How do you get better audio?

FaceDisgrace

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I'm a gaming channel, and I'm constantly trying to get my audio to sound better like you hear in more successful channels. Although my audio has improved dramatically since I started, I feel it's still not quite to the professional level I'm trying to reach. I record audio separate in Audacity and edit it like this:
>EQ
>Compression (4-1 ratio is the only thing I've changed from the default settings here)
>Normalization (-3.0 db)
>Normalize any highs or lows that stick out too much after
>Noise Gate
Anybody have any tips on how to improve? I have no training in this area other than some very basic knowledge of EQ. Using a Blue Yeti Mic with a sleeve pop filter. Record at 48000hz
 

Mello Fello's

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Bro I just spent the last 2 hours trying to improve my audio. So I hope people really answer your question, bc in in the same boat.
 
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Dig

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I mean it all depends on what's available to you, and what qualifies as "professional" to your ears. Audio is a quite tricky thing to reign in, and a general understanding of what's "good enough" will probably be the most beneficial thing, since you can always (and I mean always) do "better". Now I write my own music and I sing, so dealing with vocals is a pretty regular occurrence for me, and probably to a degree that you'll never really have to bother with. But I'm gonna go ahead and lay out every layer when it comes to getting a good sound, in hopes that you'll find something useful that can help you along your way. Again, many of these things you might never really have to do, or may serve very little benefit, but all I can do is share my own experience, I've never done gaming commentary, just music. This might get a bit extensive, so please bear with me :)

K, so the first step on your voice's journey to its final form on the video is, well, coming out of your mouth :laugh2: This part is really far more important to singers than commentators, as I don't think there are many ways to f*** up speaking, but it's always something to keep into consideration. I know it's not what you asked me, but making sure you have something worth recording is always going to make for a better recording. You seem to be doing a good job at that in your videos, so keep it up :thumbsup2:

Next up your voice needs to reach your mic, but before you jump into that, consider the short, but yet significant path your voice travels to your recording device. This tends to seem insignificant and even abstract to many, but it's worth bearing in mind. What your mic captures is not necessarily the same as what comes out of your mouth, since the room you're recording in affects your sound in a significant way. Now I don't know how familiar you are with any of the concepts I'll present here, if you are then please forgive me, I'm just trying to make sure you're informed on everything you might need. But room acoustics isn't voodoo magic, it's certainly a thing. You ever noticed how some big YouTubers, think Pewdiepie, Markiplier, Totalbiscuit etc. sometimes have these panels of foam with ridges on them glued to the walls behind them? That's acoustic treatment, and it's meant to absorb the sound that reflects of your walls, leaving you with a clearer, more defined sound. Think of it like you're in a big church or theater or something, how you can hear a massive echo when you clap or shout. Well your room does the same thing, except to a lesser extent, so you don't really notice it because your ears adjust to it more easily. However, mics are stupid and therefore can't really adjust to what they're hearing, so they pick up the reflections in full. Now I can't go into too much detail about acoustic treatment, we'd be here for days :D You can google about acoustics if you want to get more informed, and there is a whole range of solutions from DIY to all-in-one purchasable kits, to the manufacturers actually giving you free room analysis on their website. However you should keep in mind that acoustic treatment can be quite pricey and does not give you the best bang for your buck in terms of improving your sound. So it does help and you should definitely consider it, but only if you can easily afford it. Otherwise stick with what you have, you can absolutely get a good sound regardless. Pro tip: you can use a mattress or a duvet placed behind you for a super easy free aid with the acoustics, but it will probably look awful unless you can angle your camera in a way that it's not noticeable, so it might not really be worth it.

Now your voice, altered by your acoustics along the way can finally hit your mic. But how it hits your mic can also have a big impact on how your recording sounds. You ever notice that the closer you are to your mic when you speak, the more "boomy" your voice becomes, and you start sounding like those dramatic, movie trailer guys with deep, epic voices? That's due to something called the "proximity effect", which is a fancy way of saying the closer the sound source is to a mic, the more bass build up there is in the recorded signal. Also, how your angle yourself or the mic effects the recorded signal in various ways. Remember, we have brains, microphones don't. So while our ears can easily pick up and focus on a human voice, the mic kinda needs to be told what we want it to hear. So my advice is to experiment a bit with mic positioning, as well as where in the room you record it. Just dedicate like a day or half a day to finding out how and where you sound best. Take it around the room and record a bunch of takes, angle it so you speak a bit to the side of it as well as directly into it, experiment with the distance... Basically go nuts :laugh2: Now the difference may not seem drastic at first, but it's good to get the best sound out of the things you already have, it's absolutely free, and once you've done it once you never have to do it again! Convenient, right? ;)

