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Home Studio: First Steps

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The first row of tabs below are a guide to what to buy for your home studio.  The second row are a guide to setting up your studio and making your first recording. Most people play around with recording first, and finish setting up their studio later.

Equipment from us is for students only—not available to the public. You must be able to pick up just West of Minneapolis. First paid first served—be in touch by email, text, phone or PM to schedule pickup.

Scroll down to read what equipment we recommend, and how to set it up. If you’re new to Audacity, click the image below to learn about the different parts of the interface:

WHAT TO BUY:

Click any tab above to see recommended equipment. If you are a current or ex-student and can pick up just West of Minneapolis, reserve a complete package, or be in touch about what you want. Click here to set up a Home Studio consulting call. Here are our current costs and total cost to you (click parts list to enlarge):

  

🎧 MXL 2008 or 2006

Yes, we have some in stock! This is a professional Large Diaphragm Condenser (LDC) Microphone comparable to the Hogan Signature Series 1-A. Listen to comparisons with mics costing as much as $3,600.

► Current Price: $71.97 (tax, shipping and handling included)

2008 and 2006 are identical mics performance-wise, and the 2008 is barely (about 1/10″) thinner. (Check Wal-Mart Price).

🎧 Studio Console-Level Power

Every power supply must be balanced (why?)—and most are. But not all provide true 48V Phantom Power (sometimes called “Studio Console-Level Power”). Many only provide 12v or 18v instead of 48v, and even those providing 48v often provide very limited amperage!

We recommend the Behringer TUBE ULTRAGAIN MIC500USB Vacuum Tube Preamplifier. I love the one I use myself. This is better than some $150 mixers for under $100. Check out the specs in the simplified manual here.

►Many sellers to NOT include the USB cable you may wish to use to connect this to your computer. (Alternatively, it can be connected to your computer via an audio adapter cable).

Specifically designed for studio-grade condenser mics, with voiceover preamp modeling to optimize your sound.

We have three in stock from a discounted bulk purchase available to pickup from us.

Guide to settings—click to enlarge:Set all else OFF: 20dB, Low Cut, Phase Reverse

Guide to plugs—click to enlarge:

 

🎧 FOUR-Conductor Balanced XLR

$12 10ft from us—we have plenty vs $15.04/6ft buy yourself here

Your power and XLR cable must be balanced, but your XLR cable should contain FOUR conductors, not just two (here’s why).

We use and recommend LyxPro Quad Low-Noise Cables made from 24 AWG Oxygen-Free Copper (OFC) with a 98% braided shield and gold-plated connector contacts to reject EM & RF interference. The 4 conductors help prevent wiring or grounding issues as well as RFI interference, producing a superior signal to noise ratio that effectively acts as noise cancellation. Here’s why you need a balanced system, and why a Quad cable is better:

If your phantom power source has a USB out, you also may need a USB peripheral cable—like what a USB printer uses. Some people will disconnect the cable from their printer to connect their power source to the computer until they can buy or borrow another USB peripheral cable, such as this one on Amazon.com.

 

🎧 NRC 1.05 Acoustic Panels: 10 sq. ft. ea.

► Save over $60 PER PANEL vs cheap acoustic foam, and over $150 vs comparable high-quality foam.

TOP-RATED (NRC 1.05—this is the good stuff!) lightweight plain acoustic panels easy to hang, mount, place or store (conforming to ASTM C423 testing). Read more about how acoustic baffling works here.

Note that even the THICKEST popular acoustic panels, such as these 4″ thick panels from Amazon, are often MUCH less noise absorbent (only 0.8 compared to these at 1.05), and are MUCH more expensive. Higher numbers are better! Amazon’s price if you have prime free shipping is $74.75 for 10 sq ft—over $60 MORE for LESS sound absorption!

We assemble these inexpensively from Rockwool Safe’n’Sound so you can get started without spending ridiculous acoustic foam prices.

► Current Price: $14.00 ea. (10 sq. ft.)

What’s inside:

 

🎧 Articulating (scissor) microphone boom arm (we have lots, otherwise eBay • Amazon). Can be attached to copy stand (or to a pole or 2×2 wedged between floor and ceiling). See example pic below.

🎧 Adjustable low-sound reflection 59.5″ copy stand. You attach the boom arm to this. You could buy a separate mic stand instead of an articulating arm, but it would be more expensive and less able to be useful in multiple situations, such as attaching to a desk or closet shelf.

🎧 Double-paned pro 6.1″ pop filter • we have plenty (ebay) 360-degree flexible 13.6″ gooseneck • Swivel clamp base. Current price: $10.97

🎧 Additional on-mic pop filter • From Rycote (details here). Check to see if we have extra we can spare before purchasing. See pic below for details of use.

🎧 Headset • Read this article for tips

Use Audacity 2.4.1 or later for Mac, or scroll down

HOW TO INSTALL:

Click the links above to learn more. Also, see all our great posts in the Home Studio category!

For this short series of steps, I’m going to assume two things:

#1: You are trying to set up to be practice or be coached remotely first, and only later be concerned with recording, and only after that with possibly working from a home studio. (You may want to skip ahead if you’re in the final stages of home studio setup.)

#2: You have a microphone and way to mount it—such as a microphone stand—so you can stand in front of it.

You do NOT have to have a place all set up to work from to try this. Go ahead and practice!

I’ll break this down into simple, small steps. You can choose to do more than one step at a time. And many of these steps can be done in any order, but you may find this sequence easiest. Read the tabs above in sequence (click the #1 above to see the next step).

Sections below are:

  1. Connecting your microphone to your computer
  2. Attaching the microphone to your stand or arm
  3. Mounting a Scissor Arm

1. Connecting Microphone to Computer

I’ll assume you are using Audacity and have a MIC500USB mixer, or another mixer that has a USB cable to connect to your computer. Your microphone is connected to your mixer by an XLR cable. Connect the XLR cable from the Mic to the Mixer, and the USB cable from the Mixer to your computer:

Turn on Mixer 48v power, and click Transport > Rescan Audio Devices in Audacity. For the MIC500USB, here is a picture guide to settings and plugs. Click either image to enlarge:

Set to OFF: 20dB, Phase Reverse
Set to ON: 48V, Low Cut

To learn more about how to record in Audacity, click the “Audacity” tab above. For issues with Windows sound and recording devices, click here for tips.

2. Attach the Microphone

The first step is to figure out how to connect your microphone. TIP: tighten all connections loosely! Use the minimum amount of tightening possible. EVERY thing you can tighten can and will break someday. Make that day decades into the future instead of sometime next month.

1️⃣ Place the Mic into the Shock Mount

First, put the microphone into it’s shock mount. Generally you can squeeze whatever adjustment grips (red arrows in the diagram below) the shock mount has there are lightly to open the center, and push your microphone into the shock mount. Second, take it out! Now you know how to do it. You’ll find it easier to mount the shock mount to the arm (pink in the diagram) if the microphone isn’t in it.

Here’s what this looks like on an MXL 2006 or 2008:

2️⃣ Mark the BACK of the Mic

Find the (usually tiny) logo on the front of the microphone. This is the part you talk into! The logo marks the front. I suggest turning the mic over to the back side (no logo) and writing with a magic marker on the back something like “NO!”, or “Talk into other side”. Someday you will accidentally try to talk into the back of your microphone. You want to prevent this accident from ever happening! The front and the back look identical…except for that tiny logo. Spare yourself a future headache and mark the back clearly.

(What we do for students training at the School of Voiceover is we write on a small piece of brightly colored paper and tape it to the back so it’s really easy to see).

3️⃣ Open up the Mic stand

Figure out how to open the base so the stand stays upright, and then raise the center pole all or most of the way up and lightly tighten the adjustment that holds it up. Scroll down to “Scissor Arm” for more details about putting that together if needed.

4️⃣ Screw Shock Mount into the Arm

If you are using a mic stand with a horizontal arm on top, notice the arm has at least two adjustments: One to let you angle the arm up or down, and one adjustment to slide it in and out. Angle it approximately horizontally (or however you want it), slide it out a bit, and tighten the adjustments lightly. You may have to tighten them more later, but start light. You may want to attach a counter-weight to the other end of the arm. 

mouth close to microhoneI prefer having the mic arranged slightly below my mouth, near chin height. The picture is an example of getting very close to the mic for a warmer sound. This way you can look over the mic easily to see your copy, but you can also easily wave your arms around without hitting the mic arm or microphone.

