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How to Boost Audio Quality to Make Your Content More Effective

Video gets a lot of play in content marketing and social media, so much so that audio is like a neglected stepsister. The time is ripe for her to break out and claim her rightful place in your content marketing world, and here’s why:

1) Get big rewards for a little extra effort

Pay just a little more attention to the audio portion of content creation, and you’ll see a big difference in your content’s overall production value. Recently, I participated in a roundtable discussion at Podcamp Toronto 2011 , and one speaker said that higher production value is becoming more important in social media, to the point that it can make or break a bid for sponsors.

2) Be nice to your audience

Our brains work hard to process sound, much harder than they do to process images. Enhancing audio quality makes it easier for your audience to tune into your content and remember information. The longer the run-time of the piece, the more important its quality. After all, you want people to feel invigorated, not fatigued, by your content.

3) Stand out in a sea of content

On the Web, multimedia content is virtually everywhere and it varies enormously in quality, which partly explains the rise of content curation or “selection of worthwhile content.” Good audio makes your content stand out in a sea of unremarkable content.

What affects audio quality and what can you do about it?

Let’s examine one recording scenario – an audio-only podcast series.

You can record an audio podcast series at your office, but I recommend that you do not use the microphone (mic) built into your computer.

  • Background noise, like the whirr of computer fans, hallway chatter and clatter, and sounds from the street outside, makes some words difficult for your listeners to hear.
  • Weak and distant sound is the typical result of using an on-board computer mic, like the sound of your voice when you speak into a telephone receiver held away from your mouth. Listeners shouldn’t have to get used to hearing people speak off mic.
  • Reverberation as sound bounces from hard surfaces such as walls, windows, ceilings and floors, cancels out some frequencies. Audio quality deteriorates further when problems like reverberation occur together with background noise.

The alternative to a built-in microphone is an external microphone, with three main options.

  • Option one – use a microphone held on a stand and speak into it from a distance of about six inches. This solution is good if you’re recording in a room with little reverberation or background noise, and one person is being recorded.
  • Option two – use a headband microphone, which is a good idea if your room has reverberation or background noise, and one person is being recorded. Keep the microphone slightly to the side rather than directly in front of your mouth. This way, you won’t pick up so much of your breathing or produce ‘pops’ when you pronounce words with the letter ‘p’.
  • Option three – use a wired microphone held by hand, which is useful when you’re interviewing someone face to face. Hold the microphone no more than six inches from your mouth, then hold it the same distance from the other party’s mouth when they speak. As you move the microphone around, a lot of noise can travel from the cable up into the microphone, but you can avoid this by coiling the cable once and holding it like so:

You could use additional mics for recording two or more people but this requires mixing audio signals.

Right now, hold your hand six inches from your mouth and say “pop” or “pub”, and you can feel the breath on your skin. Whether you’re using a hand-held mic or a mic on a stand, consider placing a windscreen (a foam cover) on the mic to minimize this effect. If pops still occur, move the mic slightly off center.

How quiet is quiet?

  1. The secret sauce of good audio recording is a quiet room. If you’re unsure of whether the noise in your recording environment will be intrusive, do this simple test:Record yourself speaking for fifteen seconds and continue recording for another fifteen seconds without speaking.
  2. Play the test audio for yourself through headphones or ear buds, adjusting the playback volume so your voice is at a comfortable listening level. This is your reference level: it doesn’t tell you if your voice was recorded at the correct level, but it does tell you how noisy the room is.

Why is this test important? Your brain naturally filters out noisy distractions, but a microphone doesn’t. It records everything. By recording and playing back what the microphone “hears” you can judge background noise accurately.

Advice from the masters

I sometimes work on projects with my husband, an award-winning British film and TV sound editor. He has recorded hundreds of famous voices like those of Dame Judi Dench, Ralph Fiennes and John Cleese. I’ve learned that producing good audio content is a matter of using the equipment you have as effectively as possible. Regardless of your budget, with know-how and ingenuity, you can produce content that’s a pleasure for your audience to tune into again and again.