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Home Studio: First Steps

Free consulting call:

There are three sections below, each with it’s own tabs—over ten in total. If you are a new student, you need to read ALL the install and record tabs in addition to the three home studio emails we will send you (subject lines: 1 of 3, 2 of 3, 3 of 3). Here is what you will find below:

  • Recommended Equipment: 🎤 Mic .. ⚡ Mixer .. 🔌 Cable .. 🔊 Acoustic Panels .. 🎧 Parts
  • Home Studio Setup: 🔨 Choose Your Studio .. 🔩 Stand+Arm .. 🎤 Mic+Mixer
  • How To Record: 🎤 Learn to Record .. 🎧 Audacity .. 🔊 Better Sound ..⚡ Mixer

Equipment from us is for students only—not available to the public. First paid first served. Be in touch by email, text, phone or PM to schedule if you are picking up (just West of Minneapolis).

Scroll down to read what equipment we recommend, and how to set it up.
 

📌 Recommended Equipment:

Next Step: Home Studio Setup

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 V67200120062008992

These are all professional Large Diaphragm Condenser (LDC) Microphones comparable to the Hogan Signature Series 1-A.

These mics are all recommended when priced under $100. Of the V67 series, only the 67/67G/V67GHE or V67P are recommended. The V67GS is NOT recommended. Many other microphones costing more (such as the V67i) are also fine, but we are restricting our recommendation to these high-quality but low-cost mics. Many other LDC-type mics are also great for voiceover.

► What about Blue Yeti Microphones? This is a common question. Scroll down for more info.

Also, only the 992 is recommended, the similar 990 and 770 are NOT recommended. If you can’t find any of the other mics at good price, the V67M is also acceptable, but works best with a very quiet studio.

The 992 has very slightly the lowest self noise, which makes it slightly preferable. MXL is the brand name for pro audio gear made by Marshall Electronics. When comparing prices for yourself, pay attention to extras that are/are not sometimes included such as case (not needed), shock mount (somewhat needed) and pop filter (needed). You can always buy extras separately.

Current low price: around $80 each (tax, shipping and handling included). Pictured: MXL 2001/2006/2008.

Why these microphones?

Listen to comparisons of these mics by well-known voiceover engineer George Whittam to the famous $3,600 Neumann U87 and other famous voiceover mics.

Those audio comparisons, backed up by a bunch of research on my part, are the key reason why we recommend the MXL mics. They’re all based on Neumann!

  • The MXL 2001/2006/2008/V67 circuit uses “negative feedback,” similar to the Neumann U87, to provide corrective EQ to the K67 capsule.
    The MXL 2001 was one of the first inexpensive condenser microphones on the market. It mated a version of the Neumann K67 large-diaphragm capsule to a transformer-coupled amplifier circuit.
    It’s K67-style capsule has an outside diameter of 32mm, intentionally dropping the size from Neumann’s original (34mm) to push the capsule’s resonant frequency higher in the audio spectrum.

Also, many of these MXL mics are private labeled by Guitar Center, Musician’s Friend, Music 123, and elsewhere. The MXL mics have the same internals, mostly only differing in in the shape of the body and headbasket; internally, they share the same circuit and capsule.

About Other Microphones, Like the Blue Yeti

Almost any mic that you can set up to work while standing is fine for training, the Yetis included. Note that most Yetis do NOT easily attach to a standard arm or stand, but with some zip ties, tape or other tricks, you can make it work.  The Blue Yeti Pro is passable for some kinds of voiceover. Any other Yeti you should plan to upgrade sooner rather than later.

With a Yeti, you are paying for a wide range of configuration possibilities (multiple mics/diaphragms inside), rather than for one higher-quality mic/diaphragm. Any Large Diaphragm Condenser (LDC) mic is better than any Yeti, but because LDC mics are more sensitive, you need a better home studio if you go with an LDC mic.

