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The poor man’s wireless microphone: How to use a digital voice recorder as a walkaround microphone


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Well, okay, maybe the title’s “poor man” reference is a bit of a misnomer. ¬†I mean, to the extent that an iPhone can be considered a “poor man’s” tool is debatable, right?

But, when you consider replacing everywhere I say or use the word¬†iPhone in the video above with the words digital voice recorder, then maybe it makes a bit more sense. ¬†When you start comparing the cost of a digital voice recorder (about $50 to $200 for one with decent sound quality) with a wireless microphone system setup (which can range from a few hundred shells to several thousands), the case for a poor man’s wireless microphone starts sounding a little better.

But, even if you were to shell out for a wireless lavalier microphone system, it would still cost at least a few hundred bucks for just one such system.  Add another talking-head or two into your video and you can see where expenses start racking up.  Those can be tough expenses to justify, especially if all you want to do is record passably good quality audio / video for purposes of video-blogging and the occasional client interview.

4 Video-blogging Anti-Best Practices

The issue I’m addressing in this post relates to a discussion we had a couple of weeks ago during one of our SMMOC meetings (Social Media Mastermind, Orange County roundtable). ¬†At that meeting the topic of blogging, video-blogging and web video came up. ¬†Of course, I perked right up.

One of the points we bantered about were some of the best practices in video-blogging.  I mentioned some of my personal anti-favorites:

  • Recording with a computer-mounted webcam — especially when you get too close to the mounted camera (you’re bustin’ my personal space, man!)
  • Recording a video blog with a webcam while in your bedroom — and especially with your bed gracing the space in the background (hmm…too creepy)
  • Poor / dim / yellowish lighting (put me to sleep already)
  • Poor audio — especially having room echo, white noise, and so on (ugh, are you kidding me?)

During the audio portion of our SMMOC discussion, I made the suggestion — which I’ll make to you, as well — of using a microphone whenever you can. ¬†Even if it’s a corded microphone, get one with a long cord so that you can benefit from allowing yourself some “walking around space” and a bit of distance from the camera. ¬†This naturally segued to discussing tips about getting good audio quality even when you’re all the way on the other side of the room from the camera. ¬†Or, even more so — say when you’re all the way across an open field or a river stream from your camera. ¬†How do you get good sound to record with your video when you’re far away from your camera?

Well, of course, a wireless or lavalier type microphone, transmitter and receiver system is a good way to go. ¬†And, while I show just such a device in the first part of the video above, the fact is that I spent a few hundred bucks for mine. ¬†That might be a bit much for some folks. ¬†Especially if you’re still just dangling your feet and touching your toes in the waters of this whole video-blogging pool thingy.

A Digital Voice Recorder Can Help You Inexpensively Get Some “Walking Around” Space While Recording Your Video

So, for a few hundred dollars less than a wireless audio system setup, I made the point about using a digital voice recorder.  I happen to use the Voice Memos app that comes standard with my iPhone 3GS.  Although, you can pretty much use whatever you want.  The only requirements I would say are:

  • Listen to the quality of the audio recorded. ¬†Make sure it’s, uh, sound. (Pun intended.) ¬†It sorta defeats the purpose otherwise
  • The audio should be easily transferrable to your computer
  • The audio file format should be easily transferred into your video editing software. (Of course this implies you have video editing software.)

The Biggest Challenge About Recording Audio On a Digital Recording Device That’s Separate From Your Camera Is…

…Syncing. ¬†That is, you have to go through a few steps to sync up the audio file from your digital voice recorder with the talking-head’s lips in the video. ¬†(Remember those b-level martial movies where the samurai guy is seen talking, but the sound doesn’t go with what his lips appear to be saying? ¬†That’s the effect we don’t want to have.)

Solution: ¬†To get the audio and video sync’d up, take a step somewhere in the beginning of your recording session and clap. ¬†Yes, clap!

After you turn on the camera and are recording both video and audio, make sure your digital voice recorder is in your pocket somewhere close to your mouth.  (Like in a pocket of your shirt or blouse.)  Or, better yet, use a corded microphone clipped to your shirt and which is connected to your digital recorder.

Then, with both these devices turned on, clap loudly three times. ¬†This will give you three hard audio “spikes” (see below) that will appear in both your camera’s audio track and the digital recorder’s audio that you can use to sync up after you import them both into your video editor.

Caveats For Your Video Editor

  • Make sure it supports the ability to view audio files as “wave forms” (similar to what’s shown in the picture above)
  • It helps to have the ability to have multi-tracks. ¬†This means that you can place different audio (or video) clips “on top” of one another. ¬†For example, in the picture above, notice how there are three rows (called tracks in video-speak) for the audio files.

Video Editing Software That Will Work For This

  • For the PC:
    • Windows Movie Maker (usually bundled free with your PC) actually has one additional audio track you can use in addition to the audio that comes with the video. ¬†They usually use it for music, but you can place your digital audio file there, too. ¬†Then just match up the spikes in the same way I show you in the video.
  • For the Mac:
    • Sadly, I don’t think iMovie (usually comes with your Mac) displays audio waveforms. ¬†(Someone help me out here?) ¬†Consequently, I’d say it might be worth investing a bit in another Mac-based video editor like Final Cut Express (about $99 last I checked… ‘might even actually come bundled free with some Mac purchases.)

Your Turn

What other tips and tricks do you have about getting good quality audio and video on a shoestring budget?

YouTube Video Annotations ‚Äď How To Create Links To Other Videos

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I made this vid in response to the suggestion of a friend. ¬†She, a few friends and I are helping a committee put together a birthday bash for Jeff Pulver, Founder of the popular 140 Character Conference series. ¬†And, while you’re invited to attend this event –it’s going to be in Irvine, CA on September 15th — that’s not the point of this post.

The point is to share with you the same points I’m trying to address in this video as a result of a suggestion from my friend Stacey Soleil: ¬†that not everyone might know how YouTube annotations work or for what purposes they can be used.

But, a couple of things are worth noting. ¬†I shot the video above quickly. ¬†And, since this is a blog about video and video-blogging, I now have to comment on the video quality. ¬†ūüôĀ

Multiple Sources Of Light Is Important

One thing you’ll notice is that in the 2 minute pre-amble, the subject (me) appears darker relative to the background. ¬†While filters could be applied in post-production (the Editing phase) to try and bring the subject out a bit better, your best bet will always be to try and get the initial conditions right at Production time (video shooting phase). ¬†I clearly allowed the time crunch I was under to get the better of me in this video. ¬†And, while it still accomplished it’s objective, there are a couple of things that could have made the quality even better:

Option A. ¬†Place at least one light source — preferably two — in front of the subject and off-camera.

Typically, you’d want 3 sources of light. ¬†This is especially important indoors where shadows on back walls can create unintended effects in your video; 3-point light sources indoors help alleviate those shadows. ¬†Anyway, in this option, the sun counts as one source, but two more sources could have helped by placing them at roughly 45-degree angles in front of the subject and off-camera. ¬†Tip: ¬†The other sources of light don’t necessarily have to be powered lights. ¬†They can actually be reflectors of some sort–in many cases, a building itself may actually count as a reflector! ¬†In fact, on a good day, I’ve often been able to get away with simply using the sun itself as a point source. ¬†Although, others will point out that even in those cases, I’m still essentially using multi-sources of light because the reflection you’ll typically get from other surfaces will act as your secondary light sources.

Option B.  Move Away From the Building.

Since this video was shot early in the day, the sun was still fairly low on the horizon.  And, I shot it under an awning.  Not a great combination.  It would have been better to move the whole shebang out from under the awning and further away from the structure that was behind the camera.  In that way, I would have captured some of the very benefits I pointed out in Option A above, which is to capture some of the reflection coming off of the structure itself.

