I’m working on a task that I only occasionally do for clients… Cleaning up recorded audio from a live webinar to make the archive more presentable. This is mind-numbingly tedious work. I typically work in sub-second increments, removing breaths, fixing stutters, reducing intrusive sounds, adjusting pauses between words, filtering out background noise, and balancing volume.
What is particularly heartbreaking on this project is that I know the end result will be imperfect. You see, the recording was made by a presenter on a poor phone line using a speakerphone. The audio exceeds the microphone’s volume range, introducing clipping and fuzz into the recording. And you can’t eliminate that… All you can do is try to reduce how irritating it sounds.
I hear bad audio on webinars all the time. Presenters use cheap headsets, mobile phones, and speaker phones. They sit in offices with loudspeaker announcements. They have their pet dog in the room, who starts barking during the presentation. They don’t check levels and they don’t position their microphone correctly, so they produce whooshes, hisses, and pops while talking. Their chairs squeak and they rustle papers loudly during their talk.
Once the bad artifacts from improper setup get into your recording, they are almost impossible to remove. Things usually get worse when the session is recorded by the web conferencing software. Almost every vendor compresses the audio down to a tinny, flat version of what it was during the live event. This saves file space and computing power.
What’s the answer? Do it right the first time. Test audio ahead of time. Have two other people on the line to listen and give you feedback on your levels, clarity, and noise artifacts. You can not and must not trust how things sound to you while talking. Think about intrusive noises and take steps to eliminate them. Put the dog in the garage for an hour. Get a different chair. If you have papers, remove any staples or bindings to leave a stack of individual pages. As you finish with each page, let it fall gently to the floor (this is an old radio announcer trick).
If you know you will be doing post-production on your recording, you may be better off recording the audio separately from the web conference recording using your audio conferencing provider’s recording capabilities. The reputable teleconference vendors have a vested interest in giving you clear audio quality and will record at a higher bitrate for better sound. Then you can make your edits and reassemble the audio with the video into something you’ll be proud of.