If you’re a brandcaster, a podcaster, or a videocaster, the quality of your recording is very crucial to delivering a great audience experience. Modern software does a lot to help make your recording the best that it can be. Your environment and everything around you in the room that you’re recording in also has a lot to do with the quality of the recording. Learn what you can do to improve your own recording environment to make it the best that it can be, whether you’re in your own studio, on-site, or on the road.
For those of you that may be new here, this is something we do at least once a month. We talk about a specific subject. We take a little deeper dive into something that hopefully will be a value and interest to you as a brandcaster. We also opened it up to any of you that are participating live to ask any questions on any subject related to brandcasting, podcasting, blogging, social media. You can ask anything related to the services that we provide and the efforts that you’re engaged in for digital marketing. I’m going to start with the subject we picked and that is going to be your recording environment. The focus of this is going to be for you as a brandcaster, podcaster, videocaster on what you can do to improve your own recording environment to make it the best that it can be. Some of these things are also going to apply to your guests. I know you have a lot less control over the environment of the guest that you’re recording remotely over the internet through Zoom, Skype or Zencastr, which you can use with either Zoom or Skype. Hopefully, you were already trained before you came to work with us on the best software and equipment possible that you can use for recording your show.
Modern software does a lot to help make your recording the best that it can be, but your environment and everything around you, the room that you’re recording in also has a lot to do with the quality of the recording. I want to go through some of those things. Some of you that may be seasoned podcasters at this point. Maybe you’re are all set. Maybe this isn’t as critical for you, but even if you have been podcasting for a long time, there are a few tips in here that may be helpful to you. Maybe when you’re on the road and podcasting and you’re not in your environment that’s prepared or some tips that you can also share with your guests. I’ve had it happen where I get on for a podcast interview with a guest and their environment sounds horrible. It’s almost borderline, “Can we even record this?” At least, you might be able to give them a few tips and see if they can do one or two things to help improve the recording conditions to make it just a little better before you go and spend that 30 minutes, 45 minutes or even an hour recording with them. Hopefully, there will be some tips here to help all of you, whether you are relatively new at this or have been doing it for quite a while.
There are two major factors outside of equipment that are going to affect the quality of the recording and that is ambient noise and reflective sound. Let’s talk about ambient noise first. I want to talk about that because it’s very hard for to us to remove in terms of in the production process, when our audio engineers edit your show, there is very little that we can do to remove ambient noise from your recording. Usually, it’s going on in the environment in front of you, behind you, and around you, while you’re speaking. There are some filters and compressors we can apply in the audio editing process to try to reduce that ambient noise. If it’s happening at the same time when you’re talking, there’s very little that we can do to remove it. Let’s talk about what some of those are. This is the recording environment that we use every week to record our podcasts. We have several different podcasts that we’re recording. We’re doing from 25 to 30 episodes a month so it’s a lot. We have learned over time that we risk having bad recordings if we record on a Wednesday afternoon.
Here in our neighborhood, Wednesday afternoon is trash day and you would hear the loud engine of the trash truck. What’s worse is when the truck comes past our building and turns around, it ends up backing up and you’ll hear that loud beep of the truck when it’s in reverse. That’s the ambient noise that I can never accept in any of the recordings of my show. I’ve had it happen too where I’ve called guests who were in New York City in the summertime. They’re in a neighborhood with an older building and maybe they don’t have central air conditioning so they’ve got the window open. When we’re recording them, I’m hearing ambulances driving down the street and all those things. I’m like, “We got to try to improve this at least for twenty or 30 minutes when we’re conducting this interview.” Close the window. Have them move away from the window. Is there an interior room they could get into, something to try to reduce that ambient noise?
I understand that in the middle of New York City, there’s a certain amount of white noise that’s there that you can do nothing about and that’s unfortunate. You need to try to improve that. Trash truck is one of my big things. The ambulance and the general traffic in New York City or any bigger than a destination, that’s an issue. Windows open is a no. I would not do that. We’ve learned over time because we’ve done a lot of tests recordings. I would encourage you to do this, especially if you’re new at it. If you have an HVAC system, make sure that when that kicks on, the noise is not going to come into your recording. You won’t hear a difference because if it’s a noise that’s very low and it’s constant, that would be preferable to a constant shift and it makes it hard for engineers to edit. If the AC is off or heat is off and there’s no noise, then it turns on and you’ve got this low hum. That’s constantly like, “What is that? Where’s that coming from?” There’s very little we can do to eliminate it. We can try and improve it. If there’s a delta when it’s on, it’s different than when it’s off. That’s something that you should look into and test and do a recording.
