Voice Over Blog

Home Studio Essentials - Quick Tip 3 - Portable Vocal Booth

For many of us, our recording space is less than ideal. Perhaps you are setup in an extra bedroom, or even a closet (trust me, I’ve seen a few of these). Regardless of where you setup, the truth is you are likely to encounter room reflections in your recording. These problematic reverberations can really muddy up, and lessen the quality of our recordings. While a fully treated room is the best option for reducing room reflections, there are some work-arounds that might suit your needs. Yes, I’m talking about a portable mic booth.

It is possible to build a portable mic booth using materials that you can find at your local hardware store and insulation store. There are a plethora of Youtube videos and tutorials on the Internet to teach you how to safely and effectively build one of these, so I won’t go into much detail regarding how to build one. Rather, I want to encourage you to pursue solutions like this one for your recording problems.

The truth is, on a philosophical level, the very nature of audio engineering is problem solving. Since the dawn of recording, producers have come up with creative solutions to solve issues in their recordings or to inspire creativity. This day, I encourage you to explore your creativity to see what ideas you might have for improving your recordings!

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Home Studio Essentials - Quick Tip 2 - The Pop Filter

In a recent blog, I mentioned the proximity effect and how we should be wary of it while recording. Having unwanted and uneccessary bass booming in a recording is easily avoidable, but you still might find an occasional unwanted sound in the low frequencies known as a plosive.

What’s a plosive, you ask? A plosive is the sudden burst of air that is exhaled when you use a “p” or a “b” in at the start of a syllable. That puff of breath hits the microphone, causing the all too familiar “pop” in the low frequencies and can be difficult to get rid of in a mix without cutting out all the bass frequencies. This is a where a pop filter comes to the rescue.

A pop filter is a mic stand attachment that places a mesh screen between the source and the microphone. The mesh captures and dissipates the plosive air burst and keeps it from hitting the microphone diaphragm, hence no “pop” of air in your recording. Now you can speak your p’s and b’s without fear, and we all know clear enunciation is important for voice overs!

Added Bonus

An added bonus to using a pop filter is that it regulates the distance you are from the microphone. A pop filter can be placed the proper distance from a microphone and then used to keep the vocalist in place while recording. This should make your mixing much easier later on!

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Home Studio Essentials - Different Microphones - Video 3

Home Studio Essential - Video Series. Credit and thanks to:

Vocal Flair guest contributor, Kyle Shevlin (@kyleshevlin)

(click on the image; then click on the third tab from the left)
























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Home Studio Essentials - Your Room

Whether you realise it or not, our ears are quite spectacular. Not only do we have two of them, allowing us to create a stereo image of the audio world around us, they are capable of recognizing differences in timing down to a tenth of a millisecond. They also are incredibly sensitive. Just Wikipedia “threshold of hearing” to find out. What does this tell us? It tells us that our ears hear more than just the source of a sound. It hears all the reflections that sound makes as well.

These reflections are generally known as “reverb.” Reverb is short for reverberance and, in short, is a part of almost every sound source you have ever heard. The only exception, would be if you have the fortune to experience an anechoic chamber (I hear they can be quite disturbing, actually!). Everywhere you are, the sound you hear bounces off of other surfaces, feeding our ears information that identifies the shape of the room, the texture of the room, and many other things.

Interestingly, though, our ears take most of this information passively. It hardly ever registers in your mind that a room is particularly lively or dead. That is until you record in it.

You may have noticed by now, that if you’re recording in a room without much furniture, hard wood floors, or very little hanging on the walls, your recordings likely have a lot of natural reverb and reflection in them. This is both a good and a bad thing.

This is a good thing if you’re recording something in a fantastic sounding room. Recording studios dedicate spaces to this very thing, enabling engineers to record the room ambience as well as the source signal. But for voice overs, room noise might not be your best friend.

Most of you understand that you are trying to get the tightest, cleanest sound possible into your recordings. Having good mic technique will get you part of the way there. The other part is done by treating your room.

