At the beginning of October, I purchased a vocal booth!
I hadn't planned on making this investment for at least another year, but all the right pieces fell into place. The booth was gently used and already available on the east coast. I even had the right amount of money set aside in my savings. All the stars were aligning and it seemed like the perfect step forward in my career. So I said yes!
StudioBricks has been on my radar since I saw an interview with a narrator for ACX about what her daily life was like narrating audiobooks. I was tremendously impressed by how comfortable and clean her recording booth and setup appeared, but it took me a while to find out who made such beautiful looking booths!
I came across StudioBricks again when I was researching audio treatment solutions for my day job as a Learning Experience Designer. There were a few key factors that I wanted to apply to my personal recording solutions, as well as impart to my supervisor, that made StudioBricks stand out above other vocal booth models I'd seen so far.
StudioBricks in Action
The proof is always in the pudding, so rather than tell you, I hope the audio sample below will give you a clear idea of what my recordings sound like in this new space. However, I can say that so far I am completely pleased with the results!
The recording below does not include any post production at all. No noise removal, compression - nothing! I recorded using a Neumann TLM 49, Grace M 101 Preamp, and Scarlett 2i2 as an interface (I know that last bit isn't ideal, but I don't have my new interface installed yet and this is an acoustics test anyway!) Also check out the short story I'm reading here.
Thinking about your own StudioBricks Booth?
While I can't recommend this incredible booth enough, here are a few pointers as a new owner that I would recommend for you moving forward!
Let me know what you think!
If this experience has you thinking about purchasing your own StudioBricks booth, then awesome! I'm so excited for you to fall in love with them too! If you have any questions, feel free to drop them in the comments, and I will do my absolute best to provide you with an answer. My experience was a little different than a new buyer, but I'm happy to help where I can!
Before discussing equalization or compression, it's essential to understand what frequency is. Frequency is a fancy physics term that helps us describe what sound is and how it works.
Sound moves in waves, and frequency has to do with what pitch you perceive when a sound wave moves at a specific speed. For example, low pitched sounds move in only a few longer waves, while high pitched sounds require hundreds and even thousands of waves. To describe the number of waves a pitch requires to move, you use the word frequency. A sound with a frequency of 100Hz means that the sound creates 100 waves per second. (Hz stands for "Hertz," the technical unit of measurement for the number of waves per second).
You may know some specific frequencies off hand. For example, if you've ever heard an orchestra tuning their instruments to the same note, that note (A4) creates exactly 440 waves per second (440Hz.) If you were to sing that same note, your voice would also create a sound wave that moved at 440Hz.
Most of the time, the sounds you hear are actually made up of multiple frequencies stacked up on top of each other. Depending on how an instrument, or even a person's body is shaped, a 440Hz sound will resonate through those shapes in unique and different ways, generating some extra sounds at different frequencies along the way. This is why every instrument that produces a 440Hz note won't sound the same - they resonate differently.
This past weekend, I was able to visit New York for the first time! NoSuchCon, hosted by Vasser College, was gracious enough to invite me to attend as a guest, and I was able to sit on six different panels, two of which I hosted solo. I also got to meet up with several friends who were also guesting, and had my first excursion to Time Square.
Friday morning, I left our tiny regional airport before the sun was even up. I was so paranoid about getting there on time, I actually arrived before security had opened. Fortunately both my arriving and return trips went off like clockwork, and I got to New York just before lunch. My friend Adam had already picked up our mutual friend Amber (the head of Sound Cadence Studios) and we drove the two hours up to Poughkeepsie, where we had enough time to throw our things into our hotel rooms before heading to the con for our first panel on Adam's animated web series, Shattered Heaven. We only had a few people show up - it was still during set up, and people were arriving - but we were able to answer some engaging questions as people poked their heads in. A few hours later, I presented my first solo panel on "The Eight Steps to being a Better Internet Professional." I'm amazed I was remotely coherent, considering I'd been up since 4am.
Sunday, I was able to join the writer's panel (which you can listen to here), hosted by fellow writer Thomm Quackenbush. There were a lot of great questions and topics to discuss, and it was a little surreal to be a panel member with the author of the first web comic I'd ever read as a high schooler. (It's called Bardsworth, go check it out!) We closed out our time at the con after lunch with a panel on Depression and Anxiety, which was heavy, but a really good discussion about how our experiences have made a difference in how we approach the creative process and our day to day lives.
After thanking the con staff, we took a train down to the city for a few hours so I could see downtown New York for myself. I had Korean barbecue for the first time, and got to see the Public Library, Grand Central, and Time Square. I embraced the fact that I was being a complete tourist and took a stupid amount of pictures of the buildings and scenery around me. Bless my friends for watching and waiting when I was inevitably distracted.
Overall, I had a wonderful first trip to New York. Despite being a small venue, No Such Con were wonderfully gracious hosts and the people I met were both friendly and generous. I wouldn't hesitate to go back again if I can!
