Sharing Canadian Culture. Creating Digital Stories.
Unit Progress:

In a series of tips this unit covers essential concepts for recording and producing. To get in depth instruction consult the help section in your software or look for online video tutorials at websites like Lynda, Adobe, and YouTube.

I have 5 essential tips for you:

  • Record in a quiet place
  • Get levels correct
  • Trim your audio at start and finish
  • Insert silence / Apply noise reduction
  • Raise volume (normalization)

Recording Environment

Recording can take place nearly anywhere that is free of background noise. If doing everything DIY, I’d prefer an office or bedroom to a large classroom or computer lab. If I had the budget I’d probably record important audio in a studio. The following assumes a DIY approach.

If you’re using a portable recorder (as was recommended in “Tools and Software”) the microphones will capture a strong signal dependant on loudness of voice and proximity to the microphone. Sit close and do some practice recordings to see how strong your recording is. Avoid walking around while recording and avoid squeaky chairs! When I get serious for home recording I use a standard stiff wooden chair.

Recording Levels

Place your recording device or microphone in a desktop stand and point it toward you. Try recording at a distance of about 20-30 centimeters. Alter distance if recording is too quiet or “hot” (levels are too strong).

I record using a high quality WAV setting like 24 bit 96 kHz. The device I use, a Zoom H2 has three input settings – low, medium and high. If my voice isn’t strong I can bump from low to medium or high. The goal is to get your voice hitting the levels between -12 and -6.

In all recording, including digital, we want to avoid going to the “hot” areas which can sometimes be represented with red colors on a level meter. Though devices may have limiting that helps to prevent clipping, if you are not careful you can get rough sounds on certain initial consonants that are the result of being too loud. In the end, you want a strong recording but software can raise and even the volume in later production.

Trimming Audio

One of the most basic functions in production is simply to remove unwanted sound or voice from the recording. Trimming the beginning and end of the files is the place to start. For the purposes of example I will discuss a spoken word poetry performance.

If a performer wanted a clean take, they would trim the ambient noise, breathing and other sounds found at the beginnings and ends of their audio takes. In your final edit you may want 1-2 seconds of silence at start and end. With your mouse or trackpad you’d select audio to remove and then cut or use a function like “insert silence.” If you’ve cleaned up the “top and tail” as professional editors call them, you’ve got the beginnings of a decent file.

Let’s take another example, this time of a live spoken word performance. In this case, the performer may insert a second of silence at the beginning or end, but in the interest of slowly introducing the room and audience sound, primarily employ the functions known as “fade in” and “fade out.”

Inserting Silence and Applying Noise Reduction

In my experience there can be a phenomenon of many loud breaths captured in the audio. In this case I often select the breath and replace with silence. If the gap between phrases was already long I may simply cut the breath or offending sound out. If you have the time and are looking for perfection, you may also employ small fade in and out edits to make the transition from silence to room noise and voice more subtle. This video tutorial explains how to do this.

A second technique I use is noise reduction. This is an intermediate level step that is less important than simply trimming or fading in and out. I use the noise reduction effect in Adobe Audition to capture the “noise print” (usually a few seconds at the beginning of the audio) and then apply the noise reduction to the entire recording. This can really clean up any background room noise or mechanical hiss or hum generated from your equipment. A word of caution with this technique though, as the frequencies can be affected in a way that reduces the overall quality of your voice. As always, experiment and pay close attention to the sound from before and after applying edits or effects.

Raising the Volume

There is a phenomenon in modern music, particularly dance, pop and rock, where the volume of the overall track is pushed to excruciating levels (same as in the volume of certain TV commercials). This is done through producing and employing effects in compression, limiting and loudness. For the purposes of improving the sound of the human voice, we can borrow some of these techniques while producing an appealing final audio file.

A quick and dirty way to raise the general volumes is “normalization.” This can be sufficient to get overall volume close to the limit of 0 db without clipping, and without needing to use compression.

However, software like Adobe Audition has functions like “speech volume leveler.” This effect is great for increasing overall volume and levelling the quiet and loud parts. If I were undertaking serious digital storytelling I would get a subscription to Audition (either on its own or as part of the larger CC collection).

Hopefully this is useful to you. Nothing will replace time spent and hands on practice but viewing online tutorials will increase your aptitude with editing software.

Good luck with your editing and feel free to share the results!