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Will background noise spoil your recording? What can you do?

If you record heavy rock music, then background noise is unlikely to be a problem. But if you record speech, as in voice over, then you must consider very carefully what you need to do to compete with the experts.

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Background noise is a problem that every studio has to deal with. Traffic noise from outside is the most common problem, which should be dealt with firstly by choosing a location away from heavy traffic, then secondly by sound insulation.

So at a home studio level, the room in your house or apartment that is closest to the street is not likely to be the best place to record. Choose a room that is as far from the street as possible.

Or if you can't do that - perhaps you live in a one-room apartment - then insulating the window with secondary double glazing will provide a significant benefit.

But some home recording studio owners don't have to worry too much about noise. EDM producers for instance - they rarely record through a microphone. Synthesized and sampled sounds are not affected by noise, although it has to be said that noise can be a distraction when mixing.

If you record heavy rock music (pity the neighbors) then the instruments will be so much louder than the background noise that it is straightforward to get a clean recording.

But what kinds of sounds are most affected by noise?

Speech

If you record speech, such as voice over for instance, then noise will be a problem - almost guaranteed. The main issue is that speech has gaps where noise can poke through. So when the voice over artist speaks a word the noise is masked, but then in the small gap before the next word, or perhaps a pause between sentences, any background noise is clearly audible.

So for a voice over studio, certainly if you hope to record to a fully professional standard, you must consider sound insulation carefully. Otherwise you could set up your studio and find that it is impossible to work to a professional standard and get paid for what you do.

But it could be worse...

Foley

Invented long ago by Jack Donovan Foley, this is a method of recording sound effects for a movie or TV drama while watching the picture. So a Foley artist tasked with recording the sound of rattling keys will watch the scene with the actor handling the keys and create sounds that match.

The sound of keys rattling is fairly quiet, but there is also the rustling of clothing. Or imagine someone sitting down on a leather sofa.

These are extremely quiet sounds, but if they are not including in the soundtrack of the movie or TV drama then the scene will not seem realistic.

Clearly then a studio designed for Foley must be very quiet.

Further considerations

There are tech solutions to noise. Noise reduction software or plug-ins can work amazingly well. But some software developers try to convince their potential purchasers that noise reduction is an intrinsic part of the production process. This is not so. Would you hire a professional studio at $1000 a day or more that suffered from noise problems that had to be solved with a plug-in? Clearly no. Noise reduction is only used when absolutely necessary, such as dialog recorded on location.

So if you aspire to a professional standard of work it is important to consider what the true professional standard is. These are the people you will be competing with.

The Audio Masterclass Music Production and Sound Engineering Course contains knowledge content and audio examples of background noise in speech in Module 1.

Thank you for reading.

By David Mellor Tuesday October 30, 2018
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