Just start recording it and have someone go and turn the heat up a few more degrees so it kicks on while you’re recording. Record an audio and if you want to send it to us, we can evaluate it and say, “That’s an issue.” You could hear it for yourself, “Do you notice it or not?” At the same time, you’re wondering if there is anything we can do about it. We’ll be happy to do a little test at it and put some filters on it and check it out. HVAC is something you want to check into. Most of you are going to use your laptop computer to do your recording as I’m doing this Zoom webinar call. Some computers have a loud fan. I’ve had it happen when I’ve been interviewing a guest. Even using someone else’s computer if I’m often in another location to record something and the fan on the computer will kick on when it gets hot. You’d be surprised depending on where your microphone is in relation to your laptop. It can pick up that fan and that noise can be annoying create some of that white ambient noise that can be hard to deal with. Make sure you’re aware of your computer and get more modern computers that have solid state hard drives so you don’t have the hard drives spinning up much. Maybe you don’t have a fan as much, but I still hear it on a lot of computers.
That’s something you want to be aware of and be prepared for. Whether you can eliminate it or not, at least you can be prepared for it and try to deal with it or learn what else is going on with your computer. You might be able to turn off other background programs and reduce your CPU usage or your hard drive usage going on at that time. Hopefully, while you’re recording, that fan won’t kick on. Think about that as well. Another thing I want to mention, it’s a part of your environment, but it’s more a part of your practices as a podcaster when you’re interviewing somebody. A lot of you may have noticed that in Zencastr, it has the ability for you to type little notes to yourself as you’re recording like, “Somebody coughed.” Make a note of that. You want to take general notes of something that your guest is saying that you want to remember to include in the notes you give us to edit your podcast. Whether it’s something that needs to be edited or it’s just a note for a link or a website or maybe your thought, “I have a photograph of that,” something that the guests talked about. “I want to remember to include that photograph when I upload my episode request so that Brandcasters uses that photograph in the blog post,” and that’s great. You need to make note of that.
What I do not want you to do is to type it on your keyboard. That’s a rookie error and that’s something I would highly recommend you don’t do while you’re interviewing somebody. You may be thinking, “I’m using Zencastr. It is recording a separate track for me than it is from my guest across the internet.” That is true. It should be. We always recommend that the guests should be listening with earbuds so it separates what is coming through their audio output from what’s going in their microphone. Sometimes you’d be surprised that their computer settings are not always perfect and you can’t always control that situation. It can even happen even if you know you have a separate recording. You don’t type while you’re saying something and you’re thinking, “If I’m typing when the guest is talking, that may be okay.” A lot of times, it may be but there are some situations when it won’t be okay.A walk-in closet is an ideal sound booth environment. Click To Tweet
You will hear your typing coming in through your guests recording through their microphone. We cannot eliminate that noise from the recording as much as we would want to. I highly recommend to use a pen or a pencil and have a pad of paper beside you because writing most of the time, that’s quite enough. That’s not going to rise to the level of ambient noise that your mic will pick up. It won’t pick up through your mic or through your guests’ speaker into their mic. It’s highly unlikely. It might be when you are flipping the page. That would even be a noise I would want to avoid. I would highly recommend telling, “Hold on one second James. I’m going to flip my page and I’m going to continue,” that whole section editors can cut that out completely. I highly recommend any notes that you want to take, you write it down with a pen and paper.
Maybe we don’t want to call it ambient noise, but it’s certainly a noise clutter that we don’t want on recordings. We talked about ambient noise, now let’s talk about reflective noise. Here’s where I’m going to have some tips for your actual physical environment. The reflective sound is just what it is. We’re talking not about outside noise created. We’re talking about the sound waves that are coming out of your mouth. In our case, Tracy and I are co-hosts. The sound waves coming out of our mouths are coming out into this environment. They’re being picked up by the microphone, but they are going everywhere. Sound is like a fluid. The air is a fluid and the sound waves are going through it and they’re going everywhere. What you don’t want is for those sound waves to bounce right back at you. It creates an echo and creates a sound quality that is horrible.
