With so many people having access to quality recording equipment simply by owning a smartphone or computer, making your own music, videos, and podcasts is much easier — and cheaper — than it’s ever been. Even turning your bedroom into a personal recording studio is possible on a low budget, and better yet, you can get a pretty professional sound out of it too!
Here’s our guide on the basic ingredients for home recording.
What You Need to Get Started
These days almost all home recording is done through a computer, either laptop or PC. While you can still find analog recorders like the Tascam DP 006, recording with a computer has become easy and intuitive enough that you can get high quality sound with little to no experience in engineering or mixing.
So the first thing you need to do is get yourself a nice computer or laptop.
Some system specs to look for are:
- At least 8GB of RAM
- 500GB of hard drive space
- A reasonably fast processor (i5 or better).
Also note that if you want to use a lightning bolt connection, only Macs are equipped with this port. Lightning bolt is a faster connection than USB 2.0 or 3.0 and can provide a lot less latency (delay between the signal going in and the signal coming out).
Lightning bolt interfaces, however, tend to be more expensive than USB interfaces. Keep in mind that latency is not a big issue for simple voice recordings; it becomes more of a problem when using a lot of plug-ins and effects that suck up your CPUs processing power. You don’t need to go paying the price for lightning bolt connections if all you plan on doing is creating voiceover demos.
What is an Audio Interface AKA Analog to Digital Converter?
An audio interface can serve many different functions. It’s most basic function is to convert the analog, acoustic sound from your mic, guitar or other instrument you have connected to it, into digital information (0’s and 1’s).
If you ever see AD/DA converter, just think audio interface. The interface also acts as an external sound card for your computer, meaning it takes whatever sound you play from your computer, and sends it out to your monitors connected to the back of the interface usually with RCA, TRS, or XLR connectors.
The other important function of most audio interfaces is the mic-pre. Microphone preamps are what give power to condenser and ribbon microphones that need external power in order to be heard.
If you bought a condenser mic and hooked it into your interface with a brand new XLR cable but didn’t hear anything, try looking for a +48V button, also known as “phantom power.” This will activate the built-in pre amp and send an electrical current into your condenser microphone so you can hear it in all its glory.
The Challenging Job of Microphones
Coming in all different shapes and sizes, a microphone’s task is not as simple as people may think. Consider how many voices you hear throughout a given day. How many of them are going through a microphone? Any voice on TV, Youtube, music, radio, or through a cell phone, has been filtered through some kind of microphone.
There are probably a lot of people whose voice you have only ever heard through a microphone. Not to mention, any time you watch a movie, TV show, or sports game, every single sound you hear is going through a microphone, and intentionally placed for you to hear.
Pay attention the next time you watch a live basketball game on TV; you will hear the squeak of the player’s shoes, the rumble of the crowd speaking, all underneath the broadcaster’s pleasing baritone. Remember, someone is sitting in a booth “orchestrating” the feeling of being at the game for the viewer at home: It’s one of those obvious things you might not think about if you’re not sound geeks like us.
Without getting too technical, a microphone’s job is to take the frequencies transmitted through the air waves around it and transform those frequencies into electrical current via a transducer. This is a monumentally tough job considering how many millions of subtleties there are to sound waves and their harmonic, tonal characteristics. This is what gives us so many hundreds of brands, models, and designs for microphones: because no two microphones will reproduce a sound exactly the same way.
So what mic then is good for voiceovers? Well, there are several models that have become staples of podcasters and broadcasters alike. Shure’s SM7B is one you might notice Marc Maron using for his WTF podcast. Electro-Voice’s RE20 is another you’ve likely seen sports broadcasters using on air.
These are both dynamic mics, meaning you don’t have to worry about using a mic-pre because they do not need external power. However, you should experiment and try large-diaphragm condenser mics like Audio Technica’s AT4040 or AKG’s C214. These types of mics are very sensitive and excel at picking up a large range of frequencies at the same time.
A quick word about USB microphones: A USB microphone has a built-in audio interface meaning you can plug the mic directly into the USB port on your computer and begin recording. The advantage here is that you can set it up really quickly and take it with you to record on the fly with your laptop.
