Gobs on Sticks

Thoughts mostly (but not always) about the voice-over business, from London Voiceover Artist, Mike Cooper

  • About the author

    My name is Mike Cooper. I'm a full time Voiceover Artist living and working in London, and this is my blog. Find out more about me on my main website (there's a link further down this column), or if you'd like to hear some of my work, check out the files below.

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Christmas is coming… 10 Things all VO’s Should Do in December

Posted by MikeCooper on December 5, 2009

It’s been a bit quiet in here of late, but hang in there: that’s set to change when Gobs on Sticks moves over to my own web hosting, very soon. It’s all part of my Cunning Masterplan… <evil laugh>

It seems a few of the other voiceover blogs I follow have been a bit on the quiet side too, but at least Dave Courvoisier can be relied on to keep things moving (well done, Dave!)

Earlier this week he posted a timely blog piece pulling together all the things that voice actors ought to be doing in the run up to the festive season, and if you work in the industry – or, for that matter, if you’re a freelancer of any sort – I suggest you take a look. Here’s the link:

10 Things all VO’s Should Do in December | Dave Courvoisier’s Blog.

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Nice… wicked… creative

Posted by MikeCooper on October 21, 2009

My good friend Trish Bertram just sent me this. How we laughed…

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Mike’s mics. Or Neumann TLM 103 vs TLM 193

Posted by MikeCooper on September 19, 2009

Back in December I decided that my Christmas treat to myself would be a new microphone. I wanted a Neumann of some description, but was having trouble making up my mind which one. In the end I plumped for the TLM 103, and I must say I’ve been very happy.

But part of me has been curious this year as to what the similarly-priced TLM 193 might have brought to the table, so I’ve had a “saved search” running on eBay for a few months – just in case one came up at a price that was too good to miss. This is a really useful feature of eBay, if you haven’t used it, whereby you get an email alert every time someone lists the thing you’re looking for. If the “thing” has a “Buy It Now” price, and if you’re quick, then you can bag it before anyone else gets in on the bidding, and this is exactly what happened to me the other night when I checked my email on the train home.

The TLM 193 is currently available – from online retailers – for between £1,000 and £1,150, so we’re not talking pin money here. If I tell you I picked mine up on eBay for £550, bundled with an EA-1 shockmount (normally an extra £150 or so on top), you’ll appreciate that this was one of those deals that was too good to miss, even if I came to sell it on again myself.

On this point, it’s interesting to note that gear has been getting more expensive this year – especially here in the UK where the Pound is currently weak. If I’d wanted to pick up a 193 in December 2008, I could have done so for about £800. The TLM 103 I bought cost me £700 in a bundle with the EA-1. Even at the time it was a bargain, but now the 103 is retailing for upwards of £730 on its own. Many retailers put their prices up in the first few months of this year, so we’re now in a situation where you can actually make money on the kit you bought before the slump. My first microphone – the Audio Technica AT 4040 – cost £200 when I bought it two summers ago, and is now on sale from the same retailer at a breathtaking £363, which means that I’m now in the position to be able to sell mine for more than I paid for it. (Even I’ll gleefully admit that I’m “doing the recession” on this one.)

So, my thought process went a bit like this: Buy the 193, run it in my setup and compare to the 103, then keep the one I liked most and sell the other without loss (or possibly for a profit!) With this in mind, I hit the “Commit to buy” button. Two days later my new microphone turned up and I set to work doing some objective tests to see how they sounded and which I preferred.

The moment I connected the 193, I noticed the change in my headphones. Suddenly there was a “presence” and warmth to my voice that hadn’t been so apparent with the 103. Not only that, but the very distinctive high frequency response I’d become used to was gone. The 103 is somehow both sweet and sharp at the same time on my “ess” sounds. It’s never unpleasant on playback, but while it’s great when I’m doing radio commercials, it can become a bit, well, “fatiguing” in my cans on a long read. I was interested to notice straight away that this element was gone. But of course, we can’t trust everything we hear in our headphones now, can we?

Why can’t we trust what we hear in our headphones? Well, it’s because of a couple of things.

