Want a professional home studio? Awesome, that’ll be $10k. What?!? You DON’T have $10k in your wallet? Hmm. Well, I guess we’ll have to get creative…
Seriously, guys – professional sounding booths DON’T have to break the bank! As a matter of fact, both Anne and Gabby have built their own booths!
Pure DIY greatness and here’s the kicker – no one can tell! In this episode, these ladies let you in on their bargain finding secrets, break down how they set up their studios and what they think the BIGGEST truth about home recording is.
Quick Concepts from Today’s Episode:
You don’t have to pay a ton of money to get a great performing booth, there is a ton you can DIY.
You can get used equipment from a pawn shop, just make sure they have a return policy if the mic doesn’t work for you.
You have to invest some money. Get a decent starting mic and upgrade your equipment as you get more money.
The best mic won’t matter unless you have sound dampening.
To have good sound dampening, you need to make sure there are no flat surfaces for the sound to bounce off.
You can google ideas and plans for budget friendly DIY booths that you can make at home with power tools.
Share ideas with your own network ++
Referenced in this Episode
Direct links to things we brought up ++
The Rode Nt1 is a good starter mic!
Save money on a Mac by going for refurbished
Full Episode Transcript
VO: Today’s voiceover talent is more than just a pretty voice. Today’s voiceover talent has to be a boss. A VO B.O.S.S. Set yourself up with business owners strategies and success, with your host Anne Ganguzza, along with some of the strongest voices in our industry. Rock your business like a boss. A VO B.O.S.S.
Anne: Hey everybody. Welcome to the VO B.O.S.S. Business Owner Strategies & Success podcast. I’m Anne Ganguzza along with my lovely wonderful co-host, Gabby Nistico.
Anne: And today’s episode, guess what we’re talking about, Gabby?
Anne: It’s going to be the secret. No. The truth.
Gabby: Oh no!
Anne: The truth abouthome studios.
Gabby: Home studios. I love it.
Anne: The truth about home studios.
Gabby: Oh man. Alright.
Anne: Gabby, is there a truth or are there multiple truths?
Gabby: I’m going to strap in for this one, kiddies. I mean, I do believe there are multiple truths, absolutely.
Anne: But what’s the biggest truth?
Gabby: The biggest truth. Okay, so…
Anne: If I can say what I think the biggest truth about home studios is…
Gabby: I… Oh man, go ahead, go ahead.
Anne: You don’t have to pay a ton of money to get a great performing booth.
Gabby: Amen. Amen to that.
Anne: Acoustic space.
Gabby: Here’s the deal. And I mean again, we see this a lot. We see the stress and we see the anxiety.
Anne: Tears. Tears. I had tears, Gabby, when I first started.
Gabby: And also I see a lot of what I call dumbassery. I’m sorry, guys. I mean, here’s, okay…
Anne: As opposed to be badassery, because VO bosses are badass. So let’s make, let’s go from dumbassery to badassery.
Gabby: Absolutely. That is the goal. So, the truth about home recording really comes down to this. There’s a lot of things that you can DIY, and we’re going to talk about those in this podcast. And there are a lot of things that you can save money on simply by being smart. And also, and this is probably I think the most important, if it works it works, regardless of whatever anyone else has to say or what their viewpoint or other thoughts are. Sound quality is a non-disputable thing. It’s either good or it isn’t. So when we focus on objective information, all the subjective stuff, like aesthetics no longer matters.
Anne: Well, and if I can just populate that a little bit with your equipment is not necessarily what’s going to make you sound better. Better equipment, more money you pay for the equipment may not necessarily make you sound better, I think it’s the treatment.
Gabby: Yeah. So let’s start with some basics on this. Let’s talk about the actual equipment stuff. I’m not going to get super technical in this episode, because it’s not about that. This is understanding that while, no, you can’t cut major corners here, and you can’t buy cheap crappy equipment and think that good things are going to happen. This is about understanding that there’s decent and the minimum requirement and then there’s extravagant. Okay? And you have to start your studio venture in this process of recording with an understanding of how much you can afford to invest based on what you make in voiceover. If you make nothing in voiceover currently then you cannot justify the extravagant purchases and items. You save those for later. In the course of my voiceover journey I’ve had five different microphones, I have had a half dozen different interfaces. I have had so many computers, I’ve lost count.
