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The ultimate sound recording tips
- Demis Lyall-Wilson
- 11 May 17
Audio recording is one of those things a lot of people know a little bit about – enough to save a job during a pinch, but not quite enough to be producing professional quality recordings. Sound familiar?
It's safe to say many of us have plugged a microphone into a computer or mixer at some point, hit record, and managed to get something recorded. But then, during playback: problems. Noisy, echoing background sounds. Odd pops, and fuzzy clicks. Not cool, and baffling to troubleshoot if you don't know what you're doing.
Thing is, these types of things are rudimentary problems once you have a small amount of audio recording theory behind you, and have set up your equipment properly.
Whether you're recording a podcast in your bedroom or laying down a voice over or score for your film, there's one golden rule you must always keep in mind – whenever you're recording, aim for the highest signal-to-noise ratio. As in, you only want to record the things you want to record, and none of the things you don't.
Getting to that perfect place takes knowledge and practice, but with a few quick tips (and some experimentation at home) you'll soon see a dramatic improvement in your audio recording quality.
Position your microphones
While it's usually true that microphone quality is directly proportionate to how much you spend, that's not to say there aren't some fantastic lower budget options.
The trick is to make sure you've heard samples before you buy, but also to have learned and experimented with microphone placement – often a bad result has more to do with where you've put the microphone than the mic itself.
Dirk Diggler recording You Got The Touch in Boogie Nights
Kill external noise sources
There's a reason that recording studios are fully-enclosed rooms, with walls separating the talent from the machinery. If you've ever recorded something with your computer microphone, you'll know the buzzy sound your computer makes, leaking into the background.
Wherever possible, run a longer cable away from anything making regular noise (computers, air conditioners, or refrigerators), ensuring that you're also in the most enclosed space you have.
Muffle those echoes
You'd laugh if you ever saw where I like to record dialogue at home: inside a cupboard, cocooned inside a duvet with a torch and a microphone.
You might have a better environment than mine, but the theory should still be the same: pad your nearby surroundings with as much sound absorption (ie ‘soft stuff’) as you can, to muffle any nasty echoes apparent in the room.
Of course, sometimes you might want those echoes (eg concert recordings) but for most things, it's better to record echo-free then add reverb back in post.
Set your levels
There are different schools of thought regarding this, but you know the audio meters you have in most audio recording equipment and software? While setting up, shouting “testing, one, two" into your microphone, make sure that these level bars are just hitting the zero mark when you're making the loudest noise.
Try not to go over at all, nor significantly under. If you're too loud, adjust the gain settings on your mic input rather than move away from the mic.
There are plenty of other considerations and things to learn on the topic – like using pop-shields, and audio compression – but if you give these things a try to begin with, you'll definitely see some huge improvements in your audio quality right away.
Give it a try with a vocal microphone right now. If you can master the techniques with something basic, know that the same theory can be applied to any type of audio recording. Keep experimenting, and good luck!
Try a sting to punctuate your vocals
Demis Lyall-Wilson is a London-based writer, photographer, and Hollywood visual effects artist, who enjoys blowing up planets for cash (and a line in the credits).
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