Podioracket.com continues to welcome J.D. Sawyer, who has contributed this two-part article on good audio that won’t turn off your listener. This is part two, and concludes the series. If you missed it, part one is still available.

In a quick recap, there are five items that J.D. Sawyer outlines as basic qualities of good audio:

1) The voices are clear, rather than muddy
2) The background noise levels in a given scene are consistent, rather than fluctuating up and down
3) The editing is clean – where there are breaths, they are full breaths rather than chopped in the middle.
4) The plosives don’t pop and the sibilants don’t hiss
5) The sound characteristics are consistent – you can’t tell where one take ends and the other begins, even with ADR.

We resume at number 3.

Getting Good Audio
by J. Daniel Sawyer

The editing is clean – where there are breaths, they are full breaths rather than chopped in the middle

Unfortunately, very few people in the world can give a perfect read with perfect pacing every time — that’s why we edit audio. The most common newbie mistake with editing audio it failing to pay attention to the breaths between words. Most people inhale shortly and sharply between phrases, and even a trained voice actor with superb breath control will have trouble recording without at least some of these breaths.

The sound of a breath cut off in the middle, or beginning in the middle, is very effective at creating anxiety — that’s why you’ll often hear panting sounds in the soundtrack on horror and suspense films. Cutting your audio without paying attention to those little, insignificant-seeming breaths can leave your audio with little panting noises all through it, which are subliminally unnerving and distracting.

To prevent this, when editing your audio, make your tracks as tall as possible, and watch for the little bumps in the waveforms that the breath sounds make. When you edit audio, always either cut the breath noises out completely, or leave them in completely – never make a cut in the middle of a breath. All other things being equal, this will give you a clean, listenable, professional-sounding edit.

Popping and hissing is not welcome

Plosives are the hard, popping sounds – B and P in English. They’re made when a big wall of air hits the diaphragm of your microphone (or ear). To attenuate them, use a pop screen when you’re recording. Alternately, perform at a 45 degree angle to your mic diaphragm, so the mic will pick up your voice very strongly, but the breath bursts will slide by it. Finally, in either case, running a low-cut filter (an equalization pass that squashes all frequencies below about 125hz) may be desirable if you’re still getting significant bass spikes on your plosives.The corollary to this is that many people, myself included, have a harsh sibilant “s” when they speak. The sibilant sounds (”s,” “sh,” and “ch”) occur at different frequencies from the other consonants (like the “t”, for example), and it’s possible to soften your sibilant “s” without crushing your other consonants. This is called “De-essing,” and you can do it with any good parametric EQ, including the one that comes free with Audacity. Pay attention to this part of the spectrum when building your EQ curves, and you’ll be golden.

 

We shouldn’t know that you recorded over three days

Ever watch Return of the Jedi? Remember the scenes in Jabba’s Palace? It sounded like a real place, didn’t it? And like everyone there was in the same room?

Here’s the shocker: almost none of the audio recorded on set was used in that sequence, because all the actors in costumes had to have air conditioners and fans running constantly in order to keep from collapsing (and, even then, between takes they had to put fans inside the suits). The noise floor was so high that pretty much nothing was usable. Everything you saw in that sequence, audio-wise, was recorded after the fact (a technique that’s called ADR for “Additional Dialog Recording”).

Over the course of a performance that lasts more than twenty minutes, your voice changes. The muscles in your throat get tired, you get dry, and your voice drops in pitch and the crispness softens. Listening straight through from one end to another, most people can’t hear it, but when you start editing, all bets are off. What if, at the end of a chapter, you decide you’ve really found the groove and need to redo the beginning section, so just loop around? You could be causing yourself troubles.

The audience shouldn’t be able to tell you’ve been editing. Your voice should sound like it’s the same person, speaking into the same microphone, on the same day, all throughout your episode. To achieve this, you want to make sure that you are using the same mic every time, that you’re sitting or standing the same distance from it and speaking at the same angle to it, and that you’re recording at roughly the same time of day.

Beyond that, learn to pay attention to the muscles in your throat. Keep tea or water (never milk or coffee) nearby, and take a small sip whenever you start to feel a little dry. Take breaks every 20-30 minutes, and don’t talk during those breaks. Do warm up exercises (singing scales, reciting tongue twisters, etc.) for your voice before you start recording. Then, when you’re in the edit bay, listen to the sound of your voice, and make sure that you never stick two takes next to each other that sound qualitatively different.

Wrapping it up

I didn’t deal with equipment (mics, mixers, etc) in this post, because even the best equipment won’t give you a good sound until you’ve got these basics down. Once you’ve got these down, some carefully chosen and inexpensive gear can take you to the next level – but even with a cheap USB Snowball, you’ll get a serviceable sound if you’re careful.

So, pay attention to your signal, read clearly, and start podcasting!

SPECIAL NOTE

J.D. Sawyer will be the host of a special Podioracket.com Blog Talk Radio Extension where he leads a discussion with guests Rhonda R. Carpenter and Heather E. Roulo. If you have questions for the ladies about Podioracket.com, BTR, or either of their books then be there LIVE at 6pm Pacific/9pm Eastern on Thursday, September 17th. Set a reminder!

ABOUT OUR CONTRIBUTOR

J. D. Sawyer is author of The Antithesis Progression, Sculpting God,, Down From Ten, the host of The Polyschizmatic Reprobates Hour, and a regular contributor to LinuxJournal Magazine. Through his company ArtisticWhispers Productions, he manages various types of a/v productions and photography projects. Find out more, and get his podcasts, by clicking here.