Firstly, if you’re monitoring yourself reading live then what you’re hearing is a combination of what’s coming through your cans plus the sound that’s being transmitted to your ears through your own body. That’s why people are often surprised when they hear themselves played back for the first time – we all think we sound one way, whereas to the rest of the world we sound rather different.

Secondly, though headphones are great at getting you so close to the recording that you can hear every distracting click, pop or mouth noise (that’s why I insist on using them), they rarely sound the same as a set of studio monitor speakers (and those that do generally lack the amount of low end “tilt” that gives us VOs confidence in the booth).

With this in mind I constructed an objective test, and read a few short script excerpts on each mic in turn, without making any other changes to my setup, which is a Focusrite Voicemaster Pro with digital ADC, feeding directly into an M-Audio Delta 66 soundcard on my PC. For the purposes of the exercise I read a piece of TV continuity for the History Channel, part of a training script, and a typical 20″ radio commercial offering to add a conservatory to your home at a low, low price. Three suitably different scripts which would get me some different results. I also recorded the output of the mics when I wasn’t talking – what we refer to as the “noise floor”. The TLM 103 has famously low self noise (that’s the amount of noise the microphone generates from its own electronics) and the 193’s is, on paper, several dBs higher, but would I be able to hear that?

What were the results of all this? Well, why don’t you judge them for yourself? You can download a ZIP file of the clips I made from my website here. Have a listen before you read on.

If you listen to the tracks one after the other on a reasonable system you’ll spot the difference, I’m sure. But is the difference enough for you to pick a favourite if you heard it solo? One point here is that there certainly is more noise from the 193, and the 103 is indeed clearer, as advertised. Whereas the voice tracks are both “normalised” to -3dB, the noise floor track is as it comes, straight out of the preamp. The 193 needs a fair bit more gain to get the same level out of it. The 193 also picked up mains hum being transmitted through vibration in my rig to begin with, and I had to dampen the mic support to avoid this being noticeable to my ears.

I’ve been using the 193 as my main microphone for over a week now, and I have to say it’s grown on me. Both of these mics demonstrate that “Neumann sound” which so many of us like, but they demonstrate it in slightly different ways. The 193 is definitely more “reigned-in” at the top end than the 103, which I’d expected by looking at the frequency response graphs on the Neumann website. My initial thought was that it sounded “splashy” where the 103 was clean and shiny, and that there was less “punch” at the low end. Doing a radio ad didn’t get me quite so excited about the sound of my own voice as it usually does (hey, I’m a voiceover artist – cut me some slack here!) But extended listening began to endear the mic to me. The 193 has a “fuller” sound and handles the mid-range especially well, lending a presence to my recordings which I rather like (most of the human voice is in this range, after all).

The bottom end on the TLM 103 appears to roll off at a slightly higher frequency than the 193, and perhaps this was why I found myself stopping recording yesterday in my basement studio when some arsehole pulled up in the street outside with one of those bass rigs that – literally – shakes the foundations of my house. With the 103 I’d felt this kind of low frequency noise from time to time more than was apparent on the playback, but on the 193’s waveform there it was: thump… thump… thump. Fortunately such arseholes – and such mobile bass rigs – are rare, even in my corner of South London, so this isn’t, in itself, enough to sway me on the subject.

I’m left in a quandary: the truth is I like them both. The 103 sounds great on radio commercials, and I do a fair few of those. It’s “deep”, and “crisp” (if not particularly “even”) whereas I’ve just recorded a two-hour audio CD and really appreciated the 193 – both in my headphones while recording, and when editing, due to its nature of being a “smooth operator”. In short, it’s been an expensive lesson in why sound engineers keep cupboards full of mics for different applications, and I now have to caution myself against “trying out” any more, just in case this turns into an expensive hobby.

There’s one more thing I’ve been keen to trial though, and that’s a change in preamp. eBay did me proud again this week and offered up an Avalon VT-737SP. As I write, Parcelforce says it’s “out for delivery”, so watch this space for an update once I’ve had a chance to play some more.

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Planet You 3D – now showing!

