Talk Tech-y to Me
It was only this past January when I found myself despairing over profile thumbnails on a website we shall refer to as “Furvur Durdur” from this moment onwards.
I still laugh over this video on a weekly basis, by the way. No need to be concerned.
My eyes were bombarded with a collage of killer microphones, impressive home studios, cool headphones, and state of the art pop filters! Not to mention, branding to boot and professional profile photos and videos. To someone who had just decided to enter the industry, I was overwhelmed…and then I looked at the rates they were offering.
That’s about when my jaw soared past the floor into the bowels of hell itself. (Sorry, I’ve been watching waaaaaaay too much Lucifer lately). From a 30,000 foot view in the opposite direction, I felt like I was browsing through the FBI most wanted list, except with what looked like an army of professional YouTubers.
While the low rates stupefied me, I was more overwhelmed by just how well armored these talent were. This was my first day Googling “VoiceOver career” after deciding to take the plunge, and wasn’t exactly expecting to discover the sheer amount of gear and sound treatment I would need to compete at a professional level.
I turned to my #1 Facebook resource at the time, The VoiceOver Community (run by Marc Preston, an amazing coach, voice actor, and all around great human!) and began to comb through the history on gear and sound treatment recommendations, troubleshooting, occasional comment section battle, etc. I also learned very quickly that Furvur Durdur should be avoided at all costs for a lot of reasons, including setting a terrible rate standard for the industry.
I found that at the very least, pillow forts and blanket towers will do the trick on a VERY temporary level. And by VERY, I mean if you have an emergency audition, or are on the go or staying in a hotel and need something to make you competitive and professional sounding in a pinch.
I wasn’t sold on breaking down and setting up a pillow fort day-in, day-out given I live in a 538 square foot apartment. So, I said a prayer and sacrificed 50% of my precious studio apartment closet space to my first booth set up.
Luckily, I had a few heavy quilts on me from my move; I draped them across the wire shelving in a corner of my closet to span the surrounding drywall and also used one as the “front door.” My closet was (and still is) jam-packed with clothing, including very heavy sweaters I refuse to donate even though I live in arguably the most tropical climate in the United States.
At the time, I was using a Slate VMS ML-1 digital microphone and an SSL 2+ interface with Adobe Audition. The mic produced a high quality sound, but wasn’t so high end that it was picking up the mechanical rumble behind the drywall, or the neighbor’s cat breathing upstairs (looking at you, TLM-103). I also was using the Kaotica Eyeball, which in the end, was muffling me and making me sound like, well, I was talking into a styrofoam ball.
I submitted a few solid auditions with this setup, with my experienced mentors giving me a thumbs up on sound quality. The snag was, this set up required a bit more in post processing than applying a high pass filter. I feared the reality of when it would come time to record over Source Connect - I knew my space wasn’t well-treated enough for that. I completed a good amount of my initial coaching with this setup but knew it was time to upgrade.
It was a lonely March day when I entered into the second wave of despair.
The price tag on a top line professional home studio ranged from $1,500 to $9,000! Those WhisperRooms and StudioBricks studios looked so deliciously enticing, but I eventually came to learn those type of booths will serve as a milestone in my career when I can comfortably afford one.
My coach recommended to give vocalboothtogo.com a visit, and to look into a PVC frame/moving blanket setup! I was intrigued by the idea, and after research, purchased a few professional sound blankets from VBTG. I made the trip to Home Depot, stuffed about $100 worth of PVC pipe in my car, and followed VBTG’s YouTube instructional video on just how to set up this thing.
After some finagling and having to majorly decrease the recommended dimensions due to shelving conflicts (I kid you not, my booth is the length and width of an average bath mat) I was thrilled with the results. I ended up double layering the acoustic blankets, which created another layer of strong sound proofing and acoustical treatment.
This was all well and good, but I needed this space to technically function as well. How could I route my noisy computer to my interface without punching a hole in the drywall? Do they even make USB cables that extend that far? What about the brand of XLR cable? Should I change my mic? How am I going to read and mark up the copy? Appear on camera? Mount my mic?
Back to the Facebook group.
While not highly recommended, I did find some very trustworthy powered USB cables off of Amazon. They’re still functioning reliably to this day at a whopping 25 foot run.
Currently, I connect my MacBook Pro to my SSL 2+ interface (in the booth) via the USB cables off a Belkin Thunderbolt hub, complete with plenty of ethernet, HDMI, USB-C, and USB 3.0 ports. I also use this hub to connect my monitor and webcam, which are powered by a sturdy surge protector (with additional USB ports) I keep in close proximity to the booth. I also use the surge protector to power my USB fan and LED clip light, as well as the long USB cable runs.
In the booth, I use an adjustable tall mic stand that functions well at my seated and standing height, a comfortable non-metal (no squeak!) folding chair, an adjustable computer stand for my monitor, wireless mouse, USB keyboard, and if need be, my USB ring light. The stand also has a nifty little phone mount, a big plus for having an additional small screen to read copy or complete calls from!
Time for the big Kahuna. The mic.
I invested in a Neumann TLM-103 for the quality and following recommendations to better capture my range and tone. I’m also a singer and wanted a mic that was going to successfully pick up the lighter, crispy tones of my vocals from an alto to soprano range. Bingo!
I later learned that plunking a TLM-103 in an apartment home studio is usually not a great choice; I did hear a significant increase in the amount of mechanical rumble behind the drywall in my closet. However, the increase in quality mesmerized me more-so, and thus started the romance between my mic and I, with just scraping by the -60 dB standard.
I’ll conclude this blog post with recommending top audio professionals George Whittam and Dan Lenard. For $25, they will evaluate your home studio setup and give you the low-down if you’re up to industry standard. This was what I perceived as the Black Belt test for audio quality, and was thrilled to receive the unofficial stamp of approval!
As new talent, looking at all the shiny new gear and its price tags can be discouraging and overwhelming.
Everyone has to start somewhere, though!
As you gain traction and experience, it will become easier to figure out the financials and strategize building your inventory (without having to donate your plasma, trust me, I did reach this low of a point where I seriously considered that)! Patience, training, healthy recommendations, and research can go a very long way.
You got this, my VO friend! ‘Till next blog!