Over the weekend I had the pleasure of doing some audio restoration and enhancement work for a client in Florida. It reminded me that a lot of people could probably benefit from a few helpful tips about getting the “pro” sound.
For the most part, a lot of podcasts and blogs that contain interviews, or any audio for that matter, lack that sheen that the more popular bloggers and podcasters have. The size of your audience shouldn’t determine whether or not your blog sounds awesome. It isn’t like after you reach 5,000 subscribers you all of a sudden sound amazing.
Here’s a quick list of simple ways to sound great:
1) Have adequate gear. This doesn’t have to cost a lot of money. A lot of broadcasters in radio are still using the SM7b by Shure. You can usually pick one of these up on ebay for anywhere from $200-$400. It’s a solid as a tank, dynamic mic and has a thick foam over it to serve as a the “P” catcher or Pop Filter. (More on that in a moment.) This mic does not need phantom power and won’t be hurt if you happen to accidentally send phantom power to it. You will need an interface to connect this to your computer. There are plenty of entry level choices on the market that connect to your computer via firewire or usb. This will allow you to connect your mic and have adjustment over your recording level. A final component would be the DAW, Digital Audio Workstation. This is the application in your computer that you can record to. Pro Tools, Cubase, Audacity, (free), FL Studio, are examples of common DAWs on the market. You can even download Reaper for free and use it indefinitely as long as you don’t mind a nagging screen that pops up wanting you to buy it after 30 days.
2) Use a “P” catcher and isolation. Plosives are the stops like “T”, “K”, “P”, “D”, or “B” consonants. The foam helps protect the recording from spikes in level when pronouncing words using those letters. Isolation for your mic will also help prevent unwanted, delayed room sounds from entering the recording causing phase cancellation or echoes from the sound hitting the walls and ceilings and traveling back to the mic. Consider a desktop isolation booth. You can either buy one or you can make one. Whatever your budget, there’s a solution. If you have the budget, you can even treat your room, which is optimal. Auralex is a common manufacturer or high end products but there are a lot of DIY solutions where you can make your own. If you’re really serious, hire an acoustic architect because it’s a matter of mathematics as well as understanding how audio relates to surfaces not just throwing blankets or insulation up, although that will help with a lot of the upper mid-range frequency content, like your voice.
3) If you’re doing an interview, use multiple tracks for each speaker and record to WAV format. Using multiple tracks and WAV files will make editing, restoration, enhancement, or any effort to work on the audio much easier and the results will be substantially better. You can always convert these to MP3 later for upload and download.
4) Learn mic technique. A lot of broadcasters have compressors and limiters between their mic and the DAW that acts as a safety net. Without going into detail of how compressors and limiters work, which is an entire series on it’s own, a compressor and limiter will basically level out the performance, bringing the quiet parts up and the loud parts down. So, for example, clearing the throat or a sneak attack sneeze will usually peak the meters and cause unwanted distortion. A compressor and limiter help prevent that. (They also add a smoothing quality to your voice, depending on what type you’re using. It helps make your voice richer, too.) Assuming your budget doesn’t allow for such an extravagance yet, learn mic technique. Once you find the right distance and level for recording, try to keep that distance. When you laugh or get animated, learn how to move around the mic like a professional vocalist would. This will keep your dialogue level consistent.
5) Not necessary but an effective and low cost solution is a plug in by Waves called, Vocal Rider. It’s a set it and forget it tool where you set the low threshold and the high threshold and the program rides the fader keeping your dialogue between those parameters. It’s a useful tool to have. While you’re at the Waves site, check out the line of compressor/limiters they have too.
This little list will get you thinking about your work differently now. There are certainly more tips and techniques to learn and even what I’ve mentioned here deserves a lot more discussion. Hopefully this points you in the right direction and gets you reading and learning about what’s available to you and how you can put it all to work for you, ultimately making you sound like a pro.
Got any suggestions to add? Got any questions? Hit me up. I would love to hear it.