I heartily understand, respect, and secretly admire actors who can tell their clients and agents, "Don't bother me, I'm on holiday and the only performing I'll be doing this week is down at the pool."
I understand, respect, and admire those actors -- but I just can't do it. I love this work and when I spend an hour or so a day working during my vacation, I enjoy the remaining 23 hours all that much more.
Unfortunately, when you are on the road you'll often find yourself in less than perfect recording environments, even with pro-quality recording gear. Most guest rooms, cabanas, ship cabins, and hotel rooms are OK as long as you avoid the ones adjacent to the elevators and the ice machine.
However, even a very quiet room - and this applies to homes and apartments, too -- can sound like a "big, boomy box" to your microphone, instead of the tight sound booth quality we are used to in purpose-built studios. That's because in addition to picking up the sound of your voice directly, the microphone also "hears" the ambient sound of the entire space.
Until last year, I'd build myself a tiny little fort out of every pillow and comforter I could scrounge from housekeeping when on the road, even though my wife found my constructions less than pleasing esthetically. Then I remembered the brilliant idea of audio and video guru, Douglas Spotted Eagle, that Jeffrey P. Fisher and I described in our book, A Voice Actors Guide to Home Recording.
Douglas realized that for a microphone to sound good and tight you didn't need to be inside a sound box - only the microphone did. So, he built a simple two foot by two foot five-sided box out of foam core, lined it with acoustic foam (often available 24" X 24" tiles), stuck his microphone inside, and spoke and sang into it.
Dubbed the VO Box, the results were amazing. The sound of the recorded voice was warm, full, and resonant no matter what room it was in.
So I decided to construct a road warrior's version a.k.a. The Harlan Hogan "Porta-Booth" ®
|MXL 909 mic with shockmount, AKG KM231/1Collapsible Tripod Table Stand, and the new and improved Porta-Booth ®. Both available from: VoiceOveressentials.com|
Building the booth
All Manufacturing Rights Reserved!
After a few false starts trying wood, plastic, and a flimsy 'pop up' mesh cube that sounded like, uh, a flimsy mesh cube, I finally hit upon the Folding Home Box manufactured by Reisenthel. This solution had a very good sound but soon after writing about it the manufacturer stopped making it. Luckily, I discovered an even better box.
In several blind A/B comparisons this new Porta-Booth ® sounds even better. Better yet it is lighter, one inch larger, folds flatter and - amazingly - is half the price of my original choice! The improvement in sound is primarily because this new box has solid sides instead of the cloth sides of the home box.
|The Whitmor Cube folded|
|The Whitmor Cube un-folded|
The improved Porta-Booth ® uses a 14" x 14" Whitmor Collapsible Cube readily available at around ten dollars from many sources including, Target and Amazon.
The box alone is just part of the story. To get the best sound, use two-inch thick 'Pyramid' style acoustic foam. Avoid the cheaper but way less effective wedge-type foam. For best results, cut the foam so there are three pieces: one for the back wall and top and two for the sides. Cutting soft foam is harder than it might seem. If you use scissors or a mat knife, the foam compresses as you cut and you'll get ragged edges. That won't affect the sound or practicality of the Porta-Booth but it sure looks ugly.
Instead, cut the foam with a serrated knife. Take your time and be patient as you saw - not slice - through the foam. Of course, a professional foam cutter - a hybrid jig saw - is best for this task but financial overkill unless you already own one. Consider scrounging around garage sales and flea markets until you find an electric knife. Mine is a lovely shade of 'Harvest Gold' and dates back to the 1950's. Best of all, it cuts through foam like butter, all for a two dollar investment.
|Pyramid style acoustic foam panels cut to fit.|
Some popular brands of foam from Sonex and Auralex are easily purchased from suppliers such as Markertek, B&H Photo, American Musical Supply, and Musician's Friend. Ask your favorite friendly recording studio if they happen to have some scrap pieces lying around, because the foam can be your biggest expense.
For example, Auralex Studiofoam 2" Pyramids are sold in two foot by four foot panels which is perfect to make one box. It yields two 12" x 12" panels for the sides and one 26" by 14" for the top and back. The only problem is that most sources sell that particular foam in boxes of twelve for around $400! Similar-sized Sonex foam is sold in eight packs for roughly $300. You can make a lot of Porta-Booths with that much foam and it's one of the reasons I recently started assembling ready-made booths for friends and clients. Ready-made booths are available at Amazon and Voice-OverEssentials.com
If you use a shotgun microphone, such as the popular Sennheiser 416, you'll want to cut a slit or a small hole in the back of the box and in the foam. This way the mic can be placed back far enough. Fortunately, the fabric on the Whitmor cube can be easily cut with a mat knife and it doesn't fray. No sewing necessary!
|The Porta-Booth ® shotgun mic modification|
Traveling with and using the booth
The foam pieces nest together for travel. To save even more space in the suitcase, compress them with an Eagle Creek Large Compression Sac available at camping and luggage stores or online. You roll the bag (or sit on it!) to remove the air. The foam regains its size and shape in about five minutes.
|Acoustic foam pieces nested together and compressed in a Compression Sac|
The box will accommodate most microphones. Place the mic 30% to 50% back from the outer edge for the best sound. Talk into the box; you don't need to stick your head in the box. Hold your copy just slightly to one side of the Porta-Booth ® or inside it. If you need better visibility, use a battery-powered LED light inside. Personally, I read scripts directly off my IPhone. Unlike a laptop, it's both silent and small enough to hold right up to the microphone inside the box. It also saves me the chore of having to find a printer at the hotel. Be sure to put the phone in “Airplane” mode to avoid that GSM buzzing sound!
That's it! The Porta-Booth ® is a simple, practical and inexpensive way to sound good anywhere, at home or on the road.
PS: If you do find yourself in the room from Hell, here's a tip I learned from a movie soundman. One of the best designed acoustic spaces on earth is the modern automobile. So, if all else fails, get in that rental car and find a nice scenic rural roadside. Pull over, shush the cows - and hit record.
All Manufacturing Rights Reserved!You can now order a professionally made Porta-Booth ® ready-to-go!