By: Chris Cavallari, filmosity.tv
There are times when field audio, camera microphones, and even lavalier mics just are not appropriate for your video. I’ve talked many times about the importance of good production values in your videos. In the early days of online video production, you could get away with a lot: bad lighting; shaky cameras; odd angles; and even sketchy sound. Today’s online video viewer is less forgiving. Because of the much wider acceptance of online video by traditional media outlets, viewers are coming to expect much higher production values, even from amateur producers. If you’re doing video or audio production for yourself or your business, taking some simple steps to up your game can really pay off.
When you need clean, crisp, clear audio, it’s time to call in the big guns: the audio isolation booth, fully equipped with a high end studio microphone. The purpose of such a booth is simple: create a sonic “deadspace” which prevents soundwaves from bouncing off of reflective surfaces, creating even the tiniest of echoes. A studio grade microphone picks up sound waves that other micas just can’t, providing a richer, fuller sound that people equate with high end productions. But making a fully equipped audio booth is easier, and less expensive, than you think. And depending on how much portability and use you expect to get from the booth, you can make one on par with high end production facilities. In this post, I’ll talk about three levels of DIY sound booths that will help you create professional sound on a shoestring budget.
Nope, it’s not a euphemism. One of the cheapest and easiest ways to make an audio booth is to set up shop in a clothing closet. The key to any good audio booth is “deadening” sound. What’s happening when you hear tinny, echo-y, or boxy vocals in a recording is that sound waves from the source (e.g., your voice) are bouncing off the flat, solid, and therefore reflective, walls surrounding you. The slight delay between the time the sound waves leave your mouth and the point when the reflected waves hit the microphone might be minuscule, but it’s enough to make a dent. When you line the space you’re in with soft materials–clothing, for instance–those sound waves essentially get absorbed by the little air pockets within the material. So, instead of bouncing back to you, they bounce around inside the material and never make it back to your mic.
The downsides to using a closet are few, but they can be deal breakers. The closet should be located in a quiet part of your house or office, and it should be away from exterior walls. Otherwise, extraneous sounds will make their way into your recordings. Your recordings also may be affected by other people, so finding a closet or small room away from others’ activities is key. And of course, you’re taking up space in a place not meant for audio recording, but clothing storage. Significant others may be peeved.
The Portable Booth
Having the ability to bring your soundbooth with you is a great advantage for those who spend a lot of time on the road. But a portable studio is also great because you can move it around your own facility if taking up space permanently is an issue. There are several portable sound booths available on the market at varying price points, but they all have a few things in common. First, they are lightweight and easy to transport. Second, they are relatively inexpensive and use few materials to get the job done. Third, portable sound booths can, in many cases, be made by you at home using everyday tools and hardware available from your local home goods store.
The basic elements of a portable sound booth are stands, stretchers, and sound absorbing materials. Mics, cables, stools, and audio mixers are topics for another post at another time. Let’s start with the basics. You can buy a portable booth for anywhere from about $400 to well over $1000 at any of the large professional retailers. There is a reason they cost that much, and you usually get what you pay for. But in a pinch, or if you feel such an investment is not worth the return, here’s a simple idea for a sound booth. You’ll need either several feet of 1″ PVC pipe, or 4 telescoping light stands; if you go with the light stands, you’ll also need backdrop stretchers; Four $45 sound blankets; and enough spring clamps to create a sealed off “booth.” Create the frame with the PVC or light stands, clamp or tie the blankets to the frame, and voila! A sound booth.
The Permanent Studio
Let’s say you have a room in your facility that you can dedicate to audio production. That’s great! You can now concentrate on building a high end facility. Again, we’ll ignore all the electronics and focus on the room itself.
Like the closet, you want a room that is away from exterior walls, and well away from heavy traffic areas in your facility. Minimzing the amount of ambient noise that can reach the room is essential. Next, you’ll need to look at the layout of the room. Does it have a lot of parallel surfaces? Even the relationship between the ceiling and the floor can be a problem, as sound waves like to bounce between parallel surfaces, and they certainly enjoy sharp corners. You’ll also want to find a room that can be adequately ventilated, heated or cooled, and kept relatively clean without introducing noise from HVAC elements. That can be tricky, but it’s not impossible.
If you’ve got a budget for this project, here are some things to take into consideration.
- Find good sound absorbing materials from a professional supplier that can be mounted to the walls and ceiling. If you can, try to put in some of the pieces at odd angles, especially in corners. This will prevent those soundwaves from crashing into each other.
- Keep production equipment that makes noise (e.g., computers with cooling fans, etc.) out of the isolation room.
- Run cables to a separate control room. This room can be connected to the sound booth, but if it is, the room should be soundproofed as well.
- Remember to run a mic cable, a return feedback cable (a.k.a., Internal Feedback, or IFB) so the talent can hear playback in headphones, and if necessary, video cables for video playback between the rooms. You’ll need to close off the hole where the cables run to avoid errant sounds.
- Supply a stool and podium so the talent has somewhere to rest in between takes. These three types of audio booth are but a sampling of the possibilities out there. The key to any good audio voiceover booth is to ensure that the errant soundwaves get trapped and absorbed. No matter how you achieve that, the first time you hear a voice or instrument recording made in one, you’ll be amazed and astonished at how you ever got along without one.