Soundproofing is the process of preventing sound from coming into your space. We live in a noisy world, and we’ve learned to unconsciously tune it out most of the time. But attempt to record a simple voice-over in your living room, and the sounds of traffic, airplanes, lawnmowers, family members, pets, even wildlife will come across plain as day. In this article, we’re going to cover some practical ways to soundproof your recording room so you can keep your recordings free of these uninvited cameos.
Before we start, understand that perfect soundproofing is almost impossible to achieve at home, so relax! What you can do is soundproof to a point where it’s quiet enough. That should be your goal for your home recording space.
Find Your Quiet Space
Fortunately, most homes, and even many apartments, have at least one room surrounded by all interior walls. Unfortunately, this is often just a closet. Using a walled interior space away from exterior windows will provide you with some soundproofing.
In fact, if you live in a very quiet neighborhood, that interior space may offer all the soundproofing you need. In that case, you can just focus on improving the acoustics of the room.
Now, closets aren’t exactly designed for comfort. If that’s your quietest space, put some effort into making it comfortable and developing an efficient workflow. I worked in many (many!) closets for the first 10 years of my career, and in my experience, unless you’re comfortable, you’re never going to want to spend time perfecting your craft in there.
Types of Noises
There are two types of noises that can make it onto your recordings: intermittent noises and continuous noises. Sirens, airplanes, and lawnmowers are intermittent. You can work around them, provided they don’t happen too often. Just pause your recording, take a short break and start again.
Continuous noises are the ones you can’t wait out. Very quiet or far away continuous noises are not usually a problem. But it’s a different story if you live near a highway and can hear the drone of traffic with your bare ears inside your house. To soundproof against louder continuous noises like that, you’ll need to build a structure.
Come On, Feel the Noise
I just mentioned the first way to assess your ambient noise: listen with your bare ears. Sit down, close your eyes, and focus on the noises that your brain has learned to ignore so effectively. Do you hear traffic? Barking dogs? A gurgling radiator, or a noisy air conditioner? If you can’t hear much after a few minutes of listening, you’re off to a good start!
Next, record your background noise. Plug in your microphone and your audio interface and put that sound through your audio device’s preamp. That will amplify whatever noise is entering your space and give you an accurate idea of what you’ll need to deal with. If the background noise still sounds low and far away even when you crank up the volume, then your home studio is in good shape, and you can probably record in this space. On the other hand, if the noise is easily audible with your bare ears, it’s an indication that you’ll need to build a soundproof structure.
Rome Wasn’t Built in a Day
If you live in a moderately noisy neighborhood or your space has nearby windows, and you can’t work in a closet or other small interior room, you’ll probably need to build a structure of some kind to keep the outside noises from coming into your recordings.
I’ve lived in super-noisy areas, and I’ve been doing this for a long time, so I’ve had to build heavy-duty sound booths. Depending on your space, you might be able to get away with a lighter-weight structure with walls made of one sheet of plywood.
A plywood structure is fairly easy to build and inexpensive, but for some people, it’s still quite an undertaking. If that’s you, look through your contacts and see if you know any handy people! You can also look for a handyman or a contractor on sites like Yelp, HomeAdvisor, and Angi.
By doing a quick search online, you’ll find great ideas designed by people who are pretty good at building things (better than I am). Don’t forget that you’ll always need to treat your space for acoustics, whether you’re working in a sound booth or a closet (even if it’s just arranging the clothes in your closet).
Soundproofing is a necessary part of voice acting and voice-over work, and it will be (very) frustrating at times—it’s tough dealing with sound. But it’s very, very important to have a stable, somewhat soundproof space to work from. It’ll allow you to work comfortably and make your recordings sound professional with a great room tone. So, it’s worth investing effort into developing a good, comfortable soundproof space. You got this!
Check out the next article in this series: acoustic treatments.
To learn about recording voice overs from home, read Part 2 of the Get Clever Series, called Recording & Editing Voice Overs.