Mobile V/O Studio
Has anyone had experience of putting together a Mobile V/O Studio?
Having run my own home studio in UK for a long time, I have to visit The Middle East for a couple of months, and don't want to turn my back on my regular clients for whom I record a considerable amount of documentary and corporate narrations, and commercials. I want to put together such a mobile studio that I can operate from a laptop/notebook with an ASDL connection in my hotel room, without it costing a second mortgage!! Any advice on lightweight mics and headphones, built in pre-amp, soundcards etc would be great. Also how can I set up a phone patch so my clients can direct in sessions (Skype?)
All info would be greatly appreciated
The Essential Englishman
It sounded pretty easy until you got to "phone patch so my clients can direct". That adds a significant layer of complexity.
If you've established a certain sound with your clients, you'll need to take your primary mic with you. Also, a stand of some sort, either a desk stand or K&M makes a compact tripod stand that has two telescoping sections instead of just one. With a boom it folds down to less than 30" long, so it will fit in a suitcase.
You do need good phones. Sony MDR-7506 fold up somewhat and are a good reference headphone. However, I'd not compress and eq only listening to phones. If you can't have reference monitors with you (got room for a pair of Genelec 1029s? They're pretty small and are good for cutting narrative) someone else will have to finish, IMHO. But find out for yourself, try them out in the studio, maybe you'll make it work.
I highly recommend M-Audio USB2 or Firewire interfaces for laptops. Even the MobilePre will do an outstanding job, as well as provide phantom for a condensor mic.
About the phone patch - In the U.S., JK Audio makes a series of little telephone patch problem solvers for remote radio reporters. Haven't used them myself, check them out, maybe someone else can help with this. Keep an eye on whether such a device will have to be upstream of the interface (probably) and therefore will have to supply phantom power (if your mic needs it).
Finally, there's a trick I've heard of but not tried - get a 2' x 2' x 2' box, open at one end, line it with eggcrate foam (or better acoustic foam). Place it immediately behind your mic. Depending on the mass of your box (was it corrugated cardboard or 3/4" plywood?) it will prevent quite a bit of the room reverb from reaching the mic, getting you closer to a dead booth acoustic image. The mass is going to determine how much help you get at lower frequencies, most of these are used in home studios where they can use plywood - worth experimenting with. How about lining an empty suitcase?
One more thing - don't depend on email for getting the narrative to your clients. You need access to an ftp server, and ftp client software on your laptop to upload your files so the client can download them at their leisure.
Large email attachments take longer to upload (than ftp), and will sometimes not be delivered depending on the maximum size the customer's email server is set for. In US corporations, that's typically between 2 and 10MB, probably most at 3MB. That doesn't even cover a 30 second VO at 16/44 wav stereo.
Some are doing high-bitrate MP3 for this, which takes quite a bit less storage, less time to upload, etc.
Some web hosts give you a FTP server... i.e. I have dreamhost.com right now (they have some nice promotions)
Filezilla FTP software is free. There may be better/cheaper services around.
You can make your own device if you have soldering skills. I never really got my phone patch to work though (it did for one glorious moment... and then something happened). The one described in Jay Rose's book Audio Postproduction for Digital Video will work. You may need to be careful about soldering capacitors, they are sensitive to heat.
Some electronics stores do sell devices that'll let you put the microphone feed so that the other side can hear it. i.e. Radio Shack has this thing for $30. It seems it only works with consumer miniplug inputs... doesn't seem to like the inputs on a Mackie mixer.
Skype should also work, although you would need to get it working for the client. If the clients are going to the same studio, then that may not be a problem.
Many thanks Seth & Glenn
Am drawn towards Skype and a bluetooth so that my hands are free for the script. Have already got a good FTP client for uoloads. Anyone used the Sennheiser HME21-1 headset? Very neat compact mic.