Recording voice overs

AT2035 in case
AT2035 in case

Recording voice overs isn’t as simple as it seems. Apple would have you believe you can just hook your ear buds into the computer, click the Record Voice Over in Final Cut Pro X and everything will be good. Only if you want room noise, the dog next door barking, and lots of static hiss to ruin your otherwise good film.

How about the built in microphone on your $4,000 Macbook Retina? Only if you want to record fan noise, your keyboard strokes and who knows what else.

No, you have to go to some effort to get good audio and a great deal of effort to get excellent audio. People spend a lot of money on it! How do you make a basic voice over that sounds decent?

  • Buy a great mic
  • Buy an awesome audio recorder
  • Build a sound booth [you’re an audio engineer, right?]

10k later, you’ll be set for your first audio book. Maybe.


Don’t believe it? Here are 2 audio samples of what you’ll get if you chose

A bad recording location: Wood floors, cathedral ceiling, lots of windows. This was recorded directly into a Zoom H4n into the stereo mics

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You can hear the room echo. It’s terrible and makes the voice over difficult to hear.

Now, listen to this audio recorded on a Audio Technica AT2035 connected to the Zoom H4n in mono mode (mono input mode makes it possible to use a single microphone and record on both stereo tracks).

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You can hear the voice, it’s clear and there’s no high or low frequency echo. Would this be better if it were recorded on a Schoeps CMC641G microphone? Sure! But you’ll be set back $2000 or more just for the microphone.

FCPX 10.1 disable audio without detaching

Double click clip expand
Double click clip expand

FCPX 10.1 Control clip audio without detaching audio

It is possible to disable the audio of a clip without detaching it. We’ve struggled with this some time, as after FCP 7, there seemed to be no way to independently control if the audio of an individual clip is active or not. The wrong way to do this, as suggested by other forums, is to take the audio level and just drag it down to -(infinity). This is a problem because if you’ve already adjusted levels, then you’ll have to fix them again.

Instead, use this simple trick:

Double click the audio track in a clip in the timeline while holding the OPTION key down.

OPTION + double click
OPTION + double click

The audio must be visible in the clip for this to work and you must click the audio waveform to make this work. If you just double click the audio track in the timeline without holding the OPTION key down, you will not be able to independently select the audio track. If you look at the two pictures on the right, the one with regular double click and the one with OPTION double click, you’ll see there is a small speaker icon in the audio track.

This little audio icon lets you know that you can now disable the audio by hitting the ‘V’ key. Then OPTION+double click the audio to collapse it back.

If that doesn’t work, right click on the clip and select Expand Audio/Video, then select the audio track, and select Expand Audio Components. You will now be able to Enable/Disable the audio track without losing your audio edits by just clicking ‘V’.

Before, we would Detach Audio, then create a compound clip, and enable/disable the audio there. The risk was that the audio and video could be misaligned, causing a sync problem. Using the Expand Audio Components with the OPTION+double click or right click, now the tracks stay attached, just like in FCP 7.

Making stereo out of a single recorded channel

One problem we have run into is recording a single left or right audio channel into the

Single channel of audio needing to be both channels
Single channel of audio needing to be both channels

Zoom H4n recorder using a single microphone.  This is how to convert stereo audio recordings (in this case the Zoom H4n, Zoom 1, Zoom 2) to single mono sounds that play through both speakers / headphones / audio channels.

When we get back to the edit bay with Final Cut Pro X (FCPX), we only have a single side working.  We really want to fill that null, blank or empty audio channel with something.  Usually an exact duplicate of the channel with some useful audio.

More than once, we have run into this problem.  But it’s infrequent except when the camera or recording device does not do channel redirecting like the Sony PD-150.  That ability was very handy and saved time in editing.

To make this audio file into a stereo selection, bring up the inspector window (Command-4) and select Audio.

With your audio clip to be modified selected, find the area with the Channel Configuration.

Click Dual Mono.

Doing this will spread the single audio track across both left and right channels.  Since

Dual Mono from single channel stereo FCPX
Dual Mono from single channel stereo FCPX

one of the channels is empty anyway, just deselect that channel.

Now the clip will play in both the left and right channels.

There are other methods, like making a copy of the audio track and then creating a compound file.  However, this adds additional complexity to the project and it only takes a one frame error to create all sorts of problems with the audio.  Although we used to do the multiple clip technique in Final Cut Pro 6 (and 7), this method is far more effective and less error prone.  Really, there is not too much to go wrong with this approach.