Just as you’ve seen in countless pictures of professional studios, sound absorbing foam is your friend in your home studio. Not only will you reduce the reverb of your sound source (that is your voice), you will also reduce the natural reverb of the room. Often, without even realizing it, our recording space has low level background noise. In an untreated room, all this low volume noise bounces around the room just the same as higher level noises. It creates a cacophony of background noise that you can’t easily scrub from your recordings. Room treatment will deaden those reflective surfaces and thus deaden the natural reverberation of those low level noises, i.e. your room will be quieter giving you greater headroom between your sound source and when no sound is being recorded.

Places to Consider Treating

For voice overs, particularly you want to try and create a quiet space that you can record your voice into. Too small of a room and you might find a lot of bass build up as those long bass waves bounce around the tight space. Too big of a room, and your voice will sound thinner and drier. I realize that most of you cannot change the size of the room you are recording in. I simply state these facts so that you can make adjustments depending upon your recording space.

To figure out where to put absorbing foam, think of how sound travels. Try and figure out the natural reflections of the walls and place foam accordingly. If you know that you will generally speak into your microphone in a general direction of your room, you can place foam where the source will naturally reflect to reduce reflections bouncing back into the microphone.

It is also a good idea to put absorbing foam behind your monitors and possibly on your ceiling as well. The ceiling in most rooms tends to be flat and hard, making it considerably reflective. Placing some foam above the area you record or mix (or both) will make a big difference as to how much room reflection is heard.

Bottom Line

A good engineer needs to be in control of her room acoustics. This means treating the space that you record and mix in. Since our ears are so sensitive, it behooves us to absorb the reflections in our room to create cleaner, better sounding mixes. Before running off to buy a more expensive microphone or another piece of gear, consider treating your room. Remember, a treated room will improve all of your recordings!

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Home Studios Essentials - Creating an Audio Track - Video 1

Home Studio Essential - Video Series. Credit and thanks to:

Vocal Flair guest contributor, Kyle Shevlin (@kyleshevlin)

(click on the image)

Stand by for more distilled wisdom in the continuing video series.

Enjoy (and don't forget to share widely ;)


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Home Studio Essentials - Microphone Techniques

Perhaps one of the most overlooked components of making great audio recordings is the recording technique itself. You will find countless tutorials on how to mix audio on the internet, but much fewer on how to record great audio.

There are a few reasons why this is the case. First, mixing is the “flashier,” “sexier” part of audio recording. You get to use all your “toys” (plugins) to try and make your mediocre recording sound better. You receive immediate feedback when you turn a few knobs or tryout that new technique you learned. It’s quick and responsive and that excites us, so of course we love learning about mixing. Second, and more important, mixing requires less physical effort. Unfortunately, even audio producers have a tendency to get lazy.

There is a myth that mixing will fix every problem in your recording. Let’s dispel that right now. It can’t! Mixing can’t fix room reflections, it can’t fix improper enunciation and it can only do so much to improve the EQ balance of your recording. However, taking a few extra minutes to study and utilize better recording technique will allow you to make the most of your recording.

Mic Technique

We have already discussed microphones, so I don’t need to reiterate that mics don’t lie. They “hear” exactly what you provide them. But, with a little knowledge we can be more certain that what it “hears” is desirable and pleasant to our ears as well.

Good mic technique is derived from understanding two scientific principles and how they factor into recording. The first is the proximity effect; the second is the inverse square law of sound. And don’t worry, I won’t be overly technical.

The Proximity Effect

Have you ever listened to a voice over at the movies or during a commercial and noticed how deep and bassy it sounded? Or have you ever listened to rap music live and noticed that the voice became deeper when the rapper got closer to the mic? This is the proximity effect in action. The closer a sound source gets to a directional microphone, the more bass frequencies are boosted. Don’t take my word for it. Go try it. I’ll be here when you get back.

Alright, now that you’re back let me explain why this matters. Because the proximity effect increases bass frequencies, we need to be careful with how close we are to the microphone while recording. By backing away a few more centimeters from the microphone, we drastically reduce how much bass is recorded. If you record to close to the microphone, it is often quite difficult to properly EQ and balance the low end later in the mix. A few inches further away could save you a lot of work later on.