If you are using a scissor arm, realize that they are VERY configurable, but sometimes you have to add or remove a part. For example (see picture), if you insert an additional part (pictured: a plastic clamp) between the double arm, you can limit how far it bends. This works better than trying to over-tighten the adjustable screws. Scroll down for closeup pics of adjusting a scissor arm.

Similarly, sometimes removing one or both springs from an arm help hold it in place if they are over-resisting the configuration you are seeking. In the picture at left, one of the springs has been removed from the vertical arm.

5️⃣ Connect XLR Cable, Mount Mic

Plug the XLR cable into your mixer or phantom power box. Generally do this before plugging in the mic. Press the other end of the XLR cable into place on your mic until you hear or feel a slight click. Some cables and mics might not fit perfectly, and you may need to press harder to get that click. If you don’t, generally don’t worry—you’ve probably noticed it’s plenty tight, and the cable won’t loosen itself.

Now squeeze the mic—with the cable still attached—into the shock mount as you practiced in step 1. Having the cable attached first actually helps prevent you from rotating the mic upside down. Adjust everything so that the mic is just in front and under your mouth when you stand, and rotate the mic in the shock mount until the logo is pointing up slightly toward your mouth.

You’ve set up your microphone—nice work!

We suggest using your microphone horizontally, set at about chin height and pointed slightly up toward your mouth:

6️⃣ Adjust Pop Filter(s)

I prefer to use two filters. See picture at right from my studio. One is on an adjustable arm, one is attached directly to the microphone.

This means less editing of mouth noise later, and allows me to closer to the microphone for a warmer sound with less mouth noise to edit out. Not required—personal preference. For attaching directly to the mic, I have used a a rubber band, velcro, a pony tail holder, or a zip tie.

3. Scissor Arm Mounting

To attach your shock mount to an articulation/scissor mounting arm, you will need the adapter that may be packed as a separate part, or already attached to the microphone holder that came with your mounting arm.

If it is attached to the existing mic holder, you will need to remove it from the holder, and screw it onto the arm:

Here’s what that looks like once reattached and connected to the mic shock mount. Do NOT over-tighten. Not screwing all the way in is normal.

Here’s how to connect a scissor arm to a vertical post, like a mic stand:

Here’s how to prevent one of the scissor arms from closing, by putting something inside one arm’s structure, in this case, a plastic clamp:

Here’s what it looks like put together (though we recommend the mic be horizontal)

 

If you haven’t yet, download and install Audacity, a free program to let you record audio on your computer:

Download Audacity

If you’re installing on Mac OS, scroll down for a tip.

Start by setting up Audacity so that you can record (connect to your microphone) and set basic preferences  (video coming soon!)

For several videos of Audacity tips, be sure to visit this link. 

Do I have to use Audacity?

No. But it’s the easiest-to-use program for recording voice over, it’s free, and it also includes very powerful features for advanced users. If you use it, we can help you with it. If you prefer to use something else, we won’t be able to help you as much as if you use Audacity.

Follow these steps to make your first test recording.

If you prefer a getting started video tutorial, try this one:

Once you’ve gotten a few basics down, check out this article for tips:

Sound Design Tricks for Audacity

If you want to understand advanced settings better—NOT required!—read this next:

Audio Recording Settings for Geeks

 

Looking for Troubleshooting Tips? Here they are!

Simple Studio Tips

First of all, there should be a quiet corner behind you. You face into the room, the microphone faces into the quiet corner.

It doesn’t matter how you deaden the sound in corner, anything from hanging acoustic panels to putting shredded fabric in chicken wire will work! For the least expensive acoustic panels anywhere, be sure to talk to your School of Voiceover or Academy of Voiceover coach for a deal we give to students.

Second, there should be something behind your copy that “catches” some of your voice, such as hanging a blanket in front of you, and pinning your script to it. Or something behind and slightly around your microphone, such as a fabric bowl. Don’t let it come around the sides of the mic much, though—you don’t want to put your mic in any kind of tunnel—that will change the quality of your sound.

Tip for better audio:

If you’re new to recording, try to just barely avoid clipping. Eventually, you’ll want to record at a high amplitude—record loud, as loud as you can get away with. If you don’t, you many have to increase the amplification of your recording, and that means you will ALSO be increasing the amplification of any noise on the recording.

How loud works best? To the point where your audio is actually or nearly clipping slightly from time to time. To visually see if your audio is clipping when you record, in Audacity click the View menu, and put a check mark by View > “Show Clipping (on/off)”.

