Your Home Audio Studio: Workspace or Padded Room?

A vital consideration for audiobook producer/narrators is the physical space where the activity unfolds, namely the audio studio that serves as your environment while working through your projects.

If you don’t get this part of the process right, you won’t have a professional product when you finish your audiobook and put it out there for the pubic.

Your studio must do a number of things: (1) it must reduce the incidence of unwanted sound finding its way into your recording, (2) it should optimize the quality of the sound you do want, namely your voice, and (3) it has to provide a comfortable work space for you, the narrator, that can also accommodate the necessary hardware. For a large number of audiobook narrators, all this must be provided for within the setting of the place you live.

Consider the challenges of that scenario.

When you set out to record an audiobook at home, you quickly become aware that what you regard as a sanctuary apart from the world at large, is in reality a chamber of noise. The cacophony creeps into every corner of the house and invariably finds its way onto that pristine audio track you are trying to create.

Your neighbor is trying to start his vintage motorcycle in his driveway, revving all 900 cc’s to keep it from coughing to a stop. The air conditioning compressor is just below the window where your studio is located. The clock chimes in the living room, the doorbell rings, the telephone jangles, the rain hits the metal light fixture on your neighbor’s house like a drummer tapping a stick on his high hat. And until now you had no idea that your house is on the glide path for nearly every aircraft flying within a 200-mile radius.

You must find some way to isolate yourself and your mic from all that sound so it doesn’t show up on the waveforms you lay down on your recording software.

If you have unlimited funds, a great option is a professionally built “portable” sound studio that can be assembled fairly easily and set up in a relatively small space. These ventilated soundproof rooms do the trick nicely, but they can also set you back $6000 – $12000. Add that to the investment you need to make in mics, audio interfaces, headsets and the like, and you’re talking some heavy hits on the bank account.

A better solution is a homemade studio. And you don’t need a degree in acoustics and construction expertise to make a very serviceable studio that will produce high quality recordings and fit into your living space.

To construct the studio I use, I initially found some old moving blankets that were left behind after one of my many relocations. I screwed two of them to the adjacent walls in a corner of my attic. I arranged my recording equipment against one of the now padded walls and did a test.

It seemed to be working fine until the first of five aircraft that day buzzed over my roof. I had reduced the room echo, but obviously I needed more isolation from the sonorous environment that is my home.

After a lot of experimenting and lot of failure, I ended up with what you might call a small hut (cell?) in the corner of the guest room. I got more moving blankets, and hung them from four sides of a framework of PVC pipe that I purchased at Lowes.

To make the frame, I simply cut the lengths of PVC with a hacksaw and joined them together to form a 4 x 6 foot cubicle using the appropriate connectors.

The booth rests on the wall-to-wall carpeting and has room for a table, a chair and my audio gear. I found that an inexpensive mattress topper from Target fit nicely over the top of my booth like a roof, while providing sound deadening and pretty good sound insulation with its foam construction. I attached everything to the PVC with inexpensive plastic cable ties.

As I have used this little room within a room, I have added refinements—a piece of sound deadening foam here and there to reduce echo even further, a towel on the surface of my table, a very small table for the mic bracket because of the bass thump that my hand produces when I hit the larger table, no matter how gentle that tap seems to be, a quieter chair that doesn’t squeak when I shift my weight.

Overall the set-up works quite well. I can record hours of nicely deadened sound in relative comfort with minimal intrusion of extraneous sound. (Some sounds will invariably get through, but I can stop and rerecord small segments when that happens.)

There is one significant downside, however, to even the best constructed home studio. It can be hazardous to your health—your mental health, that is.

When you have been sitting for several hours in a dark, sensory-deprived space reading to your microphone, you can loose touch with reality.

As a case in point, there was a time in the middle of a particularly lengthy and challenging recording when I suddenly had the distinct sense that I was about to “wig out.” My voice assumed an unnaturally high pitch, I began to sweat, I got claustrophobic, my ears were ringing. I had to get out of there.

As I staggered through the moving blankets and out into the surrounding room I must have looked like the colonel played by Alec Guinness in the movie The Bridge Over the River Kwai after he was released from the small iron sweatbox the Japanese had confined him in as punishment for his lack of cooperation as a World War II POW.

I recovered quickly, but I also gained respect for of the potential consequences of staying confined too long in a small padded room talking to myself.

About Philip Benoit

A producer/narrator of audiobooks and voice-over announcer, I currently have 15 titles listed for sale on Audible. A search of my name on Amazon will provide a list of those books as well as a listing of college-level textbooks that I have co-authored. "Modern Radio and Audio Production" is currently in its tenth edition.

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