So you want to create your own audio production without the help of a professional studio? In this day and age, it's more achievable than ever.
This article will introduce you to the equipment you will need in order to record your own voiceover, mix it with music and then create a finalized audio file for CD or MP3. You may find that you already have some of the equipment you need!
Both Macs and PCs will allow you to create a professional quality audio production. The good news is that you do not need a particularly powerful computer. Almost any computer that was built after 2004 will have the processing power necessary for you to create a recording and mix it with music.
A microphone stand
I don’t recommend holding your microphone in your hand while recording. The slightest movements can cause loud thumps and bumps in your recordings. Microphones are very sensitive and they need to be held safely in a stand that eliminates vibrations.
A Microphone Windshield
A microphone windshield is absolutely essential to a quality recording. Windshields eliminate “plosives” – small bursts of air that come from your mouth when you pronounce words with P’s and T’s in them. Words like “prism”, “stutter” for example. These lead to popping/thudding sounds in the microphone that can ruin a recording. See the following article on voiceover recording for more information on windshields.
Sound recording software
You will need a program that is dedicated to the task of recording and editing audio.
Most Macs come with a free program called Garageband - a very capable audio program indeed. Most Windows PCs include a recording program called "sound recorder", but this program is far too basic for most users. It will allow you to record sounds, but will not allow you to edit them or mix them with music. Audacity is a very popular free program for Windows that will allow you to do everything you need to record and mix your own audio production.
You may need a cable to connect your microphone to your computer. The type of cable you need will vary depending on the type of microphone you use and the way in which you connect your microphone to your computer (see below).
Connecting your microphone to your computer This section will give you some valuable insight into how to connect a mic to your computer, but it’s not a truly comprehensive resource. If you are new to recording then I recommend that you read the following information with the goal of expanding your knowledge, but be sure to consult with an audio professional at a retail music outlet before making any purchasing decisions.
What do microphones actually do? Think about it for a second….
They convert sound energy into an electrical signal. When you speak into a microphone, a small electrical signal is generated. But before your computer can understand what this signal is, it must be converted into digital information. Some microphones handle this conversion for you while you are speaking (USB microphones), but many do not.
Let’s briefly get to know the two types of microphones.
1. USB Mics
I HIGHLY recommend USB microphones to newcomers. With USB microphones, you simply plug the microphone into a spare USB port on your computer, install some software (usually included with the mic) and you’re up and running.
2. Microphone + audio interface.
This might be the first time you’ve ever heard the term "audio interface". Don’t let it scare you. An audio interface is simply a device that connects your microphone to your computer. The interface provides power to your microphone and then converts the microphone signal into digital information which is then fed to your computer.
An example of an audio interface from Focusrite
There are many different types of audio interfaces. Some slot into your computer, whereas others are freestanding and may sit on your desk. Some will allow you to connect dozens of different microphones at once, whereas others might only provide for a single microphone input.
If you only need to record your voice, then an audio interface with a single microphone input will be sufficient.
USB Mic or Microphone + Audio Interface?
Audio interfaces can be expensive, and you can completely bypass the need for an audio interface by using a USB microphone. USB mics are a relatively recent invention and are quite a popular option for amateur and semi-professional recording enthusiasts who want to keep things simple. USB microphones draw power directly from your computer and feed it to your microphone, and then convert the microphone’s signal to digital information. They require no other cables, whereas an interface powered microphone will require a standard XLR microphone cable.
So why would you consider using an audio interface? In general, a microphone that is powered by a professional audio interface will provide higher sound quality than a USB microphone (the analogue to digital conversion process is usually cleaner). Playback of any audio on your computer will also be higher quality when processed through an audio interface. Audio interfaces also give you quick access to volume control features and they may allow you to record multiple microphones at once (essential if you are recording with more than one microphone at once, but unimportant if you only ever intend to record your own voice with a single mic).