Most podcasters and info spreaders are quick to talk about the gear they recommend — me included — for getting great audio.
We know all about the ATR2100 or other mics like the Shure SM58 because they get a lot of word of mouth, but even if you have great gear that’s only one part of the puzzle.
After you record your audio, you’ll need to edit and process it. That’s what we’re talking about today:
5 Learn Audio Plugins
You’re probably wondering why even the most prolific podcasters and audio content producers don’t really talk about plugins. Frankly… there’s no commission with free plugins.
My site is currently too young to have any real affiliate marketing yet, so I’m happy to talk about it!
Here’s the rundown:
1. EQ (equalization)
Picture above (left) is the AIR Kill EQ which is a 3-band eq, and (right) the Channel Strip EQ which is a parametric eq.
You probably recognize the 3-band interface of the Air Kill EQ. It has the typical Low – Mid – High options that you’re used to seeing on a mixing board. When you turn up one of these knobs — also called pots which is short for potentiometer… the more you know — you increase that specific sound. When you turn the knob down it also turns down that sound… simple enough, right? With the 3-band EQ these groups of frequencies or bands are fixed, and cannot be spread out or focused unless they have a sweep which this 3-band EQ happens to have.
So if you want less low frequency in your sound you are able to lower it by turning down the low knob. If you want more clarity you are able to turn up the high knob. It’s very straight forward.
You might be familiar with the layout of a parametric equalizer if you’ve ever played around in Garageband or other editing softwares. When using this type of EQ you are able to grab a specific point and drag it around the frequency spectrum. This allows you to select a specific frequency you want to manipulate. You can then either focus in on it, or broaden your selection by manipulating your Q — that’s a bit tough to understand in writing, so just play with it when you can. You’ll hear the difference. The Channel Strip plugin allows you to manipulate 4 different frequency points including a low frequency (LF), low mid frequency (LMF), high mid frequency (HMF), and a high frequency (HF) along with two filters.
More often than not, I will use a parametric equalizer because I love the visual representation and the extra precision.
Dyn3 Expander / Gate Pictured Above
Simplified, gates get rid of unwanted noise such as breathing, or spit smacks by clamping down — closing — when you aren’t speaking. The gate determines what is considered unwanted sound with the threshold. If the audio is quieter than the set threshold, the gate remains closed preventing any audio from passing.
This is the #1 tool I rely on for cleaning up audio when producing voiceover.
Garageband, Pro Tools, Logic Pro X, and many other softwares have this tool built in. Trust me, the gate is your friend.
For Further Learning: Audio Gates & Expanders Explained
Dyn3 Compressor / Limiter Picture Above
Compressors work to decrease your audio’s dynamic range. Why does that matter? When you’re producing audio for broadcast you want a smaller — compressed — amount of volume fluctuation, so that your listener doesn’t have to mess with their volume.
Have you ever watched a movie where all of the sudden the music comes in and you struggle to hear the dialogue? That’s a great example of too much dynamic range, and not enough compression. By keeping your audio in a tight pocket you enable your listener to hear your voice at all times whether you speak softly or are shouting.
Speaking of shouting, the compressor also helps prevent audio from reaching 0 dB and peaking. In this case, the threshold determines when to start compressing the audio. As soon as the volume is over the threshold the compressor applies its ratio. In the picture above, the ratio is 3.0:1. That means for every 3 decibels (dB) that the audio goes over the threshold, only 1 decibel will actually pass. Pretty neat, right!
For Further Learning: Compression 101: How to Use a Compressor (I apologize ahead of time… this dude’s like… really dry.)
Maxim Limiter Pictured Above
A limiter is essentially a compressor on steroids. As soon as the audio goes over the threshold it is boosted up to the ceiling or specific output that is set — that’s insanely reductive, but we’ll count it. This is used to tighten up your dynamics even more, and can really sound like crap if you overdo it. This is definitely a process that shows its price tag. Waves makes some amazing limiters, but the stock ones that come with most softwares can’t be pushed very hard without causing distortion. Note: Audacity calls their limiter a leveler.
For Further Learning: A Beginner’s Introduction to Limiters by Mo Volans – Mo is awesomely thorough in this article!
Normalize Pictured Above
You always need to normalize your audio as a final step. All it does — when the peak setting is selected — is maximize your volume based on the loudest point in your recording. Looking at the picture above, if you move the level to the left, you set the deciBels to a lower level. So if you were to set it -1 dB, then the loudest point in your audio will be -1 dB. It’s incredibly simple, but extremely powerful for adding that last little bit of polish to your audio.
These 5 plugins more than any others are the nuts and bolts of great voiceover and podcast audio. If you master them, you will deliver industry standard high quality audio every time. Plus, you will only get better with practice, and experience!
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In the meantime, drop me a comment below and share which plugins you use to knock your audio out of the park.
Till next time,