pretty easy conversion. Even the characters in the TV show Only Murders in the Building can be seen doing some of their podcast recording in a closet.

A quick side note about acoustic foam! Acoustic foam is vitally important for any home recording setup, as it helps to break up the vibrations of your voice and prevent any weird, echo-y or hollow sounds that could otherwise come from the vibrations bouncing off of hard surfaces and corners of rooms. It is important to note that acoustic foam is not a method of sound-proofing. This type of foam will do nothing to make your recording space insulated against outside sounds. While it's possible it may help diffuse your own sounds, it also will not necessarily help prevent the outside from hearing you, so don't think it sound-proofs in that regard, either. It's fairly easy to find this kind of foam, and there's a few different ways you can make a simple mounting panel of it. I used a peg board purchased at a hardware store, with mounting wire secured through two of the holes so I could hang it like a portrait. The foam was hot glued on. But you can use any kind of board or even a canvas, so long as you have a way to be able to hang it.

Not all places have large closets, as I learned in one place we rented, where my closet booth was much thinner and with a shelf over my head so I couldn't stand. But the shelf allowed for me to pad it and treat it as a drop-down ceiling for added acoustic benefit. Unfortunately I sometimes flail a bit when I get really into acting out a part (or just talking in real life, like, in general), and I'd smack my hand against the door or wall quite frequently. Needless to say, the tiny closet was not my favorite booth.

Once we got our own place, I was determined to make my own booth. I actually ended up making it using a shed, just building it inside a spare room, and insulating it with cardboard and acoustic foam. I quickly learned this was not sufficient, however, as the outside sounds easily seeped into the booth (remember: acoustic foam isn't sound-proofing). After stripping out the foam and cardboard, I insulated it fully—walls and ceiling—with insulation specifically designed to dampen noise. Two layers, actually, of two different kinds. Then put back up the acoustic foam, and was pleased to find it helped tremendously. On the downside, however, it also keeps all fresh air out, so I'll often need to open the door for a bit of a breather from time to time while recording. I should probably look into fixing that...

Let's say, however, that you don't have space for a whole booth and also don't have a spare closet to use. What then? Well, I've had to make pillow forts when somewhere that didn't have sufficient space, but that's a very temporary solution, and definitely not ideal. You can try to find a corner of a quiet room and set up the acoustic foam panels there. Test things out, make sure that your voice isn't bouncing back with those aforementioned hollow or echo-like qualities. If so, experiment with maybe hanging thick curtains in the corners of the room, or making a five-sided box around the mic itself, lined with acoustic foam. In any setup configuration you try, always do a few rounds of recording at different volumes and for different types of delivery, to ensure that the acoustics are good regardless if you're performing a calm narration or an energetic animated character.

If you live somewhere that makes it next to impossible to get a fully clean recording (like a big city, or a neighborhood where everyone is always mowing their lawn, or even next to an airport), a good supplemental tool would be finding an audio processing software that adequately cleans up your recordings. You shouldn't be relying entirely on this, and should still try to find a quiet spot to do your recording, but it can help with some of the sounds that may still be picked up by your mic.

Because we all have our own situations, there is no one size fits all solution for home recording. But through a bit of experimentation and understanding some of the basics in regards to acoustics, you can potentially have a way of making clear recordings regardless of where you live.

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