Where to Put Your Home VO Studio (w/ George Whittam)

Marc Cashman “The Voice Cat” brought us a heavy hitter this month: Engineer and Dominator of Studio Construction George Whittam! Huge thanks to both Marc and George for sharing with us!

I’ve had lots of great questions come in asking about the voiceover industry from Now Casting/Actors Ink readers this past month. This month’s article contains Part II of George Whittam’s advice on where to place your home studio. Last month George talked about setting up a studio in a rental apartment.  This month, he covers info about installing a V-O booth in a condo or house.

George Whittam, now with Edge Studio, is one of the top V-O techies in the U.S., and I’m proud to say he’s also a friend and colleague.  He co-hosts the East-West Audio Body Shop with cohort Dan Lenard each Sunday evening on the Web. For any home studio questions, you can reach George at: george.whittam@edgestudios.com.

Q: Where in my home should I place my VO studio, and what problems should I expect?

A:  When it comes time to start recording from your home, the first question you need to answer for yourself is perhaps one of the toughest. What is the best place in your home for your VO studio? Depending on the size of your home, this may be a very easy decision, but each home is unique and poses its own challenges and advantages. I’ll also cover some basic solutions to deal with the noise and acoustic issues in each situation. I’ll break it down by three main types of homes: Apartment, Condo, and House.

The Condo

Here we will assume that you are the owner of your unit and that modifications to doors or windows are possible and may add equity to the home. Many of the same concepts as stated in the apartment section prior certainly will apply here as well, but now you can take things a step further in dealing with noise. If the primary source of noise in the room of choice is exterior through a window, start there first. You do a temporary window plug as mentioned above, or you can improve the window itself. There exist kits that can be used to add a layer of acrylic or glass over the existing window. The panel can be removed to allow access to the window for cleaning or just opening for fresh air. Look for a Magnetseal kit online for more information.

You could retrofit a 2nd window over the existing window to create a double window, or if your existing windows are in need of replacement have the window replaced completely with a modern, well insulated version. If noise from the rest of the home is disruptive, you can improve the door that encloses the room or closet. If you are lucky enough to have a solid core door (rare for interiors), you may only need to seal the perimeter with a sealing kit. Take it to the max with an “automatic door bottom” which rests a seal down on the floor when the door is shut. If the door is hollow, you can improve it or replace it. Either method can be a challenge, so if you aren’t comfortable with this you’ll want to hire a skilled handy person. Improving means adding layer(s) of heavy/dense material, such as “mass loaded vinyl” or MDF, a very heavy manufactured wood used often in furniture and cabinets. Replace the door with a solid core door blank that can be cut and drilled to fit the opening, or replace the entire door frame with pre-hung exterior grade fire door that has weather seals built in. If ventilation noise is an issue, in most cases the most reasonable solution is to turn off the system while recording. But those who record long-form narration or audio books may not have this luxury. A baffle can be assembled to mount over the air vent to quiet the flow of air, the air vent location can be relocated, enlarged to slow the flow of air, or in cases where that just isn’t practical, the air vent can be sealed off completely. Keep in mind that if the room has two vents and you close off one, the air will be forced through the other at even higher speed, making even MORE noise. Other noisy appliances in the home, such as a refrigerator, can be connected to a remote power switch for convenient powering down during a session.

The House 

Houses can be townhouses, duplexes, or freestanding single dwelling buildings. They can be single story, multi-story, have basements, attics, garages, or as is often is the case in Los Angeles, none of the above! If you rent your house like I do, you are likely limited to much of what I outlined for apartment renters. But if you own your home, the sky or budget is the limit. We covered closets and bedrooms, now let’s compare basements, ground floor, and upper story rooms. If you’re lucky enough to have a basement with a concrete floor that is dry and has at least a 7’ ceiling, this may be a primary candidate. As most are below ground, they maintain cooler temperatures year round, mitigating the need for air conditioning. But basements can be noisy places. My parent’s home, for example, has the blower for the heating system, the water pump, and the laundry room. You can build a sound isolating wall to divide off the nosiest area, or enclose a room for your studio to deal with those noise sources pretty effectively. What is the most difficult to deal with is the sound of foot traffic, known as “foot fall”, from above. If you don’t live alone, you’ll need to deal with it. If you record short sessions and your house-mates are very well trained to stop walking when your “RECORDING” sign lights up in the hallway, you may be able to just work around the issue. If you have kids like I do, good luck with that.

Isolating the noise from above from your studio is very challenging to do well. It requires the floor boards above to be silenced to stop squeaks, drywall applied to the bottom of the sub-floor, insulation between the floor joists, a separate ceiling joist for your studio, more insulation, more layers of drywall with a product such as GreenGlue, and an air-tight seal at every seam. Your ceiling may end up much lower than you anticipated, so be forewarned. If after reading that last bit you realize the basement is out of the question, should you choose a ground floor or upper story room? If your home is in a noisy area, especially with aircraft, a ground floor may be the best choice. You’ll have the entire upper story to act as a noise barrier. But as is the case with the basement, you may have to deal with foot-fall from above. If you are in a relatively quiet neighborhood far from flight patterns, then you may go with the second or top story. There you don’t need to isolate the ceiling from foot-fall. In some cases your noise issue may be from the room below, so choose carefully. Pick the room over the living room before the kid’s room, for example.

Own a house in Los Angeles anywhere near Burbank or LAX? You may need to apply every technique, and then some. City folk may find a prefabricated isolation booth the most cost effective and palatable solution, such as those from WhisperRoom, Vocalbooth, GretchKen, or StudioBricks. They are also very popular for the apartment renters, as well. In the end, you really need to decide if your career as at a stage where you need to make a minimal, moderate, or heavy investment to continue on to the next level. Before you contact anyone to help you with the project, figure out your budget and stick to it. You’ll be glad you did, and you’ll treat this project as a smart business owner should. I’ll have more questions for you next month.  Hope your Thanksgiving holiday is happy and healthy.

Marc Cashman © 2013

MARC CASHMAN, President and Creative Director of Cashman Commercials/L.A., creates and produces copy and music advertising for radio and television. Winner of over 150 advertising awards, he’s a guest speaker at Ad Clubs and Broadcasters Associations throughout the U.S. and has been interviewed in trade magazines, newspapers and on radio and television programs. As a voice actor, Marc was named one of the “Best Voices of the Year”—three times—by AudioFile Magazine. He also teaches voiceover at California Institute of the Arts, through seminars at NowCasting’s iActing Studios and instructs all levels of voice acting through his classes, The Cashman Cache of Voice-Acting Techniques in Los Angeles, CA, as well as world-wide tele-coaching. Marc has been the Keynote Speaker and Master Class instructor at VOICE 2008, 2010 and 2012, the only international convention for voice actors. He recently presented at VO2013 ATLANTA (http://vo2013atlanta.com).   He can be contacted at 661-222-9300, cashcomm@earthlink.net or through his website, www.cashmancommercials.com.


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