Building a vocal booth on a budget

My Studio Secrets Revealed

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Studio 11 Comments

Almost every week colleagues and clients ask me about my voice-over studio. I’m proud of it and I am always happy to answer questions such as:

  • Did you buy prefab or did you build it yourself?
  • What’s your audio chain?
  • Why did you pick this particular preamp?
  • What audio editing software do you use?

You should know that I don’t consider myself to be an expert on booth-building or gear selection, but years of hands-on experience and the advice from friends like Dan Lenard, George Whittam, Dan Friedman and Mel Allen has given me a pretty good idea of how to spend my dollars wisely.

When it comes to investing in my business, I am guided by a few, simple principles:

  • A professional career requires professional gear.
  • Keep costs down and bring revenue up.
  • If you don’t invest, you can’t grow.
  • Every investment is a calculated risk that should pay for itself many times over.
  • The growth of your business determines and justifies the amount you invest.
  • Every investment must have long-term benefits.
  • Smart spending = smart saving.
  • Learn from the best and don’t reinvent the wheel.

Today I’ll take you on a tour of my studio and I’ll tell you what choices I have made and why. Please keep in mind that what works for me might not work in your situation, but you never know.

When reading the info below as well as the next story about my professional gear, remember this: my voice is for hire but my opinion is not for sale. I did not receive or solicit compensation for featuring the products I am using.

With that out of the way, why not start with the space I spend most of my time in:

The Nethervoice-over Booth

If you take your profession seriously, you need a quiet, dedicated recording space. Period.

Noise pollution is everywhere and it is on the rise! I was sick of having to interrupt my sessions just because my neighbors decided to try out their new leaf blowers and weed wackers.

The most expensive equipment sounds terrible in an untreated, non-isolated room. More and more clients are rightfully demanding recordings free of rumble, hiss and reverberations.

After a year of comparison shopping and studying soundproofing principles, I was ready to create my own recording area. I designed a seven-by-seven foot isolated room in my basement for under $2000, which I helped build with my two bare left hands.

The entire process is documented in a 46-page booklet called “Building a Vocal Booth on a Budget,” and over a hundred colleagues have used my plan or parts of it with great success.

You can buy this guide for $6.99 in my webshop, and I’ve just released a version in ePUB and Mobi format, which means it’s ready for your eBook reader or tablet.

Foam Alone

Once my vocal booth was built, the sounds of the outside world were kept pretty much at bay. However, the acoustics were worse than in my bathroom because the space was not yet treated with dampening materials.

Many companies sell so-called “soundproofing foam” and that’s just ludicrous. Foam does not soundproof a room. It absorbs and diffuses sound waves, which reduces slap and flutter echos.

To tame these echos, I spent $118 on a Small Studio Starter Kit made by Next Acoustics. It contains twelve 2 inch SoundTrax™ panels and 4 CornerBlox™ bass traps. It didn’t only look cool, it immediately absorbed most of the sound waves bouncing up and down the walls and ceiling. But I had more up my sleeve.

Freecycle.org

Freecycle is a worldwide network of people who are giving and getting things for free in their towns. Not junk, but good stuff that would otherwise end up in landfills. I found 10 Sonox acoustic miniPanels on Freecycle, as well as a rug and two bookcases. I also added four huge floor pillows from my attic to reduce even more reverb.

Last but not least, I added some leftover Auralex foam from my old recording space and put it on opposite walls and the ceiling. Yes, it’s a bit of a mishmash, but I think my clients care more about the way my studio sounds than about the way it looks. Listen to the difference:


Remember that the hard surface of a desk or music stand can cause unwanted reflections too. That was certainly the case with my desk which is in part made of glass. Luckily, I found a fleece dog bed that just happened to be a perfect fit.

What about ergonomics?

Ergonomics is the study of designing equipment and devices that fit the human body, its movements, and its cognitive abilities. Because I spend many hours a day in my studio, I wanted to create a healthy set-up for the mind and for the body.

The following question always pops up on various voice-over forums:

“Do you record standing up or sitting down?”

I can honestly answer that question with a resounding “Yes”! You can’t really see it, but I’m sitting on an adjustable kneeling chair. These types of chairs were first developed in the seventies in my neck of the woods: Northern Europe.

The kneeling chair promotes a healthier body posture, allowing your back to straighten. This relieves compression of the spine as well as tension in the lower back and leg muscles.

It also allows the diaphragm to move freely, and this promotes better breathing and blood circulation.

Most people need some time to adapt to this new kneeling position because they’ve been sitting like a sack of potatoes for years. The body has to build up the core muscles in the lower back, but once you have that strength going, you will never want to go back to a regular office chair. It helped me get rid of the pain in my lower back.

Should you decide to invest in a kneeling chair, you’ll discover that there are many poorly made products on the market that barely have any padding. As in voice-overs, you get what you pay for. My kneeling chair came all the way from New Zealand. It arrived within a week and I paid about $450 including shipping.

Preventing RSI

After one particularly long editing session, my right hand, arm and shoulder were protesting loudly and painfully. My neck wasn’t too happy either and my eyes were burning after staring at the monitor for so long. It lasted for a couple of days and it felt like the beginnings of repetitive strain injury.

One of the best ways to prevent that from happening is to move regularly. More and more research is coming out, pointing to the fact that a sedentary lifestyle is dangerous.

