Talk This Way: Tips to Recording Good Quality Audio Narration

18. January 2013 11:28 by Jesse Harris in eLearning  //  Tags: , , ,   //   Comments (15)

“And remember, honey: if you’ve got it, flaunt it!” my aunt would chirp enthusiastically at me during just about every family event throughout my teens and early twenties. Although this mantra worked on occasion, it pretty much flopped years later when I did my first audio narrations for an online course. I quickly realized that just because I had a good clear speaking voice, this didn’t mean that it sounded good as digital audio. (I have a sneaking suspicion that I’m not the only one in the e-learning community to have experienced this rude awakening.)

Sadly, even e-learning courses that may look great and function flawlessly can be completely ruined by poor audio recording. It’s a little like your favourite scenes from Baywatch: everything looks so professional and pretty until someone opens their mouth and starts speaking. 
Though professional sound engineers and voice coaches can take care of most of these recording woes in a snap, time/budget/availability constraints don’t always allow for their expertise. This post will provide a few important and relatively easy actions that can markedly improve the quality of any audio recording intended for an online setting.

 

 

Tech Talk:

The Microphone

 

 

♦ Invest in a good quality USB microphone, or use a noise-cancelling headset with microphone. You don’t need to spend big, but take the time to do some market research.

Test and adjust your microphone each time before recording. It should sit at the same height as your nose, or slightly above your mouth if you’re using a headset.

Use a pop filter on your microphone if possible.

 

 

Before You Record

 

 

Make sure your recording environment is quiet and free from background noise (check air vents, fluorescent lights, or computer fans).

Record in a room with carpeting, padded furniture, and the fewest hard/flat surfaces possible. Place your microphone in an isolation box, or put a towel on your desk under the microphone to dampen reflected sound waves.

Turn off all electronics that might interrupt your narration (cell phones, email notifications, etc.).

Do an ambient background noise recording with no speech to identify if any background noises will be intrusive on playback.

Write and rehearse a script of what you plan to say.

• Know your audience. Write for the people most likely to be listening.

Write in a conversational tone, and in your own words.

Avoid short forms or abbreviations in the script so as not to trip up the narrator (you!).

Identify and practice any acronyms or difficult-to-pronounce words.

Determine a speaking tone/style for your narration, and identify words that might need special emphasis.

Write voice directions into your script (e.g., “spoken cheerfully” or “pause dramatically”).

Practice speaking your script out loud to eliminate pauses/hesitations and to improve flow.

 

 

Show Time

 

 

Sit up straight when you record, or try standing when possible for better breathing and audio.

Be animated and smile while talking. People will hear the enthusiasm in your voice.

Use a mirror while practicing, and imagine you are speaking to another person.

Listen to yourself periodically, and take notes on your likes/dislikes (phrasing, intonation, mouth position, etc.). Keep these notes handy for subsequent recording sessions.

Let someone else listen to your recording early on. Choose someone you trust to give you honest feedback.

Experiment with the best time of day for your own voice and try to record at the same time of day for consistency.

Don’t fidget when you record. It may interfere with your narration and force you to have to re-record.

Don’t forget to breathe…

… But pay attention to your breathing. Loud inhaling or exhaling sounds are irritating for the listener, though subtle natural breaths are okay.

Take care of your voice. Have some water, herbal tea with honey, lemon juice, or throat lozenges handy, and take breaks if your voice starts to feel strained.

Got a cold? Take a break. Your “sick voice” will be hard to reproduce if you need to redo narration later.

Practice good vocal techniques like warming up your voice, watching your speaking speed, and practicing good pronunciation and intonation.

Know when it’s “good enough”. Don’t spend hours recording and re-recording one sentence.

 

 

The Aftermath

 

 

Record multiple takes. People rarely nail a recording on the first take, so listen to the playback, and choose the best. What may take you a minute to re-record may take someone far longer to fix in post-production.

If you make a mistake in a longer segment, keep the recording going and simply restart the narration from the beginning of the phrase or sentence. The unwanted part can be edited out later.

Mark your mistakes. For mistakes you can’t fix in a new take, clap or blow loudly into the microphone as a reminder. This creates a spike in the audio waveform and is easy to spot later. 

Remember to remove your outtakes. Handing over a clean version of your recordings to your designer or producer will make life much easier for the both of you.


