3. Beginner's Guide to Capturing Great Audio for your Podcast
While we are all striving for the best audio we can achieve, learning all the ins and outs of audio can be daunting, especially when we really just want to be focusing on the content of our podcasts. This episode is geared towards the low hanging fruit, the techniques anyone can put into place with their current equipment to immediately and dramatically increase the quality of their show. A lot of what it takes to capture great audio is a good recording environment, proper microphone technique, and recording into software that doesn't degrade the quality of your signal.
It is so much easier to capture a great signal than it is to fix a bad signal. Audio engineer and podcast producer Tom Kelly discusses the importance of getting the signal right at the source, and offers several listening exercises of audio recording under ideal conditions, and compares then against a signal recording under subpar conditions that is later "fixed" in post.
By the end of this episode, you will find that your audio quality will improve by leaps and bounds if you incorporate all the advice and methods described within. We'll get to more advanced mixing techniques later on, but none of that will matter or be effective if we're not working with great audio to begin with.
Dizzy by Joakim Karud
My Signal Chain
Audio Interface: Apogee Ensemble
Microphone: Shure SM7b
Mic Stand: Rode PS1A Boom Arm
XLR Cable: Handmade...
IzoTope RX6 De-Mouth Click
Waves Vocal Rider
IzoTope RX6 Voice De-Noise
Waves L2 Limiter
Waves WLM Meter
Waves Durrough Meter
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For more info, or to ask any questions, check out my website and reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org
Hey, what's going on everybody? My name is Tom Kelly, this is Clean Cut Audio, and at long last we're going to be talking about how to capture great audio. The good news is the tips in this episode can be done on any set up. Let's do it!
As I've mentioned in the past, when it comes to capturing great audio, the most important factor is the environment in which you are recording. Sound is the movement of pressure waves through air particles and air moves pretty similarly to water. In a sense, audio takes the shape of a room just as water does in its container.
The physics of sound and acoustics is wildly fascinating, but the simplest thing to comprehend is that if your room doesn't sound good or your environment doesn't sound good, your audio will not sound good. If you are in a big room with hard surfaces, you are going to get a lot of reflections which causes reverberation, and that's bad for podcasting. It's bad for most things, and that's why any vocal booth at a recording studio, they're typically smaller rooms covered floor to ceiling in foam panels or insulation. So that is the most important factor, the room that you are recording in. Acoustics is a different episode, but we know that we need to limit reverberations and we want to eliminate as much noise as possible.
The next few steps for making your audio sound great can be a little more difficult depending on where you live. Me, for example, I tend to record later at night when my dog and my neighbor's dog has a lesser chance of barking and ruining the recording. I also make sure to turn my heater off so that it doesn't ruin the conversation because while my audio sounds great now, if you want an example of what it sounds like recording while my heater is on, here you go. (*LOUD NOISES*)
And this is if I were to run IzoTtope RX to try to get rid of all that heater noise, you can hear that it greatly impacts the sound of my voice and the tonal qualities of it. This is a very loud heater. It is right next to where I'm recording. Let's swing this mic around so the heater is not in its null point. You can hear how loud this thing really is. (*EVEN LOUDER NOISES!*)
That noise coming in and out is not me turning the volume up. That is just me spinning my microphone 90 degrees so that the sound coming from the heater is right into the microphone, not in it' null point. That's another reason why it's very important to have a cardioid microphone because you get this sound (*LOUD NOISES*) compared to this. (*OMG SUCH A LOUD NOISE!*) Big difference, and that is why polar patterns matter. All right, let's get back to the episode.
If you live downtown in a busy city, you're going to be struggling possibly a little bit with traffic noise through any nearby window, horns honking, sirens blasting. That one is a little bit harder, but there's things you can do to create acoustic barriers between yourself and the environmental noise. It just takes a little bit of digging on the internet and of course the desire to capture great audio. I will put links in the show notes www.cleancutaudio.com/podcast/3 for creating acoustic barriers through windows. But here's the thing that people don't think about when it comes to noise in their recordings.
I mentioned it in one of my YouTube videos, the one of how loud to record your podcast, to input gain loves and stuff like that, but basically a healthy input signal will still be about two to three times quieter than a healthy output signal. That's just the way audio works, but what that means is, anything that you hear in your room, and in your environment will end up being about two to three times louder than your ears are hearing it right now. That is something that is very important to think about because you might think that your dishwasher across the house doesn't really sound that loud to you, but imagine it three times louder and that's how loud your listeners are going to hear it in the recording.
