How to Get Perfect Sounding Dialog for Your Video Marketing Productions

Let’s face it… We’ve all watched videos with dialog that is hard to understand. Whether it’s muddy, harsh, noisy, or buried beneath the music, one thing is sure: It is distracting.

Unfortunately, when a viewer is distracted by blemished audio, they are not paying full attention to the video they are watching and likely missing some or all of the message that is supposed to be conveyed.

Depending on the type of video you are producing for your marketing, the hard-to-understand dialog can be absolutely detrimental to how effectively your message is broadcasted to the viewer.

For instance, if you are producing a video that features a subject explaining how to do a specific task, the dialog must be crystal clear so that the viewer can absorb the information quickly and thoroughly, especially if there is no written transcript or there are no bullet points displayed.

In this article, we’ll cover some essential tips for recording and editing dialog to ensure the viewers of your videos are not distracted, and they are getting the entire message you are attempting to broadcast.

Getting viewers to click on your video is the hard part, so make sure you don’t overlook the easy part of making it sound great, so they stick around when you get them there.

Put Good In, Get Good Out

The best way to ensure you end up with great-sounding dialog in your video is to capture great-sounding dialog.

I know… that sounds a little facetious, but trust me, it is true. If you take the time to learn about the equipment you are using, set it up correctly, and double-check to make sure everything is connected and working properly, you will save time and prevent complications and headaches down the road.

If you are using the combination of a microphone and an audio interface with built-in preamps, this process should be reasonably simple. First things first: make sure it is all connected the way it should be.

Your microphone and audio interface most likely have XLR connections. XLR cables are very easy to find at any music store or online, and they are relatively inexpensive. Connect one end to the mic and one end to the interface, and you should get a solid signal. Congratulations, you’re well on your way to recording some solid audio!

The next step will be determining where you want to place your microphone. If you are using a lavalier mic, this will most likely be on the subject’s tie or collar area.

For a shotgun mic, I would recommend putting it on a stand pointed at the subject. Shotgun mics are very sensitive and very directional. They will pick up the sound from where you are pointing them and reject the sound from where you are not.

Here’s a great video to watch on getting the best audio out of a shotgun mic.

This means if your subject will be walking or moving around a lot in your video production, you may want to consider having someone actually hold the shotgun mic and follow them or choosing a different type of microphone altogether.

Finally, if you are using a handheld or podium-style mic, placement should be pretty straightforward.

Place the microphone in front of the subject. The closer you can get it without the mic obstructing the video shot, the better.

For these style microphones, I highly recommend using a windscreen, even if you are recording inside. It will lessen the effect of plosive sounds when your subject pronounces their p’s and b’s.

Image: Source

The last step in ensuring you are ready to record is setting your levels. If you are using an audio interface with built-in preamps, there will be a knob to set the level.

Make sure your microphone is placed where you want it, and ask your subject to speak in the same tone and volume that they will be when you are shooting the video.

When setting your levels, you want to give yourself enough headroom so that if the subject emphasizes a word or syllable more than you expect, it will not overload the preamp.

When recording digitally, we call this “clipping, ” which is not a desirable sound. Aim for about -12dB – -18dB for average levels, with peaks no higher than -6dB. This should ensure a clear recording, free from any clipping.

There are more steps to come in editing and mixing the recordings, but if you have done all of this correctly, you should be well on your way to great-sounding dialog in your video.

When it comes to recording, you must capture the best recording possible. It will save you valuable time and energy down the road. Don’t let anyone tell you, “we can fix it in the mix.”!

Think Inside the Box

The next step in making your dialog sound great for your video production is to edit it and clean it up using your software of choice. We call this working “in the box.” 

Using a dedicated Digital Audio Workstation, or DAW, such as Pro Tools, Logic Pro, or Adobe Audition to edit your dialog is ideal.

These programs are specifically laid out to make editing audio as quick and intuitive as possible. That being said, most video editing software features basic audio editing capabilities.

It may not be as fast or easy as a DAW, but it should provide you with the tools you need to get the dialog sounding right for your video production.

Removing audio flaws

When editing dialog, I would first consider removing any clicks, pops, or unwanted sounds coming from the subject, such as breaths. The best way to do this is to listen… sounds pretty easy, right?

When you hear any sounds you don’t want in your final production, duck the volume down for that moment. This sounds arduous, but with a bit of practice, it is pretty easy.

With the automation tools in DAWs or video editing software, you can draw in the change of volume wherever you want it in the clip.

And remember, always use a quick fade-in or fade-out at the beginning and end of any audio clips. This will prevent any short clicks that can be very annoying to the listener if not addressed.

Level consistency

The next step in editing dialog is ensuring the levels are consistent throughout the clip.

Again, I would start with automating the volume. If you hear any drastic changes in volume or see them when looking at the waveform, automate the clip’s volume for those moments to level it out and make it more consistent.

After automating, I would consider using a leveling compressor on the clip. A compressor is a tool used to reduce the volume of a clip by a user-set amount when it passes a user-set threshold.

The effect of a compressor is subtle, but it is a vital tool. When used too drastically, however, it can have a very negative effect on the audio. I’d advise using a compressor carefully and looking for a gain-reduction of about -6dB when working on dialog.

Importance of equalization

Finally, when you are happy with the volume of your dialog, I would advise using some subtle equalization on the clip. An equalizer is a tool that allows you to boost, cut, or filter out any audio frequencies you would like.

Again, this tool does amazing things when used carefully, but when used too extremely, it can do more harm than good.

As a basic rule, I would filter out frequencies below 80-90 Hertz when working with a male voice and 90-100 Hertz with a female voice.

Anything below these frequencies is unusable and will do nothing but make your dialog muddier and harder to understand.

In Conclusion

Recording and editing dialog may seem daunting at first glance, but I can assure you if you follow these steps, it is a highly engaging and rewarding process. There is a lot to learn when getting started in audio.

There are new skills to practice and new terms to learn. Still, remaining patient and putting some time into these skills will undoubtedly pay off in the end when your next video production delivers your message to the audience in a clear and effective way through the use of crisp, clear, and flawless audio.

Anthony Gaenzle
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