Animated Video Production

Why I Didn’t Watch Your Video: Crappy Audio

Shawn 04.03.2017

What does it take to make a great explainer video? You need a tight script, likable characters, and a story people want to watch. However, the most important part of a truly great explainer video production might not be the “video” part at all. To make a video that gets results, you need great audio.

But don’t panic, audio newbies—creating quality audio for even low-budget video productions is easier than you think.

Audio: Invisible but Essential

That’s the sage advice from Chris Lavigne, video superhero and CEO at Wistia, and there’s a reason you should take it seriously. Bad audio is the main culprit behind any failed video production. In every video he makes, Chris stresses the importance of audio—especially in his video production tutorialsbecause he knows how quickly “crappy” sound can scare away viewers.
video production

And that’s the trickiest part of audio in your explainer video production—no one will notice when you get it right. But oh boy will people know if you mess it up.

Video Production: Audio Expectations

People expect a quality video production to have clean image, engaging content, and listenable sound. That’s kind of it. The great thing is, viewers will cut you a lot of slack as long as you satisfy these criteria. You don’t have to produce a platinum record or score an Oscar winning film with your video’s soundtrack.

To make a great video with listenable audio, you just have to do these four things:

  1. Keep the audio balanced — Don’t blow out anyone’s ears with overly loud sound effect or a thudding soundtrack
  2. Make the dialogue audible — Make sure people can hear the carefully written words your actor (or voice actor!) is saying
  3. Eliminate background noise — Wind (for live action), video clip transitions, clicks and other noise, and even too loud music can distract viewers from the dialogue
  4. Make it headphone friendly — When you level your audio, keep the master volume below 6db and you’re in business

Sound like too much hassle to get the audio right? Still not convinced that you need to pay attention to the audio to have a video that people will actually watch? Here’s a real life comparison of two videos—shot one year apart from each other—and how their drastically different audio quality affected the career trajectory of one of my favorite up and coming bands—Lake Street Dive.

Video Production Tip: Great Audio = Great Video

This video announced their EP release—Fun Machine. It’s quirky and fun, but a quick glance at the production snapshot seems like a recipe for failure:

  1. They’re an unknown band — Lake Street Dive hadn’t appeared on Ellen, Colbert, and Letterman yet)
  2. It’s an overdone cover song — The Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back”
  3. They only use one mic to capture four musicians and..
  4. It’s shot outside out on a suburban street! With, like…cars and everything.

video production

Yet despite these audio hurdles, the video sounds fantastic. Not only that, it was a huge hit with over 2 million views in the first few weeks.

How did Lake Street Dive accomplish this magic feat? Simple: they addressed the limits of what audio could do in the video, and embraced them. They didn’t try to make the mic do too much, and the result is an intimate, warm video with killer sound.

The audio setup captures the band’s personality and their unique sound perfectly. The production value is high, and the band sounds fantastic, but what’s really exciting is how this video launched the band to stardom. Here’s a quote from the bio on their website:

It took a casually made video featuring the band gathered around a single mic, performing a cover of Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back,” shot on a Brighton, Massachusetts, street corner to grab the public’s attention. What followed was nothing less than a modern-day music business success story.

This one video was the difference between critical success and obscurity. Now let’s look at a video from just one year earlier:

Video Production: Bad Audio = Bad Marketing

This second video, shot just a year earlier in 2011 is similar to the EP release video in nearly every way:

  1. It features an unknown band
  2. It’s a well known cover song — The Drifters “This Magic Moment,”
  3. It uses just one mic — It’s out of the shot
  4. It’s shot outside

Yet this video is a complete disaster. I actually had to close the tab playing the song, because it was too distracting, unlike the Jackson Five cover which I played twice while writing this. The framing of this video is off, the band is too far from the camera (and the mic!), and we don’t get a sense for who this band is, but all of that would be forgivable if the audio was good. It really really isn’t.

Bad Sound Ruins Great Video

Any video needs good sound, but this video—of a band!—should sound tight, close, and compelling. It doesn’t. It sounds like it was recorded outside with a single boom mic on a windy day. I’m honestly surprised they posted it, instead of reshooting or popping a wind screen on the mic.

Seriously, I almost lost my mind when I heard the wind. WIND!?!  It’s painful to watch such a talented band post such a mediocre video, but simply fixing the audio would have made it watchable.

This video isn’t in the same league as the 2012 video, and the viewer response reflects that —49,818 views —most of which I assume came after the success of their 2012 video.

Video Production 101: Take.Audio.Seriously.

Whether it’s from a shotgun mic in a studio, a lavalier mic clipped to your sweet blazer, professional voiceover talent, or a microphone on a street corner—quality audio can be the difference between your video’s success and obscurity.

Give your video a chance to be heard. Invest in quality audio production, today.

Shawn

Born in Southern California, Shawn grew up surfing, eating In-N-Out, and growing his hair long. After graduating with a Liberal Arts degree from CSU Long Beach in 2005 he left the crowded freeways behind and spent the better part of a decade traveling the world living for stretches in Rome, Hawaii, Australia, New Zealand, and Brooklyn. He writes novels as well as copy, loves learning keyboard shortcuts, and plays his grandpa’s old lap steel guitar. You can hear his band at ponieswillbiteyou.com

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