A Voice Is Worth A Thousand Frames (Getting your YouTube audio to rock!)

So you’re on YouTube playing guitar, and you want people to notice your videos.  Right now it’s so easy to get great quality video on the cheap, while great sounding audio is a little harder to come by. 

With a little tweaking however, your audio will be shining in no time, and I’m here to tell you how to get those results in 3 easy steps. Let’s DO this!

Today we’ll strictly be talking about how to improve your voice in videos. I’m thinking about doing a tutorial on how to improve background music, use ducking, guitar and more. Stay tuned. So many guitar students ask me how to improve their voice quality when recording videos for YouTube, so I figured this 3 tip post would be helpful. You only have so much time to capture a viewers attention, and voice quality is of epic importance.  Here are the steps to audio goodness.


Step 1 - Get A Quality Condenser or Dynamic mic

Buy a good condenser or dynamic mic. It can plug in USB, or you can buy a regular microphone that has an XLR output, and an interface ( a device that transmits audio signals to your computer via USB or Firewire).  

The reason I recommend buying a condenser is because it will be able to pick you up better than a live/dynamic style mic.  Condenser’s are typically used for vocals, and they should be used to capture voice for your videos. If you want any recommendations on condenser OR dynamic mics, reach out to me on Twitter or Facebook.

The step 1a of this part is to set a good level into your recording program.  Make sure you are not clipping/distorting the audio signal.  Every recording program is different, but you should be able to tell even by color, if you’re distorting the signal on a meter.  If not, listen carefully to your audio, does it sound crackly?  You’re probably overloading the preamp, so back off on the gain to clean your sound up a bit. Unlike other issues (EQ), you're not able to fix clipping in the mix.


Step 2 - The Clean Up Phase


After editing your vocals, cleaning them up, and syncing them to video (which is a whole other tutorial in itself), I suggest doing some processing to your voice. This is where step 2 comes in. Use a compressor on your voice.  There are a load of tutorials online on how to use a compressor. Basically, what a compressor acts like, is similar to an automatic fader. This saves you a lot of time, because if you’re too quiet, it will boost your voice up, and if you’re too loud, it will bring your level down, and compress it. 

Setting a compressor is a bit of an art, to make sure it doesn’t have any weird sounding pumping or breathing, but practice makes perfect! Using a compressor will help even out the level of your voice. One of the best things I've recommended to students is to start with a preset and then tweak from there.

Not every single plugin you use on a track has to be from scratch, and using presets at first is great for learning and speeding up the process.


Step 3 - EQ is your best friend


Finally, I would try using an equalizer on your voice. I've been mixing small indie bands all the way up to national acts for nearly 20 years, and if I had to choose a desert island plugin, it would be EQ. It's SO essential. 

When a voice or instrument has a problem in a recording, or if you’re trying to make a place for something to sit in the mix, you can equalize it and the results are usually pretty great.  Are your vocals too muddy, and lack definition? Try cutting some of the low-mid’s, and boosting in the 2-4K range for some added intelligibility.  Does your voice have a problem in the real high end?  Try adjusting the Q of your parametric EQ, and cutting out problem frequencies. One principle I go by is the seek and destroy method. Work on a single track (i.e. your voice, guitar, etc.) and boost problematic frequencies to see where the problems lie. Once you find them, cut these frequencies, and only use boosts of EQ for taste.

Make your vocals shine

Most computers and even phones come with a DAW (GarageBand, etc.) to work on, and  have plug-ins built right in, so you’ll find an EQ and compressor plug-in in the effects section. 

Buying a condenser or dynamic mic and setting the level correctly, using compression, and applying EQ to your voice will help your videos stand out.  I hope you have fun trying new things on your voice, and have fun making videos! Thanks for reading.