The proliferation of video games, animation, podcasts, and audiobooks means actors’ voices are increasingly sought-after, and the ability to record voiceover from home will help nail those gigs. It’s simple to set up a home voiceover studio, and it’s not difficult to transform the quality of sound from passable to great. To figure out how, Backstage asked industry experts to share their tools and tricks for creating perfect sound from home.
Before you even think about gear, find your physical recording space. You don’t need a state-of-the-art recording studio to get great results, but you will need a well-insulated, quiet space that dampens echoes and blocks ambient sound.
If you have a spare room, closet, or shed and a bit of cash to spare, you can create a functioning recording studio by covering the walls with sound-treating foam. There are plenty of options available but eFoam is cost-efficient and industry-recommended. Expect to spend around £300 sound-treating a small room, and ensure it’s properly fastened with a heavy-duty spray adhesive to avoid any gaps. Ensure every inch of wall is covered to maximise the foam’s effect. Alternatively, save up empty egg crates and attach those to the walls: they’ll perform a similar echo-dampening function without having to spend extra money.
If permanently soundproofing a space in your home is not an option, grab some blankets. A duvet or comforter tacked on the walls – or even tented over your head as you hunch over a mic – can work just as well. Bear in mind it’ll get very warm, so this should only be used for recording one-liners or a quick, soundproofed phone-in.
Commercial voiceover artist Michelle O’Callaghan recommends making like your favourite boy wizard: “Indulging your inner Potter and take up residence in the cupboard under your stairs, adding some acoustic foam pyramid tiles, draping a heavy curtain across the door and investing in some noise reduction software like iZotope RX 7 (£102 for the basic option) is a great choice for a budget-conscious actor looking to record from home.” Even professional post-production engineers like this software, with its instant audio repair and the ability to rebalance different sounds and elements within a recording.
If you don’t have a cupboard under the stairs, O’Callaghan recommends trying a wardrobe big enough to sit in, keeping clothes inside for extra sound-dampening. “Soft furnishings are your friends. Cover the floor with rugs, drape a duvet or heavy curtain over the door and maybe even tack up some pillows – and don’t forget the ceiling. None of these methods will soundproof your area but they can help to absorb some of the sound. Basically, we’re doing the best we can with what we have.”
Luke Jameson from Locksmith Animation also recommends using a wardrobe: “Even though the audio we’re recording at home is just temp dialogue, we still need it to sound as good as it possibly can in order to sell the scene and dialogue. If a scene has distracting scratch (temp) dialogue where the actor sounds like they’re in an echo chamber, it can take away from the intention of the scene and the line.... Wooden flooring [or] the size of the room can create bad scratch, which then has to be re-recorded.
“I’ve found that our bedroom, which has carpeted flooring, is the quietest in our house,” he adds. “I use an external mic [examples below] and recording software on my phone on which I can adjust gain and EQ [tone controls] because it’s cost-effective and a simple option to use from home. I place these inside the wardrobe to deaden all surrounding noise and find that gets the best results.”
Once your space is set up, you’ll need to speak into something. If you want passable sound quality, your phone won’t cut it. O’Callaghan’s weapon of choice? The Sennheiser MKH 416 microphone (£730). “Not only is it an industry-standard bit of kit,” she says, “it’s also perfect for environments where your acoustics are less than perfect.”
That said, you don’t have to blow your budget on a mic. According to Jameson, something at the opposite end of the spectrum will work just as well: “If you can’t get your hands on an external mic, just using headphones with a built-in mic will still get good results. Try to record in a carpeted room or covered with a duvet to deaden other sound.”
If you fancy spending a little more, there are other budget-friendly options, says O’Callaghan. “USB mics that plug directly into your computer and require no interface, like Blue Yeti (£96), a plug-and-play USB mic for beginners, or cheaper condenser mics like Rode NT1-A (£166), an affordable solution with good dynamics. You can definitely keep your initial microphone investment under £200. And remember, you can upgrade as you go.”
It’s also important to remember that your microphone is going to pick everything up. We make weird noises when we speak, but they’re so quiet the normal ear can’t necessarily hear them. The sounds come thick and fast when we make “plosive” sounds (when we speak using B’s or P’s), so a pop shield – a mesh circle that covers the microphone – will come in handy. “The sE Electronics range of shields are fantastic,” says Hess. “My sE Electronics Reflexion Filter (£120) is top-of-the-range. It does what it says [it will do]: turns any indoor space into studio quality.”
In addition to recording gear, Duncan Hess, who worked at the BBC as a producer and director for 35 years, says voice actors should also think about how to recognise random and ambient noises. “My most important tip: listen to yourself as you record on good-quality headphones. With my headphones on, I can hear passing planes and trains that I can’t hear with the naked ear. Other intrusive sounds you don’t notice are central heating pumps and [the] hum of a hard drive on a wooden desktop.”
But which headphones to invest in? There are plenty of options, but the Beyerdynamic DT 770 Pro Headphones (£109) are industry-standard and comfortable to wear for long periods.
The style of headphone you get for recording is arguably more important than the brand, says O’Callaghan. “Closed-back headphones are best if you are recording yourself as they minimise any bleed and avoid weird echoes and feedback.”
Connecting your mic will depend on a few factors, most notably the type of microphone you’re working with and the computer you’re using to capture the recording.
If you’re using a USB mic, it’ll plug directly into your computer’s USB port. (MacBook Pro users will need a USB to USB-C (£26) converter.)
Higher-end microphones like the Sennheiser MKH 416 (£739) and the Rode NT1-A (£166) use three-pin XLR connectors. For this reason – and to do their superior sound quality justice – you’ll need a dedicated audio interface and pre-amp, which is essentially a mini mixing desk and audio-to-digital convertor. Again, these can run the gamut from expensive, like the industry-standard Apogee Duet (£700) which provides excellent sound quality (though is aimed at recording music and therefore over-qualified for simple spoken-voice needs), to the more affordable, sub-£100 PreSonus USB 96, which is compact, works with almost any PC or Macbook, and should be more than adequate for voiceover work.
You might just be recording and submitting a raw audio clip, but chances are you’ll be expected to edit it, too. If you are planning to use your iPhone, GarageBand (free) is your friend. It’s easy to edit out chunks of audio, dull background noise and even add sound effects. Hokusai (free) is also a good editor for iPhone, iPad, or Android, allowing you to see which parts of your voice are pitching too high or low, or how much background noise your mic is really picking up.
Recording onto your computer? GarageBand is again a solid and free Mac option. Podcaster fave Audacity is also a good choice (and free) – it’s actually targeted at podcasters but will admirably do the job for voiceovers of all descriptions. Logic Pro (£199) is the go-to programme for music producers but is overqualified for simple voice editing, though it will allow for far more sophisticated audio manipulation, effects and processing, if that’s what you’re looking for. There’s a learning curve that goes with any editing software, though there are plenty of walk-throughs and tutorials on YouTube.
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Check out work-from-home auditions on Backstage.