When you first think of video, the audio capture and editing may not be the first thing that comes to your mind, but if you’ve ever endured any length of a movie where the audio track wasn’t synced with the the actors’ lips, you know how important nailing the audio is to your video. Audio alone doesn’t make an awesome video, but poor audio will certainly ruin an otherwise great video.
Whether you’re dubbing in English over your favorite foreign film or cleaning up a podcast or voiceover for a simple explainer video, we’ll discuss some simple strategies to get your audio sounding more like a pro cut it.
Before we dive in, know that this article will focus on mixing vocals for podcasts, voicovers, or other vocal tracks where the voice is the primary element. We’re not going to get into making music videos or mixing audio for the next Marvel movie. The difference is in where the focus of the listener will be. We want clear, crisp, unencumbered vocals, not a focus on sound effects and music.
The first issue you’ll likely face when starting to up your audio recording game is your equipment.
Choosing the right audio equipment
Any good audio recording starts with high-quality equipment. We’ll start with the most obvious
– the microphone.
These days you can get away with a high-quality USB microphone like this one, but if you want professional-grade vocals, you’ll need to splurge on a fancy mic like this one. Of course if you go for a non-USB mic, you’ll get better quality, bu you’ll also have to get a preamp. For most voicovers or podcasts, you should be just fine with a USB mic and some post-production work.
After the mic, some other equipment you may find useful is a pop filter like this.
A pop filter helps remove the plosives from your voice. Those are the air jets you send into the mic when you say hard consonants like “P” or “K”. A pop filter will also help with the sibilance. that’sssss the ssss sssssound. the pop filter won’t fix all this, but it does help take a bit of the sharp edge off. We’ll talk more later about how to remove the sibilance using de-essing filters.
Other equipment you may want is noise filtering material for whatever room your setting up your recording studio in. This is optional, but if you find your recordings are echoing and have too much background noise, you can get wall panels that will absorb the sound waves bouncing around the room.
This leads into the next topic – location.
Choosing the right recording location
In most rooms in the typical home there are all kinds of ambient noises you don’t even notice: the computer, the fridge, the pipes draining, the HVAC ducts, and even the street noise from outside. A good microphone will pick all these noises up and drive you crazy trying to remove them. The best method to remove them is to do it before hitting record because garbage in means garbage out.
Usually the best rooms to remove echo and background noise are bedrooms in the middle of the bed, rooms with hanging drapes and curtains, or rooms with large bookshelves covering much of the wall area like a study, office, or den. Finding the right spot can take some experimentation, but know that you can set up a makeshift recording studio using pillows and blankets just like you did when building forts as a kid.
Once you get the setting just right, it’s time to break out the gear and hit record. Not to record your actual podcast or voiceover, but to test and tune your setup.
Configuring your gear
To get the best audio recording to work with you want to be about six inches or less away from your microphone. You also want to record at a low enough peak input level that you have room to work once you get into the editing software. This is typically around -10dB.
Test out the recording with natural vocals and adjust the peak input in your recording software to get it to peak out at about -10dB. Also check out the plosives and sibilance. If it’s still bad with the pop filter, try speaking into the mic from an angle rather than directly into it. This can prevent the air from your voice from going directly into the mic.
Recording the vocals
Once you’re happy with the sound you hear coming from your mic, you can begin recording. This seems pretty straighforward, but there are some tips you can use to make editing easier and get to a better end result.
- Enunciate: be sure you pronounce each syllable clearly and distinctly
- Don’t speak too fast or too slow: either of these will be a distraction to the end user.
- Speak naturally: don’t do anything strange with your voice just because you’re being recorded.
- Practice your lines: if you’re like most people, you’ll fill dead space with ums and uhs if you don’t know what to say next
- Speak conversationally: don’t write a script that you wouldn’t speak naturally. It shouldn’t sound rehearsed or wrote.
Okay so once you’ve recorded what you need. The next step is post production editing. This is where most people become scared and clueless. I’ll go through some basics of audio editing that will demystify this process and help you easily clean up your vocal tracks.
The folks here at Video Butlers use a couple different audio editing programs. The first are the programs in the Adobe Creative Cloud Suite – primarily Adobe Audition. We also spend quite a bit of time using the totally free and awesome Audacity. This is the program we recommend to those just getting into audio as it has powerful tools and plugins that let you do just about whatever you need to, but it’s free. You can’t complain about that.
Cut out the Junk
The first pas through your audio clip is a good time to cut out any mistakes. Remove all the ums and uhs as well as anything you said that wasn’t right. You can also listen for any strange clicks, smacks, or breathing sounds that don’t fit and take those out. While you’re recording, if you mess up, it’s best to pause for a second and then start talking again at a point before your mistake so you can chop out the mistake and blend it all together nicely.
De-essing is the art of removing sibilance. You can do this in Audacity with a few free plugins like the Digital Spit Fish D-esser, or you can do it in many other higher end audio mixing programs, but the free or beginner programs often don’t have this feature built in. Just this step alone with do wonders to make your audio sound much better, but there are many other filters and tricks you an apply to make it so you don’t cringe when listening to your voice played back.
Fading in and out the beginning and end or any intros or outros throughout your track will give your vocals that nice polished touch of a professional production, just don’t go crazy. The fades should be just enough to make a smooth entrance and too much that you notice it happening.
Equalizing helps remove plosives that we talked about earlier. Even with a pop filter, you’ll end up with some sharp spots or plosives on your track. apply an equalizing filter to level off these hotspots. Play with the filter settings until you get a good, flattened track that still has body. All these are more art than science so play around and use the undo button liberally.
This effect can be used to either increase a volume dip or decrease a peak. Use a negative number to decrease and a positive to increase. Manually comb through your track to level off any spots that are too high or low. If your entire track has a large amount of variation between highs and lows, you can skip this step for now and go to the next one.
Use compression carefully as it can make your track sound flat and over edited. The goal with compression is to reduce the difference between the highs and lows. Again, play around with the settings until you get something that sounds good. If you have a few stubborn peaks or dips after compression, you can go back and use amplify to clean it up.
Normalizing will bring all your peaks up to the appropriate level without any clipping. This will add a bit more tone and depth to your track after you compress so you may have to play around with both these filters until you get a feel for how they work together.
This is a pretty cool tool if you don’t have an ideal recording studio. Basically you teach the program what background noise shouldn’t be present by selecting a few seconds of nothing but silence. Then it will remove all the background sounds that match that first clip. You have to be very careful with this effect because overuse will Getintroduce unnatural noises like ringing and sibilance that you don’t want. A little ambient noise is also normal for our ears to hear, you just don’t want too much or any specific sounds that will distract a listener or compete with the main vocals.
This tool will look through your clip and shorten any extended silent period. Be careful if you have deliberate moments of silence though, because it will shorten those too.
Limit Your Edits
You don’t want your audio track to come out sounding like a techno track so be careful that when you play it back after all your edits that it still sounds like a natural voice.
With any luck, we’ve done a decent job in getting you prepped for podcast vocal editing and mixing. The process takes some practice and experience and is more art than science, so play around and try different levels of each filter to see what they do. If you want us to help with all your edits, we can take care of that for you. Learn more here.
Do you have any tips for treating vocals in your podcast? If so, let us know down below, in the Comments section!