What does “some, but not too much” clipping look like? If you were looking at 10-15 seconds of audio on screen (it looks different at different zoom levels), it might look about like this:

How Much Clipping is Okay to Allow?

But isn’t this a mistake? Isn’t this “bad” audio? How would you fix this, anyway?

Audacity and its competitors all have a “Fix Clipping” feature. In Audacity it’s Effects > Clip Fix. Since the top of a peak (or bottom of a valley) of your audio waveform has been cut off, what Clip Fix does is calculate what the missing peak (or valley) would look like, and “draw” it back in. Let’s zoom way, WAY in to the clipped area in the picture above (the red line) that is farthest left—under the “G”. Here’s what that looks like:

Zoomed in View of Clipping

See those four vertical red lines? That marks the part that’s missing—the part of a peak that was “clipped” off. The blue lines mark the part of the waveform that was recorded accurately—we’re zoomed in so far we see the audio as digital “points” instead of a smooth analog waveform.

But: See how easy it is to see visually what part of the peak is missing? Audacity won’t have any problem adding the missing peak back in. Heck, you could probably draw them in with a marker and get pretty close to perfect. And it will sound as perfect as if it had never clipped. If we zoomed in a bit less than this, you would see there are about six peaks and valleys that look like this in the dark red line under the “G”. Each easily fixed automatically by Effects > Clip Fix.

Again, ideally, you want your audio to undergo ZERO amplification increase after recording; otherwise, you will ALSO be amplifying your background noise (“Room tone”). So DO allow slight clipping so that you will actually be DECREASING your your audio amplification slightly, which also decreases your background noise!

For voiceover, occasional light clipping is fine. Yes, it means you are “risking” too much clipping, but  think of it this way:

Instead of spending another $5,000 on your studio to be able to record at lower dB settings, gain experience with when and how much you clip, and let occasional clipping happen.

A very small amount of skill in allowing clipping can save you hundreds or thousands in studio upgrade costs!

What is Good Audio?

 

First, let me point out that you should always record more than a second of silence/”room tone” (leave setting alone—don’t change them after you begin speaking) at the beginning and end of each track. Some clients and marketplaces even require it. It help you and them hear your “room tone” and it can be used in a variety of ways.

Some of the most well-known standards in the world for quality voice over audio are part of the ACX (Audiobook Creation Exchange) Audio Submission Requirements. I wouldn’t suggest reading it (yet) until explain some of the basics behind the technical language, but I’ll relate this discussion back to those requirements.

Most important: When you make changes, work on a COPY of your recordings. Simple way to do that: After you’re done recording and saving, do a Save As of the session to create a copy of it, and work on the copy.

There is a plugin for Audacity (get it here, install (how?), then choose Analyze > Add/Remove Plugins to enable) that will do most of the necessary measurements for you. You don’t have to learn a bunch of technical language about audio engineering concepts. It measures the three most important things:

  1. How loud is background noise? We don’t want to hear your air conditioner or the traffic in your neighborhood. Measured as “Noise Floor“—ACX standard: “No higher than -60dB RMS”. This is where recording as “loud” (high gain) as you can helps the most.
  2. Is the volume fairly consistent? Don’t make listeners keep having to turn the volume up or down when listening. Measured as “RMS Level“. If volume isn’t consistent enough, simply run the compression effect at default settings—ACX standard: “Between -23dB and -18dB RMS”.
  3. How loud are the loudest moments? This is just a one-click (Normalize) setting you choose before measuring. Measured as “Peak level“—ACX standard: “peak values no higher than -3dB”. Imagine you are clipping at about +.1 dB. That means you can lessen the amplitude by 3.1 dB to bring it into ACX compliance—and the process, lessen your background noise by 3.1 dB too!

Here is a partial screenshot of what you get when you select some audio to test, and choose Analyze > ACX Check from the Audacity menus:

There are ways to “cheat” to pass a home test of ACX requirements, and still fail the actual test. Two things NOT to do: Do NOT replace breath sounds with complete silence, and DO include some “room tone” at the beginning and ending of your recording for testing purposes. More about these two tips below.

How Quiet is Your Voice Over Studio?

