2.1 Studio setup

2.1 Studio setup

How to turn your desk, your office or wherever you work, into your own recording studio.

You don't need an actual studio. We're just going to adapt wherever it is that you work because that's what we're going to be using to sort of adapt into a recording area.

We're going to be covering a few different things.

The first is the desk position, background, monitor, camera, and microphone position on your desk. Then we'll be looking at lighting, and we'll finish with a little bit about noise cancellation.

So starting with the desk.

The first thing that you want is a work surface that is big enough so that you can be relaxed, fit all of your gear on, and not feel kind of cramped and crowded because there's nothing worse than looking a little bit uncomfortable on camera.

You want to be relaxed and feel like you're in a place where you can express yourself. If you have a chance to upgrade your desk or use a table or surface that has more space, definitely try and do that. Supposing you have a small desk, just be mindful of how much space you have and make sure that you can still just look relaxed on camera.

When it comes to positioning it, the first thing you want is to have a decent amount of space behind you.

The next thing is to make sure that you avoid sitting in front of or behind direct sunlight or windows.

Often you'll see people who are sitting right behind some windows, and the light from the windows is so bright that it turns the person into a silhouette. One thing that you should also keep in mind when it comes to setting up your own studio.

So it's not the end of the world if you are sitting with a window behind you. Sometimes, it can be quite nice but it is something that you need to keep in mind with a basic camera and no lighting on your face that it will just turn you into a silhouette. So avoid that when it comes to placing your desk in your space.

Next is the background.

This is the stuff that's behind you while you're on camera and what people see behind you in the frame.

The first thing is to avoid blank walls. It's just kind of boring seeing a blank wall, and it leaves people wondering where you are. It makes the whole setup feel anonymous and mysterious. Maybe you're in a prison cell, maybe you're in some weird office building. Who knows?

The blank wall just kind of doesn't give anyone any information about you or where you are. If you have some stuff in the background, that doesn't clutter things too much and fills the space up. It's going to give people cues as to where you are, who you are, and make them feel a bit more comfortable watching you on camera.

So, things like plants, lights, books, and pictures are all good things to fill the space. All natural things, normal things that people would expect to see in a camera when they're watching you.

Try and avoid weird stuff. So anything unusual, unless it plays some role in your video, avoid weird things that people are going to get distracted by – that's not really what you want. Stick to tidy, expectable things that you'd see behind someone. That's usually the best thing to go for.

If you've got a small space, try and use some perspective. So this is going to come down to where you place your camera. It will mean that instead of a small space looking like you're sitting in a tiny little box, it opens the place up.

By placing the camera off-center, it goes off at an angle and that means it opens up the space and makes a tiny room feel a lot bigger. It gives the impression of a more spacious and welcoming space. So use perspective, especially in a small space.

Then we've got camera and microphone position.

When it comes to a camera and microphone position, a couple of things to keep in mind from the last lesson:

A good camera and mic are essential, but they're going to take up some space, and it's important to get them in the right spot for the best setup.

For the camera, there are two main options: directly in front of you over your screen or just on your desk.

This can be a little bit tricky when you have a big camera because it has to be elevated quite high, potentially, if you have a monitor or a laptop screen, it needs to be above. If you like, you can move it off-center like this and so you can sort of talk to your screen and then talk to the camera when you need to, and that is an easier way of dealing with a bigger camera because you can have it a little bit lower.

It doesn't need to be over the top of a monitor. The key thing, whether it's sort of above the monitor or off to the side, is to try and get it at eye level. No one wants to sort of be, looking at you with you looking up and no one wants to be like seeing you looking down on them.

Just try and keep it natural and eye level and that's going to feel like someone's having a conversation with you and sitting in the same room with you.

When it comes to a microphone, the main thing that you want to try is to get it off-camera. But for a lot of microphones, that can be hard because to get the really good sound, it needs to be close to your mouth where your voice is coming from. So it's kind of a compromise.

If you can keep the right sound that you want with the microphone off-camera, great, do that. If you can't, just find a good position for it to be not too distracting from the rest of the shot.

Then we've got lighting.

You can go pretty crazy with lighting. If you look up cinematic lighting tips and things like that on Google or YouTube, there are loads of videos and cool resources for learning more about cinematic lighting.

It's nice to be able to transfer the ideas from cinema and film into your own studio setup and your kind of amateur semi-pro video. The thing is, you really want a good main light source that is going to be your key light.

In the last lesson, we talked about getting a softbox. Softbox illuminates a big area well in a soft, nice, and natural way. That's the main thing that will make your setup look good. You want to have it pretty close to you so that the light is strong and in a position where it illuminates most of your face.

The next thing which is really just for effect are practical lights and these are lights that live in your background. They could be a lamp, they could be a candle, or something like that, that sits in your background and adds to your atmosphere.

They're not actually going to provide a bunch of light illuminating you. They're just going to be there to be a decoration.

The other things you can consider are having a backlight that would not be visible in the shot but would illuminate the back of you so that you stand out from your background or having like a fill light which would be kind of like a secondary light to your main one.

That would do the job of kind of adding some extra color or extra light to another side of your face in the shot.

Now with the setup guide with noise or noise isolation.

You would love to prevent the sound that comes out of your mouth from bouncing all around the room and then your microphone from picking up an annoying and not nice sounding sound.

