Sunday, November 4, 2007

Audio Guy mail bag: Booth for home recording?

Just got this email in:

Should I be worried about setting up a booth? Most of what I do is auditioning from home, but I do get the occasional gig which would be nice to do too.

Thanks J. I get this question quite a bit. Should you be "worried"? No. Should you be considering it? Yes. But with anything else we do, you really need to be honest with yourself over what you want versus what you need.

If you were recording promos and trailers every day, then you would be making the kind of income where devoting a whole room of your house, and getting an ISDN, and hiring a part time engineer (like ... me for example) would make sense. If most of what you're doing is auditioning though, then I don't think a booth is the way to go.

Would it help? Sure.

Enough to warrant the building cost and support? Probably not.

Most people at this stage of the game are much better served by taking a few simple (and cheap) precautions to ensure your recordings are as clean as possible.

Really, it's about knowing your equipment.
Most microphones are directional to some degree. Meaning, they should only pick up sound from a specific side or "face" of the mic. Most vocal mics are cardioid mics (cardioid ... cardiac, heart? Get it?), and they will have a subtle fan or "heart" shape recording pattern on one side of the mic. The other side of the mic will be dead.
Generally speaking, as long as the room you're in is fairly quiet (fairly closed off from the rest of the house), then you should be able to reduce reflection by treating just one or two walls or a corner of the room.

When you have flat hard walls in a room, and you're trying to record, the sound is bouncing all around. So, when you speak, the sound of your voice travels all the way across the room, bounces off a wall, travels all the way back to the wall behind you, bounces off that wall, and goes back into the mic AGAIN. Of course, that bouncing delays the sound going back into the mic, so you get a slight echo or reverberation ("reverb") effect. Now a little room tone is good. It gives the listener a sense of perspective, but hard surface reflection is often the first sign of an amateur recording (kinda like taking your headshots with a disposable camera).

So how do you fix it?

Well there are two main schools of thought on that. You can either try to block your voice from reflecting on the far wall, or you can block the reflection from the wall behind you. Ideally you would want to do both.
I find it's easier to hang a nice heavy blanket or rug, and record with your back to that. It works best if you can set it up in a corner, and make a little "blanket bowl" to catch reflected sound.
There are contraptions that can bolt on to mic stands that should absorb some of your voice's reflections, but they can be a little pricey, and I think some of them are a little too small to block ceiling and floor reflections. They also wont solve the problem of a hard surface behind you. Ideally, again, you'd want something behind you AND behind the mic, but I don't really think that's always necessary.
Keep the mic as far from your computer as you can (and try to point the "dead" end towards it), and if you have hardwood floors, it's time to throw a rug down.

Steps like these will work wonders for beginning home recording, and are easy and inexpensive to set up. As you become more successful, THEN you can look at the cost of building a room, or plunking down on a pre-fab Whisper Room type thing (the tinniest starting at almost $3000, whew!).

If you want something modular (that you can put up and take down easily) check out this PVC pipe project from PalmCityStudios.

Here's an article from a Wired blog about a professional marimba player, and what she had to go through to sound proof her NY apartment.

And lastly, heres a great Sound on Sound article about (not) setting up a booth.



  1. I agree about the whisper room. It's a big expense. I do the vast majority of my work from home and the whisper room has paid for itself many times over. I live very close to an elementary school in Hollywood and the sound of 150 kids in the schoolyard has never stopped me from working. For auditioning only? You don't need a booth.

  2. See, that's perfect!
    An actual NEED for a whisper room.
    Most people I meet just need some rock wool or insulation.