How Dangerous Is Your Voice-Over Studio?

Ear painVoice-over people are really weird.

Every day they spend a long time sitting in a small, soundproof room, staring at a screen, and talking to themselves.

If they’re good at what they do, they pretend to communicate with an illusive but unresponsive listener.  

Then they spend an eternity listening to themselves as they edit and sweeten the audio.

After hours and hours of sitting on their behinds, these voice-overs emerge out of the darkness, longing for fresh air and an adult beverage.

The next day they do it all over again, because it’s such a glamorous job!

Don’t get me wrong: I enjoy this sequestered lifestyle tremendously, but it took me a few years before I got comfortable in my studio. In order to truly feel at home, happy, and safe in my claustrophobic recording cave, I had to add some items and make some adjustments to make life a lot healthier.

Tip: as is always the case, the text in blue is a link to an article or a product I recommend (links open in a new tab). And yes, as stated under “Disclosure” on the right-hand side of this blog, product links will take you to an online retailer. 

EYE PROTECTION

Let’s talk about CVS. No, I don’t mean the American chain of pharmacies. I’m talking about Computer Vision Syndrome (sometimes called DES: Digital Eye Strain). It’s the strain on the eyes that happens when you use a computer or digital device for prolonged periods of time. Common symptoms are eye fatigue, headaches, blurred vision, red, dry, or burning eyes, and even neck and shoulder pain. 

According to the Vision Council (the optical trade association) if you spend two or more hours in front of a digital screen, you’re likely to experience one or more symptoms of CVS. The blue light emitted from these screens seems to play a big role. Blue light or high-energy visible light, is a particularly intense light wave emitted in the 380-500nm range.

The question is: What can you do to protect your eyes from CVS?

One: Make sure the lighting in your studio is comfortable on the eyes. One way to do that is by using bias lighting (backlighting of a television or computer monitor). 

I’ve placed a simple Himalayan Rock Salt Lamp behind my computer monitor. Not only does it emit a nice warm glow, some people believe a salt lamp generates negative ions neutralizing (bad) positive ions coming from electronic devices.

Noticing the benefits of bias lighting in my studio, I went ahead and attached a strip of LED lights to the back of our television. Not only did the contrast ratio of the HDTV improve, my eye fatigue was practically nonexistent after a night of Netflix.

Two: Another way to prevent eye strain is to reduce glare. It helps to use indirect or reflective studio lighting. Some people attach a blue light blocking screen protector to their computer monitor. I always wear tinted computer glasses with a special lens coating to reduce glare.

Three: Blink more often, and take frequent breaks. Taking five-minute “mini-breaks” throughout the work day actually makes people more productive. During your computer breaks, stand up, move about and stretch your arms, legs, back, neck and shoulders to reduce tension and muscle fatigue.

PREVENTING RSI

Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI) is a potentially disabling illness caused by prolonged repetitive hand movements, such as those involved in computer use. If you’ve just edited your latest audio book, you know what I’m talking about. Symptoms include intermittent shooting pains in the hands, wrists, forearms, and back.

Taking regular breaks is one way to prevent RSI. It helps to sit up straight, and to use a good chair. Don’t be a cheapskate when you buy one. You’ll be using it for many hours a day. For voice-overs it’s important to make sure the chair is quiet. Too many office chairs make squeaky noises that will make a guest appearance on your recordings.

The seat pan of the chair should be adjusted to tilt slightly forward to encourage a good posture when seated. Your forearms should be approximately horizontal when working, with your shoulders and upper arms relaxed. The seat height should be adjusted accordingly. I’ve also added a lumbar support pillow for extra comfort.

Many people develop RSI in their mouse hand. I use a gel wrist pad to keep my right wrist in a better position while using the mouse. I’ve also invested in an elbow rest (here’s another model) which has helped me tremendously.

It does make a difference what kind of mouse you use. I recommend choosing an ergonomic mouse with a track ball. It’s much easier to quickly move the cursor around, and there’s less strain on the hand. Some colleagues have switched to a track pad and are glad they did. 

By the way, did I tell you that I use two mice when editing my audio with Twisted Wave? The left-hand mouse moves the cursor on the screen, and the right-hand mouse highlights areas and makes the cuts. I used to use the Contour ShuttlePro V.2 for my left hand. It’s a neat, mouse-like controller with programmable buttons. However, using two mice and keyboard shortcuts works just as well for me.

