Thinking about your Recording Environment
Dan Wright - Head of Production, Absolute Radio
One thing which is well worth considering at this stage is your recording environment. It's something which is so simple, but has a huge effect on the final quality of your recording.
Acoustics & Reverb
It’s all very well buying a top of the range microphone, but if you’re recording your show down a well or in a cave it’s still going to sound pretty bad. Reverb or echo on your voice can make your show sound a bit amateurish in some cases. Though it’s worth of a full textbook of it’s own (and there are many out there) let’s quickly look at how sound works in relation to the environment around it.
Imagine sound (in our case, your voice) as a golf ball. If you drop a golf ball onto a hard floor, or throw it against a hard wall, it’s going to bounce right back at you. On the other hand, if you drop it onto a carpet or throw it against a duvet or curtain, it’s unlikely to bounce back at all. It’s exactly the same with sound, so look at your current recording environment and imagine throwing that golf ball against the walls or floor. Will it end up bouncing around the room?
There are numerous reasons why you might not be able to dedicate an entire room to becoming a podcast studio. Whether you share the house with your family or flatmates, or you simply don’t have the space, a permanent setup isn’t an option for everyone. So what are your options? Well, improvisation is key here.
- Use a pre-existing area. This might simply be the best sounding (softest furnished) room in your house, or it might be a walk-in wardrobe full of hanging clothes.
- Localised treatment. Instead of worrying about the sound of the room, create a small ‘studio’ around yourself and your mic. This might be anything from popping your mic into a cat bed, to draping a duvet over a clothes horse. Okay, you might look a bit silly when you’re recording, but remember, we’re working in audio. Whatever setup you put together though, just make sure it’s comfortable enough to actually record a full podcast episode with!
If you’ve got a bit more room in your house you can set up a recording studio that can still be used for other non-audio related purposes. You can buy or make sound treated baffling boards or partitions on stands. These can be set up to form a mini ‘deadroom’ around your recording area, and can be tidied away afterwards – though you’ll still need a reasonable amount of room to store them.
Another option is to use sound blankets or curtains which can be hung on rails or hooks. Though these are smaller and easier to tidy away, they are a bit more permanent in the sense that you’re probably going to have to attach something to your wall to support them.
Sound Treating a Room
If you do have the luxury of commandeering a spare room or walk in cupboard, then life immediately becomes a whole lot easier. But, before you get too excited, there’s a few things to consider first…
- Are any of the walls of the room external or joined to your neighbour’s house? Does your neighbour tend to play the drums, watch the television at a high volume, or have a dog that never stops barking?
- Is there a window in the room? Does it back on to a busy street with lots of noise outside?
- Does the room have anything in it that might make noise? I mean things that can’t be moved, like a boiler, a gas meter that clicks sporadically, that sort of thing.
- Are you recording near a loud fridge? You can turn it off, but it’s almost certain that you’ll forget to turn it back on. One great tip for this comes from Ric Viers (The Sound Effects Bible) who suggests putting your car keys in the fridge when you unplug it. Hopefully you’re planning to drive in the next few hours though, otherwise you might still end up with a flooded kitchen and spoiled food…
Though you can deaden a room from reverb, external noises are a different thing altogether, so take this all into consideration before you go and buy £400 worth of soundproofing.
Acoustic Tiles – Matthew's Case Study
“I converted a walk-in cupboard in my house into a vocal booth a couple of years ago. I measured the walls, ceiling, and door, before ordering an equivalent amount of 12″ x 12″ acoustic foam tiles.
I deliberated over how I was going to attach them to the wall. There were a few different options.
- Velcro tape – not the cheapest, and I had visions of the tiles falling off too much.
- Specialist adhesive – designed specifically for these tiles. Quite expensive and a bit too permanent.
- Glue – far too permanent. If I move house I want to take my tiles with me, without leaving bits of them all over the walls.
We were decorating the rest of the house at the time so I tried some wallpaper paste. It worked a treat holding the tiles firmly in place, and when I peeled one off it left very little foam stuck to the wall. None of the tiles have fallen off (over 4 years later), not even the ones on the roof.”
Summary – Considerations
With all that in mind, you need to decide what best suits you, your home, your budget, and your podcast.
Is it vitally important that you have no reverb or background ambience at all? This might be the case if you’re running a business show and you want it to sound really professional, or if you’re recording an audio drama. If not then recording in your bedroom with a few cushions propped around the mic will do just fine for most.
If you need to get the cleanest sound possible, but have no permanent space, then it’s going to add a bit of time to your podcasting schedule to allow you to set up and dismantle your temporary ‘studio’.
External, and internal sounds that you have no control over can creep in to your recordings so you need to decide which ones you can live with, and which ones you’d really rather not hear in your podcast.
Finally, do you have any money to spend, or do you need to use household items (duvets, sheets, etc) for your sound dampening? The latter can be just as effective, even if they don’t look as good, so don’t worry if you can’t afford a few boxes of acoustic tiles.