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Recording audio out in the real world is not like recording audio at home. There are many factors that you’ll need to consider when recording in an environment you don’t have control over, like a coffee shop, bar, conference meetup, or any other public place.
Great audio is ESSENTIAL if you want to have a great video or podcast that keeps your audience’s attention, but you don’t need microphones that cost thousands of dollars to record good audio.
In this episode, I’m joined by special guest Cory McCabe. Cory is the videographer for seanwes and he’s produced and edited many great videos including Learn Lettering 2.0, the Community testimonials video, and more. We’re going to teach you how to record better audio for your videos, how to record podcasts away from home, and what gear you need for the various situations you might be recording in.
Highlights, Takeaways & Quick Wins:
- Test recordings are essential. The last thing you want to do is trust that everything will work as it’s supposed to and then lose a recording because something goes wrong.
- The Invisilav by Rode is a great product to have if you’re recording audio with a lav mic.
- If you’re recording audio with a shotgun mic, use a boom arm and point the mic down at your subject at a 45 degree angle.
- When you go out into the real world to record audio for a podcast, one of the things you have to think about is location noise.
- If you’re in an ideal situation without a lot of background noise, you can record decent audio with your phone, but there are some better options if you want to capture high-quality audio.
- Set up early with the person you’ll be interviewing and get them talking about something they’re excited about. See how loud they talk, then adjust your input gain levels accordingly.
- If you’re interviewing someone outdoors, a lav mic is a good way to go because it will pick less background noise.
- Most video editing apps have some kind of noise removal feature, but don’t go too crazy with it because it can mangle your audio and make it sound unnatural which can sound worse than a little bit of background noise.
- 2:17 Emily Carlton asked: Should bad audio ever stop you from filming? I’d imagine some people are doing the best they can with what they have. Quality is always the goal, but I’m curious if bad audio is a big enough deal to stop production until a certain level is reached. If so, what is that level?
- 2:48 Aaron: The whole show is actually about the answer to this question. We want you to record great sounding audio; it’s essential if you want to create something that holds your audience’s attention. You don’t need microphones that cost thousands of dollars to record great audio, but you will need specific gear depending on the different environments you’ll be recording in.
About Cory McCabe:
- 4:15 Sam asked: I want to know how Cory got started in film-making; what equipment, his first project, and how film-making captivated him.
- 4:27 Aaron: The first time I heard your name was when Sean told me that he was hiring you to be the video guy for seanwes. What’s your story? How did you land that job?
- 4:46 Cory: In 2011-2012, I was starting to get back into making videos. I made a lot of videos as a kid, but it didn’t seem like something I was going to do full time. But in 2012 I decided to take it more seriously and see what I could do with it. My brother Cameron and I made a video called Chasing Fog, and a lot of people liked it. It was a lot of fun, so I started doing research and learning online, and Sean noticed and asked me if I’d be interested in working full time for seanwes in late 2014.
- 6:00 Aaron: What were you shooting with back then?
- 6:04 Cory: I shot Chasing Fog with a Canon T5i. That was one of the first Canon DSLR’s that could shoot 1080p.
- 6:27 Aaron: So you’ve done a lot of stuff for Sean so far since you joined the team, including shooting Sean’s Creative South conference keynote.
- 6:51 Cory: Yeah, Creative South was fantastic. I was brought on to shoot that keynote and also a recap video.
Recording the Creative South Keynote
- 7:22 Aaron: So you recorded the keynote that Sean gave at Creative South on-stage in front of hundreds of people. Walk me through that process and the gear you used.
- 7:47 Cory: We had a two camera setup; I was running a free-cam (handheld) and our friend Austin Saylor was working the tripod. For audio, we were using a Rode Lavalier mic plugged into a Sennheiser wireless transmitter. The wireless receiver was plugged into a Zoom H4N. We also used a TRRS cable to run a line out from the H4N into an iPhone so we could use the audio from the lav mic for a Periscope stream.
- 9:09 It was great that we were able to use the audio from Sean’s lav mic on the Periscope stream, but I want to mention that we did a lot of testing in advance to make sure the whole setup worked. I tested the range of the wireless unit and the frequencies being used to make sure there weren’t any problems. Always test in advance. Test, test, test.
Test recordings are essential. The last thing you want to do is trust that everything will work as it’s supposed to and then lose a recording because something goes wrong.
Recording Interviews with Lav Mics
- 10:47 Aaron: So you recorded the conference talk, but you were also recording interviews in various places during the week for the Creative South 2015 recap video and the Community Testimonials video.