I also bought five things that have made my studio life a lot easier.

  • An adjustable, ergonomic arm rest. (available for about $60)
  • A computer monitor arm (about $70) putting the screen at eye level.
  • Anti-glare computer glasses to reduce eyestrain ($25). I’m wearing them in the pictures.
  • An ergonomic mouse and mouse pad

Here’s the disclaimer: if life at the editing desk is getting uncomfortable, it may be wise to talk to your doctor. There might be things going on that go beyond quick fixes and fancy chairs.

See the light

Lighting can affect someone’s mood (that’s why there’s heliotherapy). Personally, I prefer a warmly lit workplace and I’m not a big fan of those bright halogen lamps. They often buzz and that’s a no-no in a studio. Some energy-saving bulbs produce a high-pitched screech.

The one lamp I knew I had to have is a Himalayan salt lamp. Not only does it emit a very soothing light, some people believe that when heated up, the salt crystals actually purify and ionize the air, especially around electronic equipment. True or not, I just love the warm, comforting glow in my studio.

What about gear?

Next time I will show you what type of audio equipment I use to record and monitor my voice-overs with.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice


Hanging Up My Hat

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Journalism & Media 41 Comments

“I will give you my personal prediction on what will implode first: Blogs containing information that serves no one but the writer, and his/her inner circle without fact-checking.”
Steven Lowell

Paul Strikwerda NethervoiceThe dust has finally settled.

Give it a few months, and last week’s discussion will rise out of the ashes and begin a new life somewhere else.

Same topic. Different voices, perhaps.

Steven’s remark about self-serving blogs and bloggers did make me think about my vision for this blog. Believe it or not: I have one, and it goes like this:

The Nethervoice blog is a platform and playground for ideas, dialogue and discourse about things personal and professional related but not limited to voice-overs and freelancing.

That covers pretty much everything, doesn’t it? Now, let me also tell you what it is not.

This blog is not some grand podium built to glorify my personal accomplishments or to sell Mr. Strikwerda’s amazing pipes. Why would anyone want to read about that? Not me!

If you’re interested in the technical side of voice-overs, you have to look elsewhere too. Although I’m fascinated with the tools of the trade, I am not a gearhead or audio specialist. I don’t receive free products from companies, take them out of the box, dangle them in front of a camera and post it as a “review.”

It’s true, I did write a series about building my voice-over booth on a budget, but I did not seek or receive any compensation for mentioning products, manufacturers or stores.

This blog is not a source of fair and unbiased industry news either.

In essence, it is nothing but a blog revolving around one man and his ideas and experiences and a bunch of friends who like to chime in every once in a while. If you’re looking for objective, investigative journalism, you’ve come to the wrong place.

Just like a lot of other stuff you’ll read online or in the papers, my articles are usually a mix of subjective opinion based on personal selection and interpretation of data. If you’d like to fact-check my sources, all you need to do is click on a few links that are embedded in the articles.

Nobody has to agree with anything I write.

My readers are intelligent enough to understand that it would be foolish to generalize my personal stories and turn them into an overall verdict on the issue at hand.

I don’t consider myself to be an authority or expert. My opinion is one of many, and one quick look at Bob Souer’s blog roll will tell you that I’m certainly not the only blogger in this voiceover town. Of course I’m tickled to see that some people seem to care about what I have to say, but that’s as far as it goes.

I strive to inform, I attempt to entertain and yes… I also like to rock the boat every once in a while. As a voiceover professional, it is my job to be outspoken. I don’t feel comfortable standing on the sidelines.

Unlike Steven Lowell, I am not a paid spokesperson for a company. I don’t pretend to proclaim and promote an objective, universal truth. This is my personal platform and I can be as passionate and opinionated as I want. I represent no one but myself.

So, why do I take a day out of every week to write this blog?

The short answer: Because I feel like it.

The moment it becomes just another chore, I will stop and take up billiards or Bingo.

Here’s another reason: I love to write and I think I have something to say that  -at times- is moderately insightful and interesting. At least, that’s what my readers keep on telling me.

As you may know, most of my stories start out as simple Notes to Self. The series about building a voice-over studio is a perfect example.

It took me many months before I was ready to start building my own studio. During that time, I had compiled a wealth of information and I thought it might be useful to share it with you. Now it’s available as a booklet on my shopping page. Sharing is important to me.

Over the years, I have benefited so much from the kindness, knowledge and insights of friends and colleagues. I wouldn’t be where I am today, had it not been for their advice and encouragement. In a way, I am repaying my debt to them by publishing this blog.

Thanks to my writings, I’ve also made countless new friends from all corners of this planet. Many of them won’t publicly comment on my articles, but each and every week they email me with questions and observations.

As far as the future goes, I’m branching out. Most of you already know that I write on all things international for Internet Voice Coach. I also conduct interviews with colleagues across the globe. The Edge Studio asked if I would be their International Marketing Coach and I said “yes.” 

Recently, I started recording three-minute vignettes for the International Freelancers Academy on building your business. There’s also a book on the way.

I’m not telling you this to impress you. Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn if you think this is impressive or not. The fact is, I love my work and I love writing about it.

As long as I still have music in me, I will continue to sing my songs.

And if people think it’s just a bunch of blah-blah, they’ll find other blogs to read, and this one will eventually implode.

Perhaps that wouldn’t be too bad.

It’s always better to end with a bang.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice