Want people to listen to your podcast? To do that, you not only need good content, but also a good sounding podcast. Even in video podcasts it’s more about the audio. And using a program like “Levelator” might work OK, there are going to be times your audio suffers, even if you don’t hear it. So I put together 6 steps to making your audio sound its best. Ready for the fun and some learning? Let’s go!
1. Vocal Track EQ
Get it done right the first time and you will have great audio every time. Equalizing your audio and your guest’s audio will make the overall process a hundred times better. Even when you have a Skype caller or a phone caller audio – having the EQ set to their voice can keep the post-production down to a minimum.
Here is the breakdown on EQ for vocals: Anything 60 Hz and lower is usually empty. That is why a lot of mixers have an “HPF” button. Some mixers even roll from 75 Hz to help with the 80 Hz plosive.
- 80 Hz is the “plosive” frequency. If you get pops in your audio, dial that down, along with 40 Hz and 120Hz (ghost frequencies)
- 340-640 Hz usually gives a voice body – Male or female. After all, it’s all about the Bass, bout the Bass, no Treble (Ok, maybe some treble).
- 1kHz gives a voice a bit of nasal sound. Believe it or not, this also punches the vocals better as it acts as a bridge between high and low EQ.
- 3 kHz is the level that you want to adjust between male and female voices. Less for a bassy voice and more for a soprano.
- 5 kHz is the “S” plosive. If your vocals sound hissy, this is the first EQ to adjust.
Important Rule in Mixing – Audio Gain above 25%
If you have a quiet audio and want to raise it up, remember the 25% rule. It’s a rule you apply to video and photos as well. Adjusting the gain over 25% of the original might cause additional distortion that needs to be fixed. In a picture or video, blowing something up more than 25% will cause blurriness. Same thing in audio – hisses and pops will come out of the woodwork. It also might create “Ghost sounds”.
It’s always best to level a person’s audio before you record. Otherwise, you might be fidgeting with audio all night and not happy with the end result.
2. Compress the Vocal Track
Compressors can be confusing for some because they don’t know what the compressor is doing. However, a little learning and you’ll be using compressors like a champ. Especially in some newer mixers where these effects are built-in.
A compressor is your first defense at leveling your audio. If done right, you will be pushing down the louder points to someone’s vocals. Too much compression and they will sound like they’re talking from the closet.
I always compress each vocal track with a ratio of 1.5:1 and the threshold around 0. I will work the threshold depending on the voice -10 to +10. If I have to go over that, then I’ll move up the ratio to 1.7:1 or higher.
What does that mean? Simply if someone’s voice hits the 1.5 dB threshold mark (from the point of clipping), the audio will be attenuated down to 1 dB. When you are talking about a single voice, you want as little compression as possible. That is, unless they are yelling everything, then you might need to go 3:1.
3. Compress the Overall Audio
This is why I like Sony Music Studio for podcasting. I can put effects on each track, then an overall set of effects for the main audio. This is really important because if you add intro music, multiple voices, pre-recorded ads, interviews from the field, and more, each of those audio tracks are going to be slightly different. You want to level them with the overall compressor so you don’t see clips throughout the audio.
This compressor for me is always set at 2:1 with a threshold of 0 or less.
4. Master Limiter
Otherwise known as a “Hard Limiter”, this will make sure your audio doesn’t go past a dB mark you set. You might wonder how this is different from a compressor. Think of the compressor as a security guard trying to hold you back from getting in. A limiter is simply a brick wall. When things stop hitting the brick wall, the other sounds will come up so all voices are as equal as possible.
A limiter also really needs a compressor as a companion, but always use the limiter after the compressor. One time in my recordings I accidentally had a limiter on the single track, then the overall. That caused the audio to really distort. Like I said before, you can only raise the volume so much…
Think of the 1-2 combination: Using my previous analogy, you push against the security guard (compressor), and when he can’t stop you, the brick wall will (limiter).
I set my Limiter to -3dB, loudness in audio will not go past. If I was creating a podcast for children, I might limit to -6dB.
5. Overall EQ
This is an interesting addition to the track EQ. I usually have it set to bring out the low frequencies and high. 0-80 Hz gets ramped down to normal and 5kHz to 20 kHz gets ramped up to up to 2 dB higher. This can bring back those frequencies you pushed down in the vocals. It also helps any other tracks you have in your podcast.
6. Adjust the Master Audio
Finally, it’s important to set the master audio dial to keep lower audio content from being too quiet. Otherwise, you will get points where the listener has to turn the audio up, but then get upset because the next section blasts their eardrums. If you set the overall audio at -3dB, you want the quietest of sounds to be no less than -6dB.
Honorary Mention: Noise Gate
I have a gate set on my microphone mixer to a ratio of 2:1 with a threshold of -5. This will keep sounds like a truck passing by or a dog barking outside from overtaking your audio. Noise gates can become tricky, though. Too high and you might not get any of your guests. Too low and you let every sound come into the microphone.
If you are doing an interview via Skype, most people have their laptops on a table. Some people are surfing while talking. Others might be tapping a finger. The gate can also keep those sounds from impeding on your overall audio, along with squeaky chairs, phones ringing or vibrating (in the distance), and more.
Analog and Digital Audio Production
All of this can be done either old school through mixers and effects rack units, or using something like the TASCAM US-4×4 USB Audio Interface which connecting to a laptop or iPad will allow you to set these digital effects. Real audiophiles like to go old-school, but the digital equivalents are getting better and better each day. Either way would most likely work for your podcast.