Some sound advice


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I took this picture recently in an old recording studio in London, now converted into an indoor cycling/fitness facility.

Current owners of the space have rescued one of those ancient audio editing machines – and I love them for it. I used Studers like this when, almost 20 years ago, as a fresh radio reporter I learned the basics of audio recording and reel-to-reel editing.

I still remember the shock I got  when my editor shortened my first 50-someting-second long piece to just under 30 seconds – just by editing out the unnecessary gaps and making everything ‘flow’ and sound more dynamic. It took him just a couple of minutes, maybe even less. The difference was striking. And all that using a Studer like the one above.

(Almost a decade later, during an induction course for new BBC radio journos, I was grateful for that knowledge when I realised tape was *still* preferred over digital – and most people on the course had never used tape before.)

The more time I spend filming using DSLRs with their pathetic sound recording capabilities, the more I realise how important it is nowadays to be able to replace low-quality camera output with better quality, independently recorded audio.

Regardless of whether you use tape or digital, the quality of the actual recording is as, if not more, important as good sound editing skills. But sadly, both often seem to be neglected. And I’m not talking here about casual mobile YouTube uploads, but rather videos created with more advanced gear, sometimes for clients.

I recently watched a clip by an international video production company (no naming and shaming here), with some fun advice on how to shoot a video using a DSLR. Great clip, pathetic sound. No effort was made to rectify this or even mention this as a potential issue. Which kind of rendered the otherwise good video useless.

So what can you do?

1. Invest in good external recorders – from Zoom to Tascam, there’s something for every pocket.

2. Invest in improving your audio editing skills. If you shoot video, you probably know how to edit it too. Basic principles of both are similar. Find an online Lynda course or simply browse YouTube for free advice on levels, noise reduction and audio matching. Or anything else, in fact.

3. Learn how to get audio right from the start – think about the space in which you are recording, about who you are recording and why; avoid background noise like crowds, buzzing air-con units or ringing phones; learn the difference between different types of microphones; and read this excellent duckrabbit blog post which pretty much nails it.

Trust me, with a bit of effort, it will improve your audio immensely. And you don’t need a gigantic Studer machine and a splicing block.

With so many tools and resources to learn from, you frankly have no excuse.