- 10:57 Cory: We used the same two camera setup with the lav mic and wireless transmitter.
- 12:14 Aaron: A common audio issue with lav mics is scratchiness from the mic rubbing against clothing. You and Sean discovered a product called Invisilav that solves that problem. Can you tell me about that?
- 12:42 Cory: The Invisilav is a small silicone capsule that the head of the lavalier mic goes into. You can attach the capsule to your chest with a small adhesive strip which reduces the amount of clothing noise that the mic records.
The Ivisilav by Rode is a great product to have if you’re recording audio with a lav mic.
- 13:46 Aaron: While we’re talking about lav mics, there are a couple other options if you considering investing in one. If you’re on a budget, check out Rode’s SmartLav. It’s a lav mic that plugs into any phone or device with a 3.5mm port. If you want to spend a little more money and get something really nice, check out the DPA D:fine. It’s not actually a lav mic, but a very small headset mic that is used in many Ted Talks.
Recording Outdoor Meetups with a Shotgun Mic
- 14:56 Cory: I recently shot some video at a seanwes meetup in Grapevine, Texas (after Circles Conf).
- 15:57 Aaron: You were walking around with your DSLR getting some clips for a promotional video about meetups and how great they are.
- 16:42 Cory: For this meetup, my setup was a Rode NTG3 shotgun mic mounted on my DSLR, and I had the XLR cable from that mic going to the Zoom H4N that was in my pocket. I’m not sure how much of the audio from those interviews that I’m going to be able to use because there was so much going on, a lot of background noise.
- 17:33 Aaron: This was the back patio of a pizza place, and there were 50 people hanging out and talking loudly.
- 17:52 Cory: In environments like that, you’re going to pick up almost everything. If you have a shotgun mic and you point it directly at your subject, you’ll pick up what they’re saying, and the little bit of the noise in the background will add to the sense of environment. It’s not like you can completely isolate that conversation in that situation.
- 18:32 There are some things you can do to enhance the main source of audio and reduce the amount of background noise that you record, especially if you’re using a shotgun mic.
- 18:48 Aaron: What about using a lav mic? Would that have been better? I guess it would have taken longer to setup interviews instead of just running around with a camera and a shotgun mic?
- 18:59 Cory: You want to have a lav and a shotgun mic if you can, but that’s a pretty expensive setup. But then you can use the audio from the shotgun mic as a backup so you don’t miss anything. That’s the setup we’re using on the short film I’m currently working on.
- 19:30 Aaron: The Rode NTG3 is a great shotgun mic, but it’s $700. You can get the Rode NTG2 for $269, and it’s still a good shotgun mic.
- 19:49 Cory: I have one and while it doesn’t sound as good as the NTG3, it still gets the job done.
Syncing Audio in Post-Production
- 19:59 Aaron: So after you record the audio from the shotgun mic into the H4N, how do you sync that with the video in post?
- 20:12 Cory: It can be a little tricky, especially if there’s a lot of background noise, but most synchronizers can handle it. I use an app called PluralEyes that takes all of your video and audio files and sync them up. Most other programs like Premier and Final Cut Pro can do audio/video sync, but occasionally you’ll get an error saying that the files couldn’t be synced if there’s a lot of background noise. If you’re using a shotgun mic, you shouldn’t have too many problems with that.
- 21:06 Aaron: My first video setup was a Canon T2i with a Rode VideoMic Pro (a small shotgun mic that plugs into any 3.5mm mic input port). I bought the VideoMic Pro because I knew that most DSLRs do not have good built-in microphone. You don’t ever want to use the camera’s built-in mic. Recently, I started recording audio straight from my Zoom H4N to my Canon T2i by running a line out from the H4N into the mic input on the camera. That way I don’t have to do any syncing in post.
- 22:37 Cory: I just want to mention that my setup for that pizza meetup was not the proper way to use a shotgun mic. I had the NTG3 mounted on the DSLR, so it was pointed straight out. That’s not how you’re supposed to use a shotgun mic. It’s better to have the shotgun mic on a boom arm, in the air, pointed down toward the subject at a 45 degree angle. In some cases, you can also hold the mic down closer to the floor and aim it upwards, but normally you keep it higher and aim it down. When I’m aiming straight, I’m picking up all the sound happening behind the subject. Since I was running everything myself, that’s just what I had to do in that situation.