Editing audio is my bread and butter as an engineer, and vastly important to my job as a freelance voice actor. For as much time as I spend recording, I will spend much more time editing my audio afterwards. Many clients may expect to have fully edited audio delivered to them, and edited audio is all but required for auditions
There are tons of options available to you when it comes to editing your audio and everyone eventually finds their own workflow. Below, you can find my old personal workflow from before I switched to a much more complicated process in ProTools. I used this workflow to record for a number of clients, including games like Heroes of Newerth and Deus Ex: The Fall. If you're just getting started, I'm sure it can help you start to book as well!
Here is a rundown of the basic tools and techniques you should know offhand.
If you've ever used a computer, the concept of cutting or deleting text, objects, or images, is fairly universal. Audio works the same way in a DAW - allowing you to select portions of your audio (represented visually as wave forms) that you may not want to use (such as silence, your body making weird sounds, or your family walking in to ask you why you're making so many obnoxious noises) and then delete them. Like text, you use a cursor to highlight the section of audio that you don't want, either after listening back to preview it or by designating obvious silences or unwanted sections by sight, and then you're able to use Control (or Command)/X or Delete to remove those sections out of your track.
In the samples above, we can see that audacity will actually go ahead and start your remaining audio in the exact place your cut began, as if the deleted audio never existed. Playing back the track will allow you to hear your edited audio as it will now play with the deleted audio gone.
Cutting and deleting will easily be 80-90% of what is involved in dialogue editing no matter what experience level you're at.
Leveling is a term that comes up around dialogue or voice editing a lot. Mostly this involves making sure that your audio is at a consistent and strong volume level from start to finish. Usually, this is good to address after you're done cutting out extraneous sound and all you're left with is the audio you plan to send clients or work with yourself.
As an example, we can look at the image above (the After picture of the Cut/Delete section) and see that some parts of the audio wave forms are smaller and shorter than the others. The smaller and shorter they are, the softer they will be and possibly more difficult to hear. We want them to be (on average) closer to the size of the taller wave forms.
What we definitely wouldn't want to do is touch the volume slider to the left at the beginning of the track, right under the mute and solo buttons. This will increase the volume on everything for that track, not just the section we're looking for.
To increase the volume of just a portion of your audio, you would select the area you need to level, then choose the Effect drop down, and select the first option called Amplify.
Once you're under Amplify you'll get another slider that allows you to amplify only the part of your audio that you've selected. Automatically, it will default to the highest possible volume that selection can go before distorting your audio (measured in decibels (db).) We definitely don't need our audio to be quite that loud, so usually finding a good medium volume is ideal. Obviously, you don't want softer lines or phrases to be as loud as yelled or more intense lines, so finding a good Average is what you'll be listening for and may need to play with to find.
Noise removal is an extremely handy tool to have if you're an indie voice actor trying to record in your room, or maybe a closet if you're lucky. No matter how good of a mic you have, you'll still be picking up some tones from your room and recording space because your mic is an unbiased listener that can't tune out additional sounds the way our ears can. Noise usually comes in as just a low level rumble in the background, or sounds like a hiss behind your words. Some noise is okay, but normally, clients like to have as little of it as possible so they can have a consistent sound if they're using other voice actors, or so they can edit and manipulate your voice without the room coming along with you.
Audacity does have a noise removal option, but I've never been able to get it to work for me in a way that I'm happy with. There is too much of a sound called aliasing, which is caused by the program trying to approximate silence based on what it hears of the noise in the background. Because it's a simple program, it's not very precise, and so you hear a metalic or "sparkly" type effect in the background that is the computer trying to mask the noise and create it's own pretend silence to varying degrees of success.
When I've finished recording and editing in Audacity, I always export my files out (which I'll cover more in the next article) and bring them over to a second program called Wavepad to do noise removal. Wavepad has a free version of their software for non professionals and while I've found it clunky for recording and editing, they do have a superb noise removal tool that is so good for beginners and amateurs that it's worth a few extra steps to use.
After dragging and dropping my exported audio from Audacity into Wavepad, you simply select the Effects tab, then choose the option for Cleanup. Under the Cleanup dropdown, select Noise Removal, then Noise Gate.
Below, you can see my settings for the Noise Gate tool and I believe they may be the default settings as well. The Threshold setting is as low as it can go, but for most audio, this is plenty to work with. The Threshold is determining when it's noise removal kicks in (literally acting as a gate for the frequencies it's identifying). Simply click the Apply button and Wavepad will remove the bulk of the hissing and rumble from your audio!
There is so much more that could be covered in audio editing, but for now this is a great place to start when it comes to simple editing of vocal files, especially for voice over applications.
It's been a while since I initially signed up for a copy of Pro Tools First, so I was really excited to see an email about a week ago letting me know that the download link for my copy was finally available. I'm assuming that fine tuning this product may have taken a lot more time than anticipated, as it incorporates some newer features that Pro Tools has begun to offer, but so far, my impression is definitely favorable.
To clarify, I do come to this review as someone who uses the standard release of ProTools regularly, though I've been happily running version 10 for some time and I'm not as familiar with some of the much newer features 11 and 12 have to offer. I also use ProTools primary for voice over recording and SFX editing and design, so I'm nearly exclusively working in the edit window on any given project.