BE KIND TO YOUR EARS

I absolutely adore my fluffy Beyerdynamic DT 880 studio headphones. They’re so comfortable, I don’t even notice that I’m wearing them… for hours in a row. And that’s not a good thing. When I do precision editing, I tend to turn the volume up to hear all the sonic details, and that can be risky.

Here’s the troubling thing: hearing loss is pretty sneaky. It’s usually something that happens gradually. How do you even notice your hearing isn’t as good as it used to be? Well, we have an app for that. Several to be precise. 

For Apple users there’s UHear and the Mimi Hearing Test. For Android users there’s the Hearing Test or the app Test Your Hearing (among other things). Click here to take an online hearing test. 

How can hearing loss be prevented?

For starters, I began using my Eris E5 studio monitors more and more. They usually provide enough clarity and detail for me to edit my audio. I also turned the smart phone volume down to a safer level (go to your settings and drop the volume limit to about 70%).

When I work out in the gym I prefer wearing earbuds. I have replaced the regular tips with memory foam tips that keep the earphones much better in place. They also block out the noise more effectively. That way I don’t have to turn my podcasts up so much. 

When I go to the movies, concerts, or shows, I always bring my Made in Holland Alpine Hearing Protection Earplugs. They’re on my key chain, so I don’t have to remember to take them with me.

Now, there are more things in your studio that are potentially dangerous. For instance, some people don’t respond well to the gases emitted by acoustic foam. Some get headaches or have trouble breathing. Switching to panels made of natural materials is one obvious solution. I could also have talked about vocal health in this overview of studio hazards. However, I’ve already covered that in my interview with vocal coach Elissa Weinzimmer

Let me leave you with one last thought.

TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF

The issues I described in this post aren’t exactly sexy. In the voice-over community we’d much rather talk about gear, or about declining standards and rates. The thing is: most colleagues don’t even realize they are putting their health at risk when they are entering their home studio and office.

Computer Vision Syndrome, Repetitive Strain Injury, and hearing loss are slow processes that -when ignored- can cause permanent damage. They’re not unique to the voice-over world. Adults spend 8+ hours staring at screens every day. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), RSI affects some 1.8 million workers per year. Hearing loss among teens is about 30 percent higher than in the eighties and nineties.

The good news is that all of these problems can be prevented. So, the next time you’re looking to invest in your studio, perhaps you don’t need that new microphone or preamp. Perhaps you should get yourself a good chair, a nice pair of computer glasses, a salt lamp, and new monitors.

Take my advice and don’t wait until it’s too late. If you’re having any of the symptoms I’ve described, or you’re experiencing other problems, go and see your doctor. After all, this is just a blog and I’m not a medical professional.

If you have any other tips that have made your time in the studio less risky and more comfortable, please share them in the comment section below, and share this blog post with your friends and colleagues.

Thank you!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet.Please retweet!

About the author

Paul Strikwerda

is a Dutch-English voice-over pro, coach, and writer. His blog is one of the most widely read and influential blogs in the industry. Paul is also the author of "Making Money In Your PJs, Freelancing for voice-overs and other solopreneurs." goo.gl/ihVpMc

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Gear, Studio

27 Responses to How Dangerous Is Your Voice-Over Studio?

  1. Julio and Tamra Rivera

    Hi Paul!

    I just setup my standing desk so that I am not sitting all day. They say sitting is the new smoking, so I try to stand at least 40% of the time and stretch my legs and feet to keep my blood flowing.

    Thanks for another helpful post.

    Warmest Regards!

    Julio

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Thanks for standing up for a healthy lifestyle. Keep the blood flowing to where it’s needed!

    [Reply]

  2. Lee Ann Howlett

    Thanks for the info and tips, Paul! Eye strain is sometimes a problem for me so I’m really on the same page regarding back lighting.

    [Reply]

  3. jay beacham

    Thank you.
    Very good reminders.
    I’m going to follow your advice.
    Jay

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    You’re welcome, Jay. I’m glad you like my pointers.

    [Reply]

  4. Rob Novak

    I kick myself everytime I see a good deal on Gunnars and don’t take advantage of it. Like we’re not going to be staring at computer screens for the rest of our lives? Didn’t you used to use a kneeling chair? I recall you mentioning one in a blog, possible long ago. Thanks for the reminders Paul!