The worst possible environment you can be in has a lot of parallel walls and even your orientation within your environment. Even if you had to be in a square room that has parallel walls in front and behind you. If you are sitting in a chair with your face or mouth pointed straight at that wall, that’s the worst situation. It would be better if you could change your orientation to be more angled at an odd angle. It may be not even exactly straight into a corner, but anything that you would think of as off angle and not straight on would be helpful. The worst environment is a square room made of cement or cinder block walls and a tile floor. That is going to be a terrible recording environment that it doesn’t matter if there’s no ambient sound. Even the quality of your own voice and how it’s reflected off of those hard surfaces and comes back to your microphone. Even if you have a good quality microphone, there’s going to be worse than it could be if you move and recorded in a different environment. Let’s say you don’t have an ideal environment.
Let’s say it’s your home office or another room in your home, but you have a home that has hardwood floors and you’ve got a lot of windows on the walls that are beside you or in front of you, what can you do about that? That is an environment that’s going to produce a lot of sound reflection and it’s not going to be ideal. Curtains on windows are a huge help. I’m not asking you to go spend a whole heck of a lot of money changing your entire environment. If you could add some curtains, if pull them across the window while you’re recording, that will do a lot for sound absorption and reducing the amount of reflection that’s going to come back at you. Environments in a real office space or a home environment that have wall-to-wall carpeting are going to be a lot friendlier to a good quality audio recording. A wall-to-wall carpet is recommended. You can find a room that has wall-to-wall carpeting and has a lot of curtains on the walls.
We have a fabric tack board surface. All that stuff pinned up isn’t pinned into the hard wall. We’ve installed in this environment a couple of different fabric wrapped Homasote. It’s a very soft material and even that is going to help absorb sound and reflect less of it than the normal hard wall will. In front of me, I’ve got a long distance to other parts of this office space. There’s a lot of carpets and there’s a lot of sounds absorbing things. Even bookcases in parts of your room with books in them. You might think, “Books are all hard. It’s not soft like fabric or carpet.” That’s true. It’s not, but there are so many little different facets going on between the heights of books and the depth of books and other knickknacks or tchotchkes that you have on your bookcase. All of that is going to absorb and reflect sound in different ways that it won’t bounce right back at your microphone. The more stuff you have in your environment, the better that environment is going to be and the better the sound quality will be.
Building A Recording Studio
I want to tell you a little story about something that happened. I helped my father on a project. My father is a musician and in addition to being a musician, he’s been a music teacher his whole career. When I was in college, he wanted to build a recording studio. This is pre-podcasting. The podcast didn’t even exist yet. He wanted to build a recording studio because he’s a musician and one of the things they were teaching students in his curriculum was about recordings. They would make audio recordings and music tracks and things like that. The environment that he was given at this school was a block wall rectangular room and it was not a good environment. He and I built an actual recording booth. The reason why I mentioned this is I want to share with you what we did to do it on a budget. It could be like a Saturday project or a weekend project for sure if you ever want to do this in your own environment. If you have an environment where you’re going to record most of the time that has a hard-reflective environment for sound, you might want to consider doing something like this.
We built just with some material from your local Home Depot or Lowe’s. It’s a combination of some 2×4 and plywood. If I had a generally hard environment, I’m speaking in this direction toward the camera and you can’t see what’s on the other side of the camera right. Let’s say I have these hard walls and I know I’m going to do most of my recording in this space. I want to set it up so I have a better acoustic environment that’s going to absorb more sound. I can make a little L-shaped structure that is five feet tall so it comes up over my head and goes down to the floor and stands by itself. It’s something I can fold flat and stick in a corner when I don’t need it. When I’m going to record, I’m going to open it up and stick it in front of me.
