Saturday, June 25, 2011

The Big Move Part 2: Moving in a Monsoon

It rained 32 days in the month of March this year. When we weren't sleeping or working at our jobs we were crouching in the basement from the tornado warning of the hour. It was not the best conditions for moving.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Before you can move from somewhere, you have to have a place to move to. A home studio was not in the plans when we bought our first house, but I was able to take advantage of the 100+ year-old house's quirks... a servant's quarters off the main residence has its advantages. This time we could choose a house with a studio in mind. Location, taxes, availability, and an upside-down buyer's market all played a role in our decision. After months of searching and negotiation we found our new home.

The basement would seem like an ideal spot for a studio, but basements have their disadvantages: proximity to the HVAC system, dehumidifier noise, bat cave acoustics, overhead footsteps, and the possibility the VO booth becomes Grand Central for plumbers and pipe fitters if the water heater expires. With every house we checked out it became more and more clear to me that I wanted my studio above ground. The winning house has just that.

The desk and some other furnishings were already in place when this photo was taken. A child's bedroom offered everything I wanted: quiet location isolated for the most part from plumbing and HVAC noise, three interior walls, a large closet, and a labyrinth hallway leading from the main section of the house. The single window faces the deep back yard. The central air condenser unit sits just a few feet away from the window, but the walls of this 1959 vintage homestead are thick enough to negate the noise down to a level I can muffle with acoustic dampening. That same dampening would also cut the flutter any bedroom without a bed tends to have. Nothing above, nothing below (the basement does not extend to this room, so there's a crawl space instead) and the only person who would be flushing the nearby toilet would be me, and I usually call a halt to a tracking session when such duty arises.

But first, there was a utility issue to address. The house has only a 100 Amp load center that was pretty much full, and almost all of the outlets in the house were original. A professional electrician was called in, and he agreed an upgrade was needed.

This is one of the decidedly un-sexy parts of home studio gear. This is the new main electric line running from the power company drop line to the meter. The power company replaced the meter, while the electrician installed a 200 Amp load center with plenty of room for expansion. The circuit running to the studio is isolated from the HVAC and kitchen side of the service, which eliminates those tube-surging, computer crash inducing brown outs from the studio power supply. Code-compliant outlets were installed to augment the existing Eisenhower era outlets, so there's no need to use a power strip to load a dozen devices onto one plug. And everything is properly grounded, a big plus from the old studio where the ground tended to disappear without provocation.

Next came the Internet connection. It is possible that I found that one house in America that did not have Internet in the boy's bedroom. Then again, they could've had a wireless router somewhere else. A shout out goes to Time Warner Cable's installation dude who showed up on time and created a very stealth cable passage. They also hooked up a new modem, but didn't take the old one I brought from the old studio. So now I have a backup modem.

Incidentally, there's nothing wrong with your monitor; that carpet is orange. So is the accent on the drapes. I think it's supposed to be brown... as in Cleveland Browns. You know, as in the boy living here was allowed to be a Browns fan. Alas, the things some parents will tolerate.

With the power and Internet ready, it was Go Time. The move was on... as soon as we could get the "all clear" from the weather service. At one point we were loading the car to the sound of tornado sirens wailing in the neighborhood. The National Weather Service does not condone loading a computer into your car during a tornado warning, but given it was the third warning for the day, and we were averaging around three a day for the past week, we had pretty much grown immune. During the first warning you run for the basement. During the second day of warnings you sit in the kitchen and watch it rain. By the second straight week of living in Code Red you just go about your business. In the TV station master control we were slapping off the weather alert radio every five minutes the way a college student ignores his alarm clock during Pledge Week.

Despite the weather, the move went fairly smooth. Here are the things I managed to do right:

Back up your data. Then... back it up again. "Triplicate" seems to be the buzzword for data protection these days. Get your sessions off the C: drive and use an external or second internal drive. Then back it up on a flash drive like this... it's surprising how much memory you can get on one of these things nowadays. CD ROM or DVD seems to be passe now, and a pain to burn. Consider a web-based backup if you tend to lose small objects. Otherwise, be sure to keep a backup OFF-SITE somewhere safe... like a locker at your workplace, or even a bank vault if you feel that strongly about it. Make sure your system and apps are backed up as well either with their original CD ROMs or on a mirrored drive. I came through with no problems, but prepare for the worst.

Save your boxes. I know it's pain to fill your closet with these things, but the package your gear came in is the best way to schlep it in your car. The padding and dimensions of the box help protect things from bumps and jolts. The original box is about the only way to carry headphones safely. They're not shown here, but my studio monitor speakers were still in the box used to ship them in the first place.

Most studio mics come with these handy flight cases. They were designed to take a beating from the airlines or a clumsy roadie. (I never met a clumsy roadie. I assume they don't stay in the business long.) Handheld mics often come in soft pouches that don't offer as much protection, but the original box adds a layer of shock absorption. Roadie Cat is checking the inventory.

Not shown: the pop filter was hauled by itself in its own box to protect the nylon screen.

Be prepared to buy a replacement for something. I got through mostly unscathed, but a power line to my printer developed a weak spot - probably from getting caught under something or maybe Roadie Cat decided to test it with her teeth. Don't be surprised if something hard to move gets nicked or dinged, such as printers, monitors, or a bull moose sound stage-sized mic boom.

What I didn't do was make out a check list of everything in the studio. A check list keeps you on track, and prevents inventory from wandering away... especially if you hire a moving company.

Coming up on the final chapter.... furniture chess: assembling the new studio and the art of acoustic dampening for fun and profit. Until next time... cheers!

Sunday, June 5, 2011

The Big Move, Part 1

So we decided to move. It wasn't a long distance move - only about 10 miles - but the distance hardly mattered. As I sat in my cozy little tuned-to-near-perfection voiceover cave I felt the dread of taking it all apart, jamming it in boxes, hauling it, and reassembling it. As I figured it, under the best of circumstances I would lose about 3 days of work. If anything went wrong...

Let me explain how this got started. Some people build a studio in their house in order to start a side career as a voice artist. Others are actors or radio talents (or both) who find themselves on the road schlepping from session to session and would like to cut the windshield time and get some leisure time back. I fall into that second category. It all started with a borrowed $50 mic and a Radio Shack mixer fed into my computer. Winter weather had endangered a session the previous week, and the producer at the ad agency suggested if anybody should be working from home, it should be me. Besides, my background in audio engineering and radio production would get me through the technical stuff. And so, holding the mic in one hand, and the script emailed to me in the other, I started cutting tracks. They didn't suck.

The equipment grew in number and expense. I employed some acoustical slight of hand to kill the flutter - a homemade gobo and a quilt on the wall. I moved up from a handheld karaoke mic to an AKG Perception 220 on a shock mount on a boom stand. I dug out my music stand from my days as a musician and stopped blowing takes with paper rattle. I even put a light on the stand as the little room in my 110 year-old Victorian had been wired sometime around prohibition, allowing for only a single overhead bulb. And speaking of Victorian wiring, the barely insulated stuff in the walls made for some careful configuring to avoid blowouts and buzzy audio. (One of the reasons I switched to a condenser was to kill the dynamic mic buzz.)

It wasn't Skywalker Ranch, but it made money.

And now I had to move it all.

This would have to be coordinated. First, there was the high-speed Internet to consider. A date had to scheduled when I would lose the least amount of work. Local TV work would not be a problem as our station's booth was set up for just that purpose, and if things got tight I could bend the rules just this once and do a little outside work in the booth.

The date was set. The Internet switchover was planned. Everything was a Go.

Everything, that is, except the weather.

Next post... moving during monsoon season.