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    The Gunnars tend to go on sale at http://www.woot.com every now and then. Just keep an eye out for the deals. You are right about the kneeling chair. I had one for many years and loved it, until the wheels fell off. Literally. The manufacturer had no intention of replacing them, so I didn’t feel confident buying from them again. My current desk chair is more traditional, but since I also watch movies and listen to music in this chair, I enjoy the fact that it can recline.

    [Reply]

    Rob Novak Reply:

    Yes! Woot is where I always see them. I really want the fluorescent green ones, but I probably shouldn’t be too picky. Do you also follow the 20/20/20 rule? After 20 minutes of work, stare at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds? I know we work in confined spaces so we may not always have something 20 feet away, but could be modified for your space.

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  5. George Whittam

    And here all along I thought the article was going to be about the toxic materials in the booths and acoustics from which they are constructed! But you came up with so many good points; very well thought out, and something every voice actress definitely read.

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Thank you George. Can I say that you inspired me to think about my studio in ways I never did before? It’s true and I want to thank you for that!

    [Reply]

  6. Rick Lance

    Thanks Paul… good idea to put together this comprehensive, practical list of studio provisions.
    Some things I practice already and others I’ll look into.

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Glad you liked it. It took me a while to get to where I’m now, because this is stuff they don’t teach you in voice-over school.

    [Reply]

  7. Zach Meissner

    Most excellent post Paul!! As both a video editor and voice artist, working late at night is inevitable and a fantastic piece of software that I’ve found invaluable for combating eye fatigue is called F.Lux It automatically changes the color temperature on your monitor as the sun sets, or you can change it manually as well. I can’t work without it now.

    Here’s the link, it’s free!
    https://justgetflux.com/

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Is that the same software Apple built into their new iPhones? I want to try it out! Thank you so much for the tip and the link.

    [Reply]

    Zach Meissner Reply:

    Yep, it’s the same idea, changing the panel’s color temperature for less eye strain/blue light. Give it a try! Your eyes will thank you 🙂

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    I’ve installed it and it is working like a charm. My eyes are very happy right now!

  8. Keith Michaels

    Thanks Paul. You just made me spend $100! lol…but good investments. Thanks for the tips, especially the arm rest.

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Oh no… what did I do? Your body will thank you!

    [Reply]

  9. Kevin Scheuller

    Another great blog, Paul. I need my, quite pricey no-line bifocals. Since I always get the anti-glare coating on my lenses, should that cover me for computer screens?

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    I’m not an optometrist, but it’s not just the glare you need to be aware of. It’s that blue light that has to be filtered out. That’s why computer glasses have a special coating that makes the lenses look slightly orange or yellow.

    [Reply]

  10. Brent Abdulla

    Excellent blog Paul! Thank you. The two mouse idea is great. What a coincidence, I have a wonderful Himalayan Salt Lamp in the booth also. I love it. I also sometimes smudge the booth and studio room with some sage.

    Peace out,

    Brent

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    That’s sage advice, Brent. I have a handful of coffee beans on a saucer. Every morning I walk into my studio I’m greeted by the aroma of freshly roasted beans.

    [Reply]

  11. Kent Ingram

    Very solid advice, Paul! I remember how my hands and eyes took a beating, when I was a graphic artist, back in the day!

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Are you still feeling the effects? Did you need therapy?

    [Reply]

    Kent Ingram Reply:

    No, once I retired from the Yellow Pages, I did far less computer work and I recovered from the worst of that stuff. Doing voice-overs wasn’t nearly the strain that I had building Yellow Pages ads. The podcasts were tough to do, engineering-wise, but I haven’t been back to that since last year. If I feel the effects, nowadays, I get up from the computer and do something else for awhile. If there are any lingering, long-term effects, I’m not aware of them.

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Getting out of the chair and moving around is the easiest way to feel better instantly. But sometimes I’m just so caught up in what I’m doing that I don’t notice how much time has passed. Some people use apps that remind them when it’s time to take a break. Perhaps I should look into that!

    Kent Ingram Reply:

    That’s the other side of the coin, for sure! When my vision gets blurry or goes in and out, I take that as a warning to set everything aside and get up and move around. I’d say, if there are apps out there to remind one to get up and get away from the computer, use them. The alternative isn’t an option, right?

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