The other day, I was musing about the fact that, even though I hold a four-year degree in broadcast communications (from San Francisco State University‘s acclaimed Broadcast and Electronic Communication Arts department, no less), my technical skills are rudimentary, to be polite.
Okay, I’ll confess… I sleepwalked through my audio production classes. (Ask Professor John Barsotti if you think I’m kidding.)
Since getting into the VO field, I’ve been wishing that I’d paid more attention in those classes. Yes, they were a quarter of a century ago (egad!), and audio technology has changed immeasurably in that time. Still, I’m sure that the basic principles would be standing me in good stead now… if only I could remember them.
Wherever voice actors congregate, whether in meatspace or cyberspace, they love to talk tools. Microphones, preamps, digital audio interfaces, recording software — all are grist for the VO chat mill. Taken together, the various elements used to capture, preserve, and manipulate a vocal performance are called a recording chain. Thus, at the voice actors’ watering hole, the traditional pickup line, “What’s your sign?” gets transmogrified into, “What’s your chain?”
In case anyone’s interested, here’s my chain.
I own two microphones, mostly because they cost about the same, and at the time I was putting my setup together, I couldn’t decide which I preferred.
The mic I use most frequently is a Rode NT1-A, a steady, solid performer that’s quite flattering to my individual vocal characteristics. The NT1A adds a pleasant richness to the lower end of my range, and is my go-to mic for most copy when I’m using my natural voice or a close permutation thereof.
My second mic is a Studio Projects C1, another fine piece of equipment that emphasizes the brighter notes in my tessitura. I’ll often plug in the C1 when I’m working on character scripts, or copy where I’d like to have more youthful sparkle in my sound. The C1 is also the mic I use on the rare occasion when I record myself singing.
Since my home office doubles as my studio, and the space lacks acoustical treatment of any kind, I surround my mic with a RealTraps Portable Vocal Booth. It’s not exactly like being in a fully treated environment, but for my money, it’s the next best thing.
My preamp and digital audio interface are the same simple device: a cEntrance MicPort Pro. This phenomenal little gizmo shoulders triple duty in my chain. It (1) provides 48 volt phantom power to my mic of choice; (2) converts the microphone output into binary code so that my computer can understand and manage it, via a USB port; and (3) provides a headphone output for either monitoring (which I don’t use; I don’t like to wear my cans when I voice) or playback (which I do use). Most amazingly, the MicPort Pro handles all of these tasks in a sleek, compact unit the size of a cigar. It adds no discernable color to the recording — just serves up clean, accurate sound. And, it’s small and lightweight enough that I can toss it into my briefcase to record when I’m traveling. Everyone who records into a computer should own one of these.
I use the simplest and most basic recording software available: Audacity, available as a free download all over the ‘Net. So far, I haven’t needed anything more elaborate. One of these days, though, I’d like to upgrade to Adobe Audition, if only because that’s what the engineers at Voicetrax use, and I’d like to be able to understand what they’re doing when I’m in the booth.
As noted above, I don’t often wear headphones when I record. Doing so feels awkward and unnatural to me, and introduces an unnecessary stumbling block to my performing. Since I don’t own a set of studio monitors, however, I do use my cans (that’s tech talk for “headphones,” a vestige of my long-ago radio days) for playback and editing. Mine are Sennheiser HD 280 Professionals — comfortable, clear, and efficiently noise-dampening.
My notebook computer is a Dell Inspiron 9400, running the much-detested (at least, by me) Windows Vista. My aging eyes love its ginormous 19″ display.
That’s my chain. It’s inexpensive and simple, but it works for me — and that’s the bottom line.