The Rapid Elearning Blog

You don’t need to be a professional audio engineer to record narration.  However, you do want to pay attention to what you’re doing and do the best job possible.  Last week, we looked at some basic tips to record high-quality audio.  Those tips leaned more on the technology.  Today we’ll look at what you can do to get the best narration.  I also added some tips from last week’s comments section.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - common mistakes recording narration

1. Place your microphone in the right position.

If you place the microphone too close, you get that distorted clipping sound; and if you have it too far from the narrator, you pick up more ambient noise with the audio being less discernible. 

By setting the microphone 6 to 12 inches from the narrator you’ll get a crisp clear voice.  Also, make sure the microphone’s not right next to the computer so it doesn’t pick up the fan noise.  Scooter also recommended keeping your mic cord away from your power cord.

2. Record a demo to make sure it all sounds right.

A few years ago I was videotaping one of our executives.  While he was rambling on I noticed that the mic was turned off.  After he was finished, I told that it sounded great and now we’d do it for real.  He wasn’t too happy.

Record a quick demo to make sure that everything is working as it should.   Also, I recommend shutting down other applications that are not necessary at that moment.  I’ve been doing this stuff for years and it never fails that when you work with multimedia you put a strain on your computer’s resources which can impact your recording session.  

3. Listen to the audio playback with headphones.

Headphones help isolate the audio and you’ll be able to hear any problems with the narration better than if you listen with speakers.  This is especially true if you’re using a laptop because their speakers tend to be subpar and kind of tinny.

4. Don’t get distracted with animations and annotations. 

If you’re recording your audio using the rapid elearning software odds are that you’re also syncing animations and annotations with it.  I tend to get distracted trying to time the animations with the narration and it is noticeable in my narration.

I usually record the narration first, and then go back and sync the animations.  This helps me focus on capturing the best narration possible without being distracted trying to time the animations.

5.  Make sure your script is conversational and easy to read.

Practice reading it a few times to make sure it flows right.  Look for words or phrases where you might stumble while recording.

As far as the actual script, some people read from the computer screen.  I prefer printing out the script.  If you do too, don’t squeeze everything into a tight paragraph with an 8 point font.  Leave enough white space so it’s easy on the eyes.  Also, make sure that the room is well lit so that the script can easily be read.

In the comments section, Dana Thomas makes a good point about where to place the script while recording.  That’s a major consideration, because you want to be comfortable while reading.

6.  Stand up while recording.

You’ll feel more energized and be able to breathe better.  If you do sit, don’t slouch.  Sit up straight and keep your chin out.  Don’t let it drop to your chest.

7.  Don’t ad-lib.

Stick to the script and don’t ad-lib.  Odds are that you’ll have to do multiple takes.  If you ad-lib, you’ll rarely have the same break points for editing.  Sticking with the script lets you follow along with the audio and find a common edit point on re-takes.

8.  Have plenty of liquids available.

Keep your vocal chords hydrated with clear liquids like water or a mild tea.  Someone once told me to keep it at room temperature rather than cold.  Avoid coffee, carbonated beverages, and milk products.

9.  Get rid of the plosives. 

Plosives are consonant sounds that create the famous "popping p’s."  You can buy shields that sit in front of your mic to block out the offending sound.  It’s easy enough to build one yourself using a wire ring and panty hose.  Here’s a great tutorial to build your own mic screen.

Kat Keesling has some good tips for getting rid of the plosives.  Many of the comments suggested that you speak over the mic rather into to avoid pushing air onto the mic.   

10.  Record 10 seconds of silence.

By recording some silence, you have a way to sample just the ambient noise and use a noise removal process to filter it out later.  If you happen to have ambient noise (like an air conditioner) you’ll be able to filter some of that out.  I’ve also used the ambient noise as a way to fill in gaps of silence so that the audio edits are a bit more seamless.

11.  Relax and don’t rush your words.

Practice reading the script.  Create a conversational tone.  Pretend like you’re talking to someone rather than just reading a script.  If you mess up, leave a noticeable pause and keep on going.  It’s easy enough to cut the error out of the audio.

12.  Mark your retakes.

If you do multiple takes or start and stop, leave some sort of marker.  A good simple way to do this is to leave about 5 seconds of silence (so that it’s easy to find when you look at the wave form) and then indicate what it is, like “slide four, take two…”

13.  Dampen the sound.

There were some good comments on dampening the sound behind the narrator to avoid the audio bouncing into the microphone rather than dampening the sound in front.  That makes sense to me.  Sonnie recommended using two pillows.  If it works for assassins who can quiet gunshots, there’s no reason it can’t work for you.

