Better Audio for Your Zoom Calls and Mobile Videos

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Like you, I’ve been recording more “selfie” mobile videos and participating in more recorded Zoom webinars than ever. What I know from my work as a professional video producer is that better audio leads to better online engagement. People may forgive some wobbly video, but if the content is good and they can hear you clearly, they’ll stick with you. Have poor audio? Forget it. So here are a few tips from my last 60 days of remote recording. Wired mics have always avoided interference best, and can come at a fairly low price point for the home user. Producer Nicki Sun recommends the Power DeWise wired lav mic which runs at about $40. iPhone video consultant Kim Foley recommends customized solutions to her clients, including the Mosotech Omnidirectional Condenser Lavalier Mic, which at the moment is priced under $20. (Remember you may need adapters for iPhones.) If you can go up a bit in price, you can get good quality for less than $80 with the Rode Smart Lav/Condenser . If you need distance from your mobile device or computer, then wireless is the way to go. I just bought the Saramonic Blink500, which works with mobile phones, computers and tablets and cost about $200. It comes with a transmitter you can clip on your belt, and a receiver that plugs directly into your phone (available for Android and iOS).  I’m also a fan of the Samson Go Mic Mobile package, which gives you a wireless direct-to-mobile signal for under $200. If you are more often seated in front of your computer and want a podcaster-style setup, consider the Rode NT-USB podcast mic, which runs about $250. For significantly less, the Blue Snowball gives a decent sound–I just used mine to give a series of webinars on Zoom.

Blue mic works well for podcasts

Other Pro Tips for Better Sound From Home

If you are recording audio that really matters–say for a podcast or to be the recorded on your computer for a video, avoid hard surfaces and noisy appliances. That includes your computer, which has a fan that can affect your sound. Some talent who record professional voiceovers will go as far as recording inside a closet or anywhere with dampened sound such as a carpeted hallway if they cannot be in a sound booth.  When using VOIP (Skype, Zoom, any Voice Over Internet Protocol system) to record an interview, my friend producer Walter Biscardi recommends using e-Camm recorder software with Skype, and then making a backup audio recording direct to a digital audio recorder, such as the Zoom h4n. If you don’t have access to these tools, that’s OK. You can at least increase the data rate of the recording you make inside the VOIP system. On Zoom, that means checking the box that says “Enable HD” and “Optimize for Third Party Editor” whenever you are planning to record your session.  This greatly improves the data rate, and therefore the quality of the recording. My colleague and tech guru Rich Harrington, CEO of RHED Pixel, recommends making a “double ender” recording–in other words, not just the cloud recording that Zoom will make for you, but asking someone else on the call to hit their record button and make a local recording. Note that these video files will oddly be auto-saved into a folder under Documents (but at least it’s labeled Zoom!).

More tips to come on making mobile video and Zoom recordings. In the meantime, if you want more audio tips for your professional video productions, check out my new book Sound and Story in Nonfiction Film and Video.

 

 

Going Virtual With Video

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Covid-19 has entered all our worlds  with a bang. Many of us are having to rework existing workflows–which were only partially virtual or cloud-based–and develop entirely virtual processes and end-products.  Here are some key things to know as you transition to all-virtual.

The blue mic works well for podcasts

1) Streaming video requires excellent audio. If you are going to spend money, put it into microphones that will do he job right. You want to acquire 48kHz audio (24 bit). When you stream, your CDN may compress the files, so it’s

Mevo streaming setup is an affordable option

even more important to start with the best quality. If you’re hosting a podcast, consider the Blue Snowball microphone, that is easy to set up on a home desktop. If you are looking for an all-in-one 4K streaming option, for example for a worship service, wedding or meeting that now must be hosted virtually, take a look at the Mevo, and all-in-one system that allows recording in 4K, streaming in HD, on-board audio or the option to add an outside source, and even some mobile phone-based video editing capabilities.

2) Now’s a great time to dig into your photo and video archive. Since you won’t be able to capture new content out in the field, be sure you have tagged and identified source materials that can be repurposed to tell your story. Pull together folders of clips that can be repurposed to deliver messages about your mission, products or services.

3) Transcribe interviews. If you haven’t already, now’s a great time to get those old video interviews transcribed. You can cut them up into new videos, add quotes to your website or e-newsletters, and spice up your website with personal impact stories. Online services like Rev and Noble Transcription make it easy and affordable, all from your virtual work-at-home office.

We’re all in this together. Watch this space for more tips for building virtual community.

Why Silence Belongs in Your #Video

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Heinz History Center: Sound engineers record on the original    Mr Rogers set

I had trepidation about seeing “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.” I worried no one could play Mr. Rogers, even the gifted Tom Hanks. I worried the film would be a treacly portrait with too many kid scenes.  Luckily, I was dead wrong. The film works in large part because director Marielle Heller tackles the same darkness Rogers was willing to examine with and for children. Hanks was brilliant. And Chris Cooper—one of my favorite character actors–should be nominated for a Best Supporting Actor for his nuanced rendition of a hard-living father trying to reconnect with his son.

The thing that really struck me in this film was its respect for Silence. Silence was an important part of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. It’s what made some people hate the show: those pregnant pauses where he looks at the camera, waiting for small children to consider what he has just said. The silences in the film were, of course, not entirely silent. (Beautiful sound design by

Cheryl Ottenritter (Otthouse Audio) and I collaborating on a sound mix.

Damian Volpe and team that will likely go unnoticed by an Academy who loves to reward explosions and bone-crunching in soundtracks.) If you haven’t seen the film yet, listen for the barely noticeable ticking of a clock in the background of a tense scene between Rogers and Lloyd Vogel, played by Matthew Rhys of “The Americans” fame. Or the very gradually building silence in their meeting at a restaurant, where clattering cutlery, conversations and shuffling feet of waiters gradually come to a pause while Rogers and Vogel share a moment of silence before a meal.

Working in short form nonfiction as I do, there’s often little patience for silence. Short form videos are often limited to under 3 minutes. They’re designed to engage a hyper-busy audience and connect them to a community, a cause, and a brand. But as my co-author and sound designer Cheryl Ottenritter and I say in our new book, Nonfiction Sound and Story for Film and Video (Routledge), it’s critical to “fight for the silences.” They can make a story work. When stringing soundbites together, find a moment where the story arc turns and put in a beat of silence instead. When laying in your music tracks, consider a break from music entirely so the audience can refocus on the story. Rather than inserting a voiceover telling the entire story, create moments where natural sync sound or wild sound can be layered into a scene to help support the story.

Sound is more than half of every video. And silence should be part of that soundscape. Silence is what, in many ways, made Mr. Rogers’ video work unique.  It can elevate your work, too.

Amy DeLouise is a video producer/director and the co-author of the new book Nonfiction Sound and Story for Film and Video: A Practical Guide for Filmmakers and Digital Content Creators (Routledge). Use code HUM19 for a 20% discount at checkout!