YouTube is the predominant way we share video content today, but not all YouTube videos are created equal. One major difference between a great YouTube video and total garbage is the audio quality, if for no other reason than many people listen to videos rather than watch them.
Even if a video is visually intense, bad sound can absolutely destroy the effect, which is tragic for anyone who has put concerted effort into creating a stunning performance or presentation. If you don’t want to be “that guy” (or girl), then here are a few tips for making sure your videos sound their best.
Prepare Your Content
Before you even think about hitting record, please take the time to get the material down tight. People are pretty forgiving about live performance, but they’re absolutely brutal to poor studio work, and it gets even worse if they see you fail. Even if you’re recording footage of your band rocking out at your last gig, if you weren’t feeling it that night, then try again some other time.
Use the Right Mic
With very few exceptions, the mic on your camera is not good enough. Use it for reference so you can synchronize the audio you record separately, but please don’t rely on onboard mics. The mic you choose to use is going to depend a lot on the application. Here are a few applications and the kind of mics you’ll want to consider.
A quick and easy solution for live music recording is to set a pair of omnidirectional microphones near the sides of the audience, just back from the PA and well above the crowd. That’s where you’ll get the sound-reinforcement system, the sound from the stage, and enough of the audience to provide the ambience of a live show.
Pro Tip: Depending on the venue, not everything goes through the PA. The trick is finding that perfect balance between the PA and the sound onstage. You may need to record a few shows before you find what works best.
If it’s just you and your guitar (or drums, or whatever), then you’re going to have to deal with the same basic considerations as you would in the studio. First, let’s go over some basic acoustics. You’re going to want to control room reflections, but you also probably don’t want to sit in a sterile studio environment, even if you have one at your disposal. Lucky for you, your living room may actually be the best place to shoot.
Your couch and recliner are both decent at breaking up room modes, and the curtains over your windows can do an excellent job reducing high-frequency reflections. If you have bookshelves full of books, they are great diffractors (useful for breaking up sound waves). The trick is to position yourself so that you are facing into the room, which is easy if you’re on the couch already. Avoid spaces with large reflective surfaces, such as hardwood, bare walls, or lots of exposed glass or mirrors.
Here’s where good mic technique becomes more important. Getting the mic or microphones close to the source is the best way to block out room noise and keep the direct signal-to-noise ratio as high as possible. Common wisdom dictates that a cardioid polar pattern will work best, but common wisdom is also commonly wrong.
Pro Tip: If you have a multi-pattern mic, try setting it to the figure — you’ll be amazed by how much room you can block out when you don’t have to worry about reflections entering the side of the mic.
Recording voice-overs is a fairly standard process, even for YouTube videos. Start with a quality dynamic broadcast mic, such as a Shure SM7B, Audio-Technica ATR 2500, or RODE Procaster. One of the nice things about dynamic microphones is that they really only pick up what’s directly in front of them, so you don’t have to be quite as concerned about your room acoustics when you record voice-over work with them.
Pro Tip: A shotgun mic may actually be your best bet. It offers the isolation you’d expect from a dynamic mic, and you don’t have to get too close to get a great, natural sound.
Hide Your Mics
Your audience probably doesn’t want to see your microphones. You have options when it comes to your instruments, and there are great amp simulators out there that allow you to record guitars direct if you don’t want to deal with the headache of competing with your amp volume.
Speaking of mics, if you need to be heard without a visible mic, then a lavalier microphone is an obvious choice. These small mics are easy to hide in your clothes, and they do a pretty solid job of picking up voice. Since you don’t have to worry about feedback, an omnidirectional polar pattern may best suit the bill. Just be sure to place the lav in the middle of your chest, or every time you turn your head the distance between your mic and your mouth will change and alter the sound, sometimes dramatically.
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