The sound coming out of my mouth going away from me is not just going to reflect right back when we recorded in my mic. We build a little 2×4 and play with structure. You can get this at Costco. When you buy a large volume of eggs, they have these egg crates that are made out of that same material you might find when you go to Starbucks or any other coffee shop bringing to carry four cups. It’s made out of pressed paper and it’s very soft. It’s very sound absorbing. With the eggs, it’s even better because it holds a dozen eggs and you get this big square thing of egg crate. We just stapled a series of them. My dad worked at a school and it was a school where people lived. They had a cafeteria and all that so they had tons of these egg crates he was able to get for free. We staple them to it or tack them into it. We spray painted them black just so it was all uniform in color. That’s a great sound absorbing surface.Some of the most difficult environments to record is when you’re going to be outdoors or in conference halls. Click To Tweet
Even if you were to put a baffle or a portable structure in front of you that you can speak toward, it’s not going to reflect that sound back. Maybe you want to put a little bit of money on your environment like part of the wall beside you or in front of you, you can buy a 48 pack of these foam wedges or baffles for about $100. It’s a modest investment to be able to put some things in your environment. Maybe it’s just your ceiling over your desk is hard. You don’t have a sound absorbing ceiling, but you could put some of those up on the ceiling above you. You can put them up there with command strips that are removable. It’s going to help absorb some sound in your environment and make it a little better. If you’re going to do this a lot on a regular basis, there are things you can do to improve your environment. If you’d want some suggestions from us, just write to us. Give us a ring. We’ll be happy to talk to you about it.
One more example. Let’s say you had a very special recording you wanted to make and your environment just wasn’t ideal. A lot of homes, especially newer homes, have a walk-in closet. I just want to use that as an example. A walk-in closet is an ideal sound booth environment. Sitting in it may not be all that fun because there are no windows. It’s just clothing hanging all around. All that clothing hanging on the racks around you is going to absorb all the sound. You’ll have almost no reflective sound or whatsoever in that environment. Keep that in mind especially when you’re in someone else’s environment and you need to record something. That may be a good place you could go if you need to record something.
Being On The Road
Let’s talk about being on the road. I know that we travel quite a bit and occasionally we may want to interview somebody while we’re on the road. We need to keep recording while we’re on the road because we’ve got a schedule and we’ve got to keep producing podcasts on regular basis. Let’s talk about environments on the road. Most hotel rooms are not the worst environment in the world to record in. They have a wall-to-wall carpet and the desk that they provide you to record. There’s a bed with a comforter on it. There are pillows in the room. There’s a sofa or some other upholstered chair. This is not the worst environment in the world. I would recommend you don’t sit at the desk right at that wall. You turn yourself to an angle or maybe even away from that wall and speak out toward the bed if you can. You can use that environment and with the software that we’ve trained you all and most of you use and if you bring your nice decent microphone with you on the road and have the little windscreen on it, that’s going to do a lot to help your environment. You maybe want to make sure that the HVAC system at that hotel room is not going to kick on while you’re talking. Hopefully, you can turn it off.
If you can’t turn it off, you may be able to at least change the temperature either up or down so that during the time you’re recording, it won’t turn on. You want to pull the curtains across that window that’s there in that hotel room. There are always heavy drape curtains in a hotel room to block out the lights so you can sleep. A hotel room is not a bad environment. You can use that environment. Even if you might need to bring them into the room and both of you are talking into one mic, that wouldn’t be the worst situation in the world. I know some of you do that. I’ve done that. It can work well. Some of the most difficult environments to record is when you’re going to be outdoors or in conference halls. If you’re out at a conference or an event at a hotel that’s in a big ballroom with a lot of people, then you’re going to have that ambient noise problem in all those situations. We have a different video within our video series about using different recording equipment on the road. Some of you have purchased some recording equipment so you can record on the road. There are certain settings with those where you can record outdoors and change the settings so that the ambient noise is not a big factor and it isn’t recorded as much.
Guest Prep Recommendations
I would encourage you to check out some of those other videos. If you’re interested in purchasing that type of equipment, reach out to us and let us know. We can help you with that. If you’re going to do a lot of that type of recording, it might be a good idea. The modern equipment and software do a lot to help you. The worst part is your guests that you can’t control their environment. We’ve provided each of you with guest prep recommendations that you can email them ahead of time to have the best environment. Making sure their equipment is being used in the best way possible to make their recording the best quality it can be. Some guests, you’re going to record in this audio is fantastic. Maybe they are already a podcaster or maybe they just happen to have the right environment. Other times you’re going to have to deal with environments that are not ideal in recording conditions for your guests.
