Ooooh, must buy shiny things!
Q. Which mic should I buy? A. Treat your room properly first Q. Yeah, I know, but which mic should I buy. They’re cool and shiny and will make me sound much better A. Treat your room properly first And so on and so on……
You may not have been quite as impetuous as this when you first started but there is something tangible about buying your first mic. Although I come from an electrical engineering background, I had no real idea about microphones. The difference between condensor and dynamic. The difference between a well made mic and a cheap mic. So, on the recommendation of my VO coach, the first mic I purchased was a dynamic mic. A cheap one at that. An EV Co9 Cobalt ($70) along with a regular mic stand. My studio was an alcove inside my large walk in closet with untreated surfaces. My interface was a Scarlett Solo and I used Audacity as my DAW on an existing laptop. All in, it was around $250. And guess what. It sounded like shit. I didn’t think it sounded like shit at the time (you don’t know what you don’t know), but it did. Don’t believe me? I keep all my files. I mean ALL of my files. So, for your listening pleasure, here is an example of one of my first recordings while I was in training from back in 2016. Craig Williams-BP
Give me a moment to collect myself after cringing so hard it was physically straining!
And this is the tough part. It takes a lot of time to develop a good ear for VO when you have no high-quality production experience. This means you are fighting an uphill battle when you first get into this. You don’t know how good you should sound and it is difficult to discern the difference between an average quality VO which won’t book and a good quality bookable VO mp3 (NOTE: I am not going to discuss performance in this episode. I will leave that for later). I received advice from a very wise VO; Go to some acclaimed talent agent websites (search Google for voice over agent). Download some demos that you liked. Record some of the same spots that they have recorded. Then, using your DAW, splice your read in between some of the experienced VO reads (it works better if you can find reads that don’t have music production, but these can be hard to get). Then listen. And, listen again. Then, listen some more. If you commute to work, play it over and over again on your journey. Only stop when you can tell the difference and understand what the difference is.
I did this. I don’t care if you don’t like the sound of your voice. Get over it. If that is the case – you are in the wrong business. You are going to be hearing a lot of your voice during your career. After a while, I started to understand. I wanted to learn more. I started to see a common basic theme in the Forums I was a member of. The space you record in is more important than your mic. I researched this. I then came up with a cheap blanketing system for my little alcove within the closet. It’s around 6ft by 7ft in size and shaped in a rectangle. I used moving blankets and some packing foam. I didn’t want to invest too much at this point as I was still learning and not sending auditions out yet.
It was at that point I realized that the recommendation of a Dynamic mic was a terrible choice for me. I’m sure if I went for a Shure SM7B it may not have been so bad, but I didn’t want to drop $400 on a mic at this point. So, I investigated shotguns. No, I wasn’t thinking of killing myself at this point. I’m talking about Shotgun mics. I didn’t want to drop more than $200 as I was still learning (hindsight is such a wonderful thing!). I plumped for an AT875R that cost around $170 from Guitar Center. It has pretty good reviews and was within my budget. It also introduced me to the world of condenser microphones which means I couldn’t fart when I was recording anymore (as if I would!). It picked up everything in front of it. Clothing rustles, belly rumbles and mouth noise. I didn’t even know mouth noise was a frickin’ thing! Now I hear it everywhere! Once again, you don’t know what you don’t know. The increase in audio quality from the dynamic mic to the condenser was immense for me.
After some more coaching and practicing, I won my first job using the AT875R. It was for Rolls Royce Marine. Here is the actual wav file that was sent to the production company: Craig Williams – Rolls Royce Marine And here is the final video that was produced: https://youtu.be/s-FmIZvZVfw You can hear in the actual file that there is some slap back echo but it wasn’t enough to make the file unusable in the production. I don’t want to talk about the performance sides of things (cringe again!).
As I won more and more jobs, I invested every penny back into my business. I can’t remember if I had already upgraded my DAW to Reaper at the time of the Rolls Royce spot. If not, it was very soon after it. I love Reaper. Probably more on that in another blog! I was also still checking my sound against the pro’s. It still wasn’t where I wanted it to be. After some more research and 6 months, I bought a Rode NT1 ($250). It was a game changer for me. I loved the crisp full sound it produced. As it was a cardioid pattern mic, it picked up more background noise than the shotgun so I had to get serious about treating my space. I splurged on some Auralex panels. I also discussed my space with an engineer and they recommended a floating ceiling and heavy curtains for behind me. All these things together made a huge difference to my sound. Take my advice - Pay the money and send a file to a respected engineer. It may be the best $50-100 you spend. George Whittam, Dan Leonard, Tim Tippets and many more provide that service. Here is the first job I booked after making the changes (June 2017). I hope you can hear the difference. Here is the raw WAV file: Craig Williams - Ferma And here is the final video that was produced: https://youtu.be/qW3JLsQePxU
The Rode NT1 served me very well. I started booking much more frequently and my confidence grew as I continued with my coaching. After a year, the time came to move to ne next level in gear. The ethereal Sennheiser MKH416. June of 2018 is when that beautiful black box from BSW arrived (insert sound of angels here). The best $799 I have spent so far. The differences between the NT1 and the MKH416 are subtle but definitely make a difference to my ear. Also, the confidence that it has given me has also been noticeable. That shouldn’t be underestimated. I love it! Here is the raw file from a job I booked with the MKH416 recently: Craig Williams-Amazon Here is what the final video looked like: https://youtu.be/QR8WKbqZMKg That has been the last of my microphone purchases to date. I was surprised by my kids on Christmas 2019 with and iMac for my studio. Also, during Covid-19, I upgraded my studio space, so it is now relatively soundproof and enclosed. See picture below.
Here are the lessons I learned over the last 4 years with regards to equipment:
1. Pay attention to treating your recording space
2. Start with a Rode NT1. It is a great mic for a great price
3. Re-invest in your business
4. You don’t need a U87
5. Voice over is a slow but rewarding career
Take care until next week.