By Stefan Wyeth
The ultimate guide for podcasters, vloggers, and content creators of all skill levels!
Audio recording a podcast might seem like a no-brainer to experienced engineers and content creators, but you’d be surprised at how many top channels and vlogs still make critical mistakes in pre and post production. The unfortunate result is often loud, sometimes even distorted, and too limited speech. This reduces overall intelligibility and degrades the listening experience, making it more difficult for the audience to digest the content. In this article, we’ll discuss some of the pitfalls of correcting speech with digital editing, and what you can do to avoid them.
What this article covers:
- How to select the right microphones for your podcast.
- The recording process to ensure well recorded sound required less editing.
- Use your DAW to mix your podcast smoothly.
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Dynamics, or the difference between the lowest and highest points of an audio signal, is a fundamental part of audio recording that is essential for understanding and achieving optimal signal-to-noise ratio and gain structure. Once a signal has been recorded, any ambient noise present in the recording environment, earth hum or cable crosstalk is part of it and is difficult to separate without affecting the quality of the recorded speech. There are some extremely effective noise reduction tools, ranging from hassle-free plugins in Adobe Audition highly specialized software such as Zynaptiq and while these can be useful, they are by no means a substitute for well-recorded sound.
Pickups and Equipment
The most common mics used for podcast and vlogging content creation are dynamic large diaphragm microphones such as the Shure SM7B and Electrovoice RE-20. The way these mics are designed makes them ideally suited for capturing speech, with built-in shielding to minimize clicks and pops, and good off-axis cancellation. The capture model is localized, which means that they capture very little perceptible atmosphere at the source. Broadcast microphones are classified as low impedance, low output microphones and this is where the first mistakes are made in the signal path.
Because they require in-line signal boosters like Cloudlifters or even discrete mic preamps to function, the tendency is to compensate for the lack of gain by overloading the audio interface inputs. That translates to a $ 700 to $ 1,000 microphone that looks more like a cheap built-in mic on a laptop from 10 years ago. Even more affordable mic preamps like Warm Audio, Black Lion, and Focusrite ISO can be a hefty expense if you’re just starting out. So, before we budget for these or a more specialized tool like SiX SSL, let’s take a look at some simple techniques that you can implement without spending the money.
Always start with the source of the speech, your podcast host or guest in this case. Make sure they are seated comfortably (to avoid moving around) and that they are speaking directly into the microphone. The closer we are, the better, in general. Dynamic broadcast mics are immune to proximity, so you can record an inch or two away without having to raise your voice. Discreet monitoring of the headphones at the correct levels will ensure that the speaker can easily keep up with their speech clarity and overall volume, which is even more important when there are multiple speakers on a podcast.
Setting your input gain correctly on your mic preamps and audio interface will also save you a lot of corrective changes in post-production. You want to make sure that the gain setting you’ve selected gives you crystal-clear speech, without increasing background noise or increasing the ambience of the room when recording. If the speech level is too low, check the mic distance, headphone monitoring levels, and discern if the subject is speaking clearly and evenly rather than just increasing the input gain for perceived volume. There are several things in play that affect recording quality, so it may take some time to learn how to properly balance each step.
As you dive into your DAW, there are a few key tools that can help you achieve overall consistency in your speaking levels throughout your podcast or vlogging content, and once you’ve discovered a setup that gives you desired results, repeating the process is a snap. Using compression correctly is a way to shape the peaks of your vocal waveforms and increase lower level areas with the help of makeup gain. As with hardware compressors, setting your threshold too low and increasing the gain will increase the background noise of the recorded waveform, so take this into account when initially setting the input gain.
If you don’t have a noise reduction plugin, a noise gate may be your best weapon for combating unwanted noise during pauses between speeches. Some noise gates are more surgical than others, so familiarize yourself with the attack and release controls and their impact on the gate’s interaction with the audio signal. Also note that, like a compressor, the primary control of a noise gate is the threshold, so any artifacts, glitches, or other unwanted sounds that exceed this dB level will need to be edited individually. Be sure to monitor carefully through headphones when using a noise gate, so that you can hear exactly how it affects the signal.
Too aggressive a gate setting with really fast release times will sound completely unnatural, and in some cases it can even reduce the clarity of speech in some places, so keep that in mind. Equalizer is another versatile tool that can be used to balance the tonal levels between two contrasting voices for a more balanced overall sound. Individual EQ vocal processing will also allow you to isolate and cut the resonant frequencies of each discrete mic channel. Always remember that your mix needs to be translated accurately over the speakers of laptops and mobile devices, as this is what the majority of your audience will be using for playback.
Tips for recording and editing speech to remember:
- Optimize your source by checking mic distance and headphone levels.
- Set your input gain properly to allow the speaker to maintain a clear voice throughout the recording.
- Compression is your best friend when recording or editing speech.
- Noise gates only remove noise from pauses between speeches.
- The equalizer can be used correctively on individual channels or to balance the overall mix.
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