Anne: Yeah. I’m about par for the course there with you, Gabby. I’ve got five different mics myself, a few different interfaces. You’re right. Boy, I worked with a really non-expensive, inexpensive microphone and not an extravagant one for about six years and it worked flawlessly for me.
Gabby: You will slowly but surely evolve and invest in better equipment when you can justify the investment. So, assuming that you are sticking with some basic minimums and understanding that a Rode NT1A microphone or Rode NT1 is a couple hundred bucks and a decent investment–
Anne: That was my mic.
Gabby: Yeah. A good beginner mic.
Anne: That’s mine, six years.
Gabby: You can totally do that. The other thing I say about equipment purchases is this. Buying brand new is great because things do come with warranties. However, when we talk about smarts and we talk about what’s necessary for starting out… Let’s be honest, okay. eBay is awesome. You can find some smoking great deals on used audio equipment. Sam Ash and Guitar Center both have used gear departments and their used gear carries a warranty, and you can find smoking good deals that way.
Anne: And I’m going to say not just microphones but all equipment that you’re using. Even computers, like refurbished Apple computers. Because if you buy AppleCare and the warranty, you’re good as gold.
Gabby: Yeah. I personally I’m a PC girl and that’s part of the reason why, it’s budget consciousness. It’s not…
Anne: And I’m an Apple girl. I just need to say that. Gabby, you’re a PC girl and I’m an Apple girl. We’re both good at each other.
Gabby: Yeah. It’s totally fine. We live in harmony. See, it’s totally fine. And our recordings both sound great. So, who cares?
Anne: Yes, they do. And we can get good deals on our computer equipment.
Gabby: Oh my gosh! I’ll tell you guys this. Things like headphones, I almost never buy brand new headphones because I will tell you one of my best secrets for buying really great equipment at awesome prices. And sometimes I get like, I’m waiting for the corkscrew face is what I call it, when people scringe their face up like a corkscrew. Pawnshops. Pawnshops. I am not somebody who on any normal given day drives down the road and sees a pawn store and goes, “Oh, let’s go shopping.” No, that’s not me. But, pawnshops have an incredible amounts of equipment and gear, and where does it come from? Musicians, bands, DJ’s, all kinds of folks from all kinds of walks of life and I’m going to tell you something, everything from fantastic condenser microphones, to headphones, to interfaces, can be found for amazing prices. So pawnshops do at least carry most of them a 30 to 90 day warranty. So you take it home, you hook it up, if it doesn’t work you bring it back.
Anne: I love that. Gabby, but my corkscrew face needs to ask. Do you change the ear… If you’re buying headphones, are you changing out the pads?
Gabby: I feel like condition is pretty easy thing to assess on something like that. I’m not going to buy like a grody pair of headphones. That being said, okay. When you work in a public radio station and you don’t have your own headphones, you’re constantly sharing, so I’m going to tell you right now there’s not alcohol and Purell can’t kill.
Anne: Excellent point. That’s exactly what I was going for. What would you do… Yeah, alcohol and Purell. I love it.
Gabby: Totally. Which is really the same thing. Purell is just alcohol in gel form.
Gabby: For some reason it makes people more secure, I don’t know.
Anne: Well, and I want to add on too. Like, the pawnshops, I wouldn’t actually not have… You know what, I don’t see many pawnshops near me, but, in my area, but I love the idea that you brought that up, there’s also Facebook forums that people in the industry are selling their old equipment. You can get great deals on that.
Anne: You don’t have to buy new.
Gabby: No. And if you’re not in an area where you see a lot of pawnshops, just look them up. I’m telling you, they’re near you. They’re probably in a part of town you don’t go to or visit very often. Go during the day, but bring a buddy. But I’m telling you, it’s where to find like amazing, amazing stuff. So that’s one or a handful of options and solutions and ways to buy your equipment a little bit smarter than the average bear. Because the thing about equipment that I want you guys to keep in mind is, it is some ways like buying a car. I don’t buy new cars, I buy used cars. Why am I going to take a depreciation hit, let somebody else do it. I would much rather have a certified Honda off the lot. Used Honda from Honda that comes with a certified warranty and I don’t take a depreciation on. So, yeah, I have an easier time getting out of that loan, selling that car later if I want to. Same thing with equipment.
