How to Get Perfect Sounding Dialog for Your Video Marketing Productions
Let’s face it… We’ve all watched videos with dialog that is hard to understand. Whether it’s muddy, harsh, noisy, or simply buried beneath music, one thing is certain: It is distracting.
Unfortunately, when a viewer is distracted by blemished audio, they are not paying full attention to the video they are watching, and likely missing some or all of the message that is supposed to be conveyed.
Depending on the type of video you are producing for your marketing, hard-to-understand dialog can be absolutely detrimental to how effectively your message is broadcasted to the viewer. For instance, if you are producing a video that features a subject explaining how to do a specific task, it is imperative that the dialog be crystal clear so that the viewer can absorb the information quickly and completely, especially if there is no written transcript or bullet-points displayed.
In my last blog article on The Spark, I discussed some of the basic equipment you will need to get started recording audio for your next video production.
In this follow up artcle, I’d like to go over some basic tips for recording and editing dialog to ensure the viewers of your videos are not distracted and are getting the full message you are attempting to broadcast.
Getting viewers to click on your video is the hard part, so make sure you don’t overlook the easy part of making it sound great.
Put Good In, Get Good Out
The best way to ensure you end up with great sounding dialog in your video is to capture great sounding dialog. I know… that sounds a little facetious, but trust me, it is true. If you take the time to learn about the equipment you are using, set it up correctly, and double-check to make sure everything is connected and working properly, you will save time and prevent complications and headaches down the road.
If you are using the combination of a microphone and an audio interface with built in preamps, this process should be fairly simple. First thing’s first: make sure it is all connected the way it should be.
Your microphone and audio interface most likely have XLR connections. XLR cables are very easy to find at any music store or online, and they are relatively inexpensive. Connect one end to the mic and one end to the interface and you should be getting a solid signal. Congratulations, you’re well on your way to recording!
The next step in the process will be determining where you want to place your microphone. If you are using a lavalier mic, this will most likely be on the subject’s tie or collar area. For a shotgun mic, I would recommend putting it on a stand pointed at the subject. Like I mentioned in my first blog, shotgun mics are very sensitive and very directional. They will pick up sound from where you are pointing them and reject sound from where you are not.
This means if your subject will be walking or moving around a lot in your video production, you may want to consider having someone actually hold the shotgun mic and follow them or choosing a different type of microphone altogether.
Finally, if you are using a handheld or podium style mic, placement should be pretty straightforward.
Place the microphone in front of the subject. The closer you can get it without the mic obstructing the video shot, the better. For these style microphones, I would highly recommend using a windscreen, even if you are recording inside. It will lessen the effect of plosive sounds when your subject pronounces their p’s and b’s.
The last step in making sure you are ready to record is setting your levels. If you are using an audio interface with built in preamps, there will be knob to set the level. Make sure your microphone is placed where you want it and ask your subject to speak in the same tone and volume that they will be when you are shooting the video.
When setting your levels, you want to give yourself enough headroom so that if the subject emphasizes a word or syllable more than you are expecting, it will not overload the preamp. We call this “clipping” when recording digitally, and it is not a desirable sound. Aim for about -12dB – -18dB for average levels, with peaks no higher than -6dB. This should ensure a clear recording, free from any clipping.
There are more steps to come in editing and mixing the recordings, but if you have spent the time to do all of this correctly, you should be well on your way to great sounding dialog in your video. When it comes to recording, it is imperative that you capture the best recording you possibly can. It will save you valuable time and energy down the road. Don’t let anyone tell you, “we can fix it in the mix.”!
Think Inside the Box
The next step in making your dialog sound great for your video production is to edit it and clean it up using your software of choice. We call this working “in the box.” Using a dedicated Digital Audio Workstation, or DAW, such as Pro Tools, Logic Pro, or Adobe Audition to edit your dialog is ideal. These programs are specifically laid out to make editing audio as quick and intuitive as possible. That being said, most video editing software features basic audio editing capabilities. It may not be as fast or easy as using a DAW, but it should provide you with the tools you need to get the dialog sounding right for your video production.
Removing audio flaws
When editing dialog, the first thing I would consider doing is removing any clicks, pops, or unwanted sounds coming from the subject, such as breaths. The best way to do this is to listen… sounds pretty easy right?
When you hear any sounds you don’t want in your final production, simply duck the volume down for that moment. This sounds arduous, but with a little practice it is quite easy. With the automation tools in DAW’s or video editing software, you can essentially draw in the change of volume wherever you want it in the clip. And remember, always use a quick fade-in or fade-out at the beginning and end of any audio clips. This will prevent any short clicks that can be very annoying to the listener if not addressed.
The next step in editing dialog is the make sure the levels are consistent throughout the clip. Again, I would start with automating the volume. If you hear any drastic changes in volume, or see them when looking at the waveform, automate the volume of the clip for those moments in order to level it out and make it more consistent. After automating, I would consider using a leveling compressor on the clip. A compressor is a tool used to reduce the volume of a clip by a user-set amount when it passes a user-set threshold. The effect of a compressor is subtle, but it is a very important tool. When used too drastically, however, it can have a very negative effect on the audio. I’d advise using a compressor carefully and looking for a gain-reduction of about -6dB when working on dialog.
Importance of equalization
Finally, when you are happy with the volume of your dialog, I would advise using some subtle equalization on the clip. An equalizer is tool that allows you to boost, cut, or filter out any audio frequencies you would like. Again, this is a tool that does amazing things when used carefully, but when used too extremely, can do more harm than good. As a basic rule, I would filter out any frequencies below 80-90 Hertz when working with a male voice, and 90-100 Hertz when working with a female voice. Anything below these frequencies is unusable and will do nothing but make your dialog muddier and harder to understand.
Recording and editing dialog may seem like a daunting task at first glance, but I can assure you, if you follow these steps it is an extremely engaging and rewarding process. There is a lot to learn when getting started in the world of audio.
There are new skills to practice and new terms to learn, but remaining patient and putting some time into these skills will undoubtably pay off in the end when your next video production delivers your message to the audience in a clear and effective way through the use of crisp, clear, and flawless audio.
As audio engineering assistant, Trevor Stull gives a boost to Granite Creative’s video and animation production team. Trevor works hard to ensure each finished video project meets the highest standards of quality while also assisting the team during on-set and on-location video productions, aiding in camera and lighting setup and tear down, as well as recording crisp, clean audio.