Time and time again it seems that I receive the same question(s) about my recording and video setup for my youtube videos.  So because I’ve written out that explanation tons of times, I figured maybe I would get it done once and for all and post it here as a blog entry.

To start off with I want to let you know that I am using an iMac and that some of the software I’m going to talk about is specific to the Mac.  If you don’t own a mac, there is probably a similar program on the windows side of things, but to be honest I won’t be able to tell you what that is since I’m a Mac only guy.

Below you will find a very quick explanation of my equipment and steps to produce a video.  More detailed explanation will follow but these are the basics.

Equipment I use:

  • Martin DX1 Acoustic Guitar
  • LR Baggs M1 Active Pickup for acoustic guitar
  • MXL V6 Large Diaphragm Condenser Microphone
  • Studio Projects VTB1 Preamp
  • Yamaha YPG-635 Digital Piano
  • Digidesign 003 recording interface
  • Pro Tools 8 LE
  • iMac
  • Canon SX1 Digital Camera (records SD or 1080p HD video)

Quick video explanation

  • Record audio and video separately
  • Mix audio in pro tools and save as wav file
  • Quick edit of video in and out points using Mpeg Streamclip
  • Use garageband to sync recorded audio file with video, mute camera audio, export
  • Compress video using Mpeg Streamclip

Ok, so here’s the full explanation.  Let’s begin with my early youtube videos.  I began my youtube experience with nothing more than the built in microphone and built in webcam on the iMac.  However, seeing that I have a degree in music production, sound quality is important to me and I quickly found out that I was going to have to upgrade.   The moral of that short story is; if you just have a webcam and built in microphone, you can still record videos.  Just make sure to adjust the microphone input volume accordingly so you don’t get that nasty distortion when it is set too high.

Upon my next upgrade, which you will see in some of the middle-aged videos, I am using a dynamic microphone and a magnetic pickup in the acoustic guitar.  Specific models aren’t really important here, but if you are going to go the dynamic microphone route, then a Shure SM58 is probably the standard here.  In live situations, the dymamic mic is your best bet, but if you want a studio quality sound, a large condenser is what you should aim for.  During these videos I was also using an original mbox as the interface to the computer.  Basically a recording interface will allow you to connect your microphones, as well as guitar pickups in this case, and will convert your analog sound into digital code that your computer software will be able to read.  You can then record with your software and edit and mix all of it later on.

After having the mbox setup for a while, I started to find limitations and wanted to work on recording my full length album.  I decided to upgrade to a digidesign 003 which also included Pro Tools 8 software.  In my later videos, and what I continue to use now is a MXL V6 large condenser microphone for vocals, and a LR Baggs M1 Active pickup in my acoustic guitar.  I also have a keyboard that is used in some of the videos and that model is a Yamaha YPG-635.  I plug the MXL mic into a small tube preamp called the Studio Projects VTB1 and the output of this is sent directly to the 003.  I plug the guitar directly into the 003.  My keyboard is plugged directly into the 003 as well but sometimes I connect it to the computer via USB so I can record MIDI in Pro Tools using this method.

When it comes to the video portion, I have only made one upgrade and that is I now use a Canon SX1 digital camera.  It’s a hybrid in that it looks just like any other digital camera and takes photos as it should, but it also does 1080p HD video.  You could do something like this, or if you already have a digital camera, you may want to look into getting an HD video camera.

So that’s it for the gear.  If you are looking for how I record audio and video together and sync that, continue reading on.

Now that you have the gear, it’s time to do the actual recording and editing for the video.  There are many different ways of accomplishing this so my way is just the one that works for me.  I learned a specific way when I first started recording audio separate from video and I’m sort of a creature of habit, so I won’t change until I have to.

First, set up all of your audio recording equipment.  Do some test runs to make sure all of the input levels are set appropriately.  There’s nothing worse than recording a great take and finding out your microphone was set too hot and you were actually clipping the audio during some portions of the recording.