The simple or first thing that you want to try is to isolate the sound using carpet, curtains, or other soft furniture. Hard wooden floors normally would just add to the echo and the reflection of the sound in a room and it wouldn't sound good.

So the next thing then if you don't have that stuff lying around is to get some acoustic panels. Acoustic Panels help isolate the sound in the room. If there are big blank walls, it's very easy for the sound to kind of just bounce back and forth and then end up, messing up the audio.

To wrap up this lesson, we're going to do a quick analysis of my setup.

So I've made a few references to what I have and how I have my recording space set up. We're going to look at it in some more detail and then kind of go through it together and see where it could be improved.

Hopefully, this helps connect all the dots from some of the gear that we looked at in the previous lesson and these things that I've been discussing about how you want to set up your own recording space.

So, this is what I see.

So starting at the top left, you can see I've got this big softbox - an obnoxiously large light that's close to me. Barely a foot in front of me so it provides a lot of light. And because it's got this big white kind of sheet, it diffuses the light so it comes across much softer and looks a bit more natural.

If you compare that to a ring light, you kind of see the shape of the ring especially in your eyes so the Softbox really helps a lot. That's why I've added this to the list. If you can find a smart way of incorporating it into your setup, then it's definitely worth just setting it up and leaving it there.

Just set it up once, and you're good to go. These are super cheap so you don't need to get anything super professional for this. Just get something that does the job and is big enough.

Then there's the camera. This is kind of set back into the corner and that's what helps me get the perspective in the room to make the room feel a lot bigger instead of being kind of square where the wall is the only thing that you see. Because of this, you kind of see a bit of the shape of the room and that kind of makes it feel a little bit more natural and welcoming.

The camera, softbox, and mic are all connected to a rig, which has a pole and arms that I can even attach to my laptop. There are a few different options out there for this kind of thing. I would recommend one of these if you're starting from scratch. Getting one of these is a lifesaver.

You just stick that onto the end of your desk, get all the things you need on it and you're good to go. It's pretty compact. It doesn't feel like it kind of obstructs the desk and regular work and it doesn't look too bad either which is great.

And so then I've got my mic. So I talked about the Shure SM7B which I've got. I need to have this quite close to my mouth so I've got a boom arm that really comes over the top, but still can move it around into different spots depending on what I'm recording which is handy.

Ideally, it would be nice if my mic wasn't in shot but that's something I'm going to have to improve. I've also got the audio interface and preamp (shown in the previous lesson), which you need to have in order to make the Shure SM7B work.

If you have this kind of setup, you just kind of want to tuck that out of the way and not let it interfere too much with it because it is quite a clunky bit of gear. You can just kind of set that off to the back and forget about it.

And finally, I've got a cheap acoustic foam. It's basic stuff, almost the cheapest stuff I found on Amazon. It does a pretty good job but it does feel I could probably go a bit further like maybe fill in some of the gaps and put it on some other walls. But this feels like a pretty good start.

So that's the setup from the desk side. Now let's talk about the setup on the wall or my office side.

Here's sort of another perspective of what you see behind me. There's a big blank wall, and that reflects a lot of sound so one of the main things I want to figure out here is how I can stop this from reflecting so much sound and still make it look nice. So I've got some pictures that really help with the scene that I'm trying to set in my shot.

That's great, but again, these pictures are still going to reflect a lot of sound since I'm not too far away from them. You can also see the back of my chair which is something I might need to think about in the future.

I've got a plant which just helps with the whole vibe. It looks a bit silly when you see it in person but when you see it on shot, it looks kind of cool. Then just some regular furniture and books to just kind of set that kind of natural and feel. Also, you can see the rug that I've got on the floor, which sort of covers off the hard wooden surface.

The other point that I want to sort of share about this is that I'm in a basic attic. This isn't really a room. This is just an attic or a storage space I've converted into an office and the point is that you can take something like this and with a little bit of work and some of these tips, you can turn it into a place that looks good, comfortable and nice on camera and it doesn't take too much effort.

The biggest effort, in fact in setting up this whole space was just painting the wall. Before, it was kind of ugly color, splotchy, and had broken plaster and everything. Once it got sorted, getting the rest of the setup was pretty straightforward. So if you have anything better than an attic or a storage unit, you shouldn't have too much trouble converting it into a nice, recording space.

The first improvement I wanted on my studio was better sound isolation that's why we want to do something about this blank wall. We want less hard surfaces, especially in a small room like this.

Ideally, I can find a way to get the mic out of the shot, but at the moment, I kind of want this sound.

Right now, if I wanted the microphone out of shot, I'd probably have to get an even more expensive microphone in a crazier setup with one that can pick up the sound nicely from a distance or I would have to do, like, extra editing of the sound after I've recorded it.

I don't really want to do that as of now because I want to have an efficient process for recording videos.

And lastly, maybe some more lighting options because when it's a bit darker in here, I just have the softbox as the main light and the one up in the ceiling that looks a little bit lifeless behind me as the light goes down.

Maybe a lamp over in the corner would be nice or some other kind of light source to play around with the color and the mood. That might be a nice thing for me to add.

Okay, the second lesson in the second chapter where we look at your studio and get that set up, is wrapped up. I hope there were some tips in here that you can take into your own recording, space, your own office, and start to think about how you're going to transform it.

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