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Whether one is producing music, podcasts, game sounds, or film sound effects, Digital Audio Principles provides the tips and techniques that will make the project a success. Author Dave Schroeder explains the basics of digital audio production techniques and covers the essential hardware and software. He also discusses sound theory, frequency response, the range of human hearing, and dynamic range.
The human voice is perhaps the most recorded thing in the history of recording itself, and chances are a lot of you who are interested in digital audio will want to be doing some work with the voice in one form or another. So in this chapter, we're going to take a look at some essential gear, a few different techniques for setting up for recording the voice, and then we'll talk about a number of different things you will want to do when you're producing that voice track. First, let's look at some essential gear for voice recording. We're breaking this down kind of into two categories. We're going to talk about, if you're recording in a studio setting, and you have a quiet, kind of controlled environment, or if you're out in the field doing interviews, and don't have all the comforts and control that you can find in the studio.
If you are in the studio, you want to have a few things for sure. Having a large diaphragm condenser microphone goes a long way. It's certainly your best first choice when it comes to recording the voice in a nice, quiet environment. Then you want a nice pre-amp with phantom power. As you'll recall, most condenser microphones require phantom power in order to operate. It's also nice to have a boom stand, because this allows you to place the microphone close to your subject, while still give them room in front of themselves to have something like sheet music, or a script.
A pop filter is also a fairly essential piece of gear in that it can really help you eliminate the different plosives, or the big gust of wind that come with Ps and Bs, and certain other letters that tend to kind of overwhelm a microphone. The headphones will also be essential. You want the person who is being recorded to be able to hear themselves, and hear how they are addressing the microphone affects the sound. You want to look for closed back headphones, so that there is not a lot of leakage from the headphones themselves that gets out into the room, and possibly gets into the microphone. Hopefully, if you're in a studio, it's great to find a nice quiet place.
If you're recording things like voiceover, a silent room is a great thing. You'll find that if you can record a voice in the quietest room possible, it'll make editing after the fact, and changing things around a lot easier. If you're recording somewhere where there is a little bit of noise, or hum, or some background noise, sometimes it's hard to make edits that appear to be natural, or are seamless. If you find yourself having to make some edits to the vocal, but you find that there is also bleed from guitar amplifiers or background noise that's gotten into the vocal track, you'll find that making those edits seem natural and seamless is a little bit more difficult.
So, a nice, quiet environment goes a long way. Finally, if your voice talent or vocalist is working with a script or some lyric sheets, it's nice to have a music stand for them to put those on. Try and insulate it a little bit, so that it's quiet. Maybe put a piece of carpet on there, some foam, or some cloth, so that if they need to move things around, it doesn't generate a lot of sound. Some of those old metal stands, when you put things on, you can actually pick up some of that sound when things move around. So it's good to try and have a nice, quiet music stand. Now if you're working in the field, you'll probably find yourself in one of two situations: either in a newsgathering type sort of situation where you're on the move, and you just have to come up with a microphone, point it in the interviewees face, or whatever you're trying to record, and be ready to move around a little bit; the other situation is where you're doing field interviews, or maybe have access to a room, in an office, or a space or building, and you can set a few things up, and have a little bit of control.
It's not exactly as cozy as a studio, but it's a little bit better than having to be out on the street and on the fly. The first important device to have is a good microphone for this situation. If you're going to be out on the street and moving about quite a bit, an omni-directional, dynamic microphone is definitely the way to go. Now if you have the luxury of setting something up in an office space, you might want to use a different microphone, but I would always bring the omni-directional dynamic microphone, just in case. If you wanted to try and use a small diaphragm condenser or something as a little bit more portable than a big large diaphragm condenser in that setting, you could give it a shot.
But chances are there is going to be so many different noises in that location, even if it's kind of nice quiet office, that the sensitivity of a condenser microphone might be too much, and you might find that it picks up more background noise and more little sounds than you really want it to. So an omni-directional dynamic is probably your best bet, at least to start. Also, you want to look into a portable recorder. Nowadays, there are a lot of really good options out there for portable recorders. There is those that record to minidisc, and some that record to hard discs, or flashcards, and you can actually hook these up to your computer after you do your interview, and transfer the data via USB, and then import those files into your digital audio software.
One other thing that you want to think about with portable recorders is what kind of inputs and outputs they give you. You want to obviously have a microphone input, but what kind of input will it be? Some will come with XLR inputs, and others will come with quarter-inch inputs, some balanced, some unbalanced, and some even minijack inputs. So it's just important to think about what kind of equipment you want to use, and how you'll be able to hook your microphone up to that portable recorder. Also, paying attention to what kind of headphone output option you have there, and what size of that jack is to see if it matches your headphones is important.
It's also nice if there can be a little built-in speaker, a very simple reference playback option, so that, on the fly, you can as quickly play it back, and see if you're recording something or not. You'll also want a pair of headphones, even though you might, when you're doing the interview, not want to sit there with headphones. It's always helpful to set up your microphone, and do a little bit of monitoring to get a sense of what the room sound sounds like through the machinery. You'll find a lot of times that sitting in a room you won't quite hear everything that's going on. But once you put headphones on, and you can hear what the microphone is actually picking up, you'll be able to make a few decisions about how to change positioning and the location of the microphone, and make sure that you're getting the best sound possible.
If you think you might find yourself in a position where you might be sitting at a table or in one location for a certain amount of time, it's always a good idea to try and find a small lightweight tabletop stand for your microphone. This will be helpful in a couple of different ways. It'll allow you to keep the microphone in the same location for a long period of time. It will also reduce some of the handling noise that can occur if you have to hold the microphone for a long period of time. If you're going on-site, take some time to scope out what kind of opportunities you have, and look for different rooms, or ask someone who you're working with, are there quieter rooms in the space or this location? Can we have access to them? Finding a nice, quiet room will make your life a lot easier.
Please remember, that interview, that's the first half of the job. But then there is the whole production process that happens after that interview. The better recording you get, and the quieter that space is when you make that recording, the easier the second part of the process will be. Finally, I like to bring a few different aids or objects to kind of help isolate sound. So I'll bring like a tablecloth to put down on the table to reduce initial reflections off that surface, and maybe some foam or cork pads to put underneath things, if there is anything that's vibrating, or if I want to try to isolate my mic stand from something that it's on, because there is a lot of vibration. That always helps.
Finally, remember to coach whoever you're working with, whoever your voice talent is. Remember to coach them to address the microphone appropriately, and to not make a lot of extra noises or gestures, to not tap their feet, or tap the table, or bang the table when they're trying to make a point. You want to try and encourage them to be kind of as static as possible, so that you're able to get the best possible recording. At the same time, don't put a bunch of rules on them right off the bat and take away some of the magic of the recording. You're there to get a good interview, or a good performance, so only do that if they start to kind of tap stuff, or if you notice there is a problem.
Sometimes, it's better to wait after the first or second take and see if it's going to be a problem, if you notice they make different kind of noises, or are fidgety. Remember that your objective is to try and get a good performance out of that person, so we don't want to distract them too much with a lot of different rules. In the next movie, we'll take a look at a couple setups, and how to place microphones in relationship to people.
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