Mixcloud is the home of deep listening. We want to connect you to a rich community of listeners passionate about audio culture. Our Creator Tips series gives you the run down on how to make the most of Mixcloud.
Who said you need expensive equipment or fancy skills to create high quality sound? In the age of audio streaming, anyone can record a long form piece of audio to professional standard, get it online and start building an audience of listeners. There’s no need for deep pockets, a complicated setup or a sound engineering degree.
Whether you’re making a mix, hosting a radio show or getting into podcasting, here’s the need-to-know on how to get that top quality sound on your Mixcloud profile.
- Choose the right tools for the job
There are many ways to record an audio show. On a limited budget, you can either record to an external portable recorder, on a mic linked to your smartphone or directly to your computer.
Recording on the go
If you’re a DJ recording a live set or presenter recording a show on location, using a portable recorder is the way to go.
The process is simple: plug a portable recorder directly to your microphone or mixer, check the levels and away you go.
The Zoom H4n is our go-to recorder of choice, which can be easily plugged into a microphone for interviews or a mixer for music. Portable recorders like the H4n (or if you’re on a tighter budget, the H1) can record onto internal memory or SD card and have a screen to monitor the levels. We’d recommend staying between -20 and -12 to make sure your audio doesn’t get distorted.
Don’t forget to keep an eye on battery usage. If you’re planning on recording a 6 hour DJ set or talk show, consider investing in a recorder with a power supply or make sure to have extra batteries at hand.
When you’re done recording your audio to your external device, remember that you’ll need to copy the files over to your computer before you can share it anywhere.
Alternatively, you can find microphones that attach directly to your smartphone at an even lower price point. The Shure MV88, for example, conveniently plugs into any iPhone. With your own recording studio in your pocket, you can record effectively and save cash without compromising on quality.
Recording straight to your laptop
If you’re not looking for portability and are more into the idea of a home setup, consider recording straight to your laptop or desktop. This super cost-effective option gives you even more control. To make a professional-sounding show you need to use an audio interface, usually a soundcard. This converts your audio signal into a digital format that your computer can recognize. Some mixers have them in-built. If yours doesn’t, you’ll need an external one such as the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2.
Next step is to download DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) software onto your computer. This is a program which allows you to process, edit and export your recorded audio. If you don’t want to add to your budget, go for the best free option available: Audacity. This user-friendly tool is great if you’re simply looking to record and upload.
Let’s break it down:
If you’re recording a mix, the easiest thing to do is to connect your laptop to your mixer (if it has a soundcard) or to your external soundcard. Open up Audacity, or whichever software you prefer, and simply start recording. When you finish and click export, you’ll have a high definition audio file made up of all the sound that passed through your mixer.
If you’re recording a podcast or talk show, you will need to think about how to balance your mics with your music or stop multiple mics clashing. The simplest approach is to manually adjust the volume of your music and microphones as you’re recording. When you speak, bring the volume of the music down on your mixer. Remember to keep microphones off when they’re not being used to avoid background noise or feedback.
Alternatively, you can record speaking separately to the music and piece them together later on. Keep reading for some more advanced techniques on how to do that.
2. Check your levels and sound
Avoid recording your audio at a volume level that’s too high– it’s a common mistake. When your levels are too loud, you’ll get audio ‘clipping’ and the sound will get distorted. While you’re recording, err on the side of caution and lower the levels. You can always nudge the volume up whilst editing.
The optimum recording levels will depend on what you’re recording and what equipment you’re using. Experiment with what works for you, but make sure you leave a little bit of ‘head room’ (i.e don’t record as loud as possible) so that you have some space to make adjustments while you’re mixing. That way, if you tell a joke and everyone laughs, it won’t sound like a lost scene from The Exorcist.
When recording music, make sure the input is stereo and not mono– unless you want the music to sound flat. DJ software, such as Serato, will give you the option to switch between the two, so make sure you’ve selected stereo if you want the music to sound like it’s supposed to!
3. Think about your environment
Whether you’re recording a DJ mix on decks or crafting a radio show or podcast with voice, obviously your approach to recording will be quite different. Either way, a bit of planning in advance can help you control how your audio will sound.
If you’re recording a live mix in a nightclub, there’s little you can do to affect what happens– but that’s part of the excitement. If you’re recording a mix at home and something goes wrong, you can always start again.
When it comes to recording voice or interviews, you do want to think about your surroundings. Make sure you’re recording in a place where you won’t get interrupted and you won’t pick up on background noise. Consider recording in small rooms, with soft surfaces.
If something goes wrong while you’re recording, don’t sweat it. You can always re-record or edit parts of your show afterwards to get it on point.
4. Mix it up to perfection
So you’ve figured out your show concept, got all your technical tools and recorded your content. What’s next? You need to mix and edit your audio file so it’s ready to upload.
If you don’t have experience mixing shows or are lacking on time, don’t panic. With very little know-how, you can make a huge difference to make your show sound really professional.
Here’s a run-down on the basics:
Equalization (EQ for short) is how you balance the different frequencies in an audio signal. Editing the EQ will adjust the mix of highs, mids and lows in your audio, allowing you to increase or decrease the amount of bass for instance.
This comes in handy when mixing voiceovers or any recording of people chatting. Some microphones might sound very ‘tinny’, in which case you’ll want to try decreasing the high frequencies (treble) and maybe boosting the low frequencies (bass).
Most DAW software, including Audacity, comes with presets for EQ. So if you’re unsure, try experimenting with different presets until you’re happy with how everything is sounding.
Remember: not everything needs to be equalized! If you record music in your show, those songs will have already been mixed by a professional engineer.
And don’t forget – this isn’t live, so while you’re mixing the EQ feel free to edit out any mistakes (we won’t tell anyone!)
2. Recording to multiple channels
If your recorder or soundcard allows for multiple inputs and you’re using an application like Audacity, you can choose to record each audio source to a different channel. This means when you click record, although everything is recording at the same time, it’s being saved separately. Doing this gives you the flexibility to individually edit and mix the levels of each part. If you’re recording music and speaking, you won’t have to worry about adjusting the volume manually while you’re recording and can worry about it afterwards.
Let’s say you’re interviewing several people for your radio show. If each person’s mic runs into one soundcard, and they’re all recording into different channels via Audacity, you won’t need to worry if one person sounds a lot louder than the rest. Once the recording is done, you just reduce the volume of the louder channel in Audacity.
If you’re planning on recording four or more channels and you want to add effects and mix the levels, you might want to consider using a more robust programme such as Logic Pro or Ableton Live.
3. Audio Ducking
After you’ve mastered recording into multiple channels, you can take things to the next level.
When you listen to a professional radio show, you might notice the voiceovers cut in and out of the music perfectly. This is called ‘audio ducking’ and it’s surprisingly simple to do.
Audio ducking links two audio tracks so that when one increases in volume, the other automatically gets quieter. This is super useful for anyone recording voiceovers on top of music.
Imagine you’re halfway through a song and you want to quickly the next track. You could manually lower the music, then talk into your microphone, then manually increase the music back to where it was previously….
Or, you can simply get Audacity, Logic or Ableton to do this for you automatically with the auto-ducking feature.
Finally – and this might sound obvious – always remember to export your show in the highest possible quality.
Mixcloud supports MP3, AAC, M4A, MP4 audio or OGG files. So if you’re exporting as MP3, make sure you choose 320kpbs.
So there you have it – the complete run down on how to record like a pro. Get out there and get creative!
For more tips and tricks, check out our guide to getting heard on Mixcloud, and make sure you follow us on Instagram for more Creator Tips.