Introduction to recording audio

This page gives tips on recording sound, including some potential issues to be aware of.

There are a range of ways to record audio – from the smartphone in your pocket (perhaps) to digital recorders, microphones and laptops, to fully kitted out recording studios. Basically, the equipment you use should be appropriate to what you want the audio for – and appropriate to how you’re going to be doing the recording (e.g. using a smartphone may be the easiest way of recording whilst ‘on the move’).

However, there are also a range of challenges in recording audio, which may mean you don’t get the result you want. Remember: If you have a bad audio recording to begin with, you won’t be able to ‘make it good’ in the edit. You should consider from the beginning what kind of equipment you’ll need, and anticipate some of the audio recording challenges you’ll be likely to face.

 

Potential issues in sound recording

Noisy environments

You might want to do some audio recording in a busy environment – say, by doing an interview in a cafe, or approaching random people on the street for some vox pops. Noisy environments are challenging, because they – surprise, surprise – have a lot of background noise, often making it hard to make out what the person you’re interviewing is saying. You can get around this to an extent by using the right type of equipment – like microphones which are ‘focused’ on a small area (directional mics, or lapel mics). You could also choose a location that is less noisy.

 

Windy conditions

Wind could be included under ‘noisy environments’ but it’s worth considering on its own. A gust of wind at the wrong moment might mean that a crucial point made in your interview is lost to the listener – and you don’t want that. Like with other noisy environments, you could see whether there is a place that is more sheltered (and hence less windy) where you could carry out your recording. You can also use a protector on a microphone (if you are using one), which you’ve probably seen before – see photo for example. Sometimes, people will simply put a sock on a microphone to muffle the turbulence of wind. In rainy conditions, we’ve even heard of people putting a condom over the microphone, under the protector, to keep it watertight!

Photo: Using a protector on a microphone can help muffle unwanted gusts of wind. (Source: Wikimedia)

 

People talking at the same time

Have you ever listened to a debate on radio where everybody is trying to make a point at the same time and talking over each other? The result is invariably that the listener can’t make out what people are saying. This issue is really about the way you manage your interviews – if you find this kind of situation developing, you could interrupt the group and ask particular people to make their points in turn.

 

People waffling

Even if the person you are interviewing is very knowledgeable, it’s possible for them to drift off-topic, or to start waffling. This isn’t always a problem, since you can often edit out the bits you don’t want at the editing stage. However, it can happen that the interviewee will make a good point in the middle of a load of waffle – which means that their voice may be higher or lower at the the point at which you need to begin your edit selection. It’s often useful to get the person to repeat a point they’ve just made, so that you can use the interview more flexibly.

You can also help make an interview go better by prepping the interviewees, before you start asking questions, about what kinds of things would be useful to know from them. (You can do this without influencing or biasing the answers they give to your questions!) Setting out expectations from the beginning can be very useful.

 

Popping p’s

Certain sounds often cause problems in audio recording – particularly ‘p’ sounds. This is to do with air being forced at the microphone. You can get around this by not placing the microphone directly in front of the person’s mouth, or, if you are to do this, by using some sort of protective guard that shields the mic from a burst of sound (just like with wind – see above).

 

Resources

See the video below. It’s 13 minutes long – you don’t have to watch the full thing – but there are some useful tips here.