Doing Pickups? Do You Match Your Sound?

Listen to pickups to sound match

Listen carefully to your pickup recordings to make sure the sound matches the original

OK, you finished a long, involved business narration.  You’ve done the slicing and dicing and sent the client flawless edited files.  Maybe you underbid this job a little but you stuck it out and you finally uploaded the files, invoiced the client and breathed a sigh of relief.

And then the dreaded email arrives.  They love the delivery and the audio quality is spot-on but… you mispronounced several words and the company name.  (I’m not going to nag you and tell you that you should check ALL pronunciations before you record).

No problem!  You’ll fix the mispronounced words with “pickups” of each sentence and replace the faulty sentences.  You record the first sentence and…  it sounds completely different than the original!  OMG!  Now you have to re-record the entire job! Gasp!

Never fear! Sound Matching to the rescue!

You can fix this problem-and avoid it in the future-by sound matching.  Here’s some hints on how to set up your recording gear to get repeatable results when you record.  And by understanding these concepts you can also adjust your gear to get a recording that matches an earlier recording.

Hint 1: Keep it Simple, Studioperson

Yeah, the old “KISS” rule strikes again.  Don’t put a lot of strange equipment between your mic and the box that digitizes your signal.  I’ve seen signal chains with compressors, EQs de-essers, noise gates (NOISE GATES?) strung between the mic and the interface box.  Each of those gadgets responds differently to both dynamics (loud and soft) and frequency.  And they each affect the next guy in the chain.

If you throw all that gear into the signal path you will never get the same sound twice.  The clients want your basic audio to begin with. Not some de-essed, compressed , EQd, gated version of your audio.  If you don’t write down ALL the parameters of these boxes you’ve used you’ll never find your way back to the original sound.

Hint 2: Set it and Forget it

Use your creativity on your read, not your recording technique.  Once you’ve figured out how to record at a good level, set any knobs and never touch them again.  OK, I’ll allow you ONE knob.  The gain control.

If it’s  a louder read, turn the gain down get the right level.  Quiet read?  Turn the gain up.  Then make sure your pickup performance matches the energy of the original performance and adjust the gain so the recorded audio is at the same level.

Hint 3: Make Note of Your Mic Distance

Here’s a secret many beginning recordists don’t know.  Most voice over microphones have a “cardioid” pattern of sensitivity.  That means they “hear” really well from the front but reject sounds from the back.  This is good because it eliminates sounds from around the room from your recording.

But cardioid mics also have a “proximity effect”.  The sound of your voice gets more “bassy” as you get closer to the mic.  And a small change in distance can have considerable effect on the “tone” of your recording.  Here are two samples for you to listen to.  The have been adjusted to have the same volume but were recorded from different mic distances.  Listen to each and try to hear the tonal change.



If all the other things haven’t changed and your new recording doesn’t sound like your original, this may be the culprit.  It it sounds too bassy move back a bit and turn up the gain to match the original recording level.

If it sounds to “treble” move a touch closer to the mic and turn the gain down a bit.

Match the Sound and Use Pickups to Speed Up Those Jobs

To summarize, when you record pickups the sound of the new recording must match the original.   To make sure this happens start with a simple signal path:  USB mic into the computer or conventional mic into the interface box then into the computer.

Experiment with the level that will give you a good recording level and then stick with it for most jobs.

And pick a good mic distance-6 to 12 inches for most condenser mics-and then stick with that distance.

If you need to vary from these settings, then make a quick note-to-self. “I really had to scream so I turned the gain to X and my mic distance was Y.

And then your pickups will match, you’ll swap those sentences in the original, an the fix will take minutes–not hours.

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