Recording a voice is on one level a relatively simple task and many folks these days may offer a service that can seem very similar on the surface. You can for example buy an inexpensive microphone, some software, install it on a laptop and call yourself a recording studio, lots of people have done this and it is understandably tempting to use such a service, especially when they seem able to deliver a competitive sound for cheaper.
However, I dispute that recording a voice is simple. In fact I would argue that in some ways the 'simpler' i.e. the fewer tracks a session has as is typical of a voice reel, can be more challenging than that of a full band session.
Full band recording sessions while not short of issues, can ultimately be blended here and there in such away as to disguise problems. With a band there are more places to hide. In contrast a single source or in our case typically two, the voice and piano - there is nowhere to hide and so the listener has plenty of opportunity to hear flaws. Flaws not just with the voice, but also indirectly flaws in the recording quality due to equipment and environment or treatment choices.
It is also understandable that one might think that a quick, no frills recording, even a voice memo from an iphone is suitably adequate for submitting to a potential employer. After all, won't it be obvious enough that you can sing from this and won't they get to hear you properly once you are invited for an audition anyway?
I would suggest this as a solution for only the most urgent deadline where someone has maybe asked for a snapshot of your ability just as the opening is about to expire.
The truth is that casting agents, managers and agents share the same human shortfalls as us all and despite what they might say, they are far more likely to be impressed and therefore inclined to keep listening to a quality presentation than a poor one, and even if they really are able to be discerning - your voice is in a fierce battle with an untold amount of competition, doesn't your talent deserve to enter that battle at least as tooled up as your rival? Is it worth being passed over your dream job, your big career break because the guy one email along spent a couple of hundred pounds on his calling card?
In a tight call between you and the next person the difference between the recording quality may be the reason why you are not called back. Arguably, a vocalist with a lesser voice than your own, might even trump you on the day because the reel they professionally recorded highlights their strengths and plays down their weaknesses. In short, presentation matters, first impressions last and you may as well realise this sooner than later.
So this may be a convincing case for not recording on a smart phone, but does this apply to a well meaning friend with a keen interest in recording who might have a home studio, one who is happy to do your reel for a fraction of the cost or perhaps even for a pint and a curry?
Amateur recording engineers can arguably put in a good turn, but there is a tendency for such recordings to vary from impressive to poor, although it might not be immediately obvious why.
Cheaper microphones as is common in such environments - can sound comparable for the most part to microphones several times the price, but will tend to have a number of mechanical limitations due to the inexpensive manufacturing process used to deliver it to market. These limitations will include the design and the physical construction; the velocity of a singers voice - literally the air from the voice impacting the microphone can introduce all manner of unpleasant artifacts if the build quality is not superb.
These include unwanted frequencies caused by resonating components or lower quality capsules (the heart of a microphone) being tweaked artificially to sound more flattering.
Cheaper microphones will have poorer noise control overall, which will conspire at some point along the way to irritate you. It will be the difference between a vocal being nearly there and really being there.
This is why, commercial recording studios invest thousands in their microphones, not just for the immediate impressive sound quality they deliver, but for the assurance that they work consistently and are predictable in terms of returning a commercially viable output.
When you invest in a pro reel, you should be getting the knowledge of an experienced engineer who earn their money working out the problematic issues before you even become aware of them.
In essence it doesn't take long to learn how to plug in a microphone, operate the software or hardware and capture something that sounds rather professional, but while it may be easy to record a well rehearsed, talented performer, I am yet to encounter one who walks through the studio door without any rough spots, without harsh frequencies in their voice or dynamics in the material they are performing that require informed choices on how to best manage them.
This is the crucial component, knowing when to pull a frequency or leave it alone, being able to detect the subtle changes certain production methods impart and knowing when something sounds right enough to move on. Even if the raw recording is excellent, an inexperienced engineer can easily undermine it with poor processing choices.
In short a good engineer is someone who makes recording a great performance of your voice, seem easy and instills confidence in you and what you are hearing...don't be mistaken, it's not easy - it's experience.
A third thing to consider is the recording environment itself. A great studio for recording should at the very least be isolated enough from the deluge of noise we can associate with urban living; traffic noise, trains, police sirens and less obvious distractions like air conditioning or the whirring of fans from laptops or towers. Most bedrooms or dining rooms are not ideal as studios because they are invariably subjected to noises associated with being located in a home, but in addition to this, they tend to have poor acoustic spaces, by which I mean rooms that are too echoey - easy to hear - or rooms that have too much boxy frequency in them - less easy to hear - or it might have some peculiar acoustic anomaly causing phasing, much less easy to identify but very destructive tonally.
Finally, a decent studio should be a good place to work, in this case I mean a balance between being comfortable but also as a place where you can focus on the job in hand. Creative focus can be an elusive beast, therefore an ideal space needs to feel constructive and purposeful without being intimidating and not so relaxed that you just want to hang or put off what needs to be done. There is unquestionably a particular advantage to going to a designated place of work over re-purposing a room that you ordinarily watch T.V. or sleep in. Difficult to calculate the actual net gain, but instinctively we know this to be true.
It is the sum of these three components that affect the quality of the end result; quality of equipment, engineer experience and environment. Conceivably you could still get a decent reel without the dedicated space, perhaps even with an inexperienced engineer and maybe even with cheap studio equipment, just as you could get a decent hair cut for cheap from a friend who happens to have a pair of scissors.
Really though, while your hair is indeed shorter, the finish may not be so great. This analogy holds true for recording voices, the broad result can appear to be much the same, but if the quality of the finish is poor, you will notice this either very early on or not so far down the line.
The takeaway here is that you may start off making a saving of sorts going off grid or seeking cheaper alternatives, yet in the long run it could actually cost you more, not just in money either - but in time, inspiration and energy - valuable commodities all.
Here at Working VoiceReels we use only industry recognised signal paths and microphones, our studio is located in peaceful countryside, air conditioned with generous live room and separate control room. I got my diploma in audio engineering nearly 20 years ago and have been working consistently producing vocals, songs and music for commercial purposes nearly as long.
Please do visit the samples page and judge for yourself what we can do for you and of course, drop me a line if you want to learn more.