The disadvantage to USB mics is that they are essentially doing two jobs at once, and thus not doing either job exceptionally well. It’s better to have two separate people who are experts at their individual tasks, rather than one person who is okay at doing both tasks.
Pro Tip: Make sure you engage the +48V button AFTER your microphone is connected via an XLR cable and disengaged BEFORE you disconnect the XLR cable. Because of the flow of electrical current happening through the wire, you could risk damaging the diaphragm of the mic if you remove the current while the cable is still hot.
What is the Best Way to Listen to My Recording?
Monitors, or speakers, like microphones, come in a variety of shapes, sizes, functions and prices. Equally as important (and complex) as a microphone’s conversion of acoustic energy into electrical energy, the monitor does the opposite: converts the electrical energy back into acoustic. Because of the million variations that are possible with sound waves and human hearing, you get what can seem like millions of options for studio or home reference monitors.
Lots of companies have entry level monitors that work perfectly well for the bedroom studio, giving you a good flat response without taking up too much space. JBL, Yamaha, KRK and Samson all make affordable studio monitors for mixing at home. For voiceover recording, look into the Yamaha HS5’s, as they have a really nice high end output for hearing the upper register of the human voice.
An important thing to remember about monitors is that they are not necessarily about what sounds best, rather they are about what sounds best across multiple speakers. A good mix will sound good in a car, on laptop speakers and in a club. Learning how to do that is tricky and learning the particular biases of your monitors are also essential to mixing properly.
History Lesson: The Yamaha NS-10’s are a legendary pair of passive studio monitors used in many pro studios throughout the 80’s and 90’s. These monitors were not renowned for their amazing sound, rather they were known for how good a mix would sound everywhere else if your mix sounded good on the NS-10’s.
Finding ‘Your’ DAW (Digital Audio Workstation)
Digital Audio Workstations are software programs used for digital mixing and recording. Free applications like Reaper, Audacity and Garage Band are good introductions to the basics of DAWs and can serve perfectly well if all you need is a place to record your voice. You do not need to pay the hefty $699 for Pro Tools 11 if all you’re doing is some voice tracking or looping.
Most companies offer different tiers of DAW packages if you are interested in buying more than just the basic model. Usually, as they tier up they offer more functionality in terms of built-in effects and digital instruments. For example Ableton offers Intro, Standard and Suite editions of their Live 9 program.
There are also free or lite versions of most DAWs so you can experiment with different ones and see which ones you feel most comfortable with. Cubase, Sonar, Studio One, FL Studio and Ableton Live all have demo versions available with limited functionality. There is no ‘wrong’ DAW to use; it all comes down to your personal workflow and what you are comfortable using.
Headphones Are a ‘Magnifying Glass’ for Sound
Think of headphones like a magnifying glass for audio, allowing you to hear “up-close” all the sounds and subtle things your ear might not pick up with monitors. Most mixing should be done on monitors because they transmit the sound through the air and will be closer to how most people will be listening.
Choosing a good pair of headphones that will last a long time, provide consistent tone, and fit snug and comfortably without causing fatigue can be difficult. Going to different audio retailers to find the ones that are most comfortable is essential.
For recording, it’s important to buy closed back headphones so that any sound or click track going into the headphones doesn’t accidentally “bleed” into the microphone. Bleed is when sound from one source unintentionally gets recorded through a microphone. If the person wearing headphones needs to hear a metronome, you don’t want that ticking of your metronome to bleed onto your vocal track.
Trust What People Say
Keep in mind what your goals are and what your budget is. There is no need to overspend on a product that you don’t plan on using to the full extent of its abilities. Much of what goes into pricing revolves around features, not sound quality.
Also try not to get hit with “option paralysis.” You can easily get bogged down worrying about what is the absolute best item: just go by these key 3 things:
- What are customer reviews saying?
- Is it a trusted brand name?
- What do audio professionals recommend?
Follow these guidelines and you should be on your way to owning a quality home recording studio!
Once you have your studio all set up and your demos recorded, register with the Accredited Language voiceover roster and start booking jobs in no time!