Audio can make or break the quality of our content. Without clear audio, the audience will simply click off.
My first experience working with audio production was when I started hosting and producing at my uni’s radio station. I’d play mellow indie tunes whilst rambling on – for a whole hour – about pretentious gigs that I attended without any idea of what I was doing. I had no clue what “gain” or “levels” were, and when I listened to my recording back, all I could hear was my grainy whispers over ear splitting music. This was the first time I realised how important good audio is.
Although my music taste hasn’t, my knowledge on audio production has definitely improved. However, I am still somewhat of a dilettante when it comes to audio production, which is why I reached out to the Financial Times’ finest audio folk to help me create our guide to optimum audio quality for our bespoke creative content.
Although there is a huge difference between my uni’s amateur radio station and Alpha Grid state of the art studios, the final goal is the same: have people enjoy what they are listening to and my first tip is to record in the best place possible…
Our acoustically treated studio spaces are made up of the “live room”, equipped with microphones and headphones. This is where script readings, interviews and voice overs take place. In the “control room” you will find our producers and audio engineers operating the mixing desk.
To reduce echoes and improve the clarity of recordings, the live room is covered in “soft materials which absorb sound waves rather than reflect them back”, says Senior Audio Engineer; Breen Turner.
But it isn’t always so high-tech, especially during lockdown. Persis Love, FT’s audio producer, recalls when she was at home recording a voiceover for Alpha Grid; she had to make do with what was available: a duvet. “I actually put it over my head and recorded it underneath because it kind of creates this perfectly insulated sound environment”. DO try this at home if you don’t have the privilege of a studio space- although it might be a little claustrophobic and sweaty!
My second tip is all things equipment. One FT podcast producer said that sound “should feel like a warm bath” and high tech equipment has the power to emulate.
Having good input quality into a high standard microphone is vital. Make sure people are not rustling, breathing too loud, or too close or far from the mic. Those pesky plosives are particularly a pain as they cause ‘popping’ and distorting of the mic, luckily, our in-house studios cut off the mic if the sound hits a too high level.
The signal from the microphones goes to our mixing desk and its gain is controlled by our producers using faders. When recording voice overs for our content, it is important we get what we need out of the recording session as it makes other jobs a lot more difficult to try and fix poorly recorded audio. Josh Panda, Assistant Producer at Alpha Grid affirms: “Audio is key to engaging video content. A video can be taken from good to great by tactfully choosing the right soundtrack, making sure the voiceover is clear and expressive and adding lot’s of small and well placed sound effects”.
Each mic in our live room has a pair of headphones, they correlate with faders on the mix desk, which is how the producer changes gain. Instantaneously, we record the audio from each mic separately on a ‘track’, so we can cut out interruptions and make the post-production run smoothly. The PC is recording onto a digital audio workstation (we use Adobe Audition), then the raw recording is sent to our editor for cutting down and polishing up.
There is some science behind the sliding and pressing of a mix desk…Leading me on my final tip: the importance of finding the sweet spot for gain to make sure your recordings are neither too quiet nor too loud, this is variable from person to person, voice to voice.
Breen Turner defines:
There you have it, along with these steps and our finest’s expertise, I hope you can create a sonically pleasing audio experience. I know my radio show is going to be harmonic!
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