Now that you have your story thought out and your script written, you are ready to start recording and editing your narrative podcast. This starts with making sure that the audio you lay down is of good quality. Here are some audio production basics that can help to give your podcast a smooth, professional sound:
Know your recording space
For “in-studio” audio, you want to seek out a large room with plenty of space around you. Small recording spaces with hard, flat surfaces will allow sound to bounce around and reverberate in your recordings. If you do not have access to a professional studio with sound dampening walls, position yourself in the middle of a large room, as far from the walls as possible. You should also listen to the ambient sounds of your room through your headphones prior to laying down audio. Do you hear the hum of an A/C unit, or the buzz of fluorescent lights? If you can hear it through your headphones, you will also hear it in your recording. Try to find a space that minimizes these ambient noises.
For scenes that take place outside of a sterile studio, don’t be afraid to record in actual spaces. In these cases, the ambient background noises can be desirable. For example, if a scene is set in a coffee shop, you could take a field recorder and record lines in an actual coffee shop. The background sounds you get will help to fill out the setting for your listener.
Check your input levels
Most audio editing programs will have some sort of audio-level scale that usually consists of a bar that goes from green, to yellow, to red. You want to avoid recording in the red. It’s much easier to increase the volume of a file than decrease it, so the key is to get your levels as close to the red as you can without actually going into it. This will give you a good volume level without distorting the sound. A quick rule of thumb is to try to record your audio with a peak input of around -10dB.
Use proper microphone technique
Everyone has heard audio with annoying “P” pops and “S” sounds. These issues are caused by excessive bursts of air hitting the microphone, and probably mean you are too close to the mic. The best way to minimize these unwanted sounds is to move off-axis from your microphone. Setting your mic up slightly to the side, angled towards your mouth, will prevent air from hitting the microphone directly and will result in a more natural tone. Most people’s urge is to speak straight into a microphone … resist that urge!
Once you have recorded your audio files, there are also some simple tips for audio editing that can make a big difference in the sound quality of your recording. We will go into more detail on editing tips in later episodes, but for now, here are some basic audio-editing techniques that can really increase the quality of your podcast.
Crossfade, crossfade, crossfade
Any time you cut a file or join two files together, make sure you insert a crossfade between the adjacent clips. This helps to normalize your volumes and cover up any distracting clicks or pops. The dialogue between characters will sound more natural.
Tweak using equalizers
EQ is an extremely useful tool when editing audio and can give you the ability to boost or cut frequencies, making your overall sound quality better. If your audio sounds too “booming,” there is probably too much bass. If it sounds “muddy,” you have too much low-midrange volume. A “harsh” sound likely means there is too much upper midrange. Adjust your EQ to level out your clips and create a smoother overall sound.
Remove background noises
If you don’t have a professional sound studio, there will likely be some unwanted background noises in your recordings. The good news is that it’s okay, those noises can usually be removed. Most editing software has background noise removal capabilities that allow you to highlight and remove background sounds automatically. You don’t need to be an expert sound engineer to do this, as most software will have preset noise reduction settings you can use.
Compress and normalize
Most audio editing software will also allow you to compress and normalize your audio files. Compression filters are the easiest way to make your audio sound professional post-recording. They are basically automatic volume controllers that help to reduce your audio’s peak levels. This has the effect of “smoothing out” your vocals and creating a more natural sound.
Once you have compressed your audio, you can also apply a normalization filter. This boosts the volume of your audio so that it uses the full volume range of available speakers. Both compression and normalization are likely preset filters available in most audio editing software.
Audio production basics are important to making successful podcasts. Taking the time to make sure you record your audio in the best setting possible and applying some simple editing presets can have a huge effect on the sound quality of your audio files. Don’t be afraid to play around with your audio-editing settings to find the perfect sound balance for what you envision your podcast to sound like.