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Want a simple phone patch?  Use skype and a tablet!

Voice over professionals know that clients often want to provide real-time direction on projects, especially when you record from a home studio.  Traditionally, this has been accomplished through a phone patch or ISDN line.  These involve purchasing new equipment and are often cost-prohibitive for a new voice over talent just starting out.

On the other end of the spectrum, a voice actor could certainly use a cordless phone with a headset and receive direction through the phone.  This gives the client a sense of the interpretation and energy of the read, but it doesn't allow for meaningful playback nor a sense of the recording quality.

In my research on the topic, I found a great article by Corey Snow (Twitter, website) on setting up a Skype-based phone patch using an inexpensive mixer.  However, I wanted to avoid buying a new piece of equipment (for now!) and wondered if I could somehow leverage my existing technology (Android tablet, Skype, Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 audio interface) to accomplish the same goal.

As it turns out, which a modest purchase of a cable and some adapters, I found a configuration that satisfies all the needs above -- PLUS, I have to option to record (or not) the director's comments on a separate track AND I can play back the reads if they want to hear them.  (I haven't had a need for that yet, but I can do it if requested).

This is by no means the only configuration; it's simply the one that works for me.  The Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 has direct monitoring capabilities, which means I can hear (1) myself as I speak into the mic, (2) my client as they give me instructions, and (3) the playback from my DAW.

the Basics

Before I continue, be aware that this will be a very detailed article.  I'll add illustrations to show the connectivity and I'll be as concise as possible, but apologies in advance for the inherent wordiness.

In my configuration, I'm using Skype on my Android tablet (a Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0) to provide connectivity with the client.  SO far I've only used the audio capabilities, but this does allow for video capabilities as well!  Also, I wanted to have the communications separate from my laptop since I disable WiFi and networking while recording.  I haven't tested the impact of running Skype on the laptop; perhaps I'll update this article with that information later on.

Again, my existing equipment was a follows: Focusrite Scarlett 2i2, tablet, condenser mic, laptop.  Idea is that you want to use your mic as the input for both the recording as well as for Skype, and to hear the audio from Skype (your client's direction) through your headphones.

the setup

For the setup, you need the following accessories:

  • Camcorder cable
  • Three (3) RCA to 1/4" mono adapters (RCA female on one end, 1/4" mono male plug on the other)

The key accessory to accomplish this is called a camcorder cable.  The camcorder cable has a 3.5mm TRRS (tip/ring/ring/sleeve) plug on one end and 3 RCA-type plugs on the other.  The 3.5mm plug on the cable serves the same purpose as a wired headset for a cell phone; it transmits both input signals to the tablet's microphone as well as audio from the tablet (left and right channels).

You'll use the 3 RCA plugs from the camcorder cable (with adapters attached) to connect the tablet to your audio interface.  Here is how mine are connected (this should be standard for most phones):

  • Red RCA - Input 2 of audio interface - this sends the director's voice to your headphones and the DAW (if desired)
  • White RCA - L Main Out
  • Yellow RCA - R Main Out - these send your voice back to the tablet and are the inputs to Skype -- so the director can hear you

Here's what the finished configuration looks like:

This allows you to adjust the gain on the Skype session through the audio interface, so you have volume control on what's recorded (if anything) from the director.

Then, in your DAW, set one track to record your voice (Input 1) and another track (if desired) to record the director.  You may have to play with the settings a bit, but it worked pretty successfully for me.

Of course, you can also do something similar running Skype off your laptop, but you may have to adjust your cabling depending on whether you have separate speaker and mic jacks, or a single one that handles both.

Please let me know if you have any comments or questions.

Camcorder cable

RCA to 1/4" adapter