How To Avoid Audio Killing Your Video Star

I’ve been working on a few video projects for clients recently.  One thing I’ve seen time and time again as part of my research is companies that have spent thousands on creating videos with television-quality video production values… but with audio that makes it difficult, if not impossible, to watch.

With video an increasingly important part of  modern communications strategies [and growing evidence that online videos are listened to, rather than watched] it is vital that you don’t let valuable content go to waste because of a poor audio track.  Here are a few tips to ensuring that the sound on your video does the rest of the content justice:

  • Invest in a decent microphone.  Spending a few hundred dollars on a professional-grade piece of kit will return your investment within a few weeks.  One of the most common problems is indistinct audio [echo, background noise, ‘popping’] and investing in a lip mic like the the Coles 4104 will solve these problems.  It was created for use by BBC Radio sports commentators to minimize the amount of background noise so that listeners could  focus on what was being described.
  • Listen to your own voice.  Investing in a decent pair of headphones will make a real difference to an audio recording.  It blocks out unnecessary distractions and provides an accurate experience of the audio track your audience will hear.
  • Create the right environment. Too often web audio sounds like it was recorded in the bathroom.  This is because most buildings aren’t designed for audio recording, so sound bounces off walls, glass windows, fixtures and fittings and wood flooring.  If you don’t have an audio studio to record in [how many companies do?!] then find a space that has as few of the things mentioned above to record in.  One tip is to stand in the corner of a room, where your voice will only ‘bounce’ off of two, solid, surfaces.
  • Script it.  Too often web video is not scripted – webinar presenters are particularly frequent offenders.  I’m not suggesting that all web video should be scripted, having a framework for a webinar presenter to work from will help to make the whole thing sound a little more professional.
  • Turn off all electrical devices.  Yes, I mean EVERYTHING, and I mean OFF.  One of the most common background sounds on B2B web videos is electromagnetic   [it’s the whirring sound you hear].  Obviously, in some cases, like live broadcasts, it’s not practical to turn everything off, but if you’re recording a track to accompany a produced video then you’ll hear a dramatic improvement to the audio by following this tip.  Even if you put your cell phone on to silent you’ll still hear it ring when you play back the recording.
  • Practice.  One of the most over-looked parts of most audio tracks.  People think that if they can read it, they can record it.  It’s a much used adage, but true… practice DOES make perfect.  Practice will also iron out the most common unwanted additions to an audio track… the ‘err’ and the ‘umm’.
  • Slow down.  In broadcasting there’s what is know as ‘reading to time’ – a pace at which it is easy for the listener to take in what is being said.  Broadcast journalists write to time to ensure that they have just enough words to fill a particular slot, and not too few,working to a three words per second rule.
  • Stand up. Standing up changes the way your voice sounds [try it now and you’ll hear the difference].  Want to sound authoritative, knowledgeable, full of energy?  Standing up helps convince your listeners that you are all of these things.
  • Scream and shout.  Before you start recording… not while you are recording.  Having a good old shout releases the tension from your voice, making it sound much more authoritative, calm and collected – its especially good if you’re nervous too.
  • Use silence as a tool.  Dead air scares people… but it shouldn’t.  In the same way that a dramatic pause in a presentation can add real value, so stopping and letting your viewers/listeners think about what you’ve said can be a very effective tool in communicating your message.  Very few firms use it – by doing so, you’ll stand out from the crowd.
  • Understand your audience.  This is, perhaps, the most important piece of advice I can offer.  If you know your audience it’ll help guide the content, tone, language and length of your audio/video.  It’s also the most overlooked part of any audio/video recording.

What other things do you do to improve the quality of your audio and video presentations?

2 Replies to “How To Avoid Audio Killing Your Video Star”

  1. Lyndon,

    Great post! Thanks for this very useful checklist of audio-things to watch out for. I strongly agree the last point is the most important and I’m glad you included that. I also think your point about having a framework (a script or some other guide) is a necessary courtesy to one’s audience.

    There’s lots that can be said about either of those things. For example, there is a twist for my usual audience (who are peers in an open source development community): they would treat a highly polished video as being too ‘foreign’. So I keep some rough edges in the production. Also, I tend not to use a script because I don’t want to sound like I’m reading. I prefer to do visual edits first and add voiceovers in response to what I’m seeing. I’ve also recently played more with music soundtracks throughout the piece because there can be a huge emotional dimension to that. The trick there of course is to pick the right music and be aware of precisely the mood that it evokes – it can backfire easily!

    I just spent two weeks putting together a video that does push that boundary of my open source audience somewhat. It’s a largely technical presentation but I decided to set it to a strong music track throughout because I wanted to move people emotionally rather than just focus on dry facts. I suppose this is my video art roots coming back to the fore.

    You may have caught the tweet I sent you last week with the link to it but for anyone else interested it’s here:


    Michael Keara

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