Now that your voice is being heard in an optimal way by your mic, a quick reminder that the mic itself, as well as your audio interface/sound card also has an effect. But changing your sound card in search of a better sound is utterly pointless, and the Yeti is a good mic, so you really shouldn't bother here. Do keep in mind that the most famous YouTubers generally have better equipment and better mics, so you might not get the exact same sound as them. But you can still get killer recordings with what you've got ;)

So when it comes to Audacity editing you seem to be hitting all the marks, but it's worth noting that all of that post processing is pretty powerful stuff, so use it responsibly. Less IS more, when it comes to audio editing, as the more stuff you pile on to the signal chain, the more audio degradation you get. So keep it simple. I don't know exactly how you EQ and compress your recording, but there really are no hard and fast rules to begin with, so I'm just gonna give general guidelines. Firstly, try to use the EQ to cut (turn down frequencies) as opposed to boost (turn them up). Now this is no universal law by any means, but a lot of nastiness tends to tag along with EQ boosts, cuts usually sound more natural. So try to find what sounds unpleasant in your voice and remove that, instead of artificially boosting to make it sound like something it isn't. This is where everything I've said comes in to play, if you've considered what I said and got your RECORDING sounding the best it possibly can, the less work you really need to do with your EQ and the better and more natural it will sound. Again, you're allowed to boost but less is more, remember that.

Compression can also make or break your sound depending on how you use it. It's always advised to tread carefully with it in music, and keep it on the lighter side, and that's when your voice is competing with dozens of other instruments! Since your voice is usually solo, or significantly higher volume than the in-game sounds, that goes double for you :) The ratio is fine, may be a bit on the "too much" side but it's fine, what you really need to be looking at is how your compressor is hitting your voice and how much it's reducing. Your compressor probably has a gain reduction meter or something similar, where you can see in real time how and when it hits your voice. Try to make it so it doesn't pump constantly, only when your voice gets a bit louder than the rest of the recording. Not in terms of when you're screaming, but for example when you say the word "prepare" chances are the "pre" is gonna sound a bit quieter than the "pare" so make sure it hits on the "pare" (just an example) by adjusting the threshold. I'm not sure if I'm making any sense here, if you have any questions do feel free to ask :D My advice for both EQ and compression is to, just as before, experiment and see what sounds best. Don't be afraid to really dig in a bit, to get a feel for what you can do. If you're feeling like going the extra mile, there are countless tips and teachers on YT and such on mixing vocals in music, who'll give very detailed looks at both EQ and compression and really explain what they do and how to use them properly. The same principles apply to your case, so it might be worth your while

As for the normailzation/noise gate, not much to say there. Make sure you're gating only the noise and as lightly as possible in order not to mangle to voice itself, and make sure you're never clipping and you should be good. Also when you're recording, as in dry, just through the mic, make sure your audio levels are conservative as well, you should always err on the side of lower volume with that. There's not really any benefit to recording loudly on the way in, at least when recording to your computer, so keep it nice and steady, to make sure there's no chance of clipping, and then bring the volume up in Audacity to your desired level.

Woah, that was a mouthful :eek: Sorry for the behemoth of a post! I'll admit I've kinda lost track of my thoughts many times in the course of writing it, so if anything's unclear or nonsensical, don't hesitate to ask, I might have just messed it up and talked pure ********. I've tried to condense a very extensive topic into a forum post, so I haven't really gone into any details or explained much about why any of this matters, so again, any questions regarding specifics you can shoot my way ;) If you haven't fallen asleep by now, then I hope it helps you guys a bit. Best of luck with your channel! :thumbsup2:
 
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FaceDisgrace

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First of all, thank you so much for that detailed response, I seriously appreciate it!

I've played around with a lot of the stuff you said (like mic position, foam on walls to reduce echo in acoustics), one thing I am a little confused on is compression. If you can explain that a little better (or a know a good link that does ;) ) that would help me out a ton. I use it primarily to try boosting my normal speaking voice, which records usually between 30-15 dbz with how I have it set up (recording any higher makes any yells I do clip very hard, which is impossible to fix in post). I've searched around for good compression videos, but keep coming up short. I did mix a little for bands in church in a live setting, so I do know the "lingo" for sound stuff, so don't worry about using technical terms if it makes it easier to explain.