Posted by MikeCooper on July 24, 2009

Planet-You_webYou may remember me talking about Planet You 3D – the new documentary feature, produced by Chedd-Angier-Lewis, for which I recently provided the voiceover.

I’m thrilled to announce that the movie opens today at the Museum of Science in Boston, MA, with showings several times a day from 10.30am. If you’re in the Boston metro area and would like to take a look, you can check out the schedule at the Museum of Science website here.

“Imagine exploring an alien world where odd creatures roam bizarre terrain in search of food.  Then witness the attack and counterattack of viral bacteria at a cellular level.  Now imagine it all in 3D! It is an experience that will take you to a world you never knew existed before – a world that is so much closer than you think.  It is a microscopic journey into the foreign landscape that is your own…SKIN!

This 3D film mixes live action and cutting-edge digital computer animation to tell the story of just a few of the thousands of tiny critters that live on the surface of human skin. Viewers will encounter it all at an animated, microscopic level not seen before. It will leave them both amazed and perhaps a little uncomfortable in their own skin.  But it will certainly be an unforgettable experience.”

The film is a co-production with The Health Museum of Houston, TX, and opens there on Friday, August 7th, where it will show every hour on the hour (with a few exceptions – you can check the schedule here).

From here it’s hoped that the movie will roll out to science centres across the United States. I’ll keep you posted as I hear more! In the meantime you can check out the Planet You 3D production diary here for the background on how the film was made.

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Dead men’s shoes

Posted by MikeCooper on July 10, 2009

Stephanie Ciccarelli of Voices.com posted a piece on her blog yesterday which gave me pause for thought. Last week, Casey Kasem hung up his headphones for the final time at the grand old age of 77. Who’s Casey Kasem? If you’re reading this in the UK, or outside America, he’ll be best known to you as the voiceover artist who provided the voice for Shaggy in Scooby Doo, but in the USA he’s something of a legend (as a quick look at his Wikipedia page confirms).

Stephanie posed a question that’s come up a couple of times in the last couple of years, as various longstanding members of the VO community have either retired or passed away. She asks whether it’s right that, when this happens, there’s always a queue of people waiting to take their place, and whether there should be a period of mourning.

You can read Stepanie’s piece in full here, but I took the time to think this over myself and came to the following conclusion, which I posted in the comments section.

Hi Stephanie,

It’s a tricky one, and no one wants to be an ambulance chaser (at least, I hope not!) But perhaps we should also see it from the point of view of the voice seeker, who still needs their job voiced and may have decided that they want a certain actor for the job.

A good example of this happened here in the UK a couple of years ago when Patrick Allen died. Pat was the voice of many projects, with an amazing list of credits to his name and a very distinctive style. In his last years he became very well known for voicing promos and continuity links for E4, one of the entertainment channels here, and when he left they weren’t ready to just change their style overnight. Another voiceover stepped in with a very passable impression and the channel were happy. Was it the right thing to do? It’s an interesting moral question, but if the talent in question hadn’t, I’m sure there’d have been a line of people queueing up to offer their own services, and I know of at least one other VO who now markets his impression of “The E4 Guy” (I can even do one myself…) So much of what we do is competition in a fierce marketplace.

Like it or not, market forces will always mean that the mourning period is shorter than we’d like. We also need to see our business as a professional business that can – in the best showbusiness tradition – carry on regardless, for the greater good of the final product and the client. The show must go on, after all, and the talent who hangs up their headphones – either for retirement or for that great sound booth in the sky – leaves a gap in the market, which the market will always try to fill.

In short, I believe you should always do what best fits your own moral code and ethics and be authentic to your own self. If you’re going to jump into dead men’s shoes then do make sure you do it in the right spirit and with due deference. And don’t be surprised if someone’s already there when you catch up with the ambulance.

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Murder for Hire…

Posted by MikeCooper on June 30, 2009

This week I provided the voiceover narration for two documentary programmes coming soon to the Crime & Investigation Network. They’re UK versions of two Dateline NBC programmes on the phenomenon of “murder for hire”, where a spouse pays a hitman to “take out” their spouse (and I’m not talking about wine and roses, either).