Shane also suggested the “foam-brero” to diffuse the ambient sound coming from behind you.  To assist Shane and those who might interested in giving this a shot, I have provided instructions on how to create your own foam sombrero

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - foambrero to diffuse sound waves behind you 

Other good resources and recommendations from the previous post’s comments section:

Two free applications that could come in handy:

  • Audacity for audio recording and editing.
  • Levelator to adjust the audio levels in your narration.

These tips will help you get started recording audio narration like a pro.  If you have any other suggestions or tips, feel free to share them by clicking on the comments link.

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45 responses to “13 More Tips to Help You Record Narration Like the Pros”

Tom

Thanks for the excellent articles on audio recording, and all the excellent feedback received from everyone else. Even though I have been doing voice recording for a couple of years I picked up some good hints and tips.

I’m surprised that no-one has mentioned GoldWave for audio recording and processing. It has all the capability you need, and more, including: Recording; Editing; Filtering to remove unwanted sounds; Noise removal; Adjustment of frequency response; and very importantly, a very usable function to adjust sound levels to any preset standard.

I have not used Audacity (which is obviously quite popular) for some years, so can’t give any kind of comparison.

You can use GoldWave for free up to a certain number of operations, and the license cost is US $ 49, for which you are entitled to all future upgrades. New versions are issued regularly, all with great improvements.

(Not connected with GoldWave in any way; just a very satisfied user!)

Tom

On another topic, how about some comments on gaps between sentences and paragraphs.

Most processing software allows one to automatically remove gaps, but I really don’t like the practice of cutting all gaps down to the briefest possible pause… I know it makes for smaller files, and quicker delivery, but you need to take account of the listener who is trying to follow and understand.

I generally leave a “natural” gap between sentences, and a somewhat longer gap, like 1.5 seconds between paragraphs, where there is a change of focus or topic.

If recording someone else doing audio takes, be sure they hear / review it too. I have recorded experts for courses who at after completing the course then determined they were not happy with how they sounded or what they said. Better to do retakes and get the best performance form you experts.

June 9th, 2009

Tom,
Thanks for another GREAT article. A couple additional suggestions I’ve found useful:

1. Microphone placement – instead of in front of you, place the mic to the side of your mouth. This will eliminate the “pops” and ‘plosives’. I love the foambrero – I’ll have to try that!

2. When describing something that physically needs to be accomplished it will help to change your voicing. For example, “After disconnecting the right and left side bolts, push the frame up and then pull towards you.” Pause or slow the cadence slightly when speaking “right and left side bolts”, use some force behind the breath when saying “push”, on the word UP bring the tone/pitch up and enlongate the word “pull”. Using these types of techniques will help to ‘animate’ the voice, get your point across and make it more interesting for the listener.

Thanks again for a great article.

Foambrero – heh! Love it. Has Articulate considered manufacturing and selling these? I’d buy 3.

¡Viva la eLearning revolución! :)

Oh, and don’t forget us Mac users (we love Articulate too!) have GarageBand – which is a great app for narration recording.

One other thing I haven’t seen mentioned in this blog or it’s comments is how you actually capture the audio.

I wasted about 8 months recording audio in stereo until I realized Microphones are always MONO devices by nature, and I incorrectly understood Mono to mean it would only play in one ear. Completely False. Recording in stereo made all of my source files twice the size and we started filling up our e-learning server with unnecessary file sizes because MONO tracks are half the size of Stereo tracks. Also, with MONO files you eliminate the risk of editing one channel and not the other, which can completely ruin your recording.

As a fail safe, Articulate automatically converts your audio files to MONO tracks anyway which helps keep the course size smaller. But if you like to archive unedited and edited versions of your audio files, then recording in Mono will save a ton of space. Also, for what it’s worth, I typically never record higher than CD quality, (44,100 Hz, 16 Bit, MONO, WAV or MP3) because Articulate will apply mp3 compression to all the audio anyway and it seems like the higher quality audio I record, the worse it sounds when it gets compressed in Articulate.

I like to keep my recording and the final product as close to “apples to apples” as possible. Happy Recording!

Tom,

Thank you for all of the useful audio tips. I always look forward to reading your blog.

I have a request, could you write a post addrssing specific techniques for creating video for e-learning? It might inclde:
-Inexpensive camera options
-Video editing for elearning
-Flash video tips (preventing video looping etc.)
-Using licensed video clips in eLearning (copyright and licensing, choosing clips-Becky Pike Pluth is a great resource for this)

Kind Regards,

Matthew

You are hilarious! I really hope that Articulate makes a mac version, soon! Garageband is a great program for recording narration. I have a soft voice, so I really appreciate the special filters that make me sound like a radio jockey. Not to mention, Keynote’s features make slides a lot more interesting.

