Americans like a lot of things, but what is this nation’s favorite pastime? Is it baseball, football, NASCAR, or binge-watching Netflix? Not exactly. It’s…..
It’s one of those things I learned quickly when I entered this country as an immigrant. When America has something to celebrate, people flock to the stores.
When they wish to honor their veterans, they go shopping.
When they wish to remember those who died on the battlefield, they go shopping.
When they wish to celebrate their independence, they go shopping.
When they wish to observe Thanksgiving, Americans shop until they drop.
So, with Black Friday and the holidays around the corner, I want to talk to those of you who feel the uncontrollable urge to do some gear shopping. In fact, one of my new readers emailed me this week and said:
“I am seriously thinking about becoming a voice-over. I am starting from scratch, and if you were me, what equipment would you buy, knowing you have a limited budget?”
Here’s my response.
We don’t know one another, but I’ll assume that you have talent, training, time, and energy to pursue this career. If you’re just exploring options, I wouldn’t make a considerable investment. But if you’re really committed, I recommend you forget about the equipment for now, and focus on your recording space. A hundred-dollar microphone is going to sound better when used in a dedicated recording space, than a thousand-dollar microphone in an untreated, non-isolated space.
Now, there are plenty of manufacturers that are offering “easy solutions” to turn any room into a vocal booth. Remember this. You can buy all the eyeballs and acoustic shields you want, but they will never adequately isolate your microphone from annoying leaf blowers, barking pitbulls, and heavy traffic.
There are at least three proven ways to stop or reduce the transmission of sound:
• Adding mass: the heavier and thicker a wall, the better the isolation.
• Adding dampening material: absorptive material within a wall slows down the transfer of sound.
• Adding space: the further away from the sound you are, the weaker it will be.
Adding air space within a wall also helps decrease those ambient decibels.
So, take a good look at your designated recording space and at your finances, and spend at least sixty to seventy percent of your budget on your recording space. Without a quiet home studio, you won’t have the freedom to record whenever your client needs you to record, and you cannot deliver professional quality audio. Ergo: you won’t be able to compete.
THE GEAR YOU NEED
Here’s the good news: while soundproofing and acoustic treatment of a space is never cheap, getting decent gear to record with does not have to break the bank. I take it you already own a decent computer and a good monitor, so all you need is:
– a microphone, shock mount, and pop filter
– a microphone cable
– a boom arm
– an audio interface
– monitors (speakers)
– recording/editing software
Before I give you my recommendations, please realize that the options are endless and the sky is the limit. When talking about gear, some people get on their slippery soap box telling you about must-haves and industry standards. Don’t let them intimidate or belittle you! You don’t need to spend a fortune to produce quality audio.
I’ve only picked equipment that:
– is mostly budget-friendly
– is good for voice-over applications
– has been tested by people I trust
– has had very good reviews
My choice of a starter microphone is the Rode NT1 Condenser. For well under three hundred dollars, Rode even includes a first-rate Rycote shock mount and a pop filter. This microphone works well for most voices, and during shootouts, it holds its own against models that cost three times as much.
The Rode NT1 has a cardioid pickup pattern, but if you’d rather go with a tighter supercardioid pattern, I suggest you look into the Rode NTG4 shotgun microphone. For a little over three hundred dollars, you get a mic with a 75 Hz high pass filter which is useful for reducing low-frequency rumble from HVAC systems indoors or street traffic.
For a shootout featuring the Rode NT1 and the NTG4, listen to the Pro Audio Suite podcast by clicking here.
CABLES & BOOM
Quite a few audiophiles have heated debates about cables. Some believe it doesn’t matter which cables you use because most people won’t hear the difference between a ten-dollar cable and one that sets you back several hundred dollars. I’ve worked in radio for twenty-five years of my life, and sound engineers have assured me that a quality cable does make a difference. A six-foot Mogami GOLD STUDIO-06 XLR Microphone Cable should do the trick.
As long as you’re not in the habit of pounding on your desk, I recommend getting the Blue Compass Premium Tube-Style Broadcast Boom Arm. What I like about this arm is the minimalistic design with internal springs and hidden channel cable management. It’s compatible with all standard shock mounts, and costs about one hundred dollars.
So why would you need an audio interface? Well, an audio interface is the hardware that connects your microphone and other audio gear to your computer. A typical audio interface converts analog signals into digital audio information that your computer can process. If I were starting out as a voice-over, I’d choose the Audient iD4.
I’ve reviewed its bigger brother the iD22 and it’s the interface I still use in my studio. The portable but sturdy iD4 has the same stellar and super clean preamp that will give you a low noise floor. It works with both Macs and PC’s, and for two hundred bucks it’s a no-brainer.
Update: my iD22 is out for a check-up, and I bought the iD4 to tie me over. The only thing I miss is having a high-pass filter, but otherwise I’m very impressed with this very portable preamp. It’s a keeper!
Next on the list are studio headphones. Not all heads are shaped the same, and what might be a good fit for my impressive noggin, may not work for you. Over the years I’ve tried Sony cans, Audio Technica, and Sennheiser. I finally found a pair I can wear for hours. It’s the Beyerdynamic DT 880 Premium Edition 250 Ohm Over-Ear-Stereo Headphones.
Even though they look huge and bulky, they’re extremely light and comfortable, and come with a straight cord instead of a coiled cable. I hate coiled cables because they add weight and always seem to wrap around things. You will be able to find cheaper headphones than these semi-open Beyerdynamics, but not ones that hug your ears like teddy bears.
STUDIO SPEAKERS & SOFTWARE
Last on my hardware list is a set of studio monitors. At less than one hundred dollars per speaker, the Presonus Eris E5 ticks all the right boxes. Click here for my story on monitor selection. My Nethervoice studio monitors rest at ear height on speaker stands like these. You’ll also need two XLR Female to 1/4-Inch TRS Male Cables like these from Monoprice.
And what about recording software?
Well, there you have it. For less than a thousand bucks you’re all set!
Now, do your duty as a patriotic American, and go shopping!
Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice
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