Think of the noise floor as “How loud is the silence in your studio?” A quick way to get an approximate idea is to record a few words in your studio, then continue recording but hold your breath/hold still/make no sounds for a few seconds and watch the Recording Meter Toolbar. Here is what it looks like in Audacity before and after you start recording,

When you are “recording silence” (room tone), you want the color to stay at the far left, typically not to go past -42 on the scale. Note that what you see is only an APPROXIMATION of what a test will show. You’ll still need to run ACX Check (or something similar) to be sure.

Tip: Do a retake when intermittent noise happens, e.g. you bumped the mic, a dog barked, a plane flew over, a truck drove by, etc.

Whenever you record, always include a few seconds at the beginning and ending where you make no sound. This isn’t silence, this is what is called “room tone”, or “background noise”.

If your “room tone” volume is too loud, you can take a sample of it and remove it from the recording using Effects > Noise removal.

Realize you can only do this if you have recorded some room tone! However, what also can work is to make a copy of a track (Ctrl-D) and deleting all the sounds made by you. Once you have a few seconds of room tone left you could try using it as the sample for noise removal. So any time consistent sounds change in the background, go silent, keep recording, and get a new silence/room tone recording. Then use that sound as the sample for noise removal.

For ACX specifically, they require you submit your audio with room tone at the beginning and ending of your recording (“Each file must have 0.5 to 1 second of room tone at its beginning and 1 to 5 seconds of room tone at its end.”)

You’ll have to use your judgment! If a steady/consistent background sound is too loud, you may have to wait for it to end before recording. (Of course, for intermittent sounds—such as a dog barking—you’ll almost always have to wait and retake).

Tip: If your studio is quiet enough that it passes a noise floor test without doing any noise removal, you can probably use noise removal when remote distant sounds occur. But if you are already having to remove background noise from your studio “as is”, when other sounds happen, you will probably have to wait to record more. Too much noise removal reduces the quality of the overall recording—your voice will start to sound weird.

ACX, also requires that you NEVER replace anything with silence, such as breaths. You can only replace them with whatever recording you have of “room tone”. Our new macro for Audacity will help you with this.

Is Your Audio Volume Consistent?

Even if you aren’t producing an audiobook, if your recording seems to vary between too loud and too quiet, you’ll need to adjust it.

This is very easy to adjust via Effects > Compression. To experiment, try making a recording, run Effects > Normalize set to -3.0 dB and then select the audio and run Analyze > ACX Check on it. Write down the number in parentheses that appears on the screen after “RMS Level”. In this example screenshot, you would write down -18.8

Now select your audio and run Effect > Compression, and then Effects  > Normalize (again set to -3.0 dB), then run Analyze > ACX Check again. See how the RMS level has gone down? That’s because the compression effect makes your audio volume more consistent—the quiet part are made louder without changing the loud parts.

However, if the reason it varies is because you are moving your head too much during a session—or changing position between sessions—you may want to re-record. Generally, this is NOT an issue if you have had some on-mic training. Moving around a bit is okay! One thing you SHOULD avoid is turning your head much. Again, a little is okay, but if you aim your mouth away from the mic too much AND get too far away, you’ll become very quiet on the recording.

Why Care About ACX Voice Over Requirements?

You don’t have to. Many ACX requirements are common sense, such as that your audio must be:
► “Narrated by a human”;
► “Be free of extraneous sounds such as plosives, mic pops, mouse clicks, excessive mouth noise, and outtakes” (notice they do NOT say to exclude breathing sounds);
► “All in the same … format” (all mono or all stereo);
► “Be consistent in overall sound and formatting”.

Fixing Mouth Noises

One of the first steps is to install some great Audacity tools that can help you! See this article for tips about click and pop removal techniques

We’ve helped tons of folks find easy ways to create an inexpensive home studio—you can do it too!

How to find the best Space to record in

Our philosophy is to follow the best practices in choosing and setting up your space, and then adjust it until it’s good enough. That means do NOT buy a lot of acoustic baffling first! Buy the minimum you need after figuring out the best ways to set up, then add more a bit a time to troubleshoot your sound. Even if you have a large budget—follow best practices first! Give yourself small problems to fix, not big ones.

Your Goal: Give yourself small problems to fix, not big problems. Every space requires some “fixing” to make it work.

For example, reducing noise from vehicle traffic using acoustic foam, from most to least expensive:
  1. Put a tunnel of foam over the road;
  2. Put an igloo of foam around your house;
  3. Line the walls of your studio with foam;
  4. Put foam around your microphone.
#1 and #2 are obviously ridiculous. But if #4 works well, doesn’t that make #3 ridiculous too? The problem is that the closer the foam gets to the mic, the more the tradeoffs increase. So smart studio design means finding a balance—figuring out the tradeoffs—between #3 and #4.

