I often get asked the question of what equipment is needed to do Voice Over work at home: Is a USB mic good enough? Do I need to buy one of the commercial isolation booths? What software do I need ?…all very good questions and the same questions I had 7 years ago when I started doing VO work. A note before we start: it is VERY easy to get GAS (Gear Acquisition Syndrome!), where you focus entirely on what new piece of gear will sound better on your voice as compared to what you currently own and use. Be very careful about falling into this trap- the microphone should be one of the LAST considerations- work on your voice first and always!
You don’t have to spend a fortune to get a good setup. But you are going to need a few things: a microphone, an interface between your computer and your microphone and some software to record/edit with.
Microphones: This is the subject of much debate/reviews/and sometimes war of words of the “this one is better than this other one” kind. The truth is, no microphone is perfect for everyone.I have 2 microphones I use on a regular basis- the Scarlett CM25 (which is a re-branded MXL SP1 microphone); this is a good, all-around medium diaphragm condenser microphone. And I also regularly use the Audio Technica AT2020 (thanks to our good friends at Audio-Technica Canada). Both microphones have a place in my workflow, but neither one is “perfect” for everything. AT Canada also sent me an AT4040 for review/testing and in the quick tests I’ve done, I like it for my voice, but am not ready to use it for a production recording. I simply don’t know the mic well enough to jeopardize a paying gig on a new microphone! I also have a Samson C01U USB microphone that I use for that “telephone conversation” sound or if I simply want to show a client the difference between a USB & non USB microphone. Budget between $100-$200 for this – and don’t get caught up in marketing hype- you need to try some mics to find the one that’s right for you. Purchase from a reputable dealer that will allow you to return (in pristine, un-marked condition) any microphone that isn’t suited to your purposes. FleetSound here in Ottawa is great for that, as is Steve’s Music. I’ve never personally dealt with Long & McQuade, but I’ve heard good things about their service as well.
Some of my microphones
A note about USB microphones: The popularity of USB microphones is simple: they are inexpensive- you can pick up any number of USB microphones for under $100 CDN. In order to answer the question “Is a USB mic good enough?”, I have to ask a question in return: to do what? Are you planning on recording a demo or a production job? For demo’s, USB are “ok”, not great or oustanding, but just OK and here’s why. A USB microphone uses the power of the USB port on your computer (laptop or desktop) to power itself- BUT the power circuits are in the microphone, right next to the circuits for the diaphragm (the part of the microphone that vibrates to sound waves – the “microphone” part)…and that adds noise. Noise is BAD. As VO artists, we need to minimize noise and maximise quality for our clients. So, for a production job the simple answer is NO, don’t use a USB microphone. You won’t be able to get a clean enough signal for a sound engineer to use. Trust me on this one…sound engineers hear things the rest of us don’t.
DAW(Digital Audio Workstation): I am using the Focusrite 2i2 Scarlett DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) interface (about $130CDN alone or $300CDN with a microphone, headphones, XLR cable bundled). Apogee, Tascam, Roland, Steinberg and many others make various DAW’s. As to why I use the Focusrite: they have an outstanding reputation for their pre-amps and the price was right! Budget between $100=$200 for this too.
Software: How about FREE? Audacity has a great bit of software, and it’s FREE. Gratis. NO MONEY REQUIRED! You can’t go wrong with that, right? I use Cakewalk/Sonus X1 LE (the base version of the venerable Cakewalk series) to record and edit my sessions, and then export to Adobe Audition CC for the clean-up/packaging part of things. Many pro’s record directly into Audition- I just have a workflow that works for me, and if it isn’t broken, why fix it? Budget $0-$200 for this portion.
Assuming you went with a $100 microphone and $150 DAW and the FREE software option, you arewell under $300 invested to start your career so far.
Optional Items: This is a list of items that you might want to consider to make your life easier as a VO artist;
- Microphone stand: using the little stand that sits on your desk (while ‘free’ as part of the purchase price of your microphone) is a bad idea. It will pick up a lot of unwanted noise from you bumping into your table, mouse clicks etc… A microphone stand can be had for about $20CDN
- A pop filter: This is that little bit of kit you often see in recording session pictures/videos…it’s job is to help minimize the plossives (that harsh sound that B’s, T’s and P’s make as well as sibillance noise from S’s and C’s among others). You can pick one up for about $20CDN
- Headphones: Having the ability to hear what you are recording (from the recording software, not from how you normally hear your voice- ie: through the air) is a huge advantage. What sounds fine to your ear, may not sound that way through headphones. $40-$100CDN for a good pair.
- A sound booth: There are a number of excellent companies that make sound-isolation booths (WhisperRoom, Voiceoverspace, QuietSpace…) but these are expensive. VERY expensive. They typically run between $2800-$10,000… If you are starting out in VO, you don’t need one of these. I started my recording career in a closet! So did Bill DeWees (voice-over-training.com…and one of the best in the business). Where I am living now is a very noisy old house- in order to record at all hours when working a deadline, I built my own vocal booth. It’s not pretty, but it works wonders. Total spent on materials, about $300CDN.
There you have it- hopefully this will help you get started in Voice Over work. If you have a home setup, I’d love to hear about. Please use the comment form below!