For that reason, we often tell talent who already have a Yeti that we’re fine if they want to wait to upgrade to an LDC mic until they are making money, but that they will very likely have to make improvements to their studio when they get a more sensitive mic.

🎧 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.

🎧 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—nearly $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: $16.00 ea. (10 sq. ft. ea.) or $59.88 for your first four.

What’s inside:

 

🎧 Articulating (scissor) microphone boom arm (we have lots, otherwise eBay • Amazon). Can be attached to copy stand, desk edge or many other configurations. Recommended instead of a separate mic stand: has a wider variety of uses, and is less expensive.  Great for working standing up or sitting down.

🎧 Adjustable low-sound reflection copy stand. You attach the boom arm to this. In general, most copy stands are NOT tall enough for voiceover. Everyone ends up modifying them—see the picture below at left for one example. 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: $9.97

🎧 Additional on-mic pop filter • From Rycote (details here). Check to see if we have extra we can spare before purchasing. Handy for reducing mouth sounds when you get closer to the mic.

🎧 Headset • Read this article for tips

Pictures: At left is the cardboard the stand was packed in taped onto it to make the copy holder higher.

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).

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.

Improving any space:

In general, if you have and can spare any of these items, they can help quiet sound in your studio in zone #2 and #3 and on hard surfaces:
  1. Sleeping bag
  2. Towels
  3. Pillow or couch cushion
  4. Blanket or comforter
  5. “Cushiony” Packing foam (NOT Styrofoam-like)
  6. Egg Crate Foam
  7. Leftover Wall insulation (make a giant cardboard “pizza box” to lay it in—no top—and wrap it in the lightest weight fabric you can find)

Solution #1: A walk-in closet.

THE GOODWalk-in closets are fantastic—but ONLY 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:

Example of Zone 3 Baffle placement:

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: Floor is indoor/outdoor carpeting (not plush) or bare, and the walls are painted cinder block, and there are not any items which absorb sound such as padded furniture or clothes handing nearby. This not a great choice because you’ll need to add a lot of material to the walls and floor. It will be more expensive and take more effort than most spaces.

Better would be a floor with a plush carpet, 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).

Click above for the tab called “Mic+Mixer” after you have completed these instructions!

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.

There are four common ways to attach the boom arm which holds the microphone to the copy stand. I’ll show them first, then explain how to put them together.

OVERVIEW

Here is what the final setups look like (before you add the pop filter or mic cable)—notice how the white microphone is being held in a black shock mount. However, we suggest NOT putting the microphone in the shock mount until later. Detailed instructions are below. Click any photo to enlarge:

 Copy Stand with Angled Boom Arm and Vertical Microphone Copy Stand with Boom Arm and Vertical Microphone

We suggest having the microphone position horizontal (first two pictures above), at about chin height pointing up toward the mouth when setup is complete. In this photo, using TWO pop filters (not required), you can see the microphone angled up toward the mouth:

mouth close to microhone  

Make sure you are talking into the correct side! See how the end looks like a “no” symbol on this mic? We also strongly recommend starting your home studio by rubber banding a hand towel to the back of the mic. You’ll learn more about how important this is in class, along with other options. Here’s a “how to” example picture from a student:

Also, if your stand doesn’t seem tall enough for your height, scroll to the bottom for solutions.

1️⃣ FIND BOOM ARM AND SHOCK MOUNT PARTS

First, find your boom arm, also called a scissor arm. There will be a small adapter you will need to remove and save. Here is what the parts of a common boom arm look like (the adapter is circled in violet and labelled “KEEP”):

You might wish to keep the part labelled “NOT NEEDED” simply to insert between the arms of the boom arm later in some configurations.

Next, remove ALL the springs attached to the boom arm. You will not need them. Most boom arms are designed to be attached to the horizontal edge of a desk, and the springs help hold the arm when making adjustments. We will be fixing the arm into one position, not making adjustments.

