A common task at the CSA is to record yourself or present live for both audio and audio with video. the following are some tips and tricks that can vastly improve the quality of your audio and video.
The better the microphone, the better the audio. Good news: most recent Macs have pretty good built-in microphones. For Windows-based laptops, we recommend getting an external microphone unless the laptop has a high-quality microphone.
Bluetooth microphones are generally a bad idea and often suffer from dropouts and other audio glitches due to connectivity and latency issues. They should be avoided, especially if recording audio for presentation.
If you pick an external microphone, especially if you record a lot of audio, consider a microphone with a built-in headphone jack so that you can hear your voice exactly as it sounds, without latency. In generally a $50 microphone is more than sufficient for most use cases.
If you have a good external microphone get a good arm for it, this allows for permanent installation of the microphone at a desk in a way that also allows it to be moved out of the way easily. A good microphone arm is not cheap ($100-200) but is well worth it both for audio quality (they reduce external vibrations) and for usability.
To quote Wikipedia, "Clipping is a form of waveform distortion that occurs when an amplifier is overdriven and attempts to deliver an output voltage or current beyond its maximum capability. Driving an amplifier into clipping may cause it to output power in excess of its power rating."
Basically, if you set the microphone to be too loud, it can result in overdriving and bad audio. For example, on my Windows PC it auto levels to 100%, and when I use my Rode podcaster microphone this results in horrible audio; setting the incoming to 92% fixes it.
Spit or pop shields
A spit or pop shield is a thin fabric panel held on an arm between your mouth and the microphone. It prevents spit from getting on the microphone and also acts as a diffusion grating to soften your voice, and finally, it can also help you hold your mouth at a more constant distance resulting in a more level recording (e.g. you don't fade in and out). They cost about $15-20, if you have an external microphone, I highly recommend getting one.
We strongly recommend that you use headphones so that your computer doesn't need to do noise canceling, especially if you are able to use it from a quiet location. Plus, you'll be able to hear other people better.
Noise management and reduction
Silence is golden and allows your voice to really come through. Using a quiet location is best; the smaller and more sound dampening, the better. Closets with racks of clothes actually make for good impromptu recording studios. If you are using a desktop PC, also ensure that the fun profiles are set so that fan noise isn't a problem.
Noise cancellation software
A number of good AI-based noise cancellation software packages are available now, so if you are in a noisy environment (e.g., public coffee shops), you can use these to greatly improve the quality of your audio by filtering out everything that is not your voice.
The better the camera, the better the video, usually. Again, Mac computers have pretty good built-in cameras, and most laptops now have acceptable cameras if lighting conditions are good. If you are recording for presentations, however, we strongly recommend investing in a good 4k camera. Googling for "best 4k camera 2023" and so on will show good results.
Natural light is, of course, best, but not always available (e.g., nighttime). Buying a web camera light between $50-$100 will provide more than ample light; most will allow for both the brightness and color temperature to be controlled. Again searching Google for "best web camera light 2023" and so on will provide good results.
Clothing should ideally have flat patterns or large patterns. Small detailed patterns, especially thin stripes, can interact with displays to cause banding and visual glitching resulting in flashing and other problematic behaviors.
If you are comfortable with your real background showing, great; please ensure it isn't too visually noisy. If you want privacy or have a noisy physical background, you can use a virtual background, this is now built into most software, but there are third-party packages available as well.
If you can, a $100 projector screen mounted to the ceiling behind you provides a quick and easy way to have an instantly flat white background that is entirely neutral and allows for much crisper virtual backgrounds (edge detection is easy if you're in front of a flat white screen).
Recording audio and video checklist
Before recording, you should use the following checklist:
- Update software and firmware the night before, and reboot the computer if possible
- Prepare any lights, screens, and so on
- Pick clothing with flat colors or large patterns
- Check audio settings; on Windows, for example, the system often auto-levels incoming microphone levels to 100% resulting in clipping. Manually setting them lower (e.g., 92%) will often improve things.
- Do a test recording and play it back to see how you sound and look. The exact same settings can result in different results (especially with lights, time of day, etc.)