Scaling Up Audio Production
At Finewav, we believe that creating content isn’t about having the best content, but about putting out quality content on a consistent basis. Doing so depends on creating a scalable workflow that doesn’t take a lot of time to manage, yet and provides excellent repeatable results. Even better if the equipment is inexpensive and can be easily replaced should any technical issues ever arise.
It might seem like creating a scalable audio production workflow overhauling your entire system, but we suggest incorporating a few basic changes to speed things along. It’s best to start with small changes, so take a look at some of our tips below and choose the ones that you can include in your workflow.
The simplest way to reduce problems from ambient noise in your audio recordings is to get closer to the microphone. This concept is counterintuitive to newcomers since it isn’t obvious how moving a microphone closer to the audio source can “turn down” the noise of your environment.
Unlike microphones, our brains constantly adjust the sensitivity of our hearing based upon the noise level of our environments. On a bustling street, our brains use complex auditory processing to “turn down” the noise, allowing us to focus on a particular sound. In a quiet environment like a forest, our brains automatically “turn up” the volume, allowing us to hear softer sounds in the distance.
As opposed to our ears, microphones have defined but variable levels of sensitivity. Creating extreme imbalances between the desired sound (say, a human voice) and undesired sound (say, an HVAC system) keeps undesired sound virtually inaudible. By keeping a microphone close to the sound source, you can decrease the sensitivity of the microphone while capturing a clear picture of the desired sound source and keep the ambient sound leakage to a minimum. Using this method, you can record in an apartment, bedroom, studio, or even outdoors and achieve nearly identical results. Isolating the sound source from the environment creates clean, professional recordings every time.
We recommend using large condenser microphones for studio recording and using lavalieres instead of shotgun mics for recording on camera. For interviews, narration, or vocal performances in noisy environments like sound on location, and concerts, we recommend using handheld mics. Likewise for music recording outside of a studio environment, always use close mics, and opt for close, localized sound over unwanted ambient noise in your recordings. Clean recordings sound polished, whereas noisy recordings sound unprofessional by comparison. Your audience is far more likely to stick around if the audio is clearly audible and keep the microphone close to the sound source.
Use the Same Recording Techniques
Standardizing a recording process simply means using the same technique, the same equipment, the same recording levels every time. Getting closer to the microphone is one method that can be repeated quite easily. For those of you addressing a vocal microphone, simply maintain consistent audio levels while recording. This may take some practice, but listening to the audio feed through headphones allows for constant monitoring of the audio signal. When recording vocals, people will often subconsciously move toward the microphone as their voices decrease in volume, and move away as their voices increase in volume. Practice speaking into a microphone while listening through headphone for several weeks, and you’ll develop an intuitive sense of what the microphone “hears”. You’ll quickly be able to predict how a microphone will respond and can adjust your level and distance accordingly. Likewise for those recording music, listening through headphones creates far better performances. Playing for what the audience hears, rather than for sound in the room, almost always translates the better in the final recording. Challenge yourself to aim for the same target levels by watching your recording input meters, and keep the level consistent throughout your recording. Performed correctly, your audio should be ready for streaming and broadcast without any additional postproduction.
Use the Same Equipment
Using the same equipment for each recording is can be applied easily. The same microphone addressed the same way will create similar results in each recording. Even for music recording, using a common microphone, like a Shure SM57, placed 1 inch from the skin of a snare drum or 1 inch from guitar amp driver will create remarkably consistent results. When selecting equipment, we recommend opting for inexpensive options and leaving room in the budget for backups. Rather than purchasing a single expensive microphone, purchase instead of a cheaper microphone and buy an identical copy. Should the need arise, you’ll have the same microphone for extra vocals, extra musicians, and a failsafe in case the main microphone malfunctions. Our favorite inexpensive microphones include the Audix CX-112B, the Audix VX-5, and Shure SM48.
Use Postproduction Templates
Audio postproduction templates or “presets” get a bad rap, but offer tremendous potential to save time while creating pristine, consistent results. Photography apps like Instagram, Apple Photos, and Adobe Lightroom have made the use of photo filters incredibly popular. These filters combine multiple processing effects to create major, distinctive improvements to an image in a single tap on the screen. Audio postproduction presets effectively allow a user to do the same, shaping the sound using a combination of effects combined into a single click of a mouse.
Why aren’t audio presets popular? The reason stems from all the variables that arise in the recording process. Using a different microphone set to different levels while using different techniques creates wildly unpredictable results. However, using the same microphone, the same technique, and the same recording levels, an individual can utilize postproduction presets with remarkable predictability. This can allow for complex, mastering-grade audio processing workflows performed in a single click. Small time investments in standardizing your recording workflow can allow for standardized postproduction workflows, saving tremendous amounts of time while improving audio quality along the way.
Scaling your workflow requires making simple changes to save time and creates repeatable results. Whenever possible, keep your microphone close to the sound source, use the same recording techniques, use the same equipment, and use the same audio postproduction template. This alone should offer quality, consistent results for each recording and keep your postproduction time to a minimum. Keep your focus on your audience, your content, and your message, and automate your workflow to as large a degree as possible. If you have questions or would like to share some of your experiences, let us know in the comments below.
Photo credit: Eryk Thompson