Got some tried-and-true audio recording tips of your own? Feel free to leave a comment below.

Written with the input of the eLearning Guild, CSTD National, Instructional Design & E-Learning Professionals’ groups on LinkedIn.

Jesse Harris is a Content Developer and EFL Instructor at KnowledgeOne Inc. Jesse’s background is in Applied Linguistics and she has many years' experience teaching English language skills to learners of various backgrounds, ages, and proficiency levels in both traditional and the virtual classroom settings

Comments (15) -

Marie
Marie
1/22/2013 5:18:12 AM #

Great tips... Thanks.

Derek
Derek
1/23/2013 6:56:53 AM #

These are great tips and I hope folks interested in getting into voiceover also see this article.  
I'm a professional eLearning narrator and appreciate the time you took to outline so many excellent suggestions!

Mary
Mary
1/26/2013 4:51:31 PM #

Really interesting and helpful tips. Thanks for sharing your expertise.

Larry Brambrut
Larry Brambrut
1/27/2013 2:44:43 AM #

Excellent article. FYI, I created a Pop Filter for my microphone by using an old "clean" sock and a embroidery loop from a craft store.  Works great to keep the breathing and "pops" off your audio.  No need to spend $30 on a professional pop filter.

Lynne Gibb
Lynne Gibb
1/27/2013 7:37:24 PM #

Thank you for these really useful notes. I now know why my recordings always sound so "thin". I have tucked these hints away for my next podcast.
Lynne

Jesse Harris
Jesse Harris
1/28/2013 5:27:40 AM #

Thanks to all for your comments, suggestions, and encouragement!

Another interesting tip, depending on where you're set up to record, is to avoid recording when it's raining. Though we may not notice the background droning rain can cause, you'll probably notice the absence of the drone in recordings from non-rainy days. This is especially problematic if you're combining audio from two different days.

Keep the great comments coming!

Jesse

Ben Harwood
Ben Harwood
1/28/2013 5:43:31 PM #

Great list! I came across your post on Twitter and shared it to my followers where it got re-tweeted by a power tweeps to a bezillion folks. Thanks for sharing.

Keith
Keith
1/29/2013 5:55:20 AM #

A couple of additions/comments to help your readers

A good usb condenser microphone is a good bet for a nice warm sound, but you need to find the sweet spot for your particular microphone - using a semi-pro external soundcard will allow you to hear what is going into the microphone while you speak and give you the audio clues you need to position yourself close enough to the mic.

Speaking too far away from the mic is the most likely reason for a thin sounding recording - for dynamic microphones, you actually need to be really close (2-3 inches) to be in their sweet spot.  Some condenser mics have a sweet spot about 6 inches away from the mic others have a bigger sweet spot.  

Get a pop filter that will mount properly on your mic stand, (get a mic stand...) and probably a shock mount for the microphone to avoid rumbles and other noise.  

Most importantly... Be aware of the format you are recording to.  If you are recording your audio as a low bitrate mp3 file or worse, you'll never get a good quality sound recording.

While doing this work yourself can be a time/money saver - there's something to be said for working with a professional to make the most of your learning project...I've seen some pretty decent learning projects go very far south because of lousy voiceovers.  The amount of time a pro can save you can easily make up for the added cost.

Joanne
Joanne
1/29/2013 7:58:58 AM #

Another tip (learned the hard way), for when you are recording someone else:  Make sure the narrator (male or female) removes any dangling jewelery (long earrings, necklaces, bracelets). That includes company ID badges, medical alert bracelets,metal watches, etc. - anything that might jingle, clink or clack against itself, or the tabletop.

Paul
Paul
1/30/2013 3:01:34 AM #

Jesse, these are great tips that are often overlooked.  Here's one I always recommend.  Once you are ready to record start by recording 2 - 3 seconds of ambient "dead air".  In post production I often go back and copy and paste snippets of this dead air to replace subtle pops, clicks and inhaling sounds.  The ambient "dead air" is much different than entering "silence" and the result is much more natural.

Tami
Tami
1/30/2013 3:02:41 AM #

Great work putting all this together Jesse!  Lots of great advice here!

Alex
Alex
2/27/2013 1:56:02 AM #

Great tips

Thanks

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