5 Ways to Capture Clean Audio and Produce Higher Quality Recordings
Wondering how to start a podcast, or simply how to record good audio from your laptop? If you’re looking for some home recording tips and tricks, or hoping to capture cleaner audio of your chamber ensemble or private lessons on-location, read on for some best practices and advice.
As a professional audio engineer, I’ve worked mostly on-location for all of my recordings, so I know how it feels to work within the confines of an everyday space, and not necessarily a sound-treated studio. Luckily, over the years and throughout my time as a student and teacher, I’ve learned a few simple things you can do to capture and produce higher quality recordings.
1. Invest in a quality microphone that fits your budget.
If you’re recording primarily to your laptop or from home, I’d recommend a simple USB microphone like the Blue Yeti. It sounds great and doesn’t require an audio interface to use—meaning it’s basically plug-and-play. There are even a few polar pattern—or, directional—options to choose from with this microphone, which means you can record by yourself or with a partner and still avoid capturing too much “room sound.” Running at around $120, it’s a budget-friendly option that is also an easy setup.
2. For on-location recording, keep it versatile.
If you are primarily recording on-location (such as your rehearsals or lessons), don’t bother with a laptop until you get to the editing process. Instead, invest in a portable multitrack recorder like the Zoom H6. At $400, it’s not cheap, but you will avoid having to deal with microphone cables, computers, and basically any setup at all, because the device has a built-in microphone (two options, actually) and an SD card that can save your recordings to be added to a laptop later. The best part is there are also 4 microphone inputs, so as your experience grows, you can record an entire chamber group on-location.
3. Use real studio headphones to monitor and edit your project.
Spending the effort to capture excellent audio, then editing it by listening with your laptop speakers is the equivalent of preparing a culinary masterpiece then sticking it in the blender and drinking it through a straw. Gross. Do yourself a favor and buy a $50 pair of headphones (or even better, an $80 pair) to use exclusively for editing audio. You’d be surprised what you will hear through professional studio headphones that you had no idea was impeding the quality of your recording when you were listening through your laptop.
4. Position your microphone where you’d prefer to sit to capture great music recordings.
A simple tip for capturing high quality audio is to position your microphone (whether it’s the Zoom H6 or something else) in a place where you would want to sit to hear what you’re recording. For instance, if you want to record your orchestra rehearsal, don’t put your Zoom under your chair or on your music stand—put it out where the audience would be sitting in your rehearsal space.
OR, Keep your microphone close if you’re recording speech or a podcast.
When podcasting, you want to put the microphone close to your mouth or in between you and your guest, because you want to avoid capturing too much of the room itself. An important note is to be sure to use a pop filter, or you’ll hear those P- and B-sounds puff really loudly into the mic.
5. Use basic audio editing techniques to produce better audio.
I have three words for you: crossfade, crossfade, crossfade. Whenever you cut two clips of audio together, if you don’t add a crossfade in between the clips, believe me—you will be able to hear it. There will be a small pop, digital blip, or otherwise annoying bloop that happens when the clips change from one to the other. Your crossfade can be a fraction of a second long, but it needs to be there. Additionally, at the beginning and end of each clip, add a tiny fade-in or fade-out to smooth the transition there. One last fading tip: when adding music to your podcast, never, ever, EVER end the podcast without fading out the music first. All audio should be completely inaudible before the track ends.
One last piece of advice for producing better audio: Always listen to the final result on several different speakers before putting it out into the world. Your earbuds, your car, and yes, your laptop speakers are all good choices. That’s because most people will be listening using those devices, and you don’t want them to be dealing with annoying volume changes or poor mix issues because you didn’t double-check your work.
Thankfully, you don’t have to go it alone. If you’re ready to start your podcast, I invite you to set up a 1:1 coaching session with me.