Soundproofing can be the secret weapon in a new YouTuber’s arsenal.
If you were to ask a significant sample of YouTube viewers whether they would prefer better video or audio from their YouTubers, the answer might surprise you for a video platform.
While there are undoubtedly channels where good video quality is essential (software tutorials spring to mind), there are a considerable number of channels where the video element really isn’t as important as you might think.
Vlogs, educational content, interviews, list videos, we could go on. The point is, for a vast chunk of YouTubers, sound quality is considerably more important than video quality (within reason, of course). This is because hearing is the primary sense being used.
Don’t believe us?
Think about all the times you’ve put a YouTube video on and ended up doing something else while it plays. Maybe browsing the web, writing an email, checking your phone.
Not only that, but think about how many times audible cues have grated on your last nerve. People chewing while they talk, tapping, distant car alarms—audible cues can be very annoying. This is especially true when it comes to unwanted echoes, artefacts, and overall poor audio quality in YouTube videos.
Many things contribute to poor audio quality, but we’re not going to get into microphones and audio interfaces here; that deserves a post of its own – or you can watch my deep dive video on my youtube channel.
So, before we get into some tips on soundproofing your recording space, let’s quickly go over why you might want to do this.
Why Soundproof for YouTubing?
The most obvious reason, of course, is to get rid of external noise. No YouTuber wants to have to edit out the sounds of planes flying overhead, cars driving by, the next-door neighbour engaging in some late-night DIY or anything else of that nature. And your viewers certainly don’t want to listen to those noises.
Soundproofing can significantly improve your recording if you record somewhere that tends to have a lot of noise going on. But the benefits to soundproofing are not one-way.
In almost all cases (the exception being ASMR videos) whispering or quiet-talking should be avoided. At best, it’s just a little difficult to hear, but at worst it can be very annoying to some viewers (think the opposite of ASMR).
This shouldn’t be confused with low volume—it’s not the level of your audio we’re talking about. When you whisper or talk quietly, your voice is different. The quality that some people find annoying is not remedied by turning the volume up in your editing software.
But what does this have to do with soundproofing? Well, the most common reason for unintentional quiet-talking is environmental. For example, if your recording setup is in the room next to your parents, partner, or roommate, and you record late at night. The chances are, there’s not a lot you can do about the when and where you record.
But by soundproofing the space you record in, you will be able to make much more noise when you make a new video without worrying about annoying anyone around you.
Soundproofing Tips for YouTubers
We should state upfront that a number of these tips relate to the construction of the space itself—things like the walls, and floorboards. We understand that most people will not be able to implement all of these tips.
You would have to be building a studio from scratch, or tearing a room down completely to do that. Just know that implementing any of these tips should improve your situation with regards to soundproofing.
You might be thinking, “but I don’t walk around when I record YouTube videos.” That may be the case, but very few of us sit or stand utterly still when we make videos. A creaking floorboard can be extremely annoying mid-video.
Unfortunately, there are no products you can go out and buy that will fix this problem, so you’ll have to get the tools out if you want to put an end to it. The first thing to check is what is causing the squeaking. If it is just a matter of loose boards themselves, you can usually remedy the problem with a few screws.
We say screws and not nails—as is probably currently holding your floorboards in place—because screws will not slide over time as nails do.
If it is the joists and noggins (the big pieces of wood your floorboards are attached to), then you might need some professional help. You will certainly need to lift your floorboards. They can usually be fixed with some L shaped brackets at the corners. If you do have to lift your floorboards, you may as well take this opportunity to re-attach them with screws.
Dotting and Dabbing: Don’t Do It!
Unfortunately, this tip is only going to be useful to people who are doing some serious renovation or perhaps building from scratch. “Dot and Dab” is a method of attaching drywall (or plasterboard, depending on where you are from) to the outer structure of your room.
It involves dabbing a healthy amount of adhesive in places (this would be the dotting) and then pressing the drywall up to it. As a means of attaching the drywall, it is inexpensive and effective.
Unfortunately, it creates a significant amount of hollow space behind your walls. In a room that has been wholly drywalled, this would essentially mean one large continuous echo chamber surrounding the place!
If you are renovating or building a new space and the walls will be framed out, you can take this opportunity to fill the spaces between your studs with acoustic insulation.
Acoustic insulation is denser than regular thermal insulation. It will provide you with built-in soundproofing that will stop sound from getting in or out of your recording space. There are different thicknesses available, and the width you need will depend on the thickness of your studs.
Resist the urge to buy insulation that is too thick and cram it into your walls. That could cause problems later down the line, as well as reduce the acoustic insulation properties of the material.
Birds, traffic, police sirens, inconvenient helicopter flybys—there’s a lot of unwanted noise that can get in through your window. It may not be ideal in hotter parts of the world, but the first thing you should be doing is making sure that window is closed before you record.