To attach your microphone to your boom arm, you will only need ONE adapter, and a microphone shock mount (labelled “ATTACH” in the diagram below). Even though your microphone and boom arm may come with additional parts, you will not need them and can discard or store them. Here are examples of all the possible parts that involve adapters you may encounter:

Finally, find your microphone shock mount. The shock mount will attach to the end of the boom arm, and hold the microphone. There are different kinds of shock mount. Here are two example shock mounts. The microphone will later squeeze into the middle:

  

The main issue most people overlook (especially if they skip the directions) is where the small adapter that connects the shock mount to the arm comes from. Some shock mounts come with an adapter, in which case it it ready to attach to the boom arm. But if you shock mount needs an adapter, after you (1) Remove the mic holder from boom arm, you need to (2) Remove the adapter that comes with it, and (3) use it to connect the shock mount to the boom arm:

So, if needed, use that adapter to connect your shock mount to your boom arm. Here is a silver shock mount attached to a boom arm using a black plastic adapter:

2️⃣ Connect Boom Arm + Shock Mount

If your shock mount comes with an adapter, you can simply attach them both together to the boom arm—simple! Otherwise, you can screw the adapter that came with the boom arm onto either the arm or the shock mount, before completing the attachment of the mount to the arm.

You may need a wrench or similar tool to complete the tightening of the shock mount onto the boom arm:

Here is a picture of a silver mic in a silver shock mount, using a black adapter to connect to the silver piece at the end of a black boom arm:

(We suggest NOT putting the microphone in the shock mount until later).

3️⃣ Assemble the Copy Stand

Making custom height adjustments:

First of all, realize that many copy stands are not tall enough for most voice talent—they are designed for musicians to look down at, but voice talent should have the copy as close to eye height as is reasonable.

So before we even begin the assembly, you should realize that many talent make adjustments to their stands to bring their copy up higher. If there an adjustable slide on the back, you can gain 2-3″ by sliding it higher—the red arrow indicates some of the adjustment that can be made:

Other talent simply fold their copy over the top of the stand. But you can also simply mount a copy holder up higher on the existing stand. Here is an example of using the cardboard the copy stand came in taped onto the assembled stand in order to hold the copy higher (click to enlarge). The mic in this picture is not placed for work, it’s just positioned to show how easy it is to position a mic higher by sliding the base of the boom arm up:

Beginning the assembly:

Different copy stands have different mechanisms. These instructions cover a popular type of stand.

To attach the TOP of the copy stand—the part that holds your script—to the base, first loosen the small screw at the top until it is almost—but not quite—completely removed:

Once the screw is almost removed, slide the plate the screw is attached to into the grooves in the back of the stand, screw end first. When pushed all the way in, tighten the small screw gently to hold it in place.

Tighten the small screw when done:

When you’re ready, adjust the angle of the stand and tighten:

Adjust Copy Stand Copy Holder, Rotate and Tighten

To raise your copy stand, loosen the hand screws at the top of the legs, then push the legs down and out.

If you wish, you can adjust the legs to be any width. This will not change the overall height of the stand:

4️⃣ Attach Arm to Stand

We suggest placing the arm at the lowest point on the copy stand, and tightening loosely until later. If the circular metal plate on the tightening screw tilts when you tighten, this is normal—the arm is designed to attach to a wide range of sizes:

VERSION 1: ARM STRAIGHT UP

The simplest configuration is to extend the arm straight up, holding it in place with a piece of tape between the arm and the stand:

    Copy Stand with Boom Arm and Vertical Microphone

However, an alternative to using tape is to insert something near the base to prevent the arm from dropping, such as some pennies taped together, a piece of wood, the handle of wrench, etc. Here are some examples from students, including a piece of tape, a piece of packing foam, even a plastic knife, each of which prevents the arm from lowering:

   

At the top, where the shock mount is attached, you may let it hang free (pic #1), or insert a part to extend it higher, such as a scissors (pic #2), or the handle of a small plastic clamp (pic #3). Anything the right size will do the trick:

       

VERSION 2: ANGLED BOOM ARM

An alternative to extending both parts of the boom arm up, is to have the lower arm extend out horizontal, and the upper extend up vertically. In this case, the simplest solution is to insert something between each of the double arms, to prevent them from changing position, as in these pictures:

Angled Boom Arm Adjustment Detail    

Different size parts inserted between the arms can produce different angles. Whatever you insert between the arms can be wrapped in paper and/or tape to make the part larger if needed.