The sting in the tail for the people in these programmes is that the people they thought were contract killers actually turned out to be undercover police using secret filming techniques.

Currently, programme one “Caught on Tape” is slotted for first transmission on Wednesday 29th July at 9pm, with programme two “Sleeping with the Enemy” the following Wednesday 5th Augst at the same time.

The Crime and Investigation Network is on Sky Digital channel 553 and Virgin channel 237.

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So, if you won’t work for $25, how about for nothing?

Posted by MikeCooper on June 12, 2009

A little while ago I blogged about whether the $25 rates that keep cropping up online for jobs were acceptable remuneration for the services of a professional Voiceover Artist. Mercifully, the deluge of comments I received, both here and via LinkedIn, left me in no doubt that, like me, you believe this kind of fee is way, way too low.

So what happens when someone asks you to work for nothing?

A couple of weeks ago I received an email via my website:

“Your voice is perfect for a project I am doing at college…

The script that I have has a mocking, sarcastic tone… You are great!

I am a student so I would not be able to pay you. But it would be great if you could read a script for me, it wouldn’t take too long. It’s 5 minutes long.”

I think the first part’s what’s generally known as a “back-handed compliment”, and I decided to take it as such (rather than tell my correspondent in my most mocking, sarcastic tone to stick the offer where the sun doesn’t shine). Personally, whenever someone says “You’re great!” I think it’s best to take it graciously and not ask too many questions. Of course, my heart sank a fraction when I realised there was no money involved, but hey, I’m a businessman, after all!

I pondered the point with my good friend and guru, Trish Bertram. As well as being a phenomenal voice talent, she’s someone who often has a wise word to say on such things. Sure enough, she made two very valid points. The first is a sound business point: namely that the people making videos and having the awareness to request professional voice tracks for college projects today, are likely the rising star producers of tomorrow. Who knows when they may be in a position to pay you back, and probably with interest?

The second point is a bit more abstract, and comes down to “karma”. It’s the idea that a good deed done “pays one forward”, and that at some point the universe is likely to reward you in kind. Of course, you’re not supposed to expect for this to happen – that goes against the principle – but it’s a nice way to live your life, isn’t it? The thought that you go through your own life with an attitude of giving to others, without prejudice, and – just now and then – there might just be a nice surprise when you least expect it.

By way of illustrating, Trish reminded me of two people she’d taken under her wing in years gone by. One was a “runner”, who went on from the lowest job on the studio floor to produce some very big Light Entertainment shows, got her in to be the Voice of God (if God’s a woman then Trish is definitely the voice who should play her) and who still offers her a supply of work even today.

But the other was a real case of karma at work. Some years ago, at a point when she was going through difficult times in her own life, Trish was approached by someone who was keen to become a continuity announcer. She gave her time and effort without any question of reward or what the guy could do in return, and thought no more of it. A few months later it turned out that the gentleman in question worked for a major airline, and he offered to fly her – business class, no less – to Australia. Which, coincidentally, was just where she’d been wanting to go. Cynics, of course, snidely suggested that she’d been planning it all along, but I know for a fact that she was completely surprised and taken aback. Sometimes the universe really does provide. And maybe, as a “universal thank you” for his own good deed, he got what he wanted too: he went on to become a continuity announcer, and fulfilled a dream he’d held for twenty years.

Of course, I did the free voiceover track, and no, this isn’t an invitation to a deluge of similar requests for either myself or Trish – but next time you’re asked to work for nothing, it might be worth keeping what I’ve said in mind…

If you’ve got any stories to share, I’d love to hear them. Your comments are very welcome, as ever!

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Mike’s week on the mike (4 – 10 May)

Posted by MikeCooper on May 11, 2009

Another short week with a bank holiday on the front (I could get used to these).

The highlight of this last week was going into BBC Radio 7 to put together a couple of sequences for their Comedy Catchup, which goes out on a Sunday afternoon and again on a Sunday night. This week’s has been and gone, but if you tune in – or listen online – this coming Sunday, 17th May, you’ll be able to hear me between 1pm and 5pm, and again between 1 and 5am that night, linking everything together.