Ending On A Good Note

During the preamble, you’ll see that I previewed the very objects I was going to be talking about by using them as fun examples before actually dipping right into the teaching phase. ¬†I can’t take credit for that technique. ¬†It’s one I’ve learned from other instructional designers and presenters whom I’ve found have used very similar techniques to great effect. ¬†(Now, whether or not *I* used it effectively is for you to judge. ūüėČ

The point is, to follow basic presentation doctrine: ¬†1. ¬†Tell them what you’re going to teach them; ¬†2. ¬†Teach them what you said you were going to teach them; then, 3. ¬†Tell them what you taught them.)

The other thing is you’ll notice that I was able to use two different types of media in the same timeline. ¬†One type is the full motion video you see in the 2-minutes on the front end, and then again in the 5 or so seconds on the back end. ¬†The other type of media was a screencast which I placed in the timeline smack in the middle.

I’d be interested in your thoughts about this technique. ¬†It used to be the case that I’d simply start recording a screencast from beginning to end. ¬†But, more and more in recent shots I’ve been playing around with a mix of full motion video as an introductory piece to certain screencasts before actually diving into them. ¬†Anyway, I’ll keep experimenting here. ¬†And, you should, too.

Till next time.  I hope you have a great weekend.

Is Video In an Idea-Sharing Meeting Appropriate?

Camera lens

I sat with some friends at lunch yesterday right after our Social Media Mastermind Roundtable meeting. We got on to the topic of videos and live blogging in mixed company. ¬†I voiced an observation to my friend, Eric, that I “missed” him at our last couple of meetings. ¬†Oh, he was there alright. My point was that since he started taking up live blogging at the last couple of events, I’ve noticed that his contributions to the group have dropped off significantly. He has been much quieter lately, I complained.

My thoughts turned to video. (Surprised?)

I suggested how video might be a solution to the “I miss Eric’s contributions” issue because video basically captures all the dialog in such meetings. ¬†Hit the record button and then fuhget-about-it. ¬†He would then be free to participate in the conversation without having to worry about missing a beat in the act of recording the moment.

Video Isn’t Always Welcomed

But, hold on, suggested my friend Stacey. Video carries its own baggage in such meetings.

I saw her point immediately: with video running in the background and capturing everything that’s being said in a forum that I, myself, have billed as a “safe environment in which to fail”, the question is: wouldn’t video actually have the effect of stifling the very uninhibited brainstorming and idea-sharing activities that make such mastermind forums so valuable? If attendees were aware of video hanging on, literally, their every word, then it stands to reason that attendees may not be so forthcoming with their most controversial opinions and fringe ideas. I’d actually feel cheated.

I mean, I get up every Saturday morning to attend these meetings just so I can brainstorm and bounce around new and potentially controversial ideas that I may not otherwise be willing to state publicly in other forums.

It’s a great point Stacey raises; ‘definitely something to consider. I don’t have the definitive answers on this. (Does anyone?)

Get Permission

Off-the-cuff: my inclination is to reconsider my ideas about bringing video into those kinds of forums. (Though my lunch friends didn’t say as much, my thoughts naturally drifted over to the “Any Given Saturday” piece I shot last weekend.) No matter how well-meaning the motivation is to benefit outsiders with visual evidence of the value of our mastermind meetings, the right thing to do is, I would say, to always ask permission.

And, while the group leader did kindly give permission before I shot that piece, in retrospect I’d have to say that if you were to find yourself in a similar scenario, it would probably be appropriate to first seek permission–not just from group leader–but from the meeting participants, themselves.

Should Video Be Banned Entirely For Some Meetings?

In fact, I might even go so far as to say that, because of individual pressure to conform to group norms, and for individuals to not want to come across as a snarky naysayer when someone asks, “can I video the meeting?”, I might go so far as to say that maybe some meetings should probably just not be recorded in any case. No matter what the members might otherwise feel pressure to give with a head-nod.