Solution #1: A walk-in closet.

THE GOODWalk-in closets are fantastic—if they are full of clothes. Hanging clothes are great at absorbing sound energy (how does sound absorption work?) and make a great place quiet enough to record voiceover in. Since they are often inside another room, that can make two doors that you can close between you and any pets.

THE BAD: The hassle: It might be pretty cramped, and you might have to move some of your equipment in and out. Closets are often NOT near air conditioning units and may not have central air vents, so you might want to cool the room down before going in.

THE FIXING: Probably not much, if you can position yourself in a way that works.  You will probably benefit from hanging some clothes on the back of the door, or leaving the door open if the room is not a source of noise.

Closets are sometimes near sounds such as plumbing, and that means the sound of running water could be an issue. If you can, just wait until the water is not running. Otherwise, try to make the space as quiet as you can to muffle the water sound and experiment with noise removal (sometimes calls noise gating) options in software.

But, if a clothes closet works for you, congratulations! You have chosen your space.

Solution #2: Room Corner

Here is a short animation to show you basics of setting up your studio in a room corner. To help us help you, you’ll want to send us a couple of photos of how you have set things up. Watch the video for details:

THE GOODThis doesn’t need to be permanent! You can tuck your equipment away when you don’t need to record, and the room corner can return to its previous configuration, except that you will probably want to leave your acoustic materials on the walls. So any room is a potential studio. A room corner is perfect for bouncing sound in order to trap it. All you need to do is put some sound deadening materials on part of the walls to take advantage of their perfect right angle.

THE BAD: Even though you can make the setup easy to put away, you might have more things to move around in a corner than you would wish, and you have to keep other people and pets out of the room when you are recording. And room corners always need more fixing than walk-in clothes closets. To find the best corner, ask yourself these questions first:

Question #1: What noises are nearby?

Example: A window near traffic noises, a connection to a laundry room,  inability to close the room off from pets or people, pipes with running water, an air conditioner unit, etc. For intermittent noise, such as trucks driving, planes flying overhead, or dogs barking, just pause! Retake if you were recording, or wait until the noise ends to begin recording.

Question #2: How many hard surfaces are exposed nearby? Here’s an example of a poor space in a basement, if the floor is exposed concrete, and the walls are just painted cinder block, that’s not a good choice. You could make it work, but it would more expensive, or take more effort, than a better space.

A better space would have a carpeted floor, and sheetrock walls—as long at there are not other hard surfaces nearby, such as laundry machines (they have hard metal sides).

If you are trying to fix a space with hard surfaces, one thing to consider is to bring in a clothes rack, and hang clothes in front of the hard surfaces—which is exactly what makes a closet work so well!

Question #3: Are the walls more than six feet apart?

If one set of walls are closer than six feet apart, avoid that space, or skip to solution #3 below: the small hideaway (solution #3). Small hideaways create challenges. A room corner is often a better choice.like the space under a staircase or a small space in a basement.  I’ll explain more under solution #3.

THE FIXING: You’ll need to put some acoustic dampening material on the walls, and strap some to the back of your microphone.

Solution #3: Small Hideaway

While this is often an unused basement room, or the space under a staircase, any room where one set of walls is closer than six feet apart is considered a small hideaway. Ideally, you still want to face out from a corner if the space is large enough to allow that. 

THE GOOD: These kinds of spaces are usually unused.

THE BAD: Walls are too close to the mic, creating more echoes. You’ll have to dampen more walls than you would in a room corner.

Also, it will be “bassy” due to the closeness of the walls. There are some things you can do to work with that, such as processing your audio to remove some of the lower frequencies, or hanging bags of clothes or fabric in the corners. Bass frequencies behave much differently than higher frequencies, and tend to literally “pool” and ripple in corners.

THE FIXING: Lots of wall covering!

Mounting “Pizza Box” Panels

These are panels that we make for our students, but they are very easy to make for yourself.

This section is for those of you that have some of these panels, and wonder how to mount them

Your acoustic panels or material should be in a corner. So you can take advantage of the way the walls meet in the corner to help prop things up, or just use regular hanging approaches.