- 23:50 Christopher Bernal asked: Do you recommend having an additional person at the shoot to help with audio? Yes, that’s ideal. I only had two hands, so I couldn’t hold the DSLR and a boom arm with the shotgun mic. If you can get someone to do that for you, great.
If you’re recording audio with a shotgun mic, use a boom arm and point the mic down at your subject at a 45 degree angle.
- 26:07 Aaron: If you’re recording an interview with a shotgun mic, get a mic stand instead of just holding the shotgun mic yourself. This is how you shoot seanwes tv, right? That’s Sean’s daily video show, but you’re also taking the audio from the video and publishing it as a daily podcast, too.
- 26:58 Cory: That was a really good decision. Not everyone has the time to watch a video, sometimes you’re on the road or on the go and you just want to listen to a podcast. How we’re doing that is setting up systems and processes and making sure there’s no difference in mic placement from episode to episode so that we get a consistent recording sound. We’re using the Rode NTG3 above Sean’s head, pointing it downward at a 45 degree angle. The audio that we record with that is what ends up being on the podcast.
- 27:48 Aaron: Sean normally uses the Shure SM7B, but if you’re doing a video, you don’t want a big mic up in front of your face. You still want good audio, though, and that’s why you’re using the NTG3. You actually have two NTG3s set up, right?
- 28:20 Cory: That’s right. We have a three camera setup for seanwes tv. One is handheld, and the other two are on stands. Sean wanted to be able to switch which camera he’s talking to without any loss of audio quality, so we setup two shotgun mics to capture both angles.
- 29:04 Aaron: So you shoot the video, edit it, then export the audio as an MP3 file and that goes into a podcast feed.
Be Aware of Your Environment When Recording Audio in the Real World
- 30:01 Kyle Adams asked: How does video relate to podcasting? How can someone tie this into making a great podcast?
When you go out into the real world to record audio for a podcast, one of the things you have to think about is location noise.
- 30:22 Aaron: You have to think about where you’re going to setup, what’s going on in the background, what the room acoustics are. You also have to make a decision either in advance or on-the-spot; what’s the best kind of microphone for this location? Is it a lav mic? Is it a shotgun mic? Can I use my normal podcasting setup?
- 30:58 So that’s how it ties in; I wanted to talk about gear because these are things you’ll need to consider if you’re going to go out and record audio somewhere besides your normal home recording space.
How to Record Better Audio with Your Phone
- 31:15 Emily Carlton asked: Are there mics that you recommend that are better than your phone’s mic?
- 31:41 Aaron: There are a couple that I’ve been looking at, because while the microphone in the newer phones are decent, they aren’t great.
If you’re in an ideal situation without a lot of background noise, you can record decent audio with your phone, but there are some better options if you want to capture high-quality audio.
- 32:49 Aaron: I’ve got my eye on a new mic from Shure, the MV88. It’s a small stereo condenser mic that plugs into the lightning port connection of your iPhone. It records in 24 bit audio, which is great. Two cool things about this mic; first, the mic itself is on a swivel, so you can move it around 180 degrees. Second, it’s both a directional microphone (kind of a like a shotgun mic), but it is also dual side-address, which means you can set it on table between you and a friend, and it’ll pick up both sides of the conversation. Really handy for interviews, and I’ve been very impressed by the test recordings I’ve heard. It’s on my list of mics to buy.
- 35:23 Another mic I’ve got my eye on (coming soon) is the Rode VideoMic Me. It’s a high-quality directional mic that plugs into headphone port on your phone. It also has a headphone jack built-in so you can listen to what you’re recording. Rode hasn’t announced the price yet, but I’d guess it’d be between $100 and $200.
- 36:14 Cory: Rode makes really good products. They’ve got the smartLav mic, the i-XY (stereo condenser mic for iPhone 5, 5S and 5C), and the RodeLink which is a wireless transmitter pack that you can use with your phone with an additional adapter.
What About Traveling with My Normal Podcasting Setup?
- 37:22 Aaron: Someone asked how we travel with our SM7Bs. Most of the time, we don’t. The SM7B is a great mic, but it’s very heavy. If I’m just driving to a friend’s house to record a podcast, I could throw the SM7B and a mic cable and stand in my car, sure, no problem. If I was going to be flying on a plane or staying in hotel rooms and I wanted to travel light, I would get a smaller, lighter USB mic.