So far, the pros are outweighing the cons. I'm currently using a Macbook Air for maximum mobility, so Pro Tools First is by far the most ideal mobile DAW for my current workflow and experience. Even though my projects are technically synced up with cloud storage (something I've seen Avid attempting to push towards in its standard releases), you still have the ability to work on projects offline as long as you have them opened previously and readily available. Your changes also seem to upload only when you hit the save function, so thankfully it doesn't impact performance while you're editing in real time. Though I'm not really a fan of having *only* cloud storage as an option, I really can't complain too much, especially as this will handle 99% of what I need it for anyway.
The best by far for me is that all of my hotkeys are still available and the workflow is fairly identical to what I'm used to in the standard Pro Tools windows. Most of the built in, standard plugins are also available to apply to your tracks or use via the audio suite function, so you can do a fair amount of editing and mixing before you start missing any functionality. You can also
Along with the lack of ability to have local projects (there is also a 3 project limit unless you purchase extra - which to me, is very within reason for what we're getting for free), one of my other main complaints is that there is not an option for clip gain, which is a basic function I use pretty frequently and probably miss the most. I'm also sad that there aren't any video options either, even just for reference purposes, but again in the scenario of getting what you pay for, it's hardly a deal breaker. It would be something I'd be willing to pay a reasonable amount for down the road if it were made available as an add on.
So far Pro Tools First handles smoothly and does nearly everything I need it to. As long as you understand what it is and what you can expect to get out of it for the unbeatable price (or lack thereof) this is a solid additional tool to add to the arsenal of indie sound producers or professionals who need a solid version of Pro Tools for simple tasks and on the go.
Have you ever found yourself wanting 26 variations of an alpaca mating call?
Have you just realized that you now want 26 variations of an alpaca mating call?
Yeah, that’s basically what happened to me too.
I’m pretty new to sound design - it started out as a hobby during my first year of college and since then, I've found myself in not insubstantial debt to a lovely college in Chicago and with an incurable addiction to awesome sound effects. Most of my experience in school had me weaned pretty cleanly onto the Sound Ideas and Hollywood Edge standard libraries, but once I had graduated and starting working on my own podcast series and contracting with my friend’s growing studio, I needed my own library and one without a price tag that made me cry inconsolably.
The Hybrid Library found it’s way onto my feed as the result of a mass ‘liking’ spree via social media. One of my teachers (wisely) advised us to follow others in the business and take advantage of job and equipment discounts they would occasionally post. Pro Sound Effects ended up falling in that mix, and I really really liked the $1500 price tag they had assigned to the Hybrid Library. After spending most of the day pouring over the demos and PDF files to see if it had some of the random effects that I’d been having recent trouble finding to see if they were just as good as advertised (I really needed bullet shell casings dropping on not wood floors, and yes, they had them), I applied for the discount and was accepted almost immediately.
The ordering process was extremely smooth, my contact at Pro Sounds Effects (hi Jeremy!) was very friendly and helpful the entire time. The hard drive arrived about a week after it shipped, and I managed to staunch my hemorrhaging cash flow enough to start working with my new library.
It’s really pretty. I like it a lot.
The variety on this hard drive is fantastic. A couple of blind spots I've had continuous complaints with for Sound Ideas and Hollywood Edge were a lack of updated tech/sci-fi sounds, game interaction sounds, whooshes, animals, and clean sounding small foley. The Hybrid Library contains an abundant amount of all these effects (remember the Alpacas?) and I can already see this will be a boon to my sanity. I also like how much cleaner and to date many of these effects are compared with my experience in Sound Ideas and even Hollywood edge. Not that they skimp on the standard fare of a lot of ambiance, mechanicals, weaponry, etc, but it feels much more balanced and well rounded. In particular, having both the Foundation Library and Sonopedia working together to lay your groundwork really boosts the variety and amount of sounds you have to work with.
My complaints are very few and far between. There are a few packs that are less cleanly recorded than I prefer to use. In particular, the Buzzsaw 2 library felt very repetitive and Rare Animals in particular doesn’t give a lot of close range, isolated sounds. Beyond this, for my personal taste, I wanted a bit more options for footsteps, and impact/close combat foley. And to Pro Sound Effect’s credit, it looks like there’s an expansion (also on sale right now) that looks to address those concerns. Since I already had Boom’s Fantasy and Sci-Fi Packs (areas that the expansion also seemed to address and supplement), I picked up a few other libraries that also went on sale for the holidays to patch my own solution together, and I’m very pleased with the results. I’m coming out very much in the green in this case and I couldn’t be happier for the opportunity.
I’m still getting my feet wet with this library, so this is mostly my initial impressions of things, but so far it was unquestionably worth the investment as a new and independent creator.
The Hybrid Library is currently available at a special low price of $1500 for qualifying freelancers through the end of the year, and as of the writing of this review, there are still 30 units left. For more information and to apply, visit Pro Sound Effects Website for details.