Audio Best Practices
Nothing turns off viewers faster than a video with bad audio. If you’re recording with mobile devices or lower end cameras, they will most likely have very poor built-in mics that are designed to pick up a wide pattern of sound. Unless you have a higher end camera that has a built-in shotgun mic, you are going to want consider recording audio separately from your video.
Choosing the Right Mic
The first thing you’re going to want to do is select the right microphone. Each mic has a different pick-up pattern and connection type so you’re going to want to determine what’s best for your situation. For one person interviews, we recommend a lavalier or “lav” mic. Here is the lav mic that we use at TechSmith for interviews. These are great for clipping on your subject’s shirt and are easily hidden. They do a great job of picking up only the audio that is close by.
For capturing location sounds, or dialog between 2 or more people, we recommend a shotgun mic. Caution though, shotgun mics are very directional, so you need to make sure you’re pointing the mic directly at the sound you want to pick up.
And finally, there is the traditional hypercardioid mic which is great for your TV journalistic style shoots or stage performances.
Selecting an Audio Recorder
So you’ve picked out your microphone and now you need a recorder to capture the audio. Here are a few options that we recommend:
- Don’t be afraid to spend a little less on a camera if it means you can put more money into a better audio recorder.
- Keep in mind that these audio recorders typically record to SD cards, so make sure you have something over a few Gigabytes in size.
- You’ll also want to make sure you have the right cords. Most audio recorders use XLR or ⅛” size audio jacks or have mics that are built-in.
- In addition, it’s good practice to get as close as you can to your subject, because the sound will degrade exponentially the further you are away.
Finally, you are ready to shoot. Since you want to make sure it will be as easy as possible to sync later while editing, you will want to use a trick called the “Clap Method”, which is creating a spike in the audio that is captured on both the audio recorder and camera. Have you ever seen those clapboards on movie sets? It’s essentially the same idea, because you are creating a noticeable increase in the audio that you will be able to easily line up later in your editor.
We know that it can become time consuming if you are recording multiple clips and are trying to sync them in your editor, but there are softwares available that will help. We’ve used Red Giant’s PluralEyes in the past and it is a great source if you have many clips that you need to sync up.
Using Camtasia? Tips for Recording Audio for Screencasts
Many of the same tips for recording camera video apply perfectly well to screencast recording as well. In the following video, Nate Gray, a member of our Tech Support team, covers basic screencast audio tips including microphone selection and using the noise reduction process in Camtasia for Mac. Combine these tips, and you’ll be well on your way to recording great audio, every time.
How to Prepare a Room for Quality Voice Overs
Nothing kills a video like poor audio quality. No amount of set design, camera effects, or lighting tricks will help your finished video if your audio sounds like an old cassette tape. Beyond seeming unprofessional, poor audio quality makes it difficult for your viewers to understand the video. Your point gets lost in the static along with your voice.
Of course, some types of videos are less driven by audio than others. We can think of a few excellent videos that don’t have any speaking parts at all! But for anything with a voice over, on-screen dialog, or interview, you’ll want to make sure the sound quality is as good as possible.
Before we talk about how to prepare your own room, let’s take a quick look at how sound works in the first place. Once we understand what makes a voice recording echo-y or scratchy, we can start fixing the problem.
The Science Behind Sound
Sound moves in waves. When those waves hit something (like a wall), they bounce back. If you’re in a room with more than one wall (and let’s be honest, that’s most rooms), the sound wave will bounce back and forth. Over and over again. As you might imagine, sound bouncing back and forth across a room doesn’t make for the highest quality audio.
To give you a better visual of what this means, we’re going to turn it over to John Calder of Acoustic Geometry.
Like John says in the video, there are two types of sound in a room: direct and reflected. Direct sound comes from sound waves going directly to your ears (or voice recorder). On the flip side, reflected sound is created by sound waves bouncing off walls. Because reflected sound arrives at our ears later, it causes distortion. Basically, it makes audio sound bad.
To fix this problem, we have two options: absorb the reflected waves or diffuse them. Absorbing sound waves reduces the strength of the reflection. Absorbing all the errant sound waves may seem like a good a idea, but if you absorb too much, your recording will start to feel unnatural or lifeless. That’s where diffusion comes into play. Diffusion is just another word for scattering; sending reflected waves in different directions has a smoothing effect. To get the best overall audio, use absorption and diffusion together.
