When I was fourteen years old I saved up for a year, and bought a multi-track cassette recorder, a plastic microphone and a box of cassettes. It cost me £350, in 1985. For this, I was able to record four individual tracks of me and friends playing our songs onto a sixty minute cassette.
Fast forward to the present day. For £50, you can buy a reasonably high quality USB microphone. Add this to free software on a Mac or PC and you have everything I had at fourteen, except you have ninety six tracks of pristine quality audio, editing functions that used to require razor blades, an infinite amount of recording time, editing, and an endless amount of studio effects.
Now, anyone can sit in front of their computer, and make noise free, quality recordings of themselves, whether it’s for voice over or singer, for a fraction of what we used to pay in the past.
So why bother coming to a professional recording studio? Why bother paying for something that seems completely accessible at home?
I think there are a few factors that come to mind. I work in Manchester TVG Studio, where I use Pro Tools HD, nice preamps and Neumann microphones, but I would be able to make exactly the same recordings if I was using any of the freely available recording software – Reaper, Audacity, Garageband. To all intents and purposes, there’s not going to be a significant difference in quality. I could get a cheaper microphone to sound good too, so why not just record at home?
I record voice overs every working day of my life and most of the time my job is relatively simple – given a perfect voice, with perfect direction. I record, make it sound nice and send it off. Dead straightforward. I think I’m employed though, not for what I do, but for what I know. There’s an endless amount of issues that can occur with recording. Voices can sound sibilant, or essy, which needs to be fixed. It’s a relatively easy fix, but only if you know how. Shaping sound is a dark art that studio engineers spend years learning, only to make it look like a ten second task when they’re sitting in a session with you. Pro Tools, is the leading industry software and has an entire studio built into it – desk, recorder, effects, everything. To learn it properly, we all had to learn how to use a real studio first.
A small booth at home can sound ok, but the chances of it sounding as good as our architect designed, quadruple glazed, acoustically neutral studio is very unlikely. A small set of monitors can sound nice and easy to work, but you won’t hear what you can hear on our Bryston amp/ Dynaudio monitors set up. Its also extremely beneficial having a recording studio that can accomodate five to six clients comfortably, where they relax, help direct and enjoy the experience.
Still, none of these are the most important things. The most important things are consistency and neutrality. Every job you do has to sound perfect. If at some point you need to return to a session to record more, it has to sound the same. Often recordings have to match audio from other professional studios with acoustically neutral rooms. If five different voices record, they have to sound like they were recorded in the same space, and the only way to get this is with a sound engineer in a decent room with decent ears and decent experience.
Having said that, there are voice overs with beautiful setups at home, with silent isolation chambers in their spare rooms, connecting over ISDN to studios all over the world, sending off consistent and very well edited audio. That could rival the quality that myself and other TVG engineers can produce. But, are you ever likely to see their studio set up, they could be just using a fifty pound mic with duvet over their head. In my experience, peace of mind and experience goes a long way.
By Chris Power, Sound Engineer at The Voiceover Gallery