The Inverse Square Law of Sound

Common sense tells us that the further away you are from a source, the quieter it sounds. Understanding why this happens, though, can be very beneficial for recording. Imagine the way sound travels from a source. If we could see its shape, we might describe it as a cone piercing a growing sphere, with the area where they intersect being our sound. We might also remember from our childhood education that one of the laws of thermodynamics is conservation of energy. This means that as our sound travels outward, the same amount of energy is spread out over a wider and wider area. Get it?

Now, regarding mic technique, this means that if we increase the distance between ourselves and the microphone, we decrease the energy that the microphone receives. However, depending on how far we are to begin with, a centimeter here or there can make a big difference.

If we are only a couple centimeters from the mic, moving a couple more away DOUBLES our distance to the microphone, which drastically will reduce our recording level. But, if we start say, 20-30 centimeters away from the mic and move a couple centimeters, we have only moved a fraction away and our energy at the microphone is less affected. Go ahead and give this a try, too.

Wrap Up

Learning good mic technique takes time and patience, but understanding a few principles (and how to manipulate them) will go a long way towards achieving the sounds you desire. Just remember, a little distance from the mic can go a long way towards taming the bass frequencies and reducing any volume changes that might occur due to movement.

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Home Studio Essentials - The Microphone


In previous posts, we discussed three must-haves for the home-studio. Today, we cover the third and final one, a microphone.

Every home-studio needs a microphone to take the sounds you are trying to capture and put them into your DAW, but which microphone you use can make a huge difference. Now, before you run out and buy a really expensive microphone, there are a number of microphone basics you need to know that will not only inform your purchase, but how you use a microphone as well.

Types of Microphones

A microphone is simply a device that converts and audio signal into an electrical signal. However, there are different ways to make this happen, each one creating a different type of microphone with its own set of characteristics. I am going to discuss the three most common types.

Dynamic Microphones

Dynamic microphones are the most popular and available microphones on the market. These microphones are very durable and can be used in a wide variety of environments, but are especially good in live environments due to their directional characteristics and ability to handle high sound pressure levels. But don’t count them out of the studio. Dynamic microphones are excellent for voice-overs, podcasts, vocalists and a number of other applications in the studio. Let me explain why.

Dynamic microphones all have a diaphragm inside of them that resonates as sound waves hit it. The diaphragm is placed inside a magnetic field and this is how the electrical signal is produced. The diaphragm on most dynamic mics tends to be pretty sturdy and thus less sensitive than other mics. This creates the following characteristics: high frequency attenuation, less responsive to transients, and less responsive to ambient noise. That might sound like a lot of negatives, but those characteristics are what make dynamic mics incredibly useful.

Dynamic mics will generally give you a warm, steady tone without a lot of room reflection or other bleed into the microphone. If you don’t have an acoustically treated space, dynamic microphones can be an excellent option for reducing ambient noise in your recordings!

Condenser Mics

Condenser mics, also known as capacitor microphones, come with thinner, and therefore much more sensitive, diaphragms than dynamic microphones. Their diaphragms also require an electric current to work and will generally require phantom power from your audio interface. Having a thinner diaphragm means that these microphones require a little more care in their use (they are easier to damage) and that the microphone is more sensitive. More sensitivity makes a condenser mic difficult to use in live scenarios but great for the studio. The sensitivity translates into a brighter sound with more clarity, picking up more nuances from the sound source. This also means that condenser mics will pick up more ambient noise and room reflections, though, and is something to be aware of when using one.

Ribbon Mics

The last common type of microphone is the ribbon mic. A ribbon mic works by placing a conductive ribbon between two strong magnets. As the ribbon moves, it fluctuates the magnetic field resulting in an electrical signal. This makes ribbon mics incredibly sensitive, great for picking up lots of detail from your sound source, however, it also makes them rather fragile. Ribbon mics, while offering interesting sonic possibilities, are likely not to be your go to microphone in the studio.

Advice

When starting off with a home studio, the best thing you can do for yourself is to buy yourself one decent microphone and get to know it very well. For those of you following this blog, you’ll likely want to start with a dynamic or condenser microphone. There are a number of quality microphones that can be bought for less than £100 that will be perfect for getting started. Once you get the hang of one type of microphone, venture on to another type and begin to learn that one. Pretty soon, you’ll have the hang of them all and understand how to use them wisely in your studio!

More coming soon .. to a screen near you.


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