5️⃣ Determine if the stand will be high enough

Stand in front as if performing. If it is not high enough, you have several alternatives:

  1. Find or build a box to place the stand on.
  2. Replace one of the uprights with a longer length of PVC or metal pipe, or a wooden dowel.
  3. Create a base by stacking a number of flat pieces of wood underneath until it is high enough.

► Next: Scroll to the top and click the tab titled “Mic+Mixer” to continue.

 

Click above for the tab called “Stand+Arm” if you have not set up your stand and arm yet. It also includes pictures of how to set up the microphone.

Sections below are:

  1. Connecting your microphone to your computer
  2. Attaching the microphone to your stand or arm

NOTE: If Audacity is already running before you connect the microphone, you may need to click Transport > Rescan Audio Devices in Audacity before it will recognize the microphone you have just connected.

Your microphone may come with a shock mount—which you WILL need, or it may only come with a simple microphone mount (which you will NOT need). If a shock mount is not included in the box, it should be provided separately. Here is a microphone with only a simple mount (not needed), and a leather carrying wallet:

Here are two examples of what your shock mount may look like:

 

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.

 

1.1 Setting up the Mixer

Press in the button on the Mixer 48v power AND for Low Cut (circled in red below). For the MIC500USB, here is a picture guide to settings and plugs, and here is the simplified manual. Click image to enlarge:

  • Set to OFF/NOT pressed in: 20dB, Phase Reverse
  • Set to ON/Pressed in: 48V, Low Cut

When recording, set the mic gain so that your voice lights one yellow LED from time to time, but not two, and NEVER ligthts the red LED:

Only after you have set the microphone gain will you set microphone volume in Audacity.

Back of mixer:

1.2 Connect Cables

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:

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. Connect Mic to Stand

2.1 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”. Yes, really! Or write it on a piece of brightly colored paper and tape it to the back of the mic.

Someday you will accidentally try to talk into the back of your microphone. The front and the back look identical…except for that tiny logo. Spare yourself a future headache and mark the back clearly.

2.2 Place the Mic into the Shock Mount

You should have already connected your shock mount to your boom arm, and the arm to your copy stand. If not, scroll up and click the tab titled “Arm+Stand” for instructions.

Squeeze your microphone into it’s shock mount. If it seems tight, first remove the shock mount from the boom arm (you will have attached in an early step). Tight is good—not a problem.

If the mic fits too loosely into the shock mount, you may want to wrap and tape a strip of paper to the mic before putting it into the shock mount.

 

► Use Audacity 2.4.2 or later for Mac, or scroll down for instructions on using earlier versions

📌 How To Record

If you’re new to Audacity, click the image below to learn about the different parts of the interface:

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

Download Audacity

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, learn these tips:

1. Save the Project, Not Just the Export

When saving an Audacity project it is normally easiest to use the File > Save Project command, which has a default shortcut of Ctrl + S (or ⌘ + S on Mac). The first time you save it will prompt you for a file name. If you save a project again having made further changes to it, there will be no further prompts—it will just save.

To share audio files, you will need to export them. Don’t try to share an Audacity project! The project and its related files stay on your computer. We suggest watching the following video below to learn how to export using Export Multiple, which can also be used to export single files. It’s the best way to create an audio file to share it, in our opinion. Alternatively, you can click ‘File’ then click on ‘Export‘ to bring up the File Export window. It gives you options on where to save, type in a name, and choose a file format to export to.

