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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 – 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.  🙁

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. 😉

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.