What do you think? Should video be allowed to run in mastermind-type idea-sharing meetings?

(Photo courtesy: Andy Rennie, flickr, creative commons.)

Testimonial Videos – Simple Equipment, Simple Questions


Above is a testimonials video I created recently for a non-profit professional association. It’s very easy to create one of these. ¬†The equipment I used during the shoot included the following:

  • Camera setup (about $800 a year-and-a-half ago. ¬†But, you can do the same thing using a Flip Camera for a lot less… about $200.)
    Р Canon Vixia HV40
    Р Tripod
  • Microphone setup (Which I purchased from eBay a couple of years ago for about $200.)
    Р Wireless lapel microphone
    Р Wireless microphone transmitter (you see some of the interviewees holding it in their hand)
    Р Wireless receiver (see image below)
  • a square paper napkin (free)

In case you’re wondering about that last bit in the list, the napkin was a quick-and-dirty “people positioner.” ¬† I dropped it on the floor at the spot where I wanted each interviewee to stand. ¬†ūüôā



In terms of the microphone setup, I use a wireless lapel microphone arrangement. ¬†(The picture on the left shows the receiver plugged into the mic-in port on my camera. ¬†Meanwhile, the other end–meaning the transmitter and mic can be seen in the hands of some of my subjects. ¬†[*sigh…*]. ¬†I should’ve clipped it to their belt or something.)

However, you don’t have to go the route I did with the sound setup. ¬†You can accomplish similar sound quality via a $40 wired microphone you can get from Radioshack, Best Buy or some other similar electronics store. ¬†The main thing is to not rely on the camera’s built in microphone to capture your subject’s sound. ¬†In this case, the camera was positioned about 8 feet away from the subject, so you want your subject’s sound to be more pronounced than the ambient room noise. ¬†To get a feel for how my subjects might have otherwise sounded, just listen to my voice as I introduce each interviewee. ¬†Since I wasn’t mic’d-up, I came across as a little more echo-y than my interview subjects. ¬†And, while that may be acceptable to have me sound that way in a short-form Q&A type session, you definitely don’t want you primary subjects sounding like that. ¬†It doesn’t make for compelling video testimonials. ¬†(A quick note: ¬†For longer form interviews–as in a “Larry King” type format–it would be advisable to have both subjects mic’d up.)

Simple Questions – More Compelling Responses

The other thing you’ll notice, too, is that I kept the questions simple. ¬†In this case, there were three primary questions I asked each participant:

  • What is (organization name) about?
  • Why do you attend (organization name)?
  • If someone were to establish a similar organization in their area, what success tips would you give them?

You may discover your own technique. ¬†But generally speaking, I like to keep the questions simple and few when I conduct testimonial videos. ¬†And, keep the questions open-ended. ¬†(Meaning, the response requires a short essay-type response, rather than one that could otherwise satisfy the question with a simple “yes” or “no.”) ¬†The rationale for keeping the questions simple and on-point with a specific, discrete and simple idea is because your subject will fill in the “blank” with his or her own thoughts and words. ¬†If you make the question too complex, they’ll have to think about it more which subsequently creates a longer pause on camera. ¬†(Less compelling.)

The other thing is that, from the viewer’s perspective, by asking each interviewee the same¬†simple question, you make it easy for them, too. ¬†And, by holding one of the variables static (i.e., limiting the variability in the questions asked), you make it easier for anybody watching your video to do a compare/contrast analysis in their head; viewers have less variables to have to wade through and can quickly evaluate the testimonials on the basis of how different people answer the same questions.

Your Thoughts?

Your thoughts?  What are some of your favorite testimonial questions to ask?  What are your thoughts about keeping the questions simple?  Good idea?  Or, do you prefer more complex interactions?