Getting your sound right for broadcast
It might surprise you to learn that the world’s second largest search engine is YouTube. The video publishing behemoth attracts over one and a half billion users to watch content hosted there every month. Every month! And over 50 million people have made and shared videos there.
As musicians, YouTube is a goldmine of product reviews, playtests, lessons, and discussion. It makes sense, therefore, that some of you may be considering making your own content to share on there.
What’s important to realise, however, is that not all videos are created equally. You’ve no doubt come across a few yourselves; shaky camerawork, terrible lighting and – of particular interest here – terrible sound quality.
It’s generally accepted that good sound can make or break a video. You can often get away with a slightly wobbly camera, or wonky lights, providing the viewer can actually understand the gist of what’s being shown, said or demonstrated. But no amount of shiny visual production values can save a video with sub-standard audio.
To help, we’ve put together a small guide on how to record audio for YouTube videos.
Forget the camera…
If you’re already making videos, or are at least considering them, you’ve probably got access to some sort of camera device. That may be a DSLR style camera, or an action cam, or even just a smartphone. Great. What you may not have considered, however, is the method you’ll use to capture the audio to go with your video.
You might be thinking right now that cameras generally have microphones in, so what’s the problem? You’d be right, although it’s not understating things to say you’d be mad if you were going to rely on your camera’s microphone as your primary audio source. Put simply, they’re not high enough quality to cut it.
It’s not their fault; microphones on smartphones, for example, are designed to amplify your voice as you talk directly into the receiver so you can talk on the phone. Tasking it with picking up your band practice while you’re on the other side of the room isn’t what the manufacturers had in mind at all. If you try this, don’t be surprised if the end result is an almighty blur of bass and mush.
…but not completely
A lesson we learned very early on is that the microphone on your camera is very useful though when it’s used as a ‘sync’ source. By this, we mean you record audio on a separate device alongside it, and then use the sound from the camera itself as the reference track to line up your externally recorded audio. You do this at the production stage, and anyone familiar with a DAW environment will find this part simple. Match up the peaks in the audio waveforms and hey presto, you’re in business.
It’s why, for example, filmmakers use clapperboards. They’re not just for show; filmmakers find the exact frame where the board goes ‘clap’ and use that point to match up multiple video and audio sources so everything is in sync together. Every day’s a school day, right?
Let’s take a look at a few scenarios you might find yourself in, where decent quality audio is important.
Scenario 1: Filming your band
Chances are, if you’re filming your band, you’ll want everything to sound balanced and well mixed. If you’re using multiple instruments or sound sources, then you’re likely to want each to have its own individual track so you can mix in post-production.
This is actually not that difficult to achieve, although you’ll need some tools to do it. We’d recommend a multitrack external recorder as a good place to start. The Zoom R16 is a good example. Using the Zoom, you have access to eight audio tracks onto which you can record. Input your microphones and start recording, on both the Zoom and the camera, and then ask your drummer to hit the snare once. This creates a huge one-off peak in the various audio files which you can use to match everything up later.
You also get the benefit here that every source is recorded onto its own individual track, so you have far more control over mixing and production.
Scenario 2: Guitar lesson
YouTube is full of people offering lessons on instruments. From how to learn your scales, right through to nailing tricky solos, video is a perfect medium to help people.
If you’re of a mind to contribute and add your own lessons, it’s pretty straightforward to get up and running. You’ll have a couple of key things to think about. One of which is the audio will be coming from (at least) two separate sources, with differing requirements. Your guitar, assuming you’re playing through an amp or amp-sim, is one source, while your voice is another.
Again, using the camera audio as only a sync source, we’d recommend using a dynamic microphone like the famous Shure SM57 for your guitar amp. We’d then advise either using a desktop condenser mic like the Rode NT1A bundle – complete with pop-shield and stand – or a miniature lavalier mic for the voice track. Lavaliers, or ‘lapel’ mics, are the type you see fastened to people’s shirts or ties when they’re being interviewed on TV. These are discrete and will ensure your voice is heard loud and clear.
The Rode SmartLav is a great option here and connects up to your smartphone. You simply take the audio file off when you’re done and send it over to your production software, ready to be mixed in with your other sources.
An alternative option with the guitar would be to use a device like the Zoom H6. This device is a videomakers’ dream, offering up five separate inputs, with four XLRs meaning you can connect all manner of microphones and line-ins directly to the unit. Either way, the separation between voice and instrument is key here. Using either of these methods you’ll also reduce the amount of ambient noise, which can manifest itself in all manner of nasty ways depending on the size of the room you’re in.
Scenario 3: Product demo
Our final scenario is another one common to most YouTube fans. We’re probably all familiar with things like ‘unboxing’ videos, or demonstrations. Here the goal is to show off the sounds and features of a product, and to do that audio fidelity is crucial.
For certain items, we’d even go as far as advising you to eliminate ambient noise altogether and record directly into an audio source. Things like synths, for example, can be recorded directly into a DAW using an audio interface so you’re not colouring its inherent sound by playing through an amplifier.
Clearly, with guitars, you’re going to want to use an amplifier. In this situation, we’d suggest having a play around with different microphone placements and listening back to the recording to ensure you’ve found the ‘sweet spot’. It’s hard enough concentrating on nailing a good take under pressure without having to worry about whether it’s sounding as good as you know it can do.
Hopefully, we’ve established that audio is as important as video when it comes to producing video content of any kind. It’s not necessarily difficult to record audio which meets your requirements, it just needs a bit of thought. The results, when done correctly, should elevate any video and give it far greater production value.
Concentrate on the basics; try and give each audio source its own track, make sure your recordings don’t ‘clip’ from being set too high and give yourself some peaks in the waveforms to making syncing up easier when it comes to piecing the composition together. Good luck!
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Fancy setting yourself up as a YouTube Musician? Check out our “How to Become a YouTube Musician” guide and get started!
For those who’re interested in getting started with their own Podcast, then check out our article, “How to Make a Podcast“.
Journalist, PR and multimedia specialist. Write professionally on subjects ranging from musical instruments to industrial technology.