Also, you may want to place panels a few inches from each other, and place fabric or rolled towels between them to inexpensively increase the amount of baffling you place on the wall!

Hanging Ideas

Things people have done on the panel

  1. Bend a paper clip, poke it into the back to become a hook for hanging
  2. Stick a 3M “sticky” picture hanger to the back
  3. Wrap and tie a piece of string from top to bottom, hang from the tie

Things people have done to hang / prop up

  1. Hang from ceiling with a plant hook
  2. Hang from wall like picture: Use 3M “sticky” picture hangers, or regular nail hangers
  3. Put on a shelf

Special Corner Tips

Lift into place, lean against each other.

Prop and hold in place in corner: hold them up against the wall with something underneath them so they lean against each other in the corner. Pin a piece of cardboard to the top of both, holding them together so they stay in place by leaning against each other. Or jam a 2×4 or stick between floor and ceiling in the corner for them both to “lean” against.

Line the corner

“Line” the corner by placing two panels (make, buy, or find) against each wall in the corner so they “lean” against each other in the corner. Attach them to each other in the corner so they keep leaning against the wall and each other. (Bending a piece of cardboard into the corner and taping it to each panel works.)

Now you can attach shelves (from cardboard that you make yourself, or whatever) to these panels. Bend a piece of cardboard into a triangular “tube” (like a FedEx tube container) and attach it VERTICALLY so that just the end makes a tiny shelf. Use two of these to make a “full’ shelf.

Panels can be cardboard pieces you taped together (use double thickness, or get pallet cardboard by going around Costco or Sam’s Club near closing time). Or plywood, sheetrock, pressboard, whatever.

PVC

Attach or fit pieces together in the corner so they stay in the corner. A bunch of configurations can work.

 

How to Improve an Existing Home Studio

Work Backwards from the Mic

Let’s look at some of the ways you can affect the sound that the mic hears.
Dampen Sound NEAR the Mic
Every studio should have some sound catching material behind and possible even around or nearly around the mic. This affects sound “on the way out” and “on the way back.”
It “catches” and deadens some of your voice “on the way out” before it hits surfaces that it will echo from, and blocks BOTH those echoes and some background noise (“room tone”) from reaching the mic.

Main benefit: more “bang for your buck” in solving your two biggest studio issues: deadening how much room tone the mic pics up, and reducing echoes of your voice reaching the mic.

1. Tradeoffs

Depending on how how you do this, the benefit of inexpensively improving studio sound can result in the trade-off that that it alters your vocal sound. And if your existing studio is already low noise for whatever reason, doing too much may not be beneficial.
1.1 Too much material too close together around the mic can make the sound of your voice “muffled” or “boxy”. You don’t want to talk into a hole that is little more than a narrow tunnel!
1.2 The other sound-changing tradeoff of putting much material close to and around the microphone is that it can catch a bit more mouth noise in “the funnel” the closer you get.
1.3 A third trade-off is whether it blocks your view of your script, or makes you tilt your head or crane your neck unnaturally. This is what makes portable “box” studios detrimental to your performance.

But when planning your studio, this is the most important trade-off to solve first: how should nearby sound deadening material be placed behind and potentially around the mic?

2. Where to Place Material

You AT LEAST need some sound deadening material behind your mic somewhere.
2.1 Placement: Look at the picture attached for an example of where the capsule is inside the microphone. You may have to shine a light behind the microphone to see it. Make sure when you are working on mic that the capsule is pointed towards you mouth!
2.2 Minimum Dampening: Behind where you place your script, such as putting a carpet sample on your copy stand (also minimizes echoes/reflections from the stand).
2.3 Back of Mic: It’s also good to mount some right on the back of the mic, and have it flare a little bit around the mic, as if the mic is in the bottom of a shallow bowl or at least as if there is a small book-shaped amount of material behind the mic..
Depending on the depth and narrowness of the “bowl” it may be more or less like a book, box, funnel or hole. The more the mic is “inside” the nearby material, the more it can affect your sound as noted in 1.1/1.2 so don’t over do it.
2.3.1 A simple approach: Wrap some fabric around an “X” about the size of a small book, and attach it behind your microphone. This should be in addition to putting something behind your script/on your copy stand.

The “X” could be wire from a wire coat hanger, chopsticks taped together, whatever! Poke through the fabric with knife, then attach to the center of the “X” a twist tie, string, a rubber band, a zip tie, anything or combination of things that will let you attach it behind your mic.