Anne: Well, let’s talk now, now that we’ve talked about equipment. Now let’s just say if you wanted… Well even if you wanted to buy new, let’s say a relatively inexpensive microphone, it’s not horrendous. However, let’s talk about the money that I know people have been spending on these booths should I say. I personally have a DIY booth that I built, which I absolutely love, and I’ve had multiple audio engineers tell me that it is some of the best sound that they’ve heard come out of a booth. And they’ve been all over the place listening to other voice talent’s environments. And so, you can buy these booths for kind of an extravagant amount of money. And I’m going to say that if you don’t want to build it yourself and you’re just going for the convenience, you’re still got to put it together, number one. Usually the shipping on these booths are prohibitive. It’s just out of control.
Gabby: The whole this is prohibitive. If anybody out there got it.
Anne: Well, I was going to say. And not only are they prohibitive because they’re a big huge monstrosities, or even if they’re the size of a phone booth, they’re still heavy. And your shipping cost are going to be incredible, unless you’re buying a used one of those. You also, for a lot of those booths you have to actually treat the inside. So it’s not unlike, you could go and buy some PVC piping and hang blankets, there’s all sorts of different ideas. I have a very crafty father who went to Home Depot and built my booth, and we did it from scratch, and it’s an amazing thing and it costs a third. Maybe a third of what these other booths costs.
Gabby: So everybody is going to put their construction hat on and we’re going to talk about how this works, because it’s pretty simple. If you’ve looked at the cost of pre-fabricated or modular studios. Don’t get me wrong, guys. They look amazing.
Anne: They do.
Gabby: Aesthetically very pleasing, alright? But, you’ve probably seen price tags that range, and this is all inclusive with shipping, with the acoustic treatment, five to 10,000 dollars. It is absurd. Now, here’s the reality, and, Anne, I’m right there with you. My booth is a DIY and I have the same scenario. I have had my booth assessed by some of the most reputable techies in voiceover and have literally been told, “Oh my God, it’s phenomenal. “Whatever you’re doing, keep doing it.” And I kind of giggle quietly in the background, because if they only knew how it was put together. So here’s the thing. If you have some use of power tools, if you know and understand how to use basic power tools and you’re not afraid of Home Depot, then–
Anne: Or if you have a friend that knows how to use power tools.
Gabby: Yeah. You’re going to go ahead and–
Anne: Or a father.
Gabby: Yeah. Or friends, yeah, whatever, a family member. You’re going to build some… Or cousin Vinny.
Gabby: You’re going to build some basic plans, and you’re basically constructing a closet with a specialized door. And if you want to get fancy, you do a double wall construction with two sets of insulation. By which basically means you’re building an exterior set of walls and then you’re building another set of walls inside of that. So you’re double insulating.
Anne: And then you’re treating those walls on the inside.
Gabby: Correct. And in some cases the outside too, depending on your space. Now, the great thing about DIY, and by the way, if you don’t have that knowledge you can hire a contractor to do this job, still for like a quarter of what it costs to build a modular booth. It’s totally doable. They frame out a space and they wall it. It’s not that hard. Now, in terms of your soundproofing, please understand or sound absorption. I hate soundproofing. By the way guys, soundproofing doesn’t exist. Soundproofing is NASA stuff, and the only way you get soundproofed is if you’re in an airlock. Well, guess what? No air, no voice actor, we die.
Anne: I love that you said that. And I want to just bring in to the point that when you go to a studio they still have signs that say, “Recording in process.” It’s not like you can run up and down the hallways and scream. Unless exactly, unless you’re underground. Actually before, Gabby, you get in to the actual talking of the booth, I want to just back up just a moment and point out that before I had a booth I had a closet, and there are principles of sound to make it sound good that you kind of need to have a basic understanding in terms of, if you have a microphone you need to have material that is above, behind, to the left, to the right, behind you that is absorbing the sound wave that are coming out of your mouth and reflection. So you could actually be in a walk-in closet like many people I know that start off with that. With clothes and it can sound very, very decent. And for most people that’s what they start off with and they evolve into a booth.
Gabby: And that’s just it. You kind of learn as you go. But, yes, the basic principle is sound moves and anything that is reflective in surface will allow sound to bounce. So the goal is to basically stop the sound from being able to reflect or bounce off of surfaces. So the answer to that is foamy and squishy.
Gabby: Anything soft… Seriously, I’m dumbing this down as much as I can. Anything soft, anything squishy is going to stop it and absorb it. Hence, why we call it sound absorption. A lot of voice actors start off in a closet or a walk-in closet. And one of my favorite voice actors is in L.A., Tasia Valenza, she literally on her website has pictures of her in the closet recording. It’s adorable.
Anne: Absolutely. Just Google sound… Google voiceover studio and–
Gabby: Voice actors in their closet.
Anne: Exactly. And you’re going to find that, you’re going to find pillow forts because as glamorous as it is, or we like to think that it is. When voiceover people go traveling and they have a hotel room, they are faced with creating an environment that is going to make their auditions or their gigs sound good. And so there’s all sorts of contraptions that you can use, as long as you understand that principle of being able to absorb the sound and not have reflective surfaces. You can have like a walk-in closet and be okay as long as you’ve got the absorption. And that’s why when we travel we use pillow forts because the absorption factor.
Gabby: Yes. And the same principle by the way, guys, applies in your home. If you have multiple stories in your home, The reason you have carpet padding underneath your carpet is not really, its initial device is not comfort. The carpet padding exists to create a sound absorption barrier between the floors of your home. So that when someone is upstairs it doesn’t sound like a pack of elephants. That’s its purpose. That’s what it’s designed to do. So, okay. In this process, please understand that you can layer upon it and overtime improve upon it.
Anne: Love that.
Gabby: We don’t start without using sound absorptions.
Anne: I layered.
Gabby: So did I.
Anne: Yup. I layered.
Gabby: And in that process, you will learn what works and what does not, but getting a little crafty, getting familiar with a caulk gun, a screwdriver, and experimenting with different dense materials that you can pick up as inexpensively as going through a thrift store and raiding their blanket section.
Anne: Gabby, can I tell you about my layers that I have right now in my studio? Because I have a basic wall. I have an inside and outside wall structure. And because I was, I layered it, and again, like you said, we don’t start off with beautiful sound in the beginning and I do remember going through this. I then had extra carpeting, so the carpeting… I had insulation in between the walls, and then I had carpeting on the wall, that didn’t worked well. So then I put some mineral wool fiber on the wall which is very cheap. Again, get good with the staple gun or a screwdriver because you can screw all these stuff right into the side of your wall so easily.
Gabby: Staple guns are great.
Anne: Staple gun. And then on top of that I have moving blankets, and underneath my booth I have hockey pucks. So my booth stands on hockey pucks to absorb the sound coming up from my first floor. And I have a suspended DIY ceiling that has that mineral wool fiber in it to absorb the sound above me. So I’ve got quite a few layers going on. Outside wall insulation, inside wall carpeting, mineral wool fiber, moving blankets. Every time I added another layer I had to get thinner to stay, to be able to fit in my studio. But it went that way until I could get my sound the way that I wanted. And I’m sure, Gabby, you have the same similar–
Gabby: Yeah, I do. I do. I have everything from acoustic theater panels to Auralex, to carpet tiles to a do it yourself subfloor that my husband and I built. I have interior layers, I have exterior layers. This is what you do. There’s also kind of joke in my studio about how, for those of you who have seen it and seen videos of me online, I have like this weird stuffed animal collection, my booth buddies in my studio with me. And believe or not they were part of my sound absorption device originally to build and to create, because it’s what they do. Stuffed animals are one of the greatest types of sound absorption you can get. All that being said, yes, you layer, you improve upon it overtime. There’s so many inexpensive ways to get your hands on foam and foam like material without having to go spend insane amounts of money. In my book VO 101, I actually have some pretty detailed instructions there on the types of things that you can get and what you can buy. But I’ll tell you one of funnest projects I ever worked on. I was hired locally by a talent agent who wanted to build a voiceover booth and they had very little budget with which to do it, and I said, “Okay. No problem.” I said, “How many actors are on your roster?” And they had about 400 people on their roster of on camera actors, and I said, “Perfect.” So we sent a mass email to all of them and said, “We’re looking for donations. “We need blankets, pillows, old cushions, “quilts, comforters, whatever you have.” Within a week of sending out that email the agency had like an igloo on the floor of all of these sound dampening material and it was epic. And so what we did is we took all of that and we custom-built a layered system, again, inside and outside of this just do it yourself construction that we had made. And if everybody remembers the old jokes about the 70’s Shag Wagon, well, we call it the Shag Booth because… I kid you not. When you walked into it, that’s what it looks like. There’s shag carpeting on the wall, there’s like a quilt over here, there’s, you know… Don’t get me wrong, it’s ugly, it is ugly as sin, but it’s fun, it’s quirky, it has character, but most importantly, it did the job and it was done with donated materials.