So far, we have the sound of the room and the environmental noise. The next greatest factor is the microphone technique. And I'm not going to be talking about different types of microphones or brands or whatever right now. There are certain caveats for specific microphones or different styles of microphone, but the most important factor is microphone technique. And it's pretty similar across all microphones. To boil this down to just four words, the fundamentals for microphone technique are "get close, stay close". With few exceptions you want to be no more than five or six inches away from your microphone. I have seen people recommending one or two feet away from the microphone, and unless you're using a shotgun microphone, which is typically used for film and possibly some voiceover artists, this is incredibly too far away.
(TERRIBLE SOUNDING AUDIO) To put that in perspective. This is two feet away and I've boosted the audio a ton so that it is still -16LUFS. This is too far, people. Even one foot away is too far. This is absolutely no good.
I am using a Shure SM7b and my lips are actually touching the foam pop filter of this microphone. For this style of microphone, the dynamic broadcast microphone, if you hold two or three fingers and you put them in between your lips and the grill of the microphone, that's usually a pretty good distance for a dynamic microphone ,provided you have some kind of pop filter in between you and the microphone.
For condenser mics, you can be up to six inches away, but even then, you still want a pop filter because we don't want plosives and very loud p's and b's. We'll talk about that in a bit. You may have heard in some forums that you can talk off axis from your microphone, put it slightly to the side so that you're talking beyond it rather than straight into it. You can try those things and I've experimented myself. For example, I'm talking beyond my microphone right now, so my lips are about six inches away. The microphone is off to the side, but I don't really like this technique. I find that it's a much more intimate sound if you talk directly into the microphone.
The more important thing with microphone technique is not really if you prefer right on the microphone, four inches away, off axis, whatever. It's just that whatever you decide to do, stick with it. The most distracting thing is when people are moving in and out and side to side from their microphone and their voice is kind of going in and out. It's very distracting and it can make your listeners lose focus on the conversation. That was pretty annoying, wasn't it? That was just me moving about five or six inches to the left and right and maybe three or four inches back. It wasn't that much movement and it was very distracting. And it would be even more distracting if I didn't have so many compressors trying to compensate for issues like that.
What I do to make sure that I don't move away from the microphone is what I'm doing right now. I have a gaming chair that leans back pretty far. I have an ottoman under my desk so my feet are kicked up. I am in a very, very comfortable position. I position myself first. I think if I'm going to sit for 20 minutes, in what position would I like to be sitting?
And I have one of those boom arms that clamps to my desk and I can move it around and I put that microphone right in front of my face where I am comfortable. That way I don't have the need to move around, and not only that, the microphone limits my ability to really move anywhere. If I move forward, I'm bumping into the microphone. I can't really move side to side because, again, that microphone is so close to me, I have to move my head in a really awkward way to get out from under the microphone. And at that point I've realized what I'm doing, I'll correct it, and I will not be changing my microphone technique in the middle of a recording.
I found that to be a very useful strategy, but I know it requires a certain type of microphone stand that allows you to get the microphone very close to you. If you're using one of those tiny little desktop stands, you kind of have to lean forward to it, and that gets uncomfortable. It makes you want to sit back and get further away from that microphone.
I highly recommend getting something that you can put in your face in a comfortable position. There are boom arms that costs less than $20 on Amazon. I have bought one. I used one for about a year and a half. That was like 25 bucks and it was totally fine. I recently upgraded to the Røde PS1A because I wanted a little more stability, but there are cheap options out there that totally work and will help you become more comfortable and have better microphone technique.
I demonstrated it a little bit ago, but your distance from the mic and the angle into which you speak into the microphone will greatly impact the sound of your recording. For example, I've been recording this entire episode directly into the microphone from zero inches away, and I'm going to boost the level to compensate for the small volume decrease while I move away from the microphone. But this is what it sounds like from five inches away. It's a little less intimate. It feels less like I'm speaking right into your ears. In this instance, if I had a noisy room, you would hear more of that room sound because as you move further away from the microphone, in comparison to the noise, your voice is not as loud, so it will essentially allow that noise to come in a little louder than it would if you were right on the microphone.
I know I said I wasn't going to get into specific types of microphones, but I really need to get this one out of the way quickly.