And the History Channel have asked me to join their continuity team for a while, so I’ll be on air there for the time being on a three-weekly rotation.

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If you build it, they will come…

Posted by MikeCooper on March 17, 2009

So, you still want to get into voiceovers, eh? Assuming that you’re following this series; that you’ve given some thought to the kind of work you want to do; and that you’ve been working on getting your voicey skills up to snuff, you’re going to have to take the plunge and buy some recording gear. Yes, it’s time to build your first studio!

A few years ago this would have cost you around £15,000 (about $20,000 at the current conversion), and a few years before that it would have been unthinkable: not just because of the prohibitive cost, but because voiceover artists roamed the land (or at the very least, Soho) auditioning and recording in professional recording studios.

So what changed? Several things in fact, in a short space of time. Technology has a habit of getting cheaper, year-on-year, and the area of professional audio is no exception. By the mid-1990s it was possible, with the kind of sums I mentioned above, to kit yourself out with a microphone, a studio-grade tape machine, a mixer and so on and to record at home. But what really made it a viable option for voice talents and producers was that ISDN lines became available. In the UK, this changed the landscape virtually overnight. In parts of the US too, but not perhaps to the same widespread degree it did here. Suddenly the days of the travelling, jobbing voiceover, doing sessions in different parts of the country on different days of the week, were over. Voiceovers moved increasingly into the world of the home worker.

ISDN for Dummies – a quick primer…

ISDN lines are basically digital phone lines – they’re the same copper pairs between you and the exchange (or “switch”), but without all the DTMF signalling gubbins and A/D converters that you need to handle speech and connect an analogue phone. ISDN gives 2 data circuits, each carrying 64Kbps of data. These can be used in various configurations, and in the days pre-broadband, this was as fast as the information superhighway got – for those who could afford it.

Anyway, that’s all besides the point (yes, there is a point): bonding your two 64K “bearers” together means you get 128Kbps, and by using a variant of the MPEG audio codec – usually Layer 2 – 128Kbps mono is just about enough for carrying broadcast-quality speech, thank you very much and goodnight.

But we’re a long way off installing an ISDN line – assuming you ever need one at all. So, file everything you’ve just learned under “Useful Trivia” and rejoin the group, Grasshopper…

While all of this was going on, the PC on your desktop, each time you upgraded, was growing in power exponentially. Suddenly the tape machine was a museum piece: with a decent sound card and a suitably large and fast hard drive, the desktop PC could do all that tape could do, and oh so much more besides. Editing used to mean cutting blocks, chinagraph pencils and single-sided razor blades. Then along came the fledgling versions of what would later become programs like Pro Tools and Adobe Audition. In their infancy they were basic and clunky, but in next to no time Digital Audio Workstations (DAWs) were replacing 1/4″ tape editing forever.

Fast-forward to today, and the home studio consists of just a few basic building blocks:

  • a microphone
  • a mic amplifier (also called a “preamp” or “mic pre”)
  • an analogue to digital converter (which could be a sound card or an external USB/Firewire device)
  • a computer with recording software
  • a suitable space to record in
  • a way of monitoring what you’ve recorded

…plus the stands, cables and so on to connect them all together. Let’s take all that bit by bit. You may require a packed lunch, but stick with me and I promise it’ll all be worthwhile in the end.

Where’s the mixer, Dad?

Purists will be throwing their hands in the air at this point and demanding to know why I’m not suggesting you buy a mixing desk. Simple: you don’t need one. You might never need one (I still don’t have one…)

You’re in the business, at this stage, of recording voice, and voice alone. At this stage commercial production or mixing soundtracks are not, I’m assuming, your main priority. And even if they are, you’d be surprised how many people now perfect their mix in software, rather than by what I lovingly refer to as “fader-waggling”. Even Apple’s complimentary copy of Garageband will do more than you think.

So… don’t muddy the water. Don’t spend more than you need to. You can always add a mixer to the, er, mix, later.