Anne: I do want to bring up when I was doing my booth. Now I was new to voiceover and you had more of an audio production background. For me, I didn’t have an audio production background. I listen to music on the radio, that was what I did. You know what I mean? Listen to the CD’s in my car, that was my audio experience. In terms of audio engineering and understanding what does a wonderful beautiful broadcast quality audio sound like, I didn’t have that. And so I want to encourage people that along with your DIY booth you can absolutely get it vetted–
Gabby: Or DIY.
Anne: Or get it… Get somebody to consult. To be able to record in your studio, send the recordings to somebody, so that they can assess. There’s so many people that can do this remotely. Gabby can do it. There’s all sorts of audio engineers in the industry.
Gabby: I do it quite regularly for people actually.
Anne: We can tell if your sound is where it should be. And so in the beginning I didn’t know, I didn’t realize, “Oh, it sounded like I’m talking “through a tube.” Or I sounded like I’m in a box or whatever that is, I hadn’t had my ear trained. So I want to say that that money that you’re saving on purchasing those booths, because there’s multiple. The money that you’re saving buying that pre-constructed material, you can invest in getting somebody to really help you do increase the quality of your audio coming out of the booth. Because in the beginning, most people if they’re not trained audio engineers, they don’t have the ear to even know what good audio sounds like. And that I just want to make sure, that is where I think you can invest some money.
Gabby: And I’ll tell you something really cool about that. They don’t even have to be super trained so to speak. You can go to any local college that has an audio recording department. You can go to any local studio for musicians and you can talk to their engineers, and here’s the really cool thing, guys. If you get a young musician who’s used to DIY’ing already because most of them are. They can not only act as your sound engineer, act as your consultant, but many of them, and I know this from just my years in radio and hanging around the music crowd. Many of them know how to build things called baffles and they can help you to custom make baffling and different sound absorption setups.
Anne: Tell you where to put it.
Gabby: And it’s great. And they’re not going to cost you a lot of money, because in most cases these are just young kids looking to make a couple bucks to get to their next gig with their band.
Anne: Now, Gabby, one thing I want to make sure that our listeners know that we’re not discounting people in the industry that do this for a living. They do this as a service based business. So there are wonderful, wonderful audio engineers out there. However, I want to stress that you know what, the DIY approach really can help you not only in saving money, but it helps to educate yourself on the importance of sound, it helps to train your ear, and how can that be a bad thing, in terms of your journey throughout this career. And in being a successful voiceover artist that can understand the importance of good quality sound.
Gabby: Yes. I completely agree with that. I would also say that understand that a name brand doesn’t necessarily get you where you want to be. You have to think of this like car buying. Again, I mentioned this earlier with equipment. You can drive a Mercedes or you can drive a Kia. Yes, they get you there in different levels of style and comfort, but they both get you there.
Anne: Yeah. Absolutely.
Gabby: And that’s the way you have to view this. If you are making $250,000 a year or more on your voice career and you can justify the expense of some of these companies. Great. Do it. We’re not telling you not to.
Gabby: But if you can’t, these are your alternatives for now.
Anne: Wow, Gabby, I learned a lot.
Anne: I hope our listeners learned a lot.
Gabby: Me too.
Anne: In addition to a wonderful sounding studio, I’d like to give a big thanks to our sponsor ipDTL for our wonderful connection and our wonderful sound coming out of our podcast today. So, you too can record like a boss, and you can find out more at ipdtl.com.
Gabby: No doubt, we could not do it without those guys, and from all of us at VO B.O.S.S., have a kick-butt week. Stay focused and rock your business like a boss.
Anne: A VO B.O.S.S. You can like us on Facebook at VO B.O.S.S. podcast, and Twitter @vo_boss.
Gabby: Subscribe to us on iTunes or Stitcher, and don’t forget to visit us on our website voboss.com. Sign up for our mailing list and you can get yourself exclusive content and offers.
Anne: Love you guys. See you next week with another podcast.
VO: Rock your business like a boss, a VO B.O.S.S. All rights reserved. Anne Ganguzza Voice Talent in association with Three Moon Media. Redistribution with permission. Coast to coast connectivity via ipDTL.