As long as it’s not super annoying like an ambulance going by the open window, as long as you’re not going to have that type of stuff, your audience for will accept the guest having an environment and a recording quality that is less than ideal. Especially if what they’re talking about is a great subject or the information you’re sharing with them is a value. They’ll forgive some recording environment that’s not ideal to the extent that you can prepare in your guests. Hopefully, they read the prep email and do prep ahead of time to the extent that you can prep them and take a little time at the beginning of your call to try and improve it. If it’s not ideal, it would go a long way to making for a better recording. That’s another thing that we do.
When we book a recording for a podcast, we book an hour of time with them on our calendar and their calendar. That is not that we expect to record them for a solid hour. Most of our interviews would range from 25 to 45 minutes. That’s what we allow for and we don’t predetermine the length of an interview. Most of the time that will cover it for us. We let the interview go as long as it needs to until it feels complete to us. If you book an hour of time, it allows you a good ten to fifteen minutes when you connect with your guests over Zoom or Skype to be able to troubleshoot any technical problems. Whether it’s getting them connected to Zencastr or making sure they have the right microphone setting chosen in their Zencastr or Skype software or in Zoom, some of those technical things. You want a little time to work that out.
If you have a bad environment situation and you need to improve it for recording, you’ve got to do right there whether it’s you and your environment. Let’s say in the hotel room or anywhere that you might be, even going and getting an extra towel from the bathroom or a blanket and draping it over the desk that your computer and mic is on or dripping it in your lap. You can even throw a blanket over your head and over your computer. That is going to absorb sound and keep it from reflecting back at you. It will stop it before it gets to a hard-concrete wall. There are some ninja tactics if you’ve got to get that recording done and you got a bad environment, if you’ve got a towel or a blanket, you can change that environment and create a decent recording in an unfortunate environment. Keep that in mind.Plan your space. Make it the best it can be. It's going to make the quality of your show sound better. Click To Tweet
If you do have any questions or anything you’re wondering about, just reach out to us at Brandcasters by email or whatever method you prefer. We’ll be happy to answer some questions about that environment. Especially if you’re new to this, you can figure out an environment that is going work for you on a regular basis. I had a new Brandcaster coming on board with us. On a Skype call, we were talking on a different subject, but I noticed in his environment and I mentioned it to him like, “You’ve got a lot of tack boards on the wall in this room and your audio sounds good.” He was just talking to me on his iPad at the time. It’s just the mic on his iPad. I was like, “This sounds good.” I said, “Are you going to record in this environment?” He says, “I hadn’t thought about it, but I certainly can. This is in my office. It’s a room in my office that I come to. It’s got a lot of soft material on the walls.” I said, “It sounds a great environment, even without a good mic so you might want to use that environment.”
Planning Your Space
Thinking about your environment, planning your space, you can always improve it, make it the best it can be. It’s going to make the quality for you show sound better. It makes it easier for our audio engineers to edit and produce the best quality audio for you, which your guests are going to enjoy. If any of you have not listened to the Feed Your Brand podcast episode featuring Athena Rosette as the guest, she is someone we helped to train in podcasting. She is very sensitive to the audio quality of her podcasts. If that’s an area of interest for you, you might go listen to that interview. It was a great interview and I didn’t even realize how sensitive she had become too good quality audios. You can see what happens to somebody who’s almost two years in, who cares about the quality of the recordings of their podcasts. You can hear the things that she does to make sure that the quality of her show is the best it can be.
A lot of it is about the environment. She even talks about some other things that we’re talking about. She also talks about some other things now that bother her when she listens to other podcasts that are not done as well as hers. That can be an illuminating interview for you to listen if you haven’t already. I hope you’re getting something good out of it. This is a great opportunity for you to ask questions. This is just something we’re doing to try to provide some more value to you, our customers. I hope you found it useful and valuable. Hopefully, you will be able to make your environment the best it can be so that we can continue to make your podcast audio the absolute best professional sounding audio it can be. If you have any questions, reach out to us. Do not forget to check out the Feed Your Brand podcast. If you’re not already subscribed to that, I highly recommend you do. Every week we go over subjects that should be likely of interest to any of you that are podcasting and brandcasting with us, as well as others who are not yet podcasting. Check that out. I’ll talk to you next time. Thanks so much for participating.