One thing that is absolute in video production: whether you're a hobbyist or a pro - the audience might accept weak video, but will not forgive poor audio.
Have you ever heard barking dogs or traffic noise in a professional voice-over? Of course not. Professional productions use recording studios with specially treated sound booths. This gives them full control and clean audio. But what about the rest of us?
Sure, we could rent time in a studio, but that isn't always practical or affordable. What if we applied the principles of guerilla filmmaking to our audio recording? If we told you there was a way to create a professional sounding voice recording space for less than the cost of one session at a big studio, would you be interested? Good. Let's get started.
9 - 10' x 1" Schedule 40 PVC plumbing pipe
12 - 1" PVC Tee Couplers
6 - 1" PVC 90-Degree Elbows
12 - 1" PVC Pipe Caps
4 - 72" x 60" Mover's Blankets
6 - Squeeze Hand Clamps (more if you prefer)
1 - Clamp Light
1 - CFL Bulb
The only tools needed are a tubing cutter or hacksaw, tape measure and a Sharpie. The entire booth can be built from scratch in less than an hour and future setups take only a few minutes.
Vocal booths are a common feature in professional recording studios. Large enough for one or two people, these special rooms are often built as a floating room within a room. Walls are heavily insulated and doors have serious gaskets to seal out any sound. Inside the booth, walls are covered with acoustic foam and windows are angled, all in an effort to minimize sound reflections. This gives the recording engineer complete control over the voice. With no added background noise or reflections, they are free to treat the recording as needed for the production. If the voice should sound like it's in a larger space, digital reverb is always available to simulate everything from a shower stall to a stadium.
Of course, you don't have a recording studio with a big-budget vocal booth, but that's OK. With a few bucks and a little ingenuity, you can have similar results almost anywhere. First, let's apply a little analysis and take a walk around your potential recording environment. Many independent producers either work from home or possibly a small office, while others create content as a part of their regular job. So, we'll assume you need to record voice overs at your house or somewhere around the office. Since the recording studios start with isolation, take a look around and try to find the quietest, most remote area possible. This could be a walk-in closet, storeroom or any out-of-the-way area. We're looking for a place that has minimum potential for background noise and interruption, and around six feet of room to work. Recording on location? No problem, just do a quick site survey with the same goals in mind.
Step #1 - Plumbing Parts
Our guerilla sound booth is constructed from common, inexpensive materials. First on the list is a trip to your local hardware store. Head for the plumbing aisle and find the PVC plumbing pipe and accessories. We'll use 1" Schedule 40 PVC plumbing pipe for the basic structure. It usually comes in 10' lengths which is perfect for our project - just make sure you have a truck or van to haul it home. Grab nine sticks, making sure they're as straight as possible. You'll also need some 1" PVC couplers. We're building our booth as three separate panels, (more on that in a bit), so pick up two 90-degree elbows, four Tee couplers and four caps per panel. The PVC pipe costs a little more than $2 per stick and couplers average 50-cents each. That takes care of the frame, now for some sound absorption.
Step #2 - Soaking Sound
There are several discount tool stores these days filled with all kinds of goodies that video creators can repurpose and use to simplify production. The item we need for our sound booth is a 60"x72" mover's blanket - four of them. Around $7 each, these are a bargain and perfect for this project. If you don't have one of these stores in your area, the same parts are available online, too.
Step #3 - Extra Amenities
Whether at the hardware or tool store, grab several squeeze clamps. You need at least six, but more is always better. You'll also need a simple clamp light and a CFL bulb for its bright light and low heat.
Step #4 - Cutting Up
Booth construction starts with a tape measure and Sharpie to set lengths. You'll also need a tubing cutter or hacksaw. Start by cutting two of the pipes into separate 5-foot lengths. Cut four more pipes at 6-foot lengths and cut the leftover 4-foot pieces into 1-foot chunks. The 6-foot pieces are for the sides while the 5-foot sections form the top and bottom of the frame.
Step #5 - Assembly
Grab two 5-foot pipes and two 6-foot pipes. Assemble the main frame with two 90-degree elbows at the top corners and two Tee couplers at the bottom. Using your 1-foot chunks, build the support feet with a Tee and two caps for feet, then attach the supports to the bottom of the main frame. Simply repeat the process for two more panels. Don't bother gluing any of the pipes together. The friction fit will easily support the weight of the blankets while making it possible to break down and transport.
Step #6 - Setting Up
Once you've assembled the panel frames, arrange them as a box with one open side. Hang the mover's blankets on the frames, clamping them in place. For extra stability, you may want to tie the frames together with extra clamps, bungee cords or even gaffer's tape. Mount the clamp light to the top of one of the frames and install the CFL bulb, then drape the fourth blanket over the top of the booth and you're done!
The design of this booth makes it easy to adapt to different circumstances. Don't have enough room for the whole thing? No problem, just use two panels in a V formation. Need more space for two vocalists? Easy, just spread the two side panels out a bit for some extra elbow room. Don't worry about the air gap at the bottom or the open side. The panels absorb sound from the back and sides of the microphone while the talent effectively blocks noises behind them. In most circumstances, there is plenty of absorption to create a clean recording. You won't have to worry about ventilation for the talent either.
It's All Yours
For about $60, you can build a simple, effective guerilla sound booth for voice recording. Construction is simple enough for anyone and, because the parts are readily available, you could even build one on location, if needed. There's even enough room for a flat-panel monitor if the talent needs to see a video feed. The pipe construction makes it easy to setup in just a few minutes, and broken down, should fit in just about any car with a pass-through seat in the back. If you don't care about the look, it's easy to substitute mover's blankets for regular old blankets and comforters. No need to book studio time anymore. You have your own guerilla sound booth to use for any project.
You won't always have access to your guerilla sound booth. In those cases, you have to get creative. In the past, we've mentioned using a walk-in closet and even the interior of your car to record quickie voice-overs. You can find similarly quiet locations almost everywhere. I once did a video at a construction site. We found the room where all the insulation was stored and, even with all the construction noise, managed to record a pretty clean voice track in a very hostile environment. Use your ears and make the best of the location.
As with any do-it-yourself project, unfamiliarity with the tools and process can be dangerous. This story should be construed as theoretical advice. Videomaker, its editors and authors will not be held responsible for any injury due to the misuse or misunderstanding of any DIY project Videomaker publishes. This story cannot be construed as formal advice. Videomaker will not be held liable in any instance of an action resulting from this story, and Videomaker assumes all our readers will exercise good common sense. This disclaimer assigns the readers all responsibility for their own decisions.
Contributing Editor Hal Robertson is a digital media producer and technology consultant.