The cheapest solution would be nice, thick blinds or curtains. They won’t cut out all the noise, but they will make some difference.
If you’ve got a little more money to throw at the problem, consider getting a secondary glazing system, which is essentially a second window inside your existing window. The cavity created between this window and your current window makes for excellent sound dampening.
Washing machines are loud. We get it. Some washing machines could be at the other end of your home and still get picked up on a recording.
Unfortunately, the overwhelming majority of us do not have the option to simply move the washing machine—or our recording space—to get around this problem. Though if you do, that would be the best solution.
Assuming you’re stuck, however, the first thing to consider is an acoustic mat under your washing machine. It will not cut the sound completely, but it will significantly reduce it. If your washing machine (or other noisy appliance) is not right next to your recording space, this might be enough.
If not, we’re sorry to say that your only practical option is to plan your recordings so that any noisy appliances are not running.
Change Your Microphone
You might also consider a new microphone that is less prone to picking up the background noise. It should be stated that any built-in or inexpensive USB microphone will likely need upgrading as a matter of course.
But if your mic is picking up a lot of background noise, there may be an alternative model with a tighter pickup pattern.
I use a Boya By-MM1 on my DSLR Camera and this is great when I am stood in front of it recording in stable environment – I did a hands on review video and blog of the Boya BY-MM1 microphone with some interesting facts about its pick up pattern – You’ll me amazed the difference you can make when you match the right microphone to your set up.
In the same realm as a new mic, you could also consider turning your microphone’s input level down and having the mic be closer to your face, or speaking more forcefully. Or both.
If you do decide to go down this route, be sure to have a pop shield on your mic. It’s good practice to have one anyway, but if you’re going to be putting the mic closer to your face and speaking louder, you definitely need one.
Use a Noise Gate
A noise gate is a term given to software or hardware that cuts off audio completely when it gets below a specific volume. Using this, you can cut away the background noise by setting the gate to just above the level of the noise. It will then let the audio through when you speak, pushing the sound level above the gate.
There are a few different ways to employ a noise gate on your recordings. The simplest—yet most expensive—is to get an outboard noise gate device. You would run your mic signal through the gate directly, where it would gate the audio before sending it into your recording software.
Another alternative is live VST (Virtual Studio Technology) noise gates—a software alternative that works as you are recording. This has the advantage of giving you that live feedback, but it also adds strain on your computer.
And, finally, you could apply the noise gate after the fact. This is the cheapest option—free audio editor Audacity has this functionality built-in—but also the most time-consuming.
It is worth noting that if you have unusually high levels of background noise, a noise gate may not be the best option. The louder the gate has to be to cut the noise out, the more obvious it is when it activates. Not to mention, the noise will still be present when you are speaking.
Acoustic Foam Tiles
The more initiated of you are probably yelling, “that’s not soundproofing!” right now. And you are right. Those eggbox-like foam tiles you see on YouTuber’s walls are not soundproofing. The job of acoustic tiles is to kill things like echo and reverb in a space.
Imagine you have a bouncy ball. If you bounce that ball on some smooth concrete, you’ll get some good height. If you take that same ball and bounce it on long grass, you’ll be lucky to get any height at all. Now imagine the ball is a sound wave, hitting the wall and bouncing off. Foam tiles work a lot like the grass.
By strategically placing foam tiles around your recording space (or just covering every surface if you can afford that many tiles), you reduce the amount of sound reflection.
If you can only get your hands on a limited amount of foam tiles, consider what kind of microphone you have before placing them. Many microphones have limited pickup around the back, so reducing reflections coming from that direction would be a waste of your tiles.
Carpets or Rugs (or Both!)
A good, thick carpet or rug can address issues raised both in the squeaky floorboards section, and the previous section on acoustic foam tiles. Like foam tiles, a thick carpet or rug will significantly reduce sound reflection, meaning less reverb and echo when you record.
It will also reduce the amount of noise made by you moving around the room. It won’t fix squeaky floorboards, but if you didn’t fancy pulling your floor up, a thick carpet or rug would muffle the noise it makes.
You could also take this one step further by installing some acoustic underlay, which will significantly reduce the amount of noise that gets through your floor.
Our last tip is ideal for people who can’t (or don’t want to) attempt any of the previous tips. Using a product like Kaotica’s Eyeball (or one of the considerably less expensive Chinese alternatives) you can isolate your mic from the outside world significantly.
These products are essentially a hollow ball of acoustic foam that your mic sits inside, blocking noise from all directions except the front. You will still need to worry about reflections from behind you, but the amount unwanted sound getting to your mic is significantly reduced. Just be aware that these are not compact items. You will need plenty of space around your microphone.
If you need any help in finding some of these upgrades then check out my resources page where I have selected some great discounts on products, soundproofing, microphones and more.