[...] Kuhlmann shares 13 More Tips to Help You Record Narration Like the Pros. As is usual on Tom’s blog, excellent advice. Share [...]

June 9th, 2009

Tom,
I really liked your perspective on recording audio. I use a program called EXPStudio Audio Editor. Very easy to use and you can add so really cool effects (mans voice to woman & vice versa, chipmunk voice etc). Not that you could use these for presentations :) but a lot of fun.
Great Article

Tom, another brilliant post. Thanks. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that you’re going to talk about editing all these lovely audio files soon as I always want to improve that (Audacity is a wonderful tool but I bet it is even better if I drive it right!).

Reading aloud to find out where you trip up is a great tip – but it is also applicable to working when someone else is doing the recording for you. Say you are writing a script that will have a male voice and a female voice and you do one part and a colleague does the other part. Pre-reading it will help to find out where to put the emphasis and where to re-write it because it sounds awful.

A quick (and visually obvious) way of marking an error – clap your hands! It puts a spike in the recording which you can see in the waveform when you are editing it.

I found that I was stumbling during recording because I was going from one end of the line to the next and “missing my place”. The solution was simple – I printed my script in a big font with two columns on the page, thus reducing line length.

I also put “stage directions” to remind me how to voice something in my script but put them with the highlighter-pen in Word so I know they are there during the pre-read but can ignore them as I am recording.

The foambrero(TM)? That was great!

GoldWave has been recommended to me by the staff at Radio Shack. For $49, it may be worth a try although I use Audacity. As a Mac user, I like it better than GarageBand. (And, I’m looking forward to my Articulate Studio for the Mac…. one day….)

One important aspect of recording narration: Research has proven that if you read the onscreen text word-for-word, it distracts and reduces learning. I think Drs. Ruth Clark and Richard Mayer have mentioned this in their research-based books. I’m sure others have as well, just cannot remember their names.

Your audio narration needs to enhance and support the onscreen content and multimedia, not take away from it for effective learning and performance improvement.

Anyone else have comments about not reading word-for-word?

Another great post, Tom, thanks!

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June 9th, 2009

Thanks for the kind feedback received from you and for this great post. In another post you talking about a record narration…I have been doing voice recording in the actual proyect, for a different characters voices and Morph vox pro from screaming bee (http://www.screamingbee.com/) gave me an esay way to modiffy the voice and add effects and background sounds.

I think I’d look really good in a foambrero. Viva la audio!

[...] This post was Twitted by vpoptom – Real-url.org [...]

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June 10th, 2009

Great article, wish I would have read it before my project. I’ve edited the audio with a combination of programs both free and expensive but I still can’t get something that brings up the ‘middle’ of the vocal. I had found it in Audacity but everytime a get it right it crashes. I’ve tried various eqs and compressions but I am still in the ‘tinny’ range even with some bass boosting. Too much bass boosting and it brings back the room noise I worked so hard to get out.

BTW I would love to see the folks I work with in the “foam-brero”. They already laugh at my ‘Microphone Cow’ since I am unable to get a desktop mic stand (no budget) and but the stuffed cow works perfectly.

Thanks for all your advice!!

My 2 cents worth…

I’ve had good success with placing about a fist’s width between mouth and mic. It’s easier to check, just before hitting the record button, than trying to measure with a ruler. When you’re that close, you pick up little ambient noise or echo. And I avoid the plosives without a pop filter by placing the mic to the side, about 60 degrees off directly in front.

I agree with standing up, but unless you have a lectern, that probably isn’t possible. I generally sit on the front edge of my chair with my knees lower than my butt. This helps to open up the lungs.

I often imagine I’m speaking to a group, actually making face and hand gestures, and my voice just naturally tends to be more animated, lifelike, and less monotone.

Somewhere I heard that eating an apple beforehand is good for the voice, though I haven’t experimented.

I really recommend smiling from ear to ear when you are speaking. Too often narrators sound bored or depressed – and, consequently, boring.

It seems really un-natural to do (and looks kinda goofy) but when you play it back, it sounds like you are interested in what you are talking about. If you don’t believe me, try it!

Another tip I have is for really tricky words. I try not to write scripts that are too hard to say, but sometimes it is unavoidable.

So, when I have a hard time saying the words right, I put a pen or pencil in my mouth so it stretches my lips back. (you’ll know you’ve done it right if your back teeth are clamped down on the pen and you can barely move your mouth)

Then I say the words a number of times.

When I take the pen out of my mouth and say the word again, I find it much easier.

June 11th, 2009

Thanks for this article Tom. I think people make recording good audio harder than it is and get drawn in to the techno hype. My set-up consists of a small external mic, a canister of tea bags on top of a Kleenex box and Scotch tape. The rest is really up to the narrator.

