University Marketing & Communications

July 8, 2016

Audio 101

Hannah Gilman

A few months ago, I decided it was about time I finally learned video production — a decision that was sparked partially because I had a genuine interest and it was exciting to learn something new, and partially because, well, I felt like I had to have that skill to keep up in today’s storytelling landscape.

I produced, shot and edited my own short, then signed up for an eight-week class at Seattle’s Northwest Film Forum to get educated. The class, “Film Fundamentals,” hits the high-level basics of production — camera operation, lighting, audio recording and editing. (And I highly recommend it if you, too, want a crash course.)

As a writer with UMAC, having an understanding of audio recording in particular is especially important. We produce a lot of videos in-house, and knowing how to record high quality audio recordings and interview for a voiceover is important.

And now, as the team in UMAC pushes toward a more immersive storytelling experience, we’re experimenting with NPR-style audio bits, too. No visuals, just sounds. So I took what I learned in three hours at the NWFF and shared it with our Word Nerd crew. Here are some highlights:

Audio science

  • Sound waves are measured in frequency (Hz)
  • Amplitude (or loudness) is measured in decibels (dB)

Microphone basics

  • At UMAC, we often use a shotgun mic to record audio narratives
  • There are three types of mics — a shotgun mic is a condenser mic
  • Different mics have different pickup patterns
  • A shotgun mic records sounds like a zoom lens works on a camera — very focused, and great for cutting out background noise

Recording audio

  • Make sure your recorder is set to professional standards
    • Sample rate = 48 kHz (the number of samples obtained in one second)
    • Bit depth = 24 bit (the amount of information per sample, similar to image resolution)
  • When recording, be sure the dB levels stay between -12 and -6 while the gain is around 5 or lower

Helpful tips

  • Do your interview in a quiet room — keep an ear out for the hum of an air conditioner or fridge, and other loud distractions
  • Record room tone, special sounds (like birds chirping, or a pen clicking) and the interview separately, then mix during editing
  • When conducting the interview, be sure your subject responds concisely and puts the answer in context
  • Always monitor levels throughout the interview, and adjust accordingly

For more info, check out the slides. Then, do some research and practice on your own — there’s so much to learn!

P.S. Recording and editing your first-ever audio clip and need free, easy-to-use software? Give Audacity a try.