If you have audio, good audio is critical to any elearning course. Any great instructional designer who can create the most engaging courses possible will look like an amateur if the audio quality in your course is not very good.
When doing audio, you basically need only a couple essentials: (1.) Hardware, (2.) Software, and (3.) Good Recording Practices.
Hardware: The Mic Is Everything
Among microphones, most people agree that there are two or three best choices. First, among the headsets, Plantronics is probably the best choice which is highly recommended by Articulate (here <-best and here and here). Second, among the desktops, the Snowball is probably the best choice with high recommendations from all over with the best price and quality mix. Anything “better” just increases exponentially in price though there are some cheaper good solutions, such as Samson, recommended by Articulate. There is also the little cousin of the Snowball called the Snowflake.
But which one should I choose: headset or desktop? Articulate has a great blog on this (here). Simply put, headsets are good for single “authors” while desktops are good for multiple “authors.” We as a company have purchased both the Plantronics, which I’ve seen priced as low as $30, and Snowball, which I’ve seen priced as low as $70.
Software: Quality in the Background
Now that you have the microphone, you need a sound editing software. There are two basic options: (1) Free and (2) Priced. Among the free choices, the best options appear to be WavePad (which has a fully featured version available) and Audacity, which is my preferred free option. Personally, I have struggled with both each creating what I call computer noise after I normalize and noise reduce. So I have begun to look into the fully featured ones from Adobe (Audition and Soundbooth). But apparently, none of these compare toGarageBand for the Mac though they (Soundbooth [no longer available] and Audition [part of the eLearning Suite]) are improving.
Recording Best Practices
First, maintain a consistent environment. If you have a studio, great! If you have multiple, try to record in the same one. If you don’t have any of these, use the same conference room (smaller the better; Rooms with carpeting and things on the walls are better than bare floors and walls).
Second, remove as much of the background noise as possible. You want to get rid of the noise you have control over.
- Unplug office machines. I once had a manager that would print his entire email inbox (which was not fun!) and the printer was on my desk. And inevitably he would accidentally do it as I was recording something.
- Turn off fans and air conditioners.
- Place your microphone away from your computer. You might not realize it, but your computer makes a lot of fan noise.
- Tell everyone around you to be quiet. Put signs on the door.
Third, improve your talking techniques.
- Standup and walk around if possible. Use gestures if possible.
- Before recording, drink lots of water (my recommendation is to drink 1L by the time you have to record if recording in the morning and 2L if recording in the afternoon). If you need water during recording, do not use ice water, only water at room temperature. Ice water will hinder your vocal cords.
- Right before recording, eat a green apple.
- Do not smack your lips.
- Position the mic so that it is above your mouth and slightly to the side
- With digital recording, anything that goes OVER (or “in the red”) will be distorted. If the sound is loud enough, it will be too distorted to understand – this cannot be fixed.
- Audacity provides a graphical level meter and a slider control to adjust the recording levels on your soundcard. Both are indicated with a Microphone icon.