The Microphone

For our purposes, there are two basic types of microphone: condensers and dynamics (there are also “ribbon mics”, but we’ll ignore them for the purposes of this seminar). Dynamics power themselves, tend to be somewhat cheaper and are usually “noisier” when you listen to them on their own, but the better ones compete well and are used in a lot of radio stations (the Beyer M201 is a good example, and was the standard BBC Radio 4 mic for many years). Simply speaking, a dynamic microphone has a very sensitive membrane, or “diaphragm”, which vibrates between a couple of magnets when sound hits it. This generates a tiny electric current, which then gets amplified on its way through the preamp.

Condensers, meanwhile, require “phantom power” (you’ll sometimes see this referred to as a 48-volt supply). Phantom power is just a way of getting the power the mic needs down a microphone cable without upsetting anything else. This is most safely achieved using “XLR” connectors, rather than “TRS” connectors, and the provision of XLR jacks on equipment is one sign that you’re dealing in the pro or semi-pro realm.

Condenser microphones range from the fairly cheap (£100-ish) up to many thousands of pounds. They’re sensitive, both to noise and to unwanted noise, but will generally give better results than a dynamic mic if used properly. They’ll bring out more of the nuances of your voice, but the better ones will also show up the shortcomings of your recording room…

The Preamp and Interface

Both types of mics need a pre-amplifier to bring the tiny voltage coming out of the mic up to “line level” for other equipment to process, and something to turn the analogue audio coming out into digits that the computer can process.

Preamps range from the cheap and cheerful to the esoteric and shockingly expensive, but a USB or Firewire interface will have one built in which will do the job just fine for you at this stage. Look for kit which allows “balanced connections“. I won’t go into why in this post (Media College has a really good tutorial here), but suffice to say that balanced connections will serve you well in the long run.

Alternatively, if you’re on a budget, there are some half-decent USB mics that will plug straight into your PC or Mac, though how good they are in comparison is a matter of hot debate. You can seek advice on this in the various online forums if you want a second opinion. Good examples of USB mics are made by Audio Technica, SE Electronics, Samson and Røde, among others, and some of them get good press. On the other hand, the purists will always insist that a USB mic with its own preamp built in just can’t compete with a separate preamp and condenser combo under ideal conditions.

In terms of your interface, you broadly have two options for getting sound into your computer:

  1. You can plug your microphone directly into an external USB/Firewire interface (something like an Mbox 2 Mini), which then plugs into a USB or Firewire port on your machine.
  2. You can buy a mic preamp (which will probably be better quality and will have more bells and whistles) and plug the output of the preamp into a professional-grade sound card on your computer. Check out, for starters, something like the “dbx 286” or the “Focusrite Platinum Voicemaster Pro”. Either of these, or something like them, will serve you well if your budget allows.

Once you’ve got your sound card (or USB/Firewire interface) you’ve now sorted out the tedious business of turning analogue audio into digits for the computer’s benefit.

The Computer and Software

Your next step needs to be to work out whether your existing computer is up to the task. Is it quiet? If you can hear it working, your microphone will too. If you’ve got the cash, investing in a silent or near-silent machine from a company that specialises in building them is a good investment – especially if it’s going to have to live in the same room as you’re planning to record in. Otherwise, consider putting the computer outside the room and running longer cables for the keyboard, mouse and monitor. Ideally, you’ll want two hard drives: one for programs and one for recording (this can help avoid “glitches” in your recordings). And at the very least, your faithful machine is probably going to need an upgrade to its sound card. Domestic sound cards are noisy and aren’t designed for the nuances of professional audio that we’re going to be working with, and the the 3.5mm jacks which are built in just aren’t up to the job. So, either an entry-level professional-grade sound card (M Audio do some nice ones which will also allow you to run Pro Tools M-Powered later if you need to) or some form of USB or Firewire interface will be the order of the day (again, you won’t go too far wrong with an M Box 2 Mini – which actually comes bundled with Pro Tools LE).

