“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.
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.
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.