The Key Component

When it comes down to it, there are only three key elements to anything that you post on YouTube: Audio, Video, and Content. If you can master all three, then you can have a great channel with lots of subscribers and fulfilling interaction. But how do we do it? What do we need to better ourselves on this widely accepted entertainment medium? If we only have time to talk about one thing, let it be this – let’s talk about audio.

Audio

I know that what I’m about to say is debatable, but I’m going to go ahead and say it anyway. Audio trumps video on the list of priorities. Viewers are a lot more forgiving of video then they are of audio. If I played you a clip with stunning HD video, but the audio pops, cracks, and drops in and out, you would probably get restless and not want to watch anymore. On the other hand, if I played you a clip with lower resolution video, but the audio was crystal clear, I think you’d be more forgiving and it’d be easier for me to convince you to watch until the end. So how do we get better audio? For starters, let’s talk about Dual-System vs. Single-System audio.

Dual-System

This method is the best way to guarantee great audio time and time again. Dual-System is a process where you record your audio and video on two separate devices. Therefore, in this method, you won’t be using your camera audio in the final video. You’ll use the audio that you recorded on a completely separate device. This is done by using a microphone along with an external digital recorder. Lucky for us, there are great recorders out there that that give us versatility in how we work on a project. For instance, the Tascam DR44-WL has built in microphones which can get you started, and then as your needs progress, you have the option to connect external microphones through the available XLR ports. The Tascam DR-60mkII even has the convenience of being mounted to your camera for easy monitoring. So, what’s the benefit of this option? Well, it gives you total control over your audio. You’re no longer bound to your cameras position and limitations. You can monitor the room noise more closely and take more controlled steps to address it. This also opens up a new world of microphones for you such as shotgun mics which can be mounted to boompoles for overhead (but out of sight) recording. The best option, however, would be to have a studio setup that doesn’t change. For instance, you’d have your camera(s) setup up where you want them, and you’d have a fixed microphone in front of you running to an Audio Interface on your computer and capturing audio straight into an editing suite or digital audio workstation. If your videos require out of sight microphones for an interview or something like that, lavalier microphones are another option that you should consider. They’re easy to hide, and can usually be used in both a dual and single-system situation (which we will talk about next). Of course, all of this depends on what kind of channel you have and what situations your videos end up putting you in. But all in all, there are simply far greater and more functional options at your disposal with a dual-system setup. The drawback of this system is that it takes more work in editing (more or less depending on your editing components). You’ll have to sync your audio and video together. This is why you see a lot of clackers or people clapping in front of the camera in behind the scenes footage. You make a loud noise that peaks the audio and visually takes place in the video so that you can sync those pieces of information together later in post-production. However, there are programs out there that can do this for you at varying price points. Now, we last spoke of lavalier microphones and how they can be used in either dual or single-system situations. With that in mind, let’s talk about Single-System Audio.

Tascam's DR-60 Features XLR Inputs and can be easily mounted to a DSLR
Tascam’s DR-60 Features XLR Inputs and can be easily mounted to a DSLR

