Signal is good, and noise is bad – or at least secondary.
When we record with a strong signal and low noise, we find the sweet spot. A recording studio is a perfect place for maximising this, but since most of us use a corner of our room, a studio level of silence can feel strange compared to the locations we use for recording. However, we can make the best of wherever we are with a few checks and a little post-production.
Record the sound of silence – get some ‘room tone’.
This is the noise floor – the background level when nothing is happening. It can also give us some near silence to copy and paste into the gaps we create when editing. Doing so is usually more natural to the ears than digital silence. Check the level of the noise floor in dB
TIP: Record 10-15 seconds at the beginning of your session, but remember to trim this off when you have finished editing
Record at a level to avoid clipping
Aim for -12dB – which still leaves some headroom for laughter and enthusiasm.
Note the general recorded level compared to the background. How does it look? This is your signal and noise. The ratio is the difference between the two figures – high numbers are good.
If you have a lot of noise, it interferes with your signal – at best distracting your listener and at worst making you unintelligible. (Think coffee shop with safe distancing, compared to those noisy parties or clubs we used to be able to go to)
Good background noise
Some background noise may be wanted for ambience – back to the coffee shop and that friendly ‘burble’. Choose your recording level and mic position carefully, or record the background separately and mix it later.
Steady background noise
Examples would be a computer fan, air conditioning, or a fridge (not that you would record in your kitchen of course 😉 ). Sometimes there is a background electrical hum from the power cables or lights – usually a particular frequency plus harmonics (eg 50Hz in the UK 60Hz in the US). To fix this, you will need to explore the spectral frequency display and removing specific frequencies.
Avoid getting background noise into your recording if you can. Use noise reduction tools or plugins in post-production if you have to. The details vary with software, but the principle is to get the background noise profile and then remove it from the whole recording. Some care is needed to avoid interfering with good signal, such as voice.
If you have a good signal to noise ratio but some background hiss, or other distraction, you can exclude this using a noise gate – it blocks lower-level audio (noise) and only lets through the higher level (signal). To get the desired result will require a lot of experimenting with settings (threshold, attack and hold). You can appreciate why a good separation between signal and noise is preferable.
If the noise level is not too high, you can use a music bed to mask the background noise. While it will not work for everything, this cosmetic subterfuge is helpful to know for shorter pieces.
Develop your skills
Over time, our ears get used to recognising the best signal to noise ratio and learning the technical solutions can keep your message even clearer.
Something to see
A series of 10 short videos – Podcasting 101 from PRX and the Google Podcasts creator program. Great refresher to keep you focused on the right things.
Something to hear
Pat Flynn interviews Tim Ferris back in the early days but still relevant – SPI 110: Tim Ferriss on Podcasting, Productivity, Experimentation, and if He Had to Start Over
Something to read
The 2021 Infinite Dial study released in March indicates that Americans are spending more time, week-to-week, listening online. For brands, this means that they should be spending more time there too.
Did you know?
On Air Fest
There is a free to subscribe 3-day streaming event 8-10 April – On Air Fest is for people invested in and inspired by the art of audio. Amazing line up including Terry Gross. https://2021.onairfest.com/
A new round of Akimbo’s Podcasting Workshop (where I serve as Head Coach) is about to start – registration from 6th April and first lesson 12th April. Check it out to see if it fits what you need. https://akimbo.com/thepodcastingworkshop
Or if you are looking for 1-1 coaching, contact me now.