Again, thank you *so much* for that response. Really went above and beyond with that, and I will be taking what you said into the studio with me to keep working on getting that audio better.
 

Dig

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First of all, thank you so much for that detailed response, I seriously appreciate it!

I've played around with a lot of the stuff you said (like mic position, foam on walls to reduce echo in acoustics), one thing I am a little confused on is compression. If you can explain that a little better (or a know a good link that does ;) ) that would help me out a ton. I use it primarily to try boosting my normal speaking voice, which records usually between 30-15 dbz with how I have it set up (recording any higher makes any yells I do clip very hard, which is impossible to fix in post). I've searched around for good compression videos, but keep coming up short. I did mix a little for bands in church in a live setting, so I do know the "lingo" for sound stuff, so don't worry about using technical terms if it makes it easier to explain.

Again, thank you *so much* for that response. Really went above and beyond with that, and I will be taking what you said into the studio with me to keep working on getting that audio better.
No problem man, you're very welcome! Yeah, I can definitely try explaining compression a bit, if you still find yourself in the dark a bit then I'll hook you up with some videos, but since they usually consider all the nuances of mixing music, as you're probably aware, I'll try to chew it all down for you here. Oh, and I'll probably still be using "baby lingo" just to make sure I can explain everything nicely, since when I rely too much on technical terms I just get lazy with explanations :D

Compression often is a confusing and somewhat abstract matter, and you shouldn't beat yourself up if you don't exactly master it at first. I mean, about a year ago I heard Dave Pensado say that compression still confuses him to this day :laugh2: Dude's been mixing top talent for almost 50 years and has a friggin' Grammy for Christ's sake! So needless to say it might take you a while, but fortunately you have very little need of compression and it generally doesn't contribute to the clarity of your voice, at least in the way you might think.

So let's ignore for a second what you might use a compressor for, i.e. as you said boosting your voice etc., and see what a compressor actually DOES. Compressor is, for all intents and purposes, just automatized volume regulator (sounds more complicated than it is :D ). Basically, it takes your audio signal, and every time the signal passes a certain threshold in volume, gets loud enough in other words, it lowers the volume of the signal. Once the signal's volume gets back below the threshold, it stops lowering it and returns to normal. That threshold parameter you see on your compressor? That's the threshold we've just discussed. So you set the threshold at which you want your compressor to activate, and once the signal's volume exceeds it, the compressor brings the overall volume down a smidge. How big of a smidge? That's what your ratio determines. You said you've set your compressor to a 4:1 ratio, all that means that a signal that exceeds the ratio by 4 dB will be brought down to 1 dB above the threshold. For example, if you've set the threshold to -12 dB and at a certain time the volume of the audio is -8 dB, the compressor will bring that audio down to -11 dB. If the threshold is exceed by 8 dB on the same ratio, the signal will be brought down to 2 dB above the threshold, so at -12 dB if the audio is at -6 it will be brought down to -10 dB. Does that make sense? Same thing with different ratio settings, 2:1 will take a signal that exceeds the thresh by 2 dB down to 1 dB above threshold, signal that exceeds by 4 down to 2 etc... And as for the attack and release they're kind of a character thing, more relevant in music. Basically the attack determines how quickly the compressor activates once the signal exceeds the threshold. If for example the attack is set to 1 sec, then that's how long it will wait before it starts reducing the signal. So if you exceed the threshold at about 2:45 in your recording, the compressor will start doing its thing at 2:46. Similarly the release determines how quickly after your signal gets back below the threshold does the compressor stop compressing. Again, if the attack and release are both at 1 sec, your audio hits the compressor at 2:45, the compression begins at 2:46, the audio gets back below the threshold at 2:47 and the compression stops at 2:48. Bear in mind that it's not an instant thing, the compressor will slowly start releasing from 2:47 to 2:48, it doesn't just hit the brakes at 2:48. These two parameters should be viewed mostly as a tonal thing. For example if you hear that some of the plosives or consonants you make are a bit too harsh and accentuated, you can try setting a faster attack so the compressor turns down more of those transients. Similarly, if you find your voice sounds too dull and even then maybe your attack is too fast. Experiment with those to find what sounds best to your ear, and use the threshold and ratio to set how much do you want the compressor to hit the audio.

Now that we know how all this stuff works, the question is: why the hell would we need it? Well, compression is super essential when it comes to mixing music, not so much with commentary. Again, given that people will mostly be hearing only your voice and some light game sounds in the back, things will mostly be pretty audible so you don't need to squash the dynamic range all that much. There are two purposes you might use it for, and it comes down to consistency and tone. Now for the tone, you really shouldn't be bothered unless you are a heavy audiophile, and even then the Audacity compressor is not gonna do you any favors there :D But as we mentioned, the compressor turns down everything that exceeds the threshold, meaning that the peaks of your audio signal (you can see them clearly on your waveform), the loudest parts are gonna get turned down, while the rest will not. What that gives you is a more consistent sound all around, the difference between the quieter and the louder parts of your recording is now significantly smaller thanks to the compression. And that, somewhat counterintuitively, can also make your recording a smidge louder, if you turn the whole thing as much as the compressor's turned it down, as the peaks will still hit the same decibel level as before, but the quieter parts will be louder! But you haven't really made it louder, you've just turned down the peaks, and brought the whole thing up a bit. But that is just a consequence, the real result is the consistency that makes your voice a bit more present and audible, and the compressor will have your back if sometimes you speak a bit more quietly or tend to vary the distance between the mic during your recording, as it will even everything up a bit. The result can also sound a bit more juicy and thicker, which is how our ears tend to perceive compressed material. All that being said, I will emphasize again, you don't need a whole lot of compression. Keep it simple, don't over do it, a ratio between 2 and 4:1 is good (although if you find something else sounds better feel free to do just that, no hard and fast rules, remember?), and set the threshold so you can see on the gain reduction meter (if the comp has it) that you're only reducing the peaks while leaving the meat intact, and not squashing the whole thing. The attack/release you can experiment with, the ballpark is to go with a slightly faster attack and a medium release for vocals but see what sounds best for you. It's unlikely however that it will make any sort of a big impact on the whole thing. If the compressor has a vocal preset you can go ahead and use that, but you'll still have to adjust the threshold and ratio yourself, don't trust what the preset tells you on that.

And I think that's pretty much it. Again, compression will not give you clarity or anything of the sort, but a nice dash of robustness and consistency. Do feel free to ask if anything remains unclear, I tend to get lost a bit when I'm writing for this long :D Hope it helps, man! Good luck :winkphones:
 
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FaceDisgrace

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Dude, you are seriously the best! That actually helped a hell of a lot. I tend to be really critical of my own production values, so even tiny improvements are huge to me. Little things add up to big changes over time, right? :) From your own recordings I can tell you have a very good grasp on the audio, keep doing what you're doing! And thanks again!!!!! :D
 

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Dude, you are seriously the best! That actually helped a hell of a lot. I tend to be really critical of my own production values, so even tiny improvements are huge to me. Little things add up to big changes over time, right? :) From your own recordings I can tell you have a very good grasp on the audio, keep doing what you're doing! And thanks again!!!!! :D
Absolutely, that's how we improve in creative endeavors, right? Bit by bit, there's no magic bullet with this thing, sadly... You are very welcome, I can see you're really committed to improving and doing your best, and I seriously respect that! I'm glad I could be of some assistance with my limited expertise, and thanks for actually taking the time to read this wall of text (I legit facepalmed when I saw how much I've written just now :laugh2: ) I wish you the absolute best of luck going forward, dude. Really hoping to see your channel take off! :)
 
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My Dixie ReKt

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What i do increase the decibels on Sony Vegas. And Lock to stretch and slow it down slightly so it makes your voice slightly deeper. This will also hide any static and background noise if it is not to bad.
 
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FaceDisgrace

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Absolutely, that's how we improve in creative endeavors, right? Bit by bit, there's no magic bullet with this thing, sadly... You are very welcome, I can see you're really committed to improving and doing your best, and I seriously respect that! I'm glad I could be of some assistance with my limited expertise, and thanks for actually taking the time to read this wall of text (I legit facepalmed when I saw how much I've written just now :laugh2: ) I wish you the absolute best of luck going forward, dude. Really hoping to see your channel take off! :)
Same! Your idea of making songs for video games is really cool, and you've got some serious song writing talent. It's way harder than most people realize, but you do really well with it
 
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FaceDisgrace

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What i do increase the decibels on Sony Vegas. And Lock to stretch and slow it down slightly so it makes your voice slightly deeper. This will also hide any static and background noise if it is not to bad.
I use Premiere but I'm sure there's a similar feature in it. I'll have to look into it, thanks!