Single-System

This option is a little simpler, and can still take your audio to the next level. Single-System is when your audio and video are recorded together simultaneously and on top of each other. If you shoot the video on your phone and you use the same audio that recorded along with it, then that’s Single-System. The audio and video are recorded together on the same piece of equipment. Just as if you were to use the audio from your DSLR camera or GoPro, then that’s Single-System. It’s the easiest way to shoot, but does have drawbacks. You can’t always control the elements around you. Sometimes the audio recorded in camera can pick up the camera noise and there’s less that can be done about the wind and so forth. There also are not usually many options as far as settings for the microphone other than Low, Medium, or High Sensitivity (if that much). However, there are great options to make this type of audio much cleaner and usable in your final video. Many microphone companies will make a line of DSLR Shotgun Microphones. These hook up to the camera’s shoe mount where the flash and other accessories might go on a DSLR. Most point and shoot camcorders and DSLR cameras these days have a 3.5mm input or an XLR input for the benefit of connecting a microphone; therefore, you would simply mount it, run the line to the camera, and that’s it! Instantly you should have cleaner audio. Some of these mics are more powerful than others and require batteries to operate, but they also come with the added benefit of more improved audio and functionality. Rode microphones has several shotgun microphone options including stereo shotgun microphones. The video quality of cell phones has improved dramatically; however, because the capsules of the internal microphone are so small, connecting a dedicated microphone to your cell phone can result in a better and far more excellent final product that can be exported straight to Youtube. iPhone users have several options including dedicated IOS microphones like the Shure Motiv MV88 or the Rode IXY microphone. Some of these microphones can also be used with Android depending on the model of your phone. There are also now dedicated IOS lavaliere microphones like the Rode Smartlav and MXL MM-160. Think about this, if you tend to use your cell phone camera to capture your subject while you offer commentary on what you’re filming, then how much nicer would it be to have the freedom to move your phone around while the lavalier microphone stays focused right on your voice? It would make a tremendous difference at minimal cost and have such a more professional effect. A more advanced version of this setup is Samson’s XPD mobile wireless system. It’s available in handheld, lavaliere, and headset transmitter configurations, and features a receiver that can connect to your camera or cell phone. This is an ideal setup for interviews and gives you more freedom to roam while still offering crystal clear audio. For these Samson wireless systems, using a USB to Lightning Adapter (Apple) or OTG converter (Android) makes them compatible with cell phones. A setup like this offers unlimited creative potential. Whether you’re shooting an interview, actors, or a review of your favorite product, being able to move freely without worrying about your audio will be a liberating experience.

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Single System Audio Setup Featuring Samson XPD Wireless System

Now, I know what some of you are thinking, I use a webcam and my computer to make my YouTube videos. I guess that means I’m out of luck. No way! You may have the most options at your disposal. USB microphones have come so far and are a fantastic option for capturing audio right into your computer. Neat Microphones makes a line that offers brilliant sounding audio with different stereo, mono, and field options, as well the convenience of a built in desktop stand for ease of use. A couple of great options in this line would be the Beecaster and the Bumblebee. Blue Microphones also offers the Yeti and the Snowball which fall into a midrange price point. And Samson very affordably offers the Meteor Mic and the ultra-portable Go Mic which clips conveniently to your laptop or computer monitor. These are all great, and there are certainly others out there. No matter what your price point may be, there is a tremendous microphone to be had. USB microphones could work well in a Dual-System scenario as well because I could definitely imagine a situation where you could use your microphone to record audio straight to your video capture for reference as well as recording it into a separate audio suite for further editing.

Summary

In the end, there’s no substitute for creativity. I’ve given you a lot of options for the tools that are at your disposal and now it’s up to you to find the one that suits you best. There are just as many creative things that you can do with audio as you can with video and your audience will appreciate you for taking the time to do so. My suggestion would be simply to start at the top and work your way down. Do I have the budget for a Dual-System, Audio Interface, Digital Audio Workstation, Condenser Microphone setup? If yes, then great! If not, just work your way down until you find the situation that works for you. Even if all it means is plugging a lavalier microphone into your cell phone. As long as you’re better off than when you started, that’s all that matters. It all starts with a single step. Because anything that makes your video that much more impressive is something that will make you that much happier when it’s done. And pretty soon, your YouTube channel will be the benchmark for audio to which all other videos are tested.

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Dave Stutts
Dave Stutts is a native of the greater Hampton Roads area of Virginia. He received his Bachelors of Music degree in Theory & Composition from the prestigious Christopher Newport University music school. He is a music composer living and working in New York City. He specializes in orchestral/symphonic work as well as pop and digital music. His scoring work has ranged from Chamber Ensemble pieces (String Quartets/Brass Quintets), larger ensembles compositions (Wind Ensemble/Symphony Orchestra/String Orchestra), as well as short film and video game work.He is also a songwriter and a regular gigging musician in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens. He refers to his style as Pop/Rock and Blues. His musical career began when he started playing guitar at age 5. He later progressed to Bass in middle school, Drums in High School, and finally Percussion and Piano in college. When asked, he has cited Michael Giacchino, Hans Zimmer, and John Williams as his major film and video game inspirations, and John Mayer as his primary pop inspiration.