Don’t let poor sound ruin your video. This article will show you four ways people get sound wrong and how to fix it.
Ok, let’s be honest. You can get all your visuals looking crispy and sweet, but if your sound is off, then the whole feel of a video is cheap. One of the worst things I see in people’s videos isn’t what I see. It’s what I hear.
Four sound problems can make your videos suck. Let’s deal with them one at a time and talk about how to fix them.
If you’d rather watch than read, check out the accompanying video.
Distortion, or clipping, happens when too much sound is sent to whatever is recording it. It might be sound that’s too loud for the mic, or more likely, it’s sound that makes it past the mic alright, but then gets recorded to high on the preamp.
The preamp is the bit or circuitry between the mic and the SD card (or whatever you’re recording to). Generally, mic preamps [Mic Pres] are crappy in most cameras, but you can still work with what you have.
If your sound is distorted, you will first need to figure out where it’s getting clipped. To find out, turn on some loud music or noise in front of your mic. It doesn’t have to be super loud, just as loud as whatever it was that made your video’s sound distorted.
Now that your sound source is set, get into your camera and see if you can find some sound meters. Most cameras have something like this. Most professionals record volumes so that they peak around -12. This makes sure that the levels don’t get too high and distort while also getting the volume loud enough.
If your sound levels are too high, you can either move the mic farther away from the sound source, or turn down to mic pre in camera. I recommend the in camera fix, because you can get more signal and less background noise by keeping the mic as close as possible to the source.
LOW SIGNAL SOUND
The opposite problem of the distorted sound is the sound that’s not loud enough to hear well. If you record the sound at too soft a level, it will be hard to recover the sound when you mix it.
If you kept the sound peaking around -12 when you record, you can bring it up in editing to level it out.
One other issue lots of people have with sound that’s too soft is that they place to mic to far away. If you’re using your on-camera mic, it needs to be close to your subject to get a loud enough signal. This is why most professional videos use an off-camera mic.
ROOM NOISE SOUND
Even if you get your sound levels right, having too much room noise makes the sound unprofessional. Have you ever seen someone recording in a music studio? Ever noticed them in a super small room or with lots of sound damping material around them? That’s to kill room noise.
If you record a video with lot’s of room noise, there’s not much you can do. You might try adding music to cover up the room noise, or you can gate the voice so that the space between talking goes away (if you don’t know about gating, look for a tutorial on it soon).
The best thing to do to fix room noise is get it handled before you record.
There are two main ways to fix room noise. The first way is just treating the room a little. Most room noise comes from the sound bouncing around in the room. To fix this, hang a blanket or some other sound absorbing material close to the subject of the sound. Moving blankets are great for this.
If you can’t treat the room, you can try to get a mic that only picks up sound close to your subject and then get the mic as close to them as possible.
SIMPLE TRICK: If you don’t have an off-camera mic, use a smartphone placed close to your sound source and record their voice on it. You can always sync them up later.
THIN OR MUFFLED SOUND
The last sound problem many people have is it sounding too thin or muffled. Again, the best way to fix this is before you actually record.
For muffled sounds, this usually happens when something blocks the high frequencies of your voice by creating a barrier. Think about cupping your hands in from of your mouth and speaking. That’s muffled.
Since you’re probably not doing that in your videos, the problem is often some kind of barrier around your mic. Make sure the mic has a direct line of sight with your subjects mouth. If you’re using a smartphone, make sure the mic isn’t blocked.
Thin sound often happens when a mic is too far away. Make sure to move your mic as close as possible to your voice. This is just a good general rule for sound recording.
Ok, changing sound in editing. Most editors have some way to EQ sound after recording it. Obviously, if your voice is muffled, you need to make it brighter. Most people will go straight to the high frequencies and add a bunch of those. But you can also try bringing down the low-mid frequencies to kill the muffles.
If you have a super, specific EQ like a parametric EQ, most muffles and muddy sound lives around 200-300Hz. Turning those frequencies down is always where I start.
PRO TIP: Subtractive EQ (bringing down frequencies) colors the sound less than Additive EQ (adding frequencies).
For thin sound, you can crank up the low-mid EQ. That’s frequencies around 400-500Hz. There’s really no need to crank up the lows since most voices don’t have frequencies below 200Hz.
Hopefully, all of this has cured your sucky sound woes. But don’t just tweak away at your sound and hope for the best. Before you render, do this one thing.
EVERY PROFESSIONAL I KNOW DOES ONE THING.
Compare your sound to a reference. Just find someone who sounds like what you want and switch back and forth between your sound and theirs. If it doesn’t sound close, keep tweaking it.
The more you do these adjustments to your sound, the better you’ll get at it and the less time it will take.