Common Misconceptions about Soundproofing
Up until this point, we’ve been discussing how to make the audio inside a room sound better. Absorption and diffusion only help with echoes, dampening the noise within a space. Although many people refer to this process as soundproofing, what we’ve actually been discussing is acoustics. Soundproofing, on the other hand, is how you block outside noise from entering the room in the first place. And it takes different tools to do both jobs.
Dampening sound within a room
Soft materials absorb sound waves better than hard materials (that’s why it echoes more when you walk on hardwood floors than carpeting), and surfaces with lots of angles diffuse sound waves. Put those two concepts together and it becomes pretty obvious why most recording studios are covered in soft foam with lots of angles.
Here you can see TechSmith’s recording studio; we used a combination of a few different types of foam to get the best overall audio experience.
Blocking external noise from entering a room
To soundproof, you have to stop sound waves from entering a room. Generally, very dense materials are good at this. Usually soundproofing is taken care of during construction because it can be difficult to reinforce a room after it’s finished. But don’t worry yet, there are a few tricks you can use to get around this setback!
How to Create Your Own Home Recording Studio
For a truly masterful voice over, you’ll want to control for everything we’ve covered above: blocking outside noise, absorbing stray sound waves, and diffusing the rest. You’ll also want to use a professional microphone to pick up the best audio possible.
To block noise from entering a room, you need thick walls made out of a dense material. Think plaster instead of drywall. Since full-on construction isn’t exactly inexpensive, let’s focus on picking the best room you already have access to.
Choose somewhere remote, preferably without windows. The best spaces can seem unconventional: don’t count out closets, storage rooms, or even your car. Most cars built these days have built in soundproofing to minimize road noise. Use this to your advantage! No one will know if you record your voice overs from the passenger seat.
Recording in a busy office can be a challenge, but if you can’t find somewhere quiet, you can always send a polite email reminder to your coworkers when you need to record something, or let them know in-person.
Next, assess how much extra noise you’re still hearing. The easiest way to do this is to plug headphones into your mic and listen closely for anything it’s picking up. Is a dog barking? Do you hear construction noise? Maybe the fan in your desktop is whirring?
You’ll want to dampen any extra noise you hear: the goal is complete silence. You could buy acoustic foam and plaster it up in the room you’re using, but that’s not always necessary. Remember, any soft material can deaden noise. If you’re short on budget, try putting a blanket over your head and microphone. Sure, it looks a little silly, but it works! Hanging heavy curtains or carpeting on the walls of your room is another option.
Small spaces tend not to need as much diffusion as larger spaces, but if your audio plays back sounding dull, throw some corners into your room. Again, acoustic panels work well, but anything with some angles on it will do.
Syncing Audio and Video Sources
Often times to get a more professional sound you may need to record audio separately from your video. This means that you’ll need to learn how to sync audio and video sources in your video editing process.
Step 1: Getting Good Audio
This can be tough. There are so many things that could potentially affect your audio recording. On top of making sure you select the right microphone, you will also need to make sure you select the right location. Here’s a short list of factors you’ll need to watch out for:
Nothing will make a terrible audio experience like wind. Filming an interview outside? Did you bring some wind blocking gear? You will, at the very least need a windscreen, however, the best case scenario would be to find an interview location where the weather is not a factor.
Ambient noise can be terrible to try and eliminate in post production. Some video editors have advanced sound mixing tools, but try to fix as control as possible before the edit. Find a location that is quiet and has low foot traffic to mitigate unwanted sounds.
Yes, this is a real thing! Unless you intend to hear dogs barking or birds chirping during your video, try to find a location where ambient animal sounds are a non-issue. Nothing is worse than having a dog bark when your interviewee gives you a perfect one-liner!
After you have found the right location, you absolutely must do a “sound check”. This means setting up all of your audio recording equipment, recording some test audio and playing that back to assess the quality of the sound. Never jump into your interview without doing a sound check!
Step 2: Importing Audio
So you’ve just recorded your audio separate from your video? Congratulations! There are so many video editing software options on the market it can sometimes be hard to choose the best one for your project. If you’re the type of producer who is recording interviews and b-roll, Camtasia may be the best product for you. With Camtasia, you can import your audio and video tracks independently. If you need to trim a portion of your recording, it’s often easier when the tracks are separate.Then, simply drag each clip onto your timeline.
