How Much is that Studio in My Bedroom?

NOTE: I suggest you read this entire article before jumping to any conclusions regarding the cost for home studio equipment. You may have some pleasant surprises in store. The prices included in this article are subject to change at any time.

Ask this question on just about any of the voiceover discussion groups and you’ll get the following answer: “Plan on spending at least $1,000 to put together your home studio.”

Considering that a professional recording studio will invest literally millions of dollars in their studio design and equipment, a $1,000 investment for a home studio is literally a drop-in-the-bucket. And it is a very practical and realistic expectation for assembling the component parts for recording high-quality audio at home. In fact, many voiceover professionals will invest many thousands of dollars in their home studios. But for someone just starting out in voiceover, $1,000 can be a lot of money – especially when you consider the other expenses of training, books, marketing, and demo production. And that’s all before even getting your first paid VO job.

However, there are ways to reduce some of the costs involved in setting up your home studio. Sure, if you want the absolute best in recording equipment and software, you’ll be spending top dollar. But if you’re just getting started, your money might be better spent in other areas – like proper training and marketing.

A history of home studios:

During my 25 years as an Audio Supervisor and Director with NBC in San Diego , part of my job was to research and budget for new audio equipment – and there was never enough money to purchase what we really needed. So I began to find alternate sources for equipment that met broadcast standards, yet would save us thousands of dollars a year.

I’ve had a home studio of some sort since I was a teenager, and I’ve taken what I learned, along with my experience at NBC, and added a section to the VoiceActing.com website specifically for helping people build a home studio on a budget. The basic equipment to get you started recording at home will cost less than $250!  I've written an E-Book on building your home studio, and if you're really desperate, you can even hire me as a consultant to help configure the equipment for your personal home studio.

Of course, a $200 equipment package is very minimal, and is really practical only for rehearsal. Recording professional-quality voice tracks will cost a bit more, but it can still be done for a lot less than what you might expect.

Home Studio Essentials:

The first major expense for a home studio is the computer – the newer and faster, the better. But even a computer that’s a few years old can do the job if it has adequate memory, a few USB ports, a relatively fast CPU, and a large enough hard drive (more on that later). If you have a computer several years old that doesn’t have any USB ports, you might want to consider replacing it with a newer one before building your home studio. Attempting to adapt an older computer to use current-day software and equipment can be more trouble than it's worth.

Another major expense for a home studio is recording software that can easily cost $300 or more. Most professional voice talent will suggest Digidesign’s ProTools (starting at $495 for the M-Box with ProTools LE software) as the recording software of choice, along with a good condenser mic. That combination will easily come in at around $1,000 or more. ProTools is considered by many to be the industry standard for audio recording, but unless you specifically need to have your studio projects compatible with other studios, and you have lots of time to learn how to use it (ProTools has a steep learning curve), you probably don’t need ProTools – or any of the higher priced software, for that matter. Any software that will allow you to record in .wav (Windows) and .aiff (Mac) formats, and provide for conversion to .mp3 will serve you nicely. You can always upgrade your software later.

In addition to the recording software, other recommendations might include a high-quality condenser mic ($800), a USB A/D converter ($200 or more), a microphone pre-amp ($250), and a few other accessories. Before you know it, you're closing in on $1500 to $2000! And that isn’t including any acoustic treatments.

But I can't afford that . . .

For someone just starting and out who needs to record very good quality audio but doesn't have the budget for high-end equipment or software, I recommend budgeting around $500 - $700 for their first home studio equipment package - and that includes everything including acoustic treatment for your room. The essential things you’ll need are: a condenser microphone, a USB Analog/Digital converter (connects your microphone to the computer), a microphone stand, microphone cable, a copy stand, a pair of headphones for monitoring, and recording software. Other things that are nice, but not critical are: a mic pre-amp, monitor speakers, a better copy stand, a phone patch device, and an audio mixer.

A very basic package will work fine for recording auditions, but the microphone may not be your best choice, and the system will rely on you recording tracks on your computer's main hard drive. This can be a bit risky because if your main drive crashes, you could lose all of your voice recordings. Also, many hard drives run at only 5400rpm (and some laptop have drives that only spin at 480rpm), which is great for data, but not great for recording audio or video. if your computer’s hard drive isn't fast enough (7200rpm) you might have problems with long recordings. Short recordings under 5 minutes or so shouldn't be a problem, even on a 5400rpm drive. Adding an external USB/Firewire hard drive (about $150 for a 160GB drive) will solve a world of problems and give you plenty of storage for auditions, demos and paid projects.

My Recommendations for a first-time home studio:

I'd suggest taking a close look at the various mics at www.voiceacting.com/products/homestudio and choosing a condenser mic that fits your budget. A relatively good-sounding MXL-990 condenser mic for $69 can be a great starting microphone. It's certainly not the quality of the $1000 mics, but it will do the trick to get you started – and it will sound better than most dynamic microphones. The M-Audio MobilPre ($149) will give you the digital conversion and control of the mic level into your computer. Add a mic stand and cable (I'd suggest the Nady mic/stand, cable package for $39 - you'll even get a backup dynamic mic in the deal), and a folding music/copy stand ($5) and you're up to a total of roughly $262. If you can afford to add an external hard drive ($150) I'd recommend it. Your total equipment package is now $411 - and with a decent computer with USB ports, you should be able to record with the best of them (or close to it). Add some tax and shipping and you're still under $500.

Of course, this doesn't include recording software or acoustical room improvements. Recording software can cost anywhere from about $60 for Goldwave, on up to several hundred for Adobe Audition, or Sony Soundforge, and over $2,000 if you go with the ProTools Digi 002. But if you’re just getting started, why spend that kind of money if all you need to do is record your voice and do some basic cut and splice editing?

I found something you’re gonna like!

In my search for affordable audio recording software for our students, I came across a group of computer software designers who develop open-system computer programs. And one of their programs is for . . . you guessed it . . . sound recording. It's called Audacity (http://audacity.sourceforge.net). Admittedly, it’s not very fancy, but it’s relatively easy to learn, it’s available for both PC and Mac computers, has a whole bunch of plug-in special effects available, and it will create MP3 files. And the best part . . . it’s FREE! What more can you ask for?

Now all that’s left is for you to do is to make some minor acoustical improvements to minimize room echo, and you’re ready to record. Of course, you can spend thousands on acoustical design, but then again . . . why? For less than $100 you can make most minor improvements you’ll need, and the major improvements can wait until you’ve landed that national VO gig.

I’ve designed the home studio area of VoiceActing.com to be a comprehensive resource with everything you’ll need for your home studio: equipment, equipment package recommendations, books on home studio design, on-line resources, and more. You’ll find just about everything you’ll ever need to build your own home studio.

I’ve also created an E-Book that I call the VoiceActor’s Guide to Professional Home Recording. This downloadable E-Book has all the essential information you’ll need to put together your home studio – regardless of your budget.

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