What do your favorite YouTube videos have in common? Do you like videos that have easy to understand tutorials, funny channels, or maybe just videos that feature dogs? What’s the audio like…?
Sound isn’t most people’s primary concern when thinking about content on their YouTube channel; it’s natural the think that the primary factor of video is visual information. But here’s the thing: humans are multisensory creatures. We often combine different senses to fully understand the world around us. You know how you can’t really taste things when you have a cold? The food didn’t lose it’s flavor; the human body combines its sense of taste with its sense of smell to form an opinion about what you’re eating. When you have a cold, your sense of smell is impaired, so tasting becomes impaired. Likewise, humans understand narratives not only by the visuals they’re presented, but by the audio. And that’s what your video is: it’s a narrative. It’s your job during your video to tell a story that your viewer finds engaging, which is going to be difficult if you sound like you’re whispering down a cavernous hallway. Improving the sound quality of your videos increases viewer comprehension, activation and retention. In this post, we’re going to discuss how we’ve tackled the hurdle of improving the audio in our YouTube videos.
Turn off the Camera [mic]
The camera that you’re using to record your videos probably comes equipped with its own microphone, and it most likely sucks. Firstly, the camera mic is going to be far enough away from the subject that it’ll pick up environmental noises. If those studio lights are getting hot and you need to turn up the AC, tough. Your AC is going to generate a white noise that your camera mic will pick up on, and that’s going to annoy the hell out of your viewer. Also annoying: hearing the echo of the people talking in the studio. It doesn’t matter how big or small the studio is, the camera mic will turn that minute echo into a tinny, grating feedback that will have your viewer clicking on the back button faster than a fat kid at a cake buffet.
Secondly, camera mics are AGC mics. AGC stands for Automatic Gain Control which is tech talk for a system that decides how loud your volume should be. Say, for example, you’re recording an interview; the AGC mic will adjust to the volume of the person speaking. Once that person stops talking the mic will adjust to the silence, so that when the conversation starts up again the change in volume will have an explosive quality to it. In short, just don’t use your camera mic.
To remedy the crappy sound that camera microphones provide, we use a lav (lavalier) mic, also known as a lapel mic. This gets the microphone as close to the sound source (your mouth) as possible to limit the interference of environmental noise. Lav mics are attached to a recorder, and the sound recording is synched to the video in post production.
We here at the DavidHay.org studio use Zoom H1 and H4 recorders, which cost $100 and $200 respectively. If you’re using a lav mic, then these two recorders will have similar specs; the difference comes when you’re not hooked up. On the H1 the stereo mics are pointed toward each other at a 45 degree angle for focused recording. The mics on the H4 are pointed away from each other at a 45 degree angle, offering a wider range of focused recording. Both offer a rich, tonal audio that can easily be exported onto editing software.
Sound Recording on a Budget
Say you’re just starting out on YouTube and you’re not sold on the idea of investing money into your equipment. Honestly, an iPhone works just fine. the iPhone 5 and later versions come equipped with a mic that filters out ambient noise. You can even sub the earbuds that come with your phone for a lav mic. The clarity range on volume isn’t as good as either of the Zoom recorders, but it’ll do the trick if you’re on a budget. Exporting the files can be a little tricky, but they have an app for that. We’ve use iTalk to great success.
Recorder 1: Zoom H1N portable digital recorder
Recorder 2: Zoom H4N portable digital recorder
Recorder 3: iPhone 5S; iTalk equipped
Lav Mic: Audio-Technica ATR-3350 Lavalier Omnidirectional condenser microphone