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But I’m Not an Audio Expert: Audio for Developers Not Signed to a Record Label

Have you ever been tasked with creating a training video on an extremely tight budget? Maybe you’re confident you can make a good video with the software you have available, like Vyond or Toonly. Maybe it’s a system tutorial video and you have the screenshots you need with Camtasia or Premiere Pro at your disposal. Or perhaps it’s just a matter of stringing stock footage together. Well, great! The video piece is covered. But what about the audio?

You might think “Well, this would be a great place to have voiceover, but I don’t have the resources to pay for professional voiceover and I certainly don’t have a recording studio!” You could opt for on-screen text (or your project simply may need any words at all) but then – are you really going to submit a video with absolutely no audio at all? In this blog I’ll be talking about how you… yes you… can up your audio game on a tight budget with simple home voiceover recording and music.

Professional voiceover artists are the best at what they do. They have the experience, equipment, software, voice quality and space to record voiceover at the highest level. You may think, surely, we can’t record at their level! And you’d be right! Professional voiceover artists will almost always produce the highest quality audio files because of the (very expensive) advantages listed above. But those of us without that recording studio can produce voiceover that is closer to their quality than you might expect and when working on a project that simply doesn’t have the budget for professional voiceover, it’s either that – or no voiceover at all.

With that in mind, what can we do on a budget to pretend like we’re qualified to create voiceover? My biggest advice is the same I have anytime we need to do something we don’t know how to do: Learn from YouTube videos. There’s an abundance of folks teaching others how to record on a budget there. For many of them, the goal in recording isn’t to provide training videos, but rather to create YouTube or streaming content. But it works for us too!

The biggest investment and the most important one is a quality microphone. I don’t mean the top-of-the- line mics that the real professionals use, but we can do better than our phone or webcam mics. I recommend the Blue Yeti. It’s not going to keep up with a top line Shure mic, but it’s also hundreds of dollars cheaper and maybe 80% of the way toward top line quality, when compared to a webcam mic or AirPods. Plus, it’s yours to keep for future projects. No matter what you use, always read the manual to understand how to use your microphone and what settings to use for your use case.

You’ll need software to record and edit with, and there are free options like Audacity or Apple Audio Editor that’ll get the job done. If you have the Adobe Creative Suite, I’d recommend using Audacity, since it has additional features to enhance your voice quality – like Dynamics and Mastering or background noise reduction. Don’t know how to use those features? I refer you back to where we talked about YouTube videos to get ideas on what settings to use. This will take experimentation but it’s well worth the effort.

But where to record? At my desk? No, probably not. Higher quality microphones are very sensitive and pick up reflections of your voice bouncing back off the wall. When I record, I do so on the floor of my bedroom’s walk-in closet. It’s small, but the clothes absorb my voice and dampen the sound, preventing the mic from picking up any audio being reflected off the walls. But any environment where you’re surrounded by fabrics help with this. This is why sound studios often have cloth or something like it on the walls to absorb sound. Speaking of absorbing, a $15 “pop filter” for your microphone isn’t a bad idea, either. It’ll get rid of all those harsh “P” and “S” syllables that might appear in your recording.

Great! So, I have some homemade voiceover, or my project doesn’t need any voiceover, but you mentioned music? I did. Adding music is likely the single easiest way to make a big impact on your video’s production quality. Most people don’t actively notice background music but think for a second: Imagine your favorite movie or TV show without the soundtrack. Even the commercials we all hate to see pop up on our screens while we’re watching those shows or movies lose a lot of effect without music. Music adds a tremendous amount of polish and depending upon the video, it can even make all the difference in the emotion you might be trying to convey.

But where can I get music for my videos? I can’t just produce music! There’s an absurd amount of royalty-free music you can access. Your favorite podcast’s theme song is likely royalty-free. In fact, I’ve listened to different podcasts with the same theme song! Any Google search on “royalty-free music” will yield plenty of sources. My favorite is Pixabay because of the robust filters. I can filter by genre, mood, etc. You’re sure to find something appropriate for your video.

If you have access to Adobe Audition or Premiere Pro you also don’t have to worry much about the length of your musical selection. It’s best to have the music be about the same length as your video so that it ends logically when your video does. You can always clip something longer than your video and add a fade out on it, but it sounds best if the music ends as intended. Adobe Audition and Premiere Pro have a “remix” feature that looks at how the music is constructed and adds or removes loops used in the music, to adjust the length and make it sound as if it was written to be your desired length. It can’t get it down to the second you need but it can generally get it within six seconds of it. That makes it easy to slightly adjust different parts of your video to align the length with your music.

With a little bit of confidence, willingness to learn, some experimentation, and YouTube on your side, you can bring your audio game up significantly and wow your stakeholders with how much you’ve done with so little. Plus, it’s very gratifying to see all aspects of your video come together in a complete package, even if you don’t have the budget for professional voiceover. I reiterate that you shouldn’t expect to produce voiceover at the same quality as a professional, but sometimes we simply don’t have the budget to benefit from them. If you’re willing to learn and try some things, though, you might surprise yourself with what you can do.

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