June 12th, 2009

Hi Tom,

Great article. The issue of audio quality os very much a hot topic in our team. Thankfully we have a semi-pro musician on our staff and she has introduced us to a piece of softare called protools. This is free with an external device (a fancy sound card) called a Digibox. Coupled with a good quality Shure microphone our audio quality is improving. One tip I think is worth sharing is to:

1. Create 3 mono tracks.
2. for the left track, PAN this fully to the left, for the right track PAN this fully to the right (keep the middle one in the middle!) This has the effect of having a richer sound that “FILLS” the room.

How do you use Levalator with Articulate? I would like to do this since we have multiple presenters, but, I wouldn’t know where to look for the audio files to run through Levalator.

Help,
Kim

June 13th, 2009

Of course, it’s so easy to attempt to cut corners but your guidelines makes sense and you include ones I hadn’t heard of before.

@Kim: In the previous version of Articulate Presenter, you can find the audio in the narration folder. In the ’09 studio, the easiest thing is to go into the audio editor and do an export of the audio files (they’ll be named by slide).

Levelate them. Then do a batch import.

AND….if all else fails? Email your finished script to a professional voice talent with their own recording studio and 10 years experience making even the most long-winded scripts sound interesting! : ) Paying only $20 per page for eLearning scripts means you can get a professional audio read at a very affordable price. It’s like having a personal assistant working with you to complete your project, freeing you up to work on other things. What an efficient use of your time. : )
Please feel free to email me with any questions or comments you may have at debra@thevoiceactress.com

[...] sounds ok, the publishing process that Articulate runs has garbled it. Based on an article in the Rapid E-learning Blog, I tried a couple of things to improve [...]

[...] formats. Tom Kuhlmann, in his Rapid eLearning blog, has published some excellent hints here and here. Share and [...]

September 23rd, 2009

Your blog is wonderful. Full of very helpful and, often times, amazing bits of information.

I think this is very helpful. Thank you. (I also got a kick out of the first picture of the man with the mic in his face.)

[...] If, after reading the list of downsides to audio, you still think it’s the way to go, here’s the good news. It’s really not very expensive. You’re going to need a good quality microphone – perhaps $50 or so – and software to edit the audio and convert formats. Tom Kuhlmann, in his Rapid eLearning blog, has published some excellent hints here and here. [...]

Very useful information and great delivery. Just beginning to create videos and podcasts for my website/blog. Looking forward to learning more.. Thanks. Randy

[...] 13 More Tips to Help You Record Narration Like the Pros [...]

A couple of tricks I was shown when I worked for a community radio program, where we pre-recorded all shows a la podcast:

A) Be sure to break up the narration with spaces between sentences, paragraphs and sometimes words. This makes it easier to chop and rearrange these elements. Nothing worse than mispronouncing someone’s name in the middle of a rambling, running narration and having to do it all over again (and then stuffing another section up on that take).

B) Count yourself in. After you start recording, or before starting a retake, say “3 … 2 … 1 …” it makes it easier to find these start points when editing the sound files later (you can normally see three equally spaced peaks in the waveform) and again stops your words from running together. Other benefits include that it slows down your breathing and lets you focus on the speed you are talking. All good things.

C) Record a few takes of the whole thing, then lay them side by side in your Audio-editing suite and take the best from each. An old trick used by most musicians, where the released version of a song is rarely a single take, and is instead a Frankenstein of the best bits of a whole heap of takes. Time-consuming (in the recording and the editing), but can generate great results.

Good article. Thanks!

Check out our website there you`ll find 50 tricks for good voiceover. Practis, practise practise I would say…

I really enjoying reading this article, I’m not convinced that the foambrero is a good fashion accessory for techies though :)

November 21st, 2010

I found several of your tips helpful. One problem I have is when I record over several days my voice does not sound the same. Is there a way to improve the consistency of the recordings when recorded at more than one sitting?

Also can anyone recommend a microphone that is priced under $150.00 US for use with my pc? I have tried several microphones/headsets and I am not impressed with any of the ones I use.

@Sheri: I really like my Samson Go Mic which I mention in this blog post on basic recording tips. The main way to get consistent audio is to use consistent settings and environment. Document all aspects of the recording environment (mic used, audio levels, distance from mic, same room, etc). Ideally you have the same location for recording and some control over the settings.

October 8th, 2011

I just wrote a guide regarding the tips on audio recording here. I hope it answers your inquiry, thanks.

Thank you for posting this. Gave me something to think about :) !

Great tips! I especially like the “Foambrero”. I’ll have to test that one out!

Great article, but I would suggest that Audacity not be used, as I’ve had difficulty with faults in the software.
Thank you for the great article, once again!!!
These tips really helped me out on my project :)