29 things: the basics of how to record audio

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With the advent of podcasts recording audio became part of PR people’s arsenal. I thought I would start this off with some generalities of audio recording, mostly gained from experiences in DJ’ing and helping on dance music productions much earlier in my career.

You are only as good as your source. Technology can provide you with a faithful recording of a sound, but it may record more than you want it to. Our brains are the best signal processing technology that money can buy so sounds that we ordinarily ignore become apparent when we listen to a good quality recording. So if you are recording a Skype or a phone conversation you are likely to have a compressed sound and likely digital artifacts from the network and telephony signal processing.

If you are in a room, there is all kinds of ambient sounds you may not even realise that external traffic or nearby railway lines may have a starring role in your production. Remember to switch fans and air-conditioning equipment off. Professional recording studios are designed as a room-within-a-room to isolate the source of ambient noise as much as protect the neighbours from drum solos and hollering.

KISS – keep-it-simple-stupid. The more complicated you make things, the easier it is to mess-up. With sound recording it also means that you are more likely to add artifacts to the recording.

Sound capture: There are two types of sound that you can capture, sound that occurs inside your computer, for instance a Skype call and sound ‘in the real world’.  Internal sound is relatively easy to capture. I particularly like Rogue Amoeba’s Audio Hijack Pro – and the price unlike the software is suitably amateur budget at 32 USD.

In terms of getting the sound into the computer, you need a microphone and some sort of way of getting the sound in. If you have an MP3 recorder that is fine, otherwise companies like Behringer, Blue Microphones or Alesis do good microphones that will plug directly into the USB socket of a computer.

Setting up a USB microphone is generally pretty easy on a Mac, go into settings, sound, select your microphone for audio input and you should be able to check your sound level.

Microphone types: if you want to speak into the mic and get recorded you want a unidirectional setting, if you want to pick up a wider field of noise you want an omnidirectional setting. Generally on USB mics this can be changed with a switch.

One of the simplest ways to record audio is to use Garageband which comes on Apple Mac computers and laptops. I also like Audacity an open source audio recording and editing application.

The tricky part is the content, finding something compelling to say and moving the audience along with you.

Posts in this series

29 things: the basics of how to record audio

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29 things: how to tweet

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29 things: how to organise a PR account

29 things: how to embed pictures and video

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29 things: how to manage your communications platform

29 things for PR people

This was the post that started it all: 29 not-very-technical things that every PR person should know