Recording Sound on a Budget

So you’ve programmed your app, you have all of the artwork and icons, but now you’re missing a key ingredient: sound. But let’s face it, not everyone making an app has the budget to build a recording studio, rent sound booth time, or even buy sound effect packages. So I’m going to show you how to record your own sound effects and narration tracks on a budget of $60 or less.

The first thing you should know is that you don’t need professional recording software. If you’re a musician or voice over artist and already own $800 software, by all means take full advantage, but for the rest of us there is Audacity. Audacity is free for PC and Mac users and has a lot of free effects built into the software. If you want to save your tracks as a .mp3 format you can download a free plug-in for Audacity called LAME.

The next piece we’ll need is a microphone. Mics can range for $9.99 Walmart specials or $14,000 professional studio quality ones. Usually the really cheap microphones will plug into your computer via headphone jack and the expensive ones will require a mixer of some sort. I choose to go with the middle road and use a USB microphone. No, you don’t get the amazing quality you’d expect to hear from a live orchestra, but you’re making an app, not a auditory masterpiece. My mic of choice is the CAD u37. It’s inexpensive, has good sound quality, and it’s USB powered.

CAD u37 Microphone
CAD u37 Microphone

The next concern is a pop filter if you’re going to do narration. A pop filter prevents the popping sound that occurs when users say the “P” sound and can also act as a barrier so the user can’t get too close to the microphone. These can range anywhere from $20 to $100+ depending on the make and model. To get around spending that extra money you can do two things. You can have the narrator not face the mic directly so when they say a “P” sound the puff of air isn’t blown directly into the mic, or you can construct a makeshift pop filter out of an old wire coat hanger and pantyhose. Some people would rather spend the money to not have pantyhose on their microphone, but just remember, not all pop filters fit every mic, so choose carefully.

Pantyhose Pop Filter
Pantyhose Pop Filter

The final concern is where to record your sound. Professional sound booths are covered in studio acoustic foam, which silences background noise. I solved this issue by taking a plastic storage tub and filling it with a piece of acoustic foam cut into pieces to line the walls. I believe the foam was $10 at a local music store, but you can use bedding foam or egg crates if you’d like. This is good for recording sound effects because I can carry the mic and my laptop around if I can’t bring the sound to my office.

Plastic Tub & Sound Foam
Plastic Tub & Sound Foam

If you’re worried about where to record narration, an easy and cheap trick is to record in a closet. Preferably a walk-in bedroom closet filled with clothing. The clothes will absorb extra sound and prevent any echoing. I have seen people arrange mattresses standing upright to form a makeshift recording booth as well, it really just comes down to what you have available.

Although you may feel a bit goofy yelling into a microphone with pantyhose on it while sitting in your closet, just remember that your audience doesn’t know that’s how you recorded the sound. All the audience cares about is the quality of the graphics, game play and sound, not how it was created. Besides, you could always use the money you make off your apps to build a professional studio later.

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