Next, position the video camera on a tripod and make sure to have enough lighting.  When you think you have enough, add some more.  I have found that when our eyes think a room looks fine, the camera can always use more light.  The lower the light, the more grain you will get.  Some video cameras are better than others in low light situations so you will have to experiment with how much you need.

When you are finally in position to begin, hit record on the computer (pro tools) and make sure to watch that it is actually recording, then hit record on the video camera.  Move into position for the video and play your song.  When finished with this, hit stop on the video camera as well stop the computer audio recording.

Now that you have a recording, we need to mix the audio.  I won’t get too in depth with recording techniques as that is an hour long post in itself, but generally things like compression, equalization, and reverb will be used to polish the audio.  When this is finished you will save a wav file of the completed audio.

Next we will move to the video editing.  This is the part where you could use many different programs to accomplish the sync of your recorded audio with the video.  For an all in one sort of a solution, you could go with Final Cut or Final Cut Express.  This will allow you to edit the video as well as match up the recorded audio.  The only downside is that these programs will set you back a little cash.

I personally do it differently because I had to come up with a way to utilize programs that were free or came with the iMac.  So far with my video I haven’t done any elaborate editing so mainly I chop off a little bit of the beginning, and a little bit of the end.  I cut the portions of me sitting down in front of the camera, and at the end, getting up to turn stop the recording.  I use a program called Mpeg Streamclip to do this.  It’s easy, fast, and a free program.  All you will do is move the edit point on the timeline to where you want the video to start, hold down shift, and click the portion ahead of it that you want to cut.  After you click on that portion it should be highlighted and you will go to Edit>Cut. Same process for cutting the end of the video.  After this quick edit, I save the video file.

The next portion I again probably use a different program than most.  I open up Garageband to a blank session and choose “movie score.”  I then drag my edited video file onto the video timeline.  The audio that was picked up from the built in speakers on my camera will also now show up.  From here I drag my completed and mixed wav file that was recorded in Pro tools to the slot right underneath the camera audio.  Now begins the part where we sync the external audio to the video.

Using the zoom slider I zoom in on the camera audio and click the exact point where the waveform begins.  This will be the exact point at which any sound shows up at all.  I leave the insertion point right at that spot and click the external audio file.  Again without moving that insertion point, I drag the file until the beginning of its waveform is directly on that insertion point.  These two audio files should now be synced.  If you hit play on the session you will be able to tell if this worked.

If the two audio files are playing together and you don’t notice any delay on either of them, then you are synced.  If there is a slight echo or it sounds like one is either ahead or behind the other, then you will need to go back and see if you lined them up correctly.  Most likely a small nudge left or right on that external audio file will solve that problem.  There is also a built in viewer in Garageband so you can watch the video as you listen to see if the mouth movement and the guitar playing look like they are in sync.  Once you feel it looks good, hit the mute button on the camera audio and you will now be hearing only the external audio that you recorded with the computer.

This has completed your sync and I now go up to Share>Export and export the video in full quality.  You might also want to save your Garageband session now just in case you want to make any changes later on.  After the export is complete, I once again open up Mpeg Streamclip and this time I am going to compress the video.  If you are in HD then you need to decide how fast your internet connection is and whether you want to wait 10 hours for a 2gb file to upload to youtube. If you compress the video, you can choose what final quality (5% to 100%) of the original video quality will remain.

Go to File>Export to Quicktime.  Then you will choose compression type and in the drop down choose h.264.  Next select the quality and move the slider accordingly.  Again, you could leave it at 100% if you want it to stay at pretty much full quality, or you could do something more like 60-75% if you want it to still look decent, but cut down the file size.  Deselect “Interlaced Scaling” and you should be good to go.

Hit the “make movie” button and it will compress and save your final video file. Once it is finished, open the file in quicktime and view the entire video.  Make sure your sync looks ok and that the video quality is what you expected after the compress.  If you need to make adjustments, you can just repeat some of your steps above until it meets final expectations.

That’s it!  I know it was a long explanation and might take a few times to read through before it sinks in, but hopefully that will help you get started if you were curious, and I wish you luck with your video making experience!