A student the other day was all pleased about his new gear. His dad had, without asking, went out and bought a package deal (RED FLAG—well-meaning, but untrained parent, “helping”). The package came with a USB mic and an interface and some cables.
A USB mic. They plug directly into the computer, making the interface irrelevant.
The interface was a reliable brand and not overloaded with unnecessary channels, so that was a good choice, and would go well with a large diaphragm condenser mic that maybe should replace the USB mic.
Yet, no mention of a mic stand or boom to hold the mic? And fifteen feet of cable?! The more the merrier? It can be “the more the buzzier,” or maybe you like 106.9 FM adding to your audio.
Missing among the student’s excitement over the gear was an actual space to record.
“Do you have a closet?” I asked.
“Yeah, I think,” was the answer.
“Then, how do you know how much cable you’ll need? How’s the sound? Is there bounce or echo?”
“Did you leave the clothes in the closet?”
Well, that’s good. Clothing can help absorb bouncing sound at no extra expense!
But all in all, it occurred to me that the student had the wrong priorities. First and foremost, the right recording space is key. A space where sound doesn’t bounce, where you don’t sound like you’re deep in a tube, where the noise floor is below -60 dB, where you have at least some protection from outside sounds (hums, pumps, barks, trucks, leaf blowers)—all these contribute to making home studios work.
It reminds me of buying a house. If you decide to run out and buy a house, what’s the first step? How about a budget, so you know what your price range is? And then, how about going around looking at houses with a professional realtor, to see what feels good, and works for you and your family?
Nobody would say step one of buying a house is running out to buy four 8-foot tall blue curtains. Why would you do that when you don’t even know how many windows there are in a house you haven’t even seen?!
Yet, in VO, I see this a lot: gear first, then the space. And yet, your space has by far the biggest influence on your sound and its quality.
So, hold off on the 8-foot blue curtains. Set up your space first. Then get gear to fit the space, not vice versa.