Step 3: Syncing Audio with Video
The most difficult part of syncing audio with video is actually lining up your audio and video tracks in the timeline. Use the timeline zoom function in Camtasia to begin lining up your audio and video. You’ll want to make sure that you can scrub through the timeline at frame by frame basis. To do this, zoom all the way in!
Now that you can see each frame and audio spike, it’s time to line up the “Clap Sync”. This is an old school method of syncing your audio to video. You may have even seen this method used in big Hollywood production (see below for the clapboard).
The clapboard is used to give editors the visual marker, while the sound produced by the clap provides the audio marker.
On your timeline, you will see an audio spike and in the video you should see your clapboard or hands clapping. This will allow you to sync the video with the audio!
If you forgot to include a clap or cue, you’re left trying to find an obvious cough, or louder moment in the audio spike, that you can cue to their mouths movement.
Step 4: Celebrate!
You did it! You synced your audio and video on the timeline. Sometimes it’s just a matter of trimming the ends and exporting, other times you have a lot more editing still to do. Either way, you are now through the syncing process and ready for what’s next.
Syncing audio and video can seem like a tough and terrible task, but it doesn’t have to be. Use the tried and true method of the clapboard, along with easy to use post production software like Camtasia to get your desired audio and video. This will get you on track to produce great interview footage.
Normalizing Audio Clips and Volume
Have you ever watched a video where the music was so loud you couldn’t hear the voice over? What about the other way around? “Mixing” as it’s referred to in video production, is the art of blending your audio tracks to deliver a seamless audio experience, which can be achieved when you edit video.
In fact, big time Hollywood productions have teams dedicated to all different facets of sound. Many people take sound production for granted as it’s not as noticeable as moving images on a screen. Yet, sound carries you through the video experience. It allows you to experience the moving images in a different way, and associate a feeling with those images.
How To Get The Right Sound
Get Your Tracks In Line
When you begin any edit, it’s important to start by organizing your timeline. Editing your video is an art, make no mistake about it. Make sure to have your tracks separated by type (audio, video, animations, titles etc.). Then make sure your timeline is consistent. A disorganized timeline is the fastest way to wasting time while editing.
Selecting The Right Music
Selecting the right music is often the toughest part of editing a video. If your music choice significantly over-powers your narration or voice over, you may need to select a different track. Some people have soft voices that will not do well with overbearing musical scores. Additionally, you will want to make sure that the music you select fits the pacing of your video. There are many posts about choosing the right music for your video, our best advice is to pick a track that matches the feeling you’re trying to convey. By simply asking yourself what the mood of the video is, you will be able to further define your selection.
Quick tip: There are many royalty free music website that provide professional musical scores. As with any production, you’ll want to make sure you have the rights to music before publishing. Services like YouTube and Facebook will block your content if it has an active copyright. Here are some royalty free music sites you can look into:
Once you get your tracks in order and a rough edit, it’s time to start mixing. You may think that you should have all of your track volumes at the same level. WRONG. You need to keep your audio tracks balanced and flowing; just like your footage. This means that some audio tracks may need to be lower than others. This is especially true with voice over talent that have soft voices. In most video editing software the audio track will have a horizontal line that can be clicked on and adjusted. This line adjusts the volume of the track up or down. Below you’ll see how we create the illusion of fading audio in and out. One good trick is to close your eyes and listen. If the voices sound like they are drowning under the music, you’ll need to adjust the individual clip.
Quick tip: Music should always slightly fade lower as narration or voice over begins. That means that if your music is loud, bring it down a few notches when the clip with voice over begins. It shouldn’t fade out entirely however, as this will also be jarring to your viewer.
To better help keep your audio tracks balanced, you can separate audio and video so that your audio edits do not affect your video edits. In Camtasia, you can do this by right clicking on any video clip and selecting “Separate Audio and Video”. This will allow you to adjust track volume and apply fade ins, gains and more.
Key Framing or Adjustment Points
As we mentioned above, you’ll need to adjust audio volume when voice over or narration begins. In Camtasia, you can apply fade in and fade out effects. This allows you to effectively apply key frames where you want your track or music audio to be higher or lower.
A key frame is a location on a timeline that marks the beginning and end of a transition. In this case, we’re using it for an audio transition, but they can be used with video, animations and more. This is where music or voice over should fade in and out. Keyframing helps us create the experience for the viewer. Zoom into your timeline, find the audio track and mark your keyframe for where you want the volume to fade lower, and again for where you want it to get louder. Adjusting your audio in this way, will help your characters, narrators and voice overs be heard while still having the music lead them through the video.
