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A Crash Course in Audio Editing

audio editing software screenshot

When it comes to film and audio editing I am self-taught. I didn't go to film school; I haven't studied how to produce audio or make videos. Everything that I do on this website, I've learned from teaching myself. There are big gaps in my knowledge, but I like learning - and I've had a lot of fun figuring things out by myself. 

For Christmas last year my partner got me a decent pair of audio monitors. If the audio geeks amongst you are curious, they are preSonus Eris E5 studio monitors. Previously I was editing Dreams of Spanking audio on my desktop speakers, and a few months ago my desktop speakers stopped working - so I was using either a crappy pair of speakers that I got on Freecycle, or my equally crappy headphones, which are also not very good.

When you don't have good speakers, you can't really hear what's going on. So I was a little intimidated to suddenly have these professional quality audio monitors. When I  listened to my recordings - and, worse, to my previous attempts at audio editing - they sounded dreadful. I wailed to Felix about this, and they helpfully replied "Oh good, the monitors are doing their job then."


The audio always sounded bad - and now I had a speaker system accurate enough to show me what it really sounded like. It was uncomfortable - but it meant that I could finally do something about it. 

Since then I've learned a lot about editing and recording audio. 

One of the most exciting things this has given me is some insight into how to record better audio. I use a wireless Zoom H2N Handy Record mic. Previously I found the audio from it, while very clean, wasn’t loud enough by itself even with the gain set to max, so I’ve been using the on-camera mic as well and mixing the two. 

Using my monitors, I can get that mix sounding OK - not professional, but good enough. But it still sounds bad on my headphones.

My new equipment has shown me ways I can improve my recording. For example, when filming The Party Whip I placed the Zoom mic on a hardwood floor under a hardwood dining table, in order to get it close to the action without being in shot. Listening back on my new monitors, I can hear all the reverberation in that acoustic space full of hard surfaces. It sounds horribly echoey to me now - which means I have a chance of fixing it. 

Last time I shot at home, I put a second rug down and hung mattress pads on the walls to create a more acoustically dampened space. Even those quick, low-budget additions improved the acoustics and made the audio sound better. 

Next, I figured out that I've been facing my microphone the wrong way. Yes, I’m an idiot - but that’s an instant win to improve the quality. 

Then I realised that even if I got something sounding good on my fancy monitors, it might still sound terrible on my headphones. Not many people watch porn on professional audio equipment, so I want it to sound as good as possible on a range of outputs.

Achieving that was an interesting challenge. In some cases the high-quality monitors make the audio sound worse, and in some cases they make it sound better. The monitors produce a higher range of frequencies, so they can reveal noise or badly balanced audio which wasn't detectable before. But sometimes that broad frequency range masks or balances noise which otherwise sounds super loud. Now I've started paying more attention to this stuff I'm a lot less accepting of those hissy, echoing or tinny qualities that are the hallmarks of bad sound engineering. 

When I got stuck, Felix sat down with me for an hour and gave me a crash course in audio editing. I learned so much that I'm kicking myself for not doing it four years ago! Things I learned: how decibels work (I told you I was self-taught), how to bend compression to my will, how to use equalisation, and how to read frequency range using the spectrogram and plot spectrum tools in Audacity (the open source audio editing software that I use).

After an hour of playing around we got the audio sounding as good on my headphones as it sounds on the monitors. I'm so pleased! I can now ditch the on-camera mic entirely and rely on the Zoom mic to pick up high quality audio.

From now on, every Dreams of Spanking film will benefit from these new tools. I'm excited to keep learning and continue to improve the quality of the productions that are offered on this website. Being self-taught is all very well, but it turns out that sometimes, the most effective way to learn is to ask for help.

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