(BAD BAD BAD AUDIO) This is a recording from my ear bud microphones into my iPhone. A lot of people will say that just to start a podcast, this sounds good enough. Obviously as the audio guy, I don't think it sounds good enough, but, if you're just trying to get the podcast started, this might not be the worst idea to just kind of get the few, the first few episode discomforting feelings out of the way, get used to how this all works. But the problem with the headphone microphone is the propensity to kind of get the scratching noises, right?
This is hitting my beard and you're moving around. If you turn your head are going to get noises and bangs. It very easily allows for situations to arise where the quality of the audio would be degraded. Not just to mention the omnidirectional microphone attached to the headphones.
One of the last things about microphones: do not handhold them. Very few microphones are meant to be handheld and are capable of isolating handling noise from the sensitive diaphragms which capture your voice. You'll end up getting a lot of rumbling and knocking sounds as you move your hands around the microphone and get the microphone around your face. It's also a good idea to decouple the microphone from the stand which is probably sitting on your desk.
What this means is if your microphone stand is connected to your desk and you bang your hands on the desk or the table, all of that sound and those vibrations are going to travel up the microphone stand and make a booming sound into your microphone. Some microphones, like the SM7b have a great internal shock mounting system, but most do not.
A shock amount, for those of you that don't know, is a device that decouples one thing from another. Think of the shocks on your car. The roads are very bumpy but your shocks are absorbing a lot of those vibrations so that you're not bumping around in your seat the whole time in the car. You feel somewhat of a smooth ride. The same thing is true for microphones and shock mounts. You might see them as those kind of cage looking things with the bungee strings around the microphone in that little web. What this does is it makes the microphone kind of float in space, you can kind of think of it. So if you hit the microphone stand, those vibrations travel up the stand, they hit the cage, but that energy is lost as it goes through those elastic little bungee ropes and those vibrations are not then transferred into the microphone itself. This is great for if you are one of those podcasts that has three, four, six people at a table. When you have that many people together, things tend to get a little animated.
People are, they're pounding the desk and they're making all kinds of movement. That movement from one person will ruin the audio signal in every microphone that is attached to that table. Shock amounts are relatively inexpensive and it's just a really good thing to have in your toolbox so that you don't make your audio inadvertently worse by accidentally moving around a little bit.
The last thing on microphones is to get a pop filter. I think that for almost every microphone in the world, it pairs very well with a pop filter. Personally, I don't care if you're the type of person that says to talk off axis beyond the microphone, I think that pop filters are necessary for almost every single microphone in existence.
The one exception might be the one I'm using, the SM7b, and that is only because it comes with this foam ball around the microphone that eliminates plosives. It is a pop filter, it's just built in so you don't need to buy another one. They are relatively cheap. You can find a decent one on Amazon for $8 or if you have a coat hanger and a pair of stockings, you can make one yourself. It just eliminates any risk of having those huge booming explosive rushes of air in your podcast caused by p's or b's.
For example, this is my SM7b with the pop filter removed and you can hear the p's and the b's, the big spikes and all the rushes of air coming into the microphone. They're not only potentially damaging to the microphone itself, t's really obnoxious to listen to. (LOUD EXPLOSIVE P's and B's) It's terrible. We don't want that. Those plosives, these loud bangs. It's bad. Throw that pop filter on your mic, buy one on Amazon, $8. Do yourself and your audience a favor. This will really help the sound quality of your podcast.
The next big thing is what platform you are using to record your audio. It is my very strong opinion that there is no substitute for a local recording. This means that your computer or your recording device is directly taking that signal from your microphone, from the preamps, from the converters, from the interface directly into a recording. It is not relying on Zoom or Skype or some other internet based platform to record your audio.
If you are recording through one of those platforms, it will not sound as good as it could. Plain and simple. There is no substitute for downloading Audacity, opening GarageBand, or even using QuickTime if you're on a Mac to record your local signal. What happens when you rely on internet platforms is you are bound to their conversion and processing methods. Signal that has to go through the internet has to be down-sampled so that the data is small enough to pass obstructed through the wires in the internet under the ground. And they are usually compressed to death so that they are loud enough for the person on the other end to hear it. Not only that, they are pretty much filtered very aggressively on the top end and the low end so that there's less data to convert. Smaller files and you end up with a really low fidelity recording.
When you record locally, directly into your computer or your recorder, there is no processing that's going to obscure your signal and cause all of these degradations in audio quality. Let's listen to a couple different platforms.
This right here in the entire episode is my voice being recorded directly, locally into Pro Tools on my computer.
