9 Tips for a better non-studio recording

This note is inspired by a lovely article from iZotope: "Podcasting Tips for Better Audio Quality."

9 Quick Tips that will make everyone's life more joyful, save you time and money and improve your finished voiceover, podcast, or audiobook product.

The better your recording, the better the finished product. Magic, yes. Miracles, not so much.

  • Find a quiet recording space. The more noise that needs to be removed, the more likely that distortion artifacts will be introduced. Typical culprits include incidental appliance, pet and traffic noises including computer fans, keyboard clicks and even squeaking chairs. This includes avoiding a space with lots of hard flat surfaces that reflect even slightly-delayed echos of your voice. Even if you like to sing in the bathroom, it is better to add well-controlled reverberation after the fact.

  • Use a good microphone and place it well. Talking directly into a microphone catches plosive noise from from consonants like B and P. A windscreen between you and your mic can help. Also, a microphone that is too close also catches large changes in volume that can drive it into clipping and distortion. Do a test recording on the full range of expression that you expect to use and make necessary adjustments. You can also place your mic at a slight angle to your mouth in order to speak past it. However, if the angle is too extreme, you may find yourself speaking into a null area of directional microphone.

  • Stand while you speak. This allows better breath control and a fuller, more-appealing sound.

  • Record toward the middle of the volume meter (about -20 to -16 dB). Don't let your loudest sound go anywhere near "the red." Your sound editor can adjust the signal up much easier than repair clipping.

  • Create a high-resolution, uncompressed, unprocessed original recording file. Digital recording at 24-bit, 48 kHz provides plenty of detail for audio engineering. Save your file in a lossless format such WAV or AIFF rather than throwing away information by compressing to an MP3 or AAC format. You can never get back lost detail, so [digital data] compression should be the very last step if it is needed for distribution.

  • Consider making a test recording before you spend hours doing work that may need to be repeated. Listen to yourself carefully for anything that you may want to change about the room, recording equipment or performance. You may want to get an opinion from someone experienced with audio production. Also, listen to your effort on a variety of speakers including earbuds, earphones and smartphones. The end listener may be using any of these.

  • Optimize your performance. If you can, work from notes or a script. Rehearse. Plan your message and timing. Stay aware of your performance without letting your mind drift.

  • Record remote guests separately. The sound quality across telephone lines or digital telephone codecs is often quite bad. It takes coordination, but if the participants can catch a full direct recording on each end, these can be combined in the editing room; the result will sound much better.

  • Avoid the temptation to pre-process the recording before giving it to your audio engineer. Give him the cleanest, most-original version available. For instance, if you filter out electrical hum, he loses the low frequencies his algorithms need to detect and remove plosives. Once effects like equalization, compression, de-essing and leveling have been applied they are appallingly difficult, if not impossible, to adjust.

Following guidelines like these will make everyone's life more joyful, save you time and money and improve your finished product. Happy recording!