The Paperless Recording Studio

More than ten years ago, I went with a paperless recording studio setup. It still to this day amazes me just how many voice talent are reading off paper as part of their voiceover studio workflow. If you’re a voiceover talent and don’t have a paperless recording studio, here’s the proverbial ice pick in the forehead.

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A few years ago, I used to do a fair amount of work out of a small studio in downtown Toronto called Boom Sonic Branding. These guys were always having problems printing….anything! Either the local machine wasn’t working, or they had to run down the hall to use someone else’s printer. There was always an issue with printing off a script – and thus delay – every time I showed up for a session.

One day, it was impossible to print the script and these guys got caught with their proverbial pants down…..the client in attendance. Being a solution-oriented guy, I suggested that I place the client’s laptop on the music stand in the booth….and I could read from that.

The Proverbial Light Bulb went on…

From that day forward, I was hell-bent on converting my studio to a paperless format. I first started by using the guys over at Boom as my “lab rats.” I first added two monitors – one in the booth for the talent, the other on the desk in front of the engineer so he could handle the script and also view what the talent in the booth was seeing. The CPU used to display the script simply extended its desktop to the two monitors via a video amplifier….one monitor feed sent to multiple LCD monitors.

Paperless recording studio – Talk about luxury…..!

Voice talent loved it because the script was always easy to see (backlit) and they could shut off those halogen lights that created heat in the booth. The engineer could adjust the zoom and/or font size for those that had vision issues.

Directing talent went in a completely different direction. Instead of producers saying:

“Do you see that part in the script where it says….?”

The engineer would merely point to the spot on the script with his cursor! And to make things even better, bold, italicize or underline the text in question. Not to mention, script changes were a breeze….no need for a pen or pencil. Beautiful.

Paperless Recording Studio – Stupid paper

Let’s not forget the word “paperless.” Consider this: a 30 page narration recorded in a pro studio with the talent, an engineer and a producer would require that 90 pages of paper be printed so all three people can follow along.

Consider all those times you have to print something off for a simple audition or a commercial where you’ve only got 2 lines to read…..seems wasteful to print a whole sheet of paper for a single line, doesn’t it?

How much have you spent on ink cartridges in the past year? The past two years?

LCD Monitors are pretty cheap these days….about $120.00 for a cheapo 17”, which is all you need, really. They don’t make any noise….and they don’t require paper or a cartridge.

Paperless Recording Studio – Basic and Deluxe

There’s two kinds of setups you can consider, Basic and Deluxe.

Here’s a description of the Deluxe Paperless Studio setup that I have at my studio at home. This configuration is the best way to go if you have a sound booth in your studio. It’s also the most expensive. Let’s go over the Deluxe version first.

If you don’t have two machines (CPU’s) in your studio by now, you should have. Aprofessional studio set-up has a DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) and an Admin computer, to handle all things related to administration of a VO business, like Internet, FTP, E-mail, Invoicing…..and scripts. I won’t go into great detail about the DAW, but I will say that your DAW should be “tweaked” for recording only; it’s networked, yes – but only for the purpose of transferring files, nothing more.

With your two machines in place, you now have to “split” the (LCD) monitor feeds so you can broadcast a single monitor feed to 2 LCD Monitors. You can do this a couple of ways. One method is to use 2 passive video splitters (a “Y” cable). The other method, which is much simpler, requires that you are on Windows 7 or the latest Mac OS and have dual monitor outputs on your graphics card – most have 1 DVI and 1 VGA output. In the monitor settings of your OS, select “Duplicate these displays.”

Next, you need to extend your keyboard and mouse for each machine to the booth (or recording location isolated from your CPU’s). This is done easily via USB – simply extend a single USB cable to a USB hub and plug in your keyboard and mouse. Or, you can use a wireless USB combo, but that means you’ll always need fresh batteries on hand as a back up.

So, in total you will have 4 mice, 4 keyboards, 4 monitors and 2 CPU’s. That’s the Deluxe version.

The Basic Paperless version still requires that you have 2 CPU’s (keep in mind that you should have two anyway) and is suited for those that have an “open concept” studio (no booth).

Here’s a pic of my first “basic” paperless configuration.

Here, you can see that from where the mic is located, the talent can view both the Admin and DAW screens. A custom made keyboard stand allows the talent to use the keyboard and mouse while viewing both screens. This configuration uses a KVM (a single keyboard and mouse controls both CPU’s). Only a single video amplifier is required and one additional LCD monitor.

Regardless of which configuration you go with, proximity is a very key issue. The CPU’s have to be placed within a 6ft proximity to the monitors to avoid excessive cable runs; the same can be said for the keyboard and mouse, though that problem can be mitigated by using wireless hardware.

Paperless Recording Studio – Are you a Nay Sayer?

Now, you may be looking at this and saying to yourself…..

“Why should I bother…?”

To that I say, going Paperless isn’t just about saving money and trees on ink & paper…’s about saving time and improving service. Think about every single time you print off a page of paper and how much time that takes. Think about the time you spend changing ink cartridges. What about the time you spend hand-writing revisions with a pen that…..suddenly runs out of ink during a recording session?

You don’t know until you’ve tried it. Going paperless makes a HUGE difference in your workflow.

To prove my point, I hooked up a colleague, Rory O’Shea a few months ago….and he still to this day comments on how much easier it has made his life and improved his service to clients. In fact, he keeps lamenting about how much time he wasted prior to going paperless. You can read an article on his voiceover home studio here.

While Rory doesn’t go into huge detail about the particular “paperless” aspect of his studio, feel free to drop him a line and ask how much it’s changed his business…..indeed, his life.

Folks…the sooner you’re off the Paper Monkey…..the happier you’ll be. Trust me!

The Planet thanks you 🙂

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