3. Voice Types Affected

Setups with a lot of material coming around the mic tend to be more popular with talent who get a little farther away from the mic, or who don’t mind editing out mouth noise (e.g. doing an audiobook with a lot of mouth noise would mean a painful amount of editing).
3.1 Good Result: Punchy Authority/Clear Neutral
Strong use of pharynx, that slightly “barking” sound that some authoritative voices have, won’t be affected much by moving back a bit.
And voices striving for a more clear neutral tone typically get farther from the mic (a basic tenet of mic technique). And getting farther back means the your voice becomes more of “one source in the midst of echoes” so the maximum approach (the “eyeball”) below is a good solution.
3.2 Poor Result: Warm Resonant Voices
Very warm voices with a lot of resonance in the nasal cavity benefit from getting closer to the mic and taking some advantage of microphone proximity effect. That closeness means too much material around the mic will both pick up more mouth noise (1.2) and make you sound more “boxy: (1.1).

Important Audacity tip for Mac users!

Make sure you have the latest version of Audacity for Mac, 2.4.1 or higher. Download here.

If you do NOT have the latest version of Audacity, here are the old instuctions for making it work. But: better to IGNORE THESE INSTRUCTIONS, and instead use the latest version of Audacity!

Here are the old instructions:

On the latest macOS (Catalina/10.15/Late 2019) you just need to give Audacity permission to use the microphone, and don’t close Audacity. It’s easy! You just have to open it via the “open” command. Here’s how:

If you haven’t already, install the latest version of Audacity from AudacityTeam.org/download/mac. (If you want to update an older version of Audacity, it works the same as installing new—just download and install.)

  1. Make sure Audacity is NOT running. If it is open, close it. Here’s how to open it—from the Mac Finder (picture below), you want to got to Applications, then Utilities, then click on Terminal. A small window opens.
  2. Paste this (after copying, to paste, simply click Cmd-V) when the terminal window and press enter:
    open /Applications/Audacity.app/Contents/MacOS/Audacity
  3. Audacity should open, and a small prompt should appear asking you to give permission to use the microphone if you have one plugged in. If you don’t have a mic connected, the prompt may not appear until you plug one in and click Transport > Rescan Audio Devices. Whenever the prompt appears, click to give permission to Audacity to use the microphone.

Leave Audacity Open?

Easiest: Leave Audacity active—(black dot) in the bottom dock —don’t close it! That way you can just relaunch from the Audacity logo, and you won’t have to give microphone permissions each time.

However, if you totally quit Audacity, it’s okay, just a minor hassle. You simply have to relaunch from the Terminal app again—meaning you have to redo steps 1-3 again.

IF YOU LEAVE AUDACITY OPEN: You’ll need to chose rescan audio devices from the Transport menu (click on the word Transport near the top of the Audacity window) anytime you plug in a device such as a headset, microphone, speakers, etc. and then choose which device you want to use to record through (such as a microphone, headset, microphone plugged into a mixer, etc) and which device you want to play back through (such as speakers, headset, etc.).

For more info on selecting devices in Audacity, see select your recording device.

Mac Microphone Auto-Shut Off

For security reasons, you can’t close the lid on a Mac and keep recording. iPads have a similar security feature. Explained here:

“All Mac portables with the Apple T2 Security Chip feature a hardware disconnect that ensures the microphone is disabled whenever the lid is closed. On the 13-inch MacBook Pro and MacBook Air computers with the T2 chip, and on the 15-inch MacBook Pro portables from 2019 or later, this disconnect is implemented in hardware alone. The disconnect prevents any software—even with root or kernel privileges in macOS, and even the software on the T2 chip—from engaging the microphone when the lid is closed. (The camera is not disconnected in hardware, because its field of view is completely obstructed with the lid closed.) iPad models beginning in 2020 also feature the hardware microphone disconnect.”

Alternative Method

  1. On your Mac, choose “Apple menu > System Preferences, click Security & Privacy”, then click Privacy.
  2. Click Microphone.
  3. Select the tickbox next to the Audacity app to allow it to access the microphone. (Do not deselect the tickbox to turn off access or the mic will not work).

Long story short, for text-heavy pages, you want larger font sizes. If folks are reading for long periods of time, be nice: don’t make them strain their eyes. Now, each font is different, even at the same size, but we’re talking: