USC Annenberg Media Resources

Best Practices for Audio Recording

There is no substitute for getting good audio quality at the time of recording.  Do not rely on post-production to correct recording flaws; get good recordings at the source.

THE MOST IMPORTANT ELEMENTS FOR HIGH-QUALITY RECORDING:

  1. Mic the subject well.
  2. Recording levels that are in the right range — not too low or too high.
  3. Control the environment.

Mic distance 

The mic should be held about 3 inches from the person’s mouth. However, the distance can depend on how much the person projects. Try not to mic directly in front of the mouth where you will capture the air also.  Instead, hold it slightly to the side or under the mouth to avoid sibilance and p-popping.

If you hold the mic too far away, you will get too much ambience competing with the voice.  If you mic too close, you will get distortion and an unnatural sound.

Recording ambient sound 

The closer the mic is to the source of the ambient sound the more in the foreground it will be. You should experiment with having your mic at different distances from the source to give you more flexibility in the mixing process.  For instance, if you are recording ambience of a cook working in a restaurant kitchen.  You could isolate the sound of meat frying by sticking your mic fairly close to the burner.  Then you might want to pull back to get more of the general sound of the kitchen.

Tips for high-quality recordings 

  • Use an external mic.  Many new recorders have excellent onboard mics, but you get better control with an external mic.
  • NEVER let your interviewee hold the mic.
  • Avoid recording in rooms with hard, dense, shiny surfaces that reflect the sound.  Fabric and carpeted rooms help absorb the sound.
  • ALWAYS wear headphones while you are recording.  Don’t confuse your headphone level with your recording levels.
  • Constantly check your levels to make sure they are in the appropriate zone.  Make sure your recorder is in a position where you can easily see and adjust the levels on the recorder.
  • Listen for unwanted background noise (fluorescent lights, air conditioning, wind noise, traffic, hums, hisses, airplanes, buzzing).
  • Point your mic away from the noisy background sounds when you are interviewing.  Better yet, move the interviewee as far away from the noisy ambience as possible.
  • Do not fidget with recorder or mic while recording. Plant your hand on the mic in a comfortable position and keep it there throughout the recording.
  • Use a windscreen, especially outside.
  • Tip from Off Ramp’s Kevin Ferguson: When you start the interview, ask the person to describe their shoes while you set the level and figure out what kind of talker they are — loud, soft, highs and lows, etc.
  • If your interview is longer than a minute or two, find a place where you can brace your arm.  It can get tired fast.
  • Practice non-verbal interviewing.  Do not give verbal affirmations or comments while your interviewee is talking — unless you specifically want to record an exchange between you and your subject.

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