This is the abysmal audio quality of a Zoom recording. A lot of people use this platform and I think this is unacceptable. I am recording through really great hardware. I am a hardwired to gig speed internet, which this recording system is dependent on your internet connection and it still sounds this bad.
Please do not record your podcast on Zoom. If you would like to learn more about how to get a good recording even using Zoom, please check out my YouTube channel. A link to the video in the show notes for this episode.
And this is the quality of a Skype call recording, which is equally as unacceptable as the Zoom call.
So in an effort to not spend an episode talking about specific gear or why one type of microphone may be better than others, I hope that you take away from this, there are things beyond the gear, beyond the specific tools that can be done and need to be done in order to capture great audio. It is a lot of environmental impacts and it's a lot of how you are actually recording your episode and it is some technique stuff.
To sum it all up, you can think of sound, since it's a medium that travels through air, to be similar to water. It's going to take the shape of whatever environment it is in. There are some really interesting physics around the shape and the size of your room that impacts how sound is heard and perceived. That is pretty high level stuff. Probably will not get into that in this episode, but I will try to put some great resources in the links in the show notes of this episode. But we want to make sure that our walls are not reflective, and there are sound treatment options that are relatively inexpensive.
And one last thing, it's very important that we do not call these foam panels "sound proofing". This is a huge thing that drives me crazy because people talk about soundproofing their room when what they're talking about is acoustical treatment.
Soundproofing is keeping any sounds from getting in or out of a room. If you are spending less than $10,000, you are not soundproofing. Soundproofing is a huge ordeal. Think building permits. All right. That is soundproofing. If you want to make sure there's less reverberations in your room, we can call that sound treatment, sound conditioning, acoustical treatment, something of that nature. Just do not say "soundproofing". It may seem like a dumb little thing, but words matter. They really, really matter. I promise you. So we are trying to acoustically treat our room and that is a different episode. We will talk about that and it is going to be a really fun episode. It's one of my favorite topics.
We're trying to make this room sound a little more dry. Right? Reverberations, some people refer to that as like a wet sound, so we're looking for dry: no reflections, no reverberations, just the signal from your mouth into the microphone. Nothing else. Nothing added by the room.
We're looking at proper mic technique, which is get close to that microphone and stay there. Even if he want to stay six inches away, just stay there. Don't be moving in and out, side to side, stay in one place. Make sure your signal is consistent if nothing else.
And then we learned a little bit about shock mounts and pop filters. These are inexpensive tools that will help the sound coming into your microphone sound the best that it can.
And then the last thing, and this is very important, is how this data is converted. The best way to do that is with a local recording, which as we learned is just your microphone into an interface or mixer into the computer or into a mixer that also has recording capabilities. We are not going through Zoom. We are not going through Skype. It is our voice into the computer. Nothing else, nothing added.
We want to try our best to make sure that the audio we are producing is untouched by any other platform or AI or anything that thinks that it knows best because I promise you, it does not. It is degrading our quality in order to make their job easier. And your job is not to worry about how these internet based platforms process their data. Your concern is getting good audio, and it is not through something like Zoom or Skype.
If you have any questions about this episode, feel free to reach out, email@example.com. I will answer any questions you have in the emails. I will make a podcast answering your question. I might make a YouTube video answering your question, but I will respond in one way or another to any question that you might have.
If you really love audio, I am selling a couple of t-shirts, www.cleancutaudio.com/shop to find some really fun and kind of snarky audio related t-shirts. Lots of fun stuff on there. And please feel free to rate and review this podcast on Apple podcasts. I've got quite a few good ones up there already, and it definitely feels good. I don't know of any other podcast out there that is specifically focused on capturing and producing better sound for podcasts, but I want to make sure that I'm doing the best job possible. So if there's any criticisms or any concerns, please feel free to leave it either in the email or you can leave a review on Apple Podcasts, whether it's positive or negative. Any feedback is good feedback.
For a complete list of all the equipment that I use to record my podcast, please visit the show notes for this episode, www.cleancutaudio.com/podcast/3. You will find the full transcription for this episode, links to anything that I mentioned in this show, and again, all the tools I use to produce this show.
And before we get out of here, let me just say, if you have a friend who is a podcaster and they want better audio, please share this show with them. Word of mouth is still the best way to grow, and it would mean the world to me if you help a friend who's looking for great audio, and you send them this show. I'm happy to help you and all your friends, every one I know, everyone I don't know. I am here to help you all and I will do my best to do that every single day, every single episode, every single video that I put out.
Thank you so much for being here and I will see you all soon. Bye.