Quality Podcast Sound for Audio Amateurs

DISCLAIMER: This is by no means comprehensive, but it’s a good starting point for beginners. This post is written for users of Audacity.

One of the things I can say I’m genuinely pleased with about Omitted is the sound quality I put out. Season one, I’ll admit, wasn’t as strong as I wish it could have been (for multiple reasons), but as I went into season two, I acknowledged that a quiet room and a decent microphone weren’t the only things I’d need to get the sort of sound I wanted.

The first thing to know:

Unless you’re in a studio that’s expressly designed for recording, you’re probably not recording in a silent space. It may sound quiet, but listen closely and I bet you’ll hear some noises that your mind has grown accustomed to drowning out. Are any fans running? The air conditioner perhaps? Maybe the refrigerator is making its ambient sound? Vehicle traffic, your computer’s fan, just general ambient noise that your brain has taught itself to ignore? All of these things will be picked up by a decent microphone to some degree or another.

As a general rule of thumb, turn off what you can or remove yourself from it. Whether that means turning the air conditioner off for a bit, waiting to run the dishwasher, or shutting yourself inside a walk-in closet with your microphone and computer, just put as much space or material as you can between you and the noise.

And then look around your space. Is it small? Is it mostly hard surfaces that your voice can bounce off of? Without even recording, start talking out loud in your recording voice and just listen. Is there an echo at all?

It’s possible to deaden any echo on the cheap though, don’t worry. Soundproofing foam is always an option, but if you’re on a tight budget, simply hanging some towels or other soft materials will dampen the echo to some degree.

Good sound quality starts with a good recording environment, so take an objective look at your surroundings and see what sort of things you could possibly improve!

Addressing these sort of issues from the onset will make the rest of this process so much easier.

Like I said before, though, that’s not always enough. For outstanding sound quality, you should be ready to apply some backend work after recording.

Here are the rules and steps I’ve set for myself:

  • Find the right setting for your gain. “Gain” is the input level of the clips. In the most simplified terms, it’s how much sound your microphone picks up. This includes not only your voice, but also whatever sound is happening in the background. This can be adjusted either on the microphone itself, or on whichever audio program you’re using to record.
    When using Audacity, gain can be adjusted using the slider beside the microphone just under the the Pause, Play, and Stop controls:

    I adjust my gain on my microphone directly, setting it to just below half, while leaving Audacity’s “Microphone Volume” at 1.0. If your microphone doesn’t have a knob to adjust the gain, you’ll have to do so on the program.
    Record some short sound clips, adjusting the gain between them, and see what sort of difference there is. The appropriate level will vary based on recording environment and the microphone you’re using.

 

After recording, I always make a backup of my work. I’m paranoid and don’t like to have to record something again because I messed it up in the editing process. So, go ahead and do that before you take on these next couple of steps. I don’t want any angry messages saying you’ve muddled up your only copy and have to re-record!

The next thing you can try is called “Noise Reduction.” This is an effect that comes built into Audacity and it’s a phenomenally useful tool!

  • Every time you start recording, allow three whole seconds of silence at the beginning before you start speaking.
    When you’re finished recording and you start the editing process, select those three seconds and then go up to Effect > Noise Reduction, then click on “Get Noise Profile.”
    This will close the window and bump you back out to your main project. At this point, select the entire project (Ctrl + A), then go back up to Effect > Noise Reduction  and change the settings to the following:

    After you’ve got your settings in place, click “Ok.”
    Let Audacity work its magic and then give your clip a listen. You should notice a marked difference in the amount of background noise at this point. Audacity will use the Noise Profile you set and remove any extra sound that fits that profile. If your voice sounds warbly, undo the Noise Reduction and adjust the frequency. Play around with this effect and see what works best for you.
    Note: This tool works best when you’re already recording in as quiet an environment as possible!

 

If you want to go the extra mile, you can adjust your Equalization at this point as well.

  • Equalization is another option that can be found under the “Effect” tab. The settings you need will vary based on your voice and tone and what sort of sound you’d like to have, but I use the following settings just about every week.
    Tip: Once you find the settings that work best for you, you can save them as a default by clicking “Save/Manage Curves.” That way you don’t have to adjust them every time.

If you want to learn more about how EQ works, check out Ultimate Vocal Formula, or you can take a closer look at their EQ Cheat Sheet.

 

If you find that your recording seems too quiet or too loud, you can make adjustments using the “Amplify” setting under the “Effects” menu. It’ll automatically default to set your clipping to 0 db, but I often find that my recordings are too loud when I use the default, and audio quality is sacrificed as a result. Instead, I usually drag the slider down a bit to find what works best for me in each particular recording. If you mess up, you can always Edit > Undo, or Ctrl + Z, and then go back up and adjust accordingly.

When adding any underscore music, it’s a good idea to lower its amplitude so it doesn’t drown out your voice. Minor changes can be made by adjusting the gain on each track, but don’t go too crazy with this. Learn to work with the “Amplify” effect and develop an ear for what levels work best.

Extras for the obsessive compulsive:

To really get the best audio quality possible, I take the time to go through my recordings and edit out anything I don’t want to be heard. As a personal preference, I don’t like breathing or lip smacking in my final track. I also don’t want any messed up words or sentences to make it into my finished product.

While recording, I pay close attention to the way in which my voice sounds. If something doesn’t sound quite right, I’ll repeat it and then cut out the mess-up in the editing process. To remove my breathing or other unattractive noises, I go through and manually select each spot and then silence it (using Ctrl + L). This really only works if you’ve already run the noise reduction to get rid of any ambient noise, though. Without doing so, it becomes really obvious to the listener that it’s been pieced together.

Do not silence any part of your track without first running noise reduction. Putting silence in between parts with ambient “white” noise makes the lower quality of the spoken parts stand out.

 

These are all general rules and practices for how I finish the editing process of my show. I know that these steps may not be up everyone’s alley, and your mileage may certainly vary, but just being mindful of these options and playing around with them to see how they work will set you on the track toward network-quality sound!

Trackbacks & Pings

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *