Voiceovers by Gregory Houser
A man, a martini, and a lot of microphones.: The most important tool in your studio.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The most important tool in your studio.

Any guesses?

C'mon... take a guess. What do you think the most important thing in your voiceover studio is?

I'll even make it easy, it's not the microphone (though God knows, most voice over folks seem to think that it is).

It's not your preamp.

It's not the interface.

It's not the room.

It's not even your voice (again, a lot of voice over folks think that it's all about the voice... I want to blog about this later, but I assure you that voice is just one part of voice acting, and not the most important).

Know what it is? It's your ears. Seriously, can you tell anything about any aspect of recording or voice over without your ears? If so, please let me know, because I can't tell whether a room has reflection issues without my ears (unless I want to crunch some numbers... walking around a room and using my ears while generating a tone is much easier), I can't tell whether or not a preamp, microphone, or other piece of equipment is doing anything for the track I'm working on without my ears, and I surely can't tell how my work as a voice actor is fitting in the mix without my ears.

You'd be amazed how hard it is for some folks to get the message. Just the other day I was reading a post from a well-known and respected talent who decided in their own clever way to take a shot at folks for the poor production value of their self-made demos and various other clips. It was a deserved comment (though perhaps not so acerbic, but that's a personal choice), but the one thing that really, REALLY concerned me about this person's comment was that they didn't explain the easiest way to identify and fix this problem. It was obvious that the folks doing the work had some talent, but whomever did the mixing wasn't trusting their ears. Anyone listening realized that was the main problem, but instead the online conversation focused more on other issues. The point, which was unfortunately lost, was that if someone had trusted their ears a bit more, the final product from their work would have probably been much better.

This brings me back to my original point; your ears are the most important thing in your studio. And yet, most voice talent don't give them a second thought, and even fewer spend the time and effort to find a good way to use them properly. If you're doing a voice over for a website, then by all mean use computer speakers at some point during the process since that's what most of your audience is going to use, but do not negate the need for actual studio monitors to use while tracking and during the later phases of mixing and mastering. If you're not doing the actual production of your recorded tracks then there's no need to invest a huge amount into your studio monitors, but it's still a worthwhile investment for yourself (it's easier to deal with issues when tracking then it is to try to edit them out afterward). Good studio monitors aren't going to make your work sound better, but they will give you a level of accuracy which will allow you to make your final product better. At the end of the day, isn't that the point?

If you're not sure whether or not your ears are sensitive enough to pick up issues in your tracking or mixing, there's only one way to deal with that... practice. Just like everything else, you've got to start at the bottom if you truly want to improve you skills.

So the next time you're sitting around thinking about what wonderful toy you have to have for your studio, think about your ears for a bit and figure out what they need to do their job. Sure, that shiny Neumann looks nice, but for the money I'm willing to bet you that a nice pair of Klein & Hummel, Adam, or Dynaudio monitors will end up giving you a lot more bang for your buck. And don't get me wrong, you'll love anything from those guys, and even the boutique manufacturers, but any studio monitor that's got a relatively un-biased sound will do the trick and they can be had at nearly all price points. Price is not necessarily a barrier to entry for good monitors, at least not quite as bad as it it for other pieces of studio equipment.

In the end, the important thing is that whatever you do to your recording environment and whatever gear you get, if you feel the need to get anything at all, so long as you learn to trust your ears and give them the right resources to judge your recording sessions, then whatever cash outflow you've expended will eventually be returned to you with interest, whatever time you spend learning to train your ears to be more sensitive to the things which plague any voice over production will make you more efficient and profitable.

Hmmnn... adding value to the business. Regardless of how you do it, isn't that the very definition of success?

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