You’ll be needing some cheap (or, better still, free) sound recording software. Audacity is free and many people swear by it; on the other hand you’d have to pry my copy of Sound Studio 3 ($79, Mac only) out of my cold, dead hands. It’s all a matter of preference. I’ve already mentioned Pro Tools. This program is the Swiss Army knife of audio production, especially for radio and television. Sound engineers love it, and some voice talents use it and love it too, but for our initial purposes of recording a voice track it’s overkill, and a sledgehammer to crack a nut (IMHO).

The Room

Think very carefully about where you’re going to record. If you already have identified a quiet (and I do mean quiet) space in your house, then revisit it now before you spend anything. What can you hear? Seriously… The brain does a great job of filtering out stuff we don’t “need” to hear. Once you start listening for it, you may notice road noise, the tube, aircraft, lift machinery, dogs, neighbours, kids, stairwell noise and so on, depending on where you’re living. You’ll probably also hear your computer fan – laptops can get noisy as their little fans race to move the hot air. Some of these issues you may be able to work around if you’re recording on your own time; others you may not. If your space is less quiet than you thought, then any decent bit of kit (and that’s what you’re going to need, after all) is going to record that extraneous noise for the world to hear. This will be the second thing a producer or potential client notices, after your voice itself. Or possibly the first, if it’s that distracting.

Assuming that you’ve got not too much in the way of noise coming in from outside, your next step is to look at how to mop up the noise bouncing around inside your studio. Professional studios are “dead-sounding” for a reason: all of the reflected sound off the walls in a room will eventually find its way back into the microphone and onto your recording. That’s why we don’t record in the bathroom. If you’ve got a nice airing cupboard, walk-in wardrobe or similar, you can probably save yourself some money here. Otherwise you’re going to need to look at some sort of acoustic treatment, whether that’s in the form of tiles which you can stick in strategic places to absorb the sound, or in the form of something rather more handy, like “The Mic Thing”. This creation is a heavy duty mic stand with wrap-around padding, and it works surprisingly well for its £190 price tag (Some Audio Guy wrote a great review of it on his blog here, complete with an audio file).

The Monitoring

“Monitoring” is just techno-speak for a means of listening back. You’re going to need headphones and speakers. There are many, many options for both of these, but my advice would be to go for “closed back” headphones, which won’t allow too much sound to “bleed” back into the microphone. (So no, you can’t use the ones that came with your iPod. Sorry.)

You may squeeze through, for now, with your existing computer speakers, if you’re just recording voice. But be aware that computer speakers generally fall into two categories: the crap ones (pardon my French) that come with the average desktop, and the room-shaking sort that send the dog running off with its tail between its legs. Neither is what you want when you’re trying to get a neutral handle on what you’ve just recorded. Look out for speakers that are sold as “studio monitors” or “reference monitors”: they’re designed to be “flat” in terms of their frequency response, and not to emphasise either the bass or the high end, so  you know what your recording actually sounds like, and not what it would sound like if it were part of the soundtrack to “World of Warcraft”.

Both your headphones and your first set of speakers can be had for under £200/$250 all-in. Again, seek advice from the forums to see what’s popular – and available – in your own part of the world.

The End

It’s a little bit of a minefield, I’ll grant you, and once you’ve got all this stuff you’re going to have to make your way up the learning curve of how to use it to good effect. But the good news is that, spent wisely, £500-£700 ($750-$1000) will give you a decent starting point which you can upgrade in stages when things take off. And if you do it properly, you’ll have a better-sounding setup than would have cost you £15,000 a few years back. Now that’s progress…

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What a mistake to make…

Posted by MikeCooper on March 14, 2009

I read a great blog post this week at VoiceOverExtra.com by David Goldberg, who’s a producer and voice coach at EdgeStudio in the United States.

In his piece, David talks about the reasons why some voiceover artists don’t get asked back twice and covers everything from basic schoolboy errors in marketing (like not putting your contact details on your demo) to some of the finer points of studio etiquette.

There’s a lot of stuff here which seasoned talents will know, either consciously or otherwise, but you might be surprised at what you hadn’t thought of. If you’re following my articles on getting started in voiceovers, then you owe it to yourself to take a look! Here’s the link.

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