Making a commercial from voice over in Audacity by adding music and sound effects is known as sound design. (To learn how, go here.) Once you’ve added all the voice and sounds into Audacity, click the File Menu and save it all as a project.

Eventually, you will export your work (the option underneath Save Project), but always keep all your tracks and modifications saved as a project separately.

If you are going to modify a track, such as your voice over, first duplicate that track, drag it down to the bottom of the project, and mute it. This is just so you have easy access to a backup of the original track before you started modifying it. To duplicate, select the track (double-clicking anywhere in the track will work) and then use Ctrl-D (Windows) or Command-D (Mac)—or click the Edit Menu and choose Duplicate.

Your main goal in saving your project workspace (vs only saving the exported file) is to be able to go back and make changes later, even after you export your final draft of the commercial.

Exporting and Sharing

If you don’t know what format the client wants, export as a .wav file (large) or high-quality .mp3. You can NOT share a file from your software—you have to export before sharing. For example, a .aup file created by Audacity is actually just a shortcut to the audio database on your computer. There are few cases where you would share an entire project from your software—you would only share the exported files.

To share your work on social media, you will often have to convert it to a video (mp4 is a common video format that will work everywhere) if you want it to play inside the social media post. That means, at a minimum, choosing a static image that will be visible in the video while your audio plays. To find an image that gives you the rights to do this, try Pexels. To convert your audio to video with the image you choose, use ez-converter.

2. Control Clipping at ALL Stages

Oversimplified, clipping is audio distorted by being too loud. The rounded top or bottom of a waveform is “clipped” off. When you are viewing audio in Audacity, clipped areas appear red (IF you have set Audacity to make clipping visible, see next paragraph). Here is an example of viewing the same clipped audio at two different zoom levels:

  

Audacity can fix mild clipping, and it’s particularly good at fixing clipping in voice-only recordings. The first step is to set your bit depth to 32-bit float and see where clipping occurs by turning on “Show Clipping” at the bottom of the view menu. Simplest is show clipping all the time. (Alternatively, you can have Audacity search for clipped areas by using the “Find Clipping” Analyze function.)

🎧 Technical note: Think of the bit depth setting as the place where your computer stores the volume or loudness of your audio (more accurately called amplitude). Your sampling rate is the place your computer stores the pitch (more accurately called frequency) of your audio.

Control during recording

When recording, you will adjust amplitude levels (louder or softer) using knobs on your mixer (these knobs are sometimes called “pots”, short for “potentiometers”).

If your mixed has BOTH a level AND a gain knob (check the labels on the mixer itself) set the “Level” knob midway between max and minimum (usually straight up) and turn up the “Gain” knob until your voice at normal volume is clipping often—but not all—of the time. Then turn down the “Level” knob until your voice is sometimes but rarely clipping. Occasional clipping is better than setting levels too low; very low levels will can over-amplify background noise. (If your mixer has more than one channel, make sure you are adjusting the channel your microphone is plugged into.)

Control during mixing

When you add music and sound effects, you may have to quiet everything 1dB or so, or the power of voice and music combined may clip a bit too much. Fortunately, it’s easy to see what is going on and adjust accordingly.

tracks > mix and render to new track

Here’s a simple way to tell: Select all (keyboard shortcut: ctrl-a/Windows; command-a/Mac) and then mix everything down to a single new track (picture at right: Tracks Menu > Mix > Mix and Render to New Track).

If there isn’t much that is red/clipped, select either the entire new track, or only the main areas with red/clipping, and choose Effect Menu > Clip Fix. If there’s a lot of red/clipping, delete the combined track (or just undo (Ctrl/Command-z) the new track you created) and quiet (reduce the gain) one or more of your tracks a bit. The easiest way to quiet the level/gain of a track overall is to drag the +/- slider at the left edge of the track.

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

Audio Recording Settings for Geeks

Commercial Demo Evaluation – Rule Summary

 

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

Click to enlarge:

A Good VO Mixer Does What?