Quick tip: Use Camtasia’s drag and drop audio effects to apply fades. Then select the circular nodes on your audio track to adjust the levels.
Normalizing audio is important
Audio is just one important part of editing video. Often, it’s an overlooked component for beginner video creators. You could create a picture perfect video, but poorly mixed audio will distract your viewers’ attention. Remember the quick tips above and you will be on your way to creating a powerful and engaging video! You can also try these tips using Camtasia, which includes a 30 day free trial.
If you are interested in learning more about video editing, check out our other blog posts about video editing tips and tricks.
- How to Trim Videos
- How to Rotate Videos
- How to Crop Video
- How to Make Video: Before Starting Your First Video
- B-roll: The Secret Sauce of Any Great Video
- Testing Different Microphones
It’s Not Too Late! How to Reduce Audio Noise in Your Recordings (For Free)
Recording clean audio can be tough, especially in noisy environments. Whether it’s background noise or less-than-ideal equipment, sometimes you end up with hissy audio. Luckily there is a free method to make your track easier on the ears.
Take a listen to what software noise removal can do:
Before We Get Started: Room Tone
There is one tip that will help immensely with this process. If you are the one responsible for your recording, remember to record at least 10 seconds of “room tone”. Room tone is simply a few seconds of recording the natural noise of the environment in which you’re recording (with no talking, nail filing, heavy breathing, etc.) Even if you can’t hear anything, a sensitive microphone will pick up ventilation noise, computer fans, and more.
Taking “room tone” will serve as a baseline for the software to remove noise. Having a section of room tone in your recording is always a good practice but if you know you’ll be needing to do noise removal later definitely don’t forget! If you don’t have control of the recording process you can still usually find a bit of room tone in a recording. You can find room tone in a break between takes or time at the beginning or end of the file where nothing much is happening and usually that’s enough to work with for noise removal purposes.
So how is noise removal actually done?
The Free Way – Audacity
In this economy, who wouldn’t take the free option when available? If you aren’t looking to invest in high-end audio software, Audacity is a free piece of software created and maintained by a community of programmers and audio experts. It accepts a wide range of audio file types and has a perfectly serviceable noise removal tool. The one catch is it’s audio only, so if you’re working with video it may not be the smoothest workflow. More on that later…
Here’s how it works:
1) Select your room tone by dragging your mouse over an area with no (or little) audio.
2) Under the effect menu select noise reduction.
3) Click “Get Noise Profile”. The box will disappear.
4) Click on the timeline once more to clear your selection.
5) Under the effect menu select noise reduction once more.
6) Click preview to hear the default noise removal settings. Depending on your room tone and original audio, these settings may work.
7) If you still hear noise, adjust the sliders and preview again.
What the sliders do:
Noise Reduction: Controls the amount of reduction of your noise volume.
Sensitivity: Controls the range of what noise removal considers noise. The higher this goes the more your actual audio (such as voices) will be affected.
Frequency smoothing: The default setting is setting is 3, settings lower than this tend to favor music and higher settings tend to favor spoken word.
Reduce and residue buttons: Reduce is what you’ll want for a good preview. It plays what the audio will sound like with noise removed. If you want to hear exclusively what the noise reduction is taking out, select residue and click preview.
Cleaning Up Audio
Audacity is great for cleaning up audio for a podcast or music. But for vocal tracks in video, it’s time consuming to export your audio tracks, clean them up in Audacity, and resync them again. It’s not impossible but it’s not the most efficient way to remove noise, especially if you’ve already cut up your clips in the timeline. Camtasia (TechSmith’s video editing software) has a noise removal feature built-in which is dead simple. It still works with your room tone but it’s not necessary to select the section on your clip, Camtasia will do that for you.
The sensitivity slider in Camtasia works the same as in Audacity. The “Amount” slider is equivalent to the Noise Reduction slider in Audacity. By removing noise on the timeline you save the trouble of importing and exporting back and forth from an external program like Audacity, and it’s much easier to make changes quickly.
There are other programs with similar processes such as Adobe Audition and the very powerful Izotope RX5. These programs edge into the professional realm of audio tools and allow you to go much further with audio sweetening if you’re willing to put the time and money in to learn them. Just remember while software continues to get better at saving audio, doing everything you can to minimize noise in the initial recording will always be your best bet.
How do you get the best audio for your videos? Have suggestions? Let us know in the comments!
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in May 2016 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.