I’ve had several friends approach me recently about setting up a studio in their home or office for podcasting or recording live videos. While it can be tempting just to turn on your webcam and press record, taking the extra effort to produce higher quality video and audio is easy and can be done with minimal expense. Your viewers will appreciate the effort too. Here’s how to set up a simple studio at your home or office for less than $100.
Forget the echo, here’s how to make your audio pop!
Get a microphone! Don’t rely on your built-in microphone on your computer or webcam. That’s just like putting your phone on speaker (and who likes to be put on speaker?). You’ll sound far away and ambient sounds will distract the listener. Much like talking directly into a phone when it’s held to your ear, you need a microphone closer to your voice, ideally just a few inches away. Headphones or even wireless earbuds may be used, as long as they have a built-in microphone. If you go wireless, make sure your device is FULLY CHARGED before you start your video.
If you decide to use a dedicated microphone, tons of usb microphones are available online that will plug directly into your computer. I like to mount mine on a “Boom Arm” so I can change the position easily. Here’s an example
Now for my podcasts I personally use a mixer (Zoom H6) with a Rode Procaster dynamic microphone, but I’ve also used relatively cheap but well-rated microphones as low as $20 and discovered that most listeners can’t tell the difference.
I’ve tried wireless lavalier microphones but haven’t found reliable ones in my price range (i.e. cheaper than $100). In fact on two separate occasions my attempts using these resulted in the mic dropping out or quitting altogether before my video was done. So for me the unpredictable reliability simply isn’t worth the risk.
Do a simple test: Record yourself with your built-in webcam or computer microphone and compare it to your recording with a microphone plugged in. You’ll notice a huge difference—and your audience will too!
Keep it Quiet: “Do Not Disturb”
Of course the best microphone won’t do you any good if your environment is noisy and full of loud distractions. I created my first studio in my office, a large room with no carpet across the street from a fire station. So of course my initial videos had lots of echo mixed in with occasional sirens. This prompted me to create a home studio in a quiet corner of our house with carpeting. For both locations I place a “Do Not Disturb” door hanger sign to deter anyone from entering while a live recording is in progress.
Lighting makes an impact
Turning a camera on without any lighting can really cast shadows on a user’s face. Yet lately many users have turned to the simple selfie light which they point directly at themselves and hope for the best. Unfortunately the single light just flattens out their features and in my opinion makes the user’s eyes appear just a bit creepy. If you’re serious about video, consider 3-Point lighting. I found a kit on Amazon for about $30, worth every penny. The set I have has been discontinued, but a similar kit is here.
For tips on what 3-Point lighting is and how to position your lights, check out this article by my friend Doug Karr: https://martech.zone/how-to-setup-3-point-lighting/
Now most webcams today have great quality, but if you're using an older computer or laptop, consider upgrading to a newer webcam with higher 4K resolution. For my videos I'm using an older iMac which has a built-in webcam with only 720p resolution. After looking at others videos and noticing that my resolution just wasn't up to par, I purchased a newer 4K webcam. It wasn't cheap but made a huge difference.
With the latest technology, such as Zoom, it’s easy to blur or modify your background, but for a low-tech approach, just make sure you’re away from windows (or close your blinds) and have a clean, distraction-free background.
What's Your Backup Plan?
For those critical videos, you certainly don’t want to risk your session ending due to your equipment running out of power. For that reason I typically don’t use wireless accessories when I’m recording. I keep everything plugged in, and I actually use a small UPS (battery backup) that keeps the computer & microphone running, even if the power goes out or flickers during a session. If you’re using a laptop you already have the built-in battery backup; just make sure it’s fully charged before you begin.
Now even the best backup plan won’t work if your power goes off completely and your internet connection goes down. But as 5G becomes more available, 5G might be a great backup/alternative. Until then, make sure you have a strong internet connection from wherever you’re recording. I previously used a wi-fi connection, but after experiencing video occasionally freezing during recording I opted to hard-wire my internet connection resulting in a much higher (10X) internet speed and no more freezing videos!
By following these simple steps of using a microphone, finding a quiet location and good lighting, you’ll be able to create videos that look & sound professional, allowing both you and your audience to focus on your content. Next time you watch someone else’s video live or on YouTube, notice how you’re drawn to videos where the lighting and audio sound great. Now you can make yours like that too. Comment below to let us and others know what equipment works for you. Good luck!