We like the MIC500USB. Here’s what it does:

  1. Direct-connects headphones. Connecting headphones anywhere else may introduce a delay, or phase reversal. Having an on/off button is also useful, so you can stop listening to the mic when you are listening to recorded audio, or when the talent is warming up, clearing their throat, etc.
  2. Provides vocal adjustment. Some folks own thousands of dollars of mics for different sounds, when they could just be using preamp modes! Save your money: get mixer with more than one preamp mode. Some mixers include one mode and that’s it! Always seemed silly to me vs. having multiple modes.
  3. Shows Clipping. You MUST see this BEFORE it reaches your recording software.

    How to Use: Watch the lights while you set the gain (4) You want to see ONE yellow led occasionally, TWO yellow led’s rarely, a red led NEVER. AFTER you have set the gain, only then adjust microphone volume/level in your software.

  4. Provides Mic Gain Adjustment. Some mixers also provide a “fader” or “mic volume” control…that you don’t need or want if you have gain control. Read above for how to use.
  5. Headphone Volume Control. Seems silly to leave this out, but some mixers don’t provide it.
  6. Quiet Mode”/20dB Pad: This decreases the gain (lowers the volume) of the mic by -20dB. Love using this when a script calls for shouting. Beginners back up, but pros hit the -20dB pad and get high-quality audio at all volume levels.

    ► You should practice using this! See how loud you have to be to generate audio at the same volume with the pad pushed on. You can back up when you need to get loud, but that brings in a LOT more room echo, and makes your voice sound “tinny”—useful if you WANT to sound “off mic”, but better to hit the pad when you need to get loud.

  7. Mic Power. Extend the life of your mixer and mic by turning off power when they’re not in use.
  8. Cut Subsonics for Cleaner Sound. You actually MUST do this somehow, somewhere. Subsonics are everywhere (floor rumble, HVAC noise, plosives, etc.) and they muddle up other frequencies and make mouth sounds worse. If your mixer doesn’t cut them, those sounds have to be cut later, after they have already affected your audio.
  9. Provides FULL 48v Power. Sadly, many if not most budget mixer/preamps do NOT provide full power, and do NOT say so on their spec sheet. You’re left guessing. This helps mics that need more power work properly and often, mean less mic “self noise”, helps many mics work their best, and never leaves you with a mic that won’t work well with your mixer.
  10. Provides USB Audio Out. The internal sound hardware on your computer should be avoided when you can. It can lower the quality of your audio, cause necessary device setting issues, and introduce latency (delay). So bypass the analog audio input port on your computer when you can.
  11. Acts as a Tube Preamp. The circuitry that amplifies your voice before it reaches your software is the preamp. Tube circuitry (instead of solid state) has long been preferred for voice, hence the label on the mixer “Audiophile Vacuum Tube Preamp”.
  12. Doesn’t Break the Bank! The real benefit of the MIC500USB is that it does all this at a much lower price than other mixers with these features. You don’t have to cut corners to save money.

You almost lose #9 or #10 or #1 or all three with cheap mixers. Expensive mixers sometimes skimp on #2 or #8.

Bonus: Phase/Polarity reversal:

This has several potential uses in a studio with multiple mics and preamp/mixers, but for single mic voiceover you’ll probably never need it. However:

If your headphone cables or Mic XLR cable is reverse wired, press this button to fix it. Experiment by talking into the mic with your headphones on and see which setting sounds most natural to you—on or off. If you’re not sure, leave it off.

The potential issue is that your voice through the headphones may be polarity reversed compared to your voice through the air. Think of how a speaker pushes air: when it’s pushing forwards into the room, it’s pulling on the air inside the speaker. The air on one side of the speaker membrane, like a drum, is polarity reversed on the other side. To an observer on one side the drum is pushing out, but on the other side it’s pushing in.

Important Audacity tip for Mac users!

Make sure you have the latest version of Audacity for Mac, 2.4.2 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: