If you’re planning to produce an audio essay or to provide audio narration for a visual project, read the following tips.
** ALWAYS DO A TEST RECORDING FIRST **
I can’t stress enough how important this is. Before you record your transcript, do a very short test. Record yourself saying something like “testing 1 2 3” and listen to it, just to make sure everything’s working and you haven’t inadvertently turned down the internal mic volume or turned on an echo effect or something like that. You’ll wish you’d done the short test if you record your entire transcript and discover that the mic wasn’t working!
REDUCE BACKGROUND SOUNDS
Choose a quiet, small, and well-insulated place to record your audio, such as the inside of your car or inside a closet with the door closed. Make sure there are no distracting background noises, like dishwashers, people talking, and so on. Also be sure to avoid making noises yourself, such a rocking back and forth in your chair, shuffling papers, or tapping your fingers on the table.
To avoid having your computer’s internal fan come on and disrupt your recording, restart your computer and open only the audio recording application and the word processing application that contains the text you’ll be reading from.
USE AN EXTERNAL MIC
I highly recommend investing in an external mic, as even the least expensive one available will be better than your laptop’s internal mic. An external mic also won’t pick up your computer’s sounds (like the fan or the clicking of keyboard keys).
CU students and faculty can borrow a mic from the Digital Media Lab in ATLAS. For details, contact: Tim Riggs
If you plan to make other audio recordings in the future, however, and if you have the funds available, I recommend investing in the purchase of a good mic now.
Cheaper: A headset like you’d use for Skype or video chat is likely to work better than your computer’s internal mic. These are relatively cheap (under $30).
Better: Dedicated mics (without earphones) will produce better quality but are more expensive (from $30 to over $100). Some plug into your computer’s mic jack, while others plug into a USB port. Look up the specs on your computer to see which kind will work for you. Generally the USB mics produce better quality and work on a larger variety of devices.
You can find headsets and mics at Best Buy or WalMart as well as online.
Tip on Using an External Mic: Once you plug in the mic, you should see it as an option in whatever app you’re using to record audio, or you can select it in your system settings. On a Mac, open the System Preferences panel on the Dock, click on Sound, click on Input, and select the external mic. You may have to fiddle with settings or look up info on the web to get the mic to work the first time.
POSITION THE MIC APPROPRIATELY
If you’re using the computer’s internal mic, position yourself so that your mouth is about a foot away from it. You may need to use Google to find out where the mic is located on your particular model of laptop.
If you’re using an external mic, the mic should be about a hand’s width away from your mouth and slightly above it, so that the mic doesn’t pick up puffs of air when you speak (esp. when you use words that start with “p”).
CHECK YOUR SETTINGS
Make sure your microphone’s internal volume is turned up to an appropriate level. On a Mac, you can do this on the System Preferences panel, under Sound, on the Input section.
NOTE: the internal mic volume is NOT the same thing as the speaker volume. Changing the speaker volume will have no impact on the recording volume!
If you want to record with an external mic, make sure it’s plugged in and has been selected as the input source in the system settings and/or the app you’re using to record.
Always give the title of your project, followed by your name, before you start delivering your essay or presentation or telling your story. Remember that even though you know who’s speaking, no one else will know unless you identify yourself.
USE A NATURAL STYLE
Speak in a natural voice, as though you were telling your story to a friend rather than reading an essay out loud. If you have trouble with this, that might very well mean you need to rewrite the essay in a more conversational style. (In fact, this might provide helpful insight into how to improve the rhythm of your writing in general.)
Take particular care to avoid sounding sing-songy, which happens if you speak each sentence with the same rhythm pattern, such as always ending sentences on an upward note. Also try to avoid sounding like you’re exhausted, bored, sick, or drunk, or like you aspire to be a preacher. Those are sure ways to make listeners reach for the stop button!
If you naturally talk fast, be especially careful not to talk too fast while recording your audio narration as you run the risk of losing your listeners. That’s particularly true in the beginning, when listeners are just getting used to the sound of your voice and getting oriented to your story.
Pause a few beats between sentences and a few beats more between paragraphs, to give listeners a chance to catch up. Also leave a few seconds of “quiet” on the recording at the beginning and end, to accommodate transitions and exporting. In other words, if you start speaking the instant you hit “record,” you’re likely to lose the first few words.
Remember that the goal of rhetorically effective audio or audiovisual communication is to keep your viewers’ attention. If viewers have to stop and rewind to catch what you said more than once, they’re likely to just stop watching.
DON’T WEAR OUT YOUR VOICE
Record your audio in sections rather than all at one time. For example, record the introduction section and then pause or stop the recording. Get up and get a drink of water, stretch, clear your throat, or whatever.
Then return and record the next section. Pause or stop the recording and take another break. And so on. That way your voice won’t get tired and you won’t start to sound rushed or bored towards the end of your recording.
If you’re using GarageBand or another app that allows you to easily start recording where you previously left off, you might stop (rather than pause) between sections, which will create separate “bubbles” for each unit of recording. These can be moved around as needed and can be separated slightly if you want to add a short musical transition in between segments of your narration.
Audacity starts new recordings back at the beginning, which makes it a bit of a pain to create gaps between segments, but it can be done by moving the new recording to the right so that it starts where the previous one ends.
BORROW TIPS FROM AUDIOBOOKS & RADIO STORIES
These articles have tips for delivering compelling audio narrative:
- “Mo’ better radio” — article about radio storytelling principles used by Ira Glass for NPR’s famous This American Life show.
- Make Radio — article on the This American Life site about making great radio essays
Also browse the audiobooks on Audible.com that have high ratings for performance and listen to a few free samples. Take note of what you find most appealing about the way those narrators deliver the written word in audio format.