- 38:12 For the longest time, I’ve hated on the cheaper USB mics. Especially the Blue Snowball. I despise the way the Snowball sounds. Not a fan of the AT-2020, either. People kept telling me that the Audio-Technica ATR-2100 was a great dynamic USB microphone for the price ($60), but I listened to recordings of it and I thought it sounded like crap. I found out last week after reading a great mic comparison blog post from Marco Arment that the problem wasn’t the mic; it was that the mic comes with a desktop stand. People set the mic on their desk which means they record from a 2-3 feet away which means that they have to crank the gain and then the mic picks up a a high noise floor and a lot of room sound. If you use the ATR-2100 on normal boom stand and get right up on it, the sound quality is close to the quality of a good dynamic mic like the Shure SM58. So if I was going to be doing a lot of traveling and I wanted a light, dynamic USB mic, I’d really consider picking one up.
- 40:29 Cory: That just shows how mic technique is important for any mic. It’s important to get as close as you can with whatever mic you use to reduce the amount of background noise you pick up.
- 41:01 Aaron: A couple of other options for recording podcasts away from home; I think the Zoom H4N should be the first thing that any podcaster looks at. It’s got a great built-in stereo condenser mic, but it also has two mic inputs that you can plug XLR microphones into (dynamic or condenser).
- 41:21 If you want even more mic inputs, you can get the Zoom H6, which is similar to the H4N but it has four microphone inputs.
- 41:31 Cory: The H6 also has a variety of attachments to you can buy, including a mini shotgun mic, an mid-side mic, and even one that gives you two additional mic inputs, so you could be recording up to 6 microphones at a time. I’d like to get my hands on one.
- 42:02 Aaron: So if you’ve got a Zoom H4N or an H6 or another small USB audio interface like the Focusrite 2i2, you can plug in some dynamic microphones and either use them handheld (kinda tricky), or set them up on some boom stands. You could also set up a shotgun mic if appropriate.
What Sample Rate Should I Use for Recording?
- 42:39 Sam asked: How important is sample rate? Should I record in 44.1k or 48k?
- 42:46 Aaron: I think Sam wants to know what sample rate he should record audio for video. The industry standard is 48k. If you’re just recording audio, then 24bit, 44.1k is fine, but it won’t hurt anything if you record in 48k. Just make sure to adjust your gain levels so your input levels aren’t going higher than -12db or -6db at the loudest points. You don’t want to clip, but you don’t want to keep the levels too low either because then you’ll have to boost the gain level in post-production which will bring up the volume of the background noise as well.
- 43:29 Cory: I try to push -6 to -3db when I’m shooting video. You don’t want to peak, but you want to get as much of the person speaking as possible. This is why testing is so important.
Set up early with the person you’ll be interviewing and get them talking about something they’re excited about. See how loud they talk, then adjust your input gain levels accordingly.
Additional Tips for Recording with Lav Mics
- 44:15 Cory: Before we go, I want to give a couple more tips for anyone who will be recording interviews with lav mics. If you’re doing video, you want to keep the lav mic as hidden as possible, but the main thing is getting them mid-chest level. Sometimes you’ll have to put them on one side or the other (depending on clothing), but try to keep them mid-chest level.
- 44:56 Aaron: And then you set gain levels; get the person talking at a comfortable level, then adjust so the input levels are coming in hot enough but not clipping.
- 45:08 Cory: There are also some adapters that we need to talk about. Most lav mics don’t have a 3.5mm or XLR connections, so you’ll need to buy the right adapter for your recording device. If you need to connect your lav mic to a 3.5mm input, you’ll need the Rode MiCon adapter. If you need to connect the lav to an XLR input, you’ll need the Rode VXLR adapter..
- 50:23 Terence Tang asked: If I can’t afford a $700 shotgun mic, what are some good ways to eliminate background noise from shooting outdoors?
- 50:36 Cory: Lav mics are really great in those situations because the mic is closer to the sound source.
If you’re interviewing someone outdoors, a lav mic is a good way to go because it will pick less background noise.
- 51:15 Damian asked: What’s the best way to eliminate background noise? Is that done in pre-production, or post-production?
- 51:24 Aaron: If you can eliminate it up front by moving locations or blocking the noise somehow, that’s the best way to go. If you can’t, there are some ways you can eliminate noise in post-production. I use Izotope’s RX4 plugin suite , that does an amazing job with removing noise from a track. If you have Logic, you can use the Expander and Speech Enhancer plugins.
Most video editing apps have some kind of noise removal feature, but don’t go too crazy with it because it can mangle your audio and make it sound unnatural which can sound worse than a little bit of background noise.