The following is a guest post from Ryan LaBarge, Technical Support Samurai at Olark. This is the third and final post in a series covering the basics of how to make support videos and goes into the video production process.

As I mentioned in my last update, one does not need anything other than some screen recording software and a USB headset microphone of some type to get a video up and out the door. If this is all you have time for, and you can get across your point concisely, that is all that is needed!

First, lets cover exactly what software and hardware that I used to make these videos:

Audio-recording software

Audacity is an open source software that has been around for quite some time. It is the go-to recording and editing tool for audio for many professionals, and it is cross platform as well. While it is simple to use, it is also very powerful and gives you many options to cut, edit, repair, and filter the audio you record or load into it. So long as your operating system detects a sound input device, you can route that straight to Audacity and record almost anything directly with it.

Screen-recording/video editing software

Camtasia Studio is an awesome suite made by the great team @ TechSmith. Included in this package is the software to record screen captures, and an editing tool to stitch these clips together. While it cannot touch software like Adobe Premier in functionality, it is super easy to use, and has everything that I needed to make really awesome transitions between scenes, and other things like displaying mouse clicks via visual queues, and a great zooming function. I have never had any issues with either Camtasia Recorder or Camtasia Studio (or any of the other software of theirs that I use), and they make my job quite easy when it comes right down to it.

Post-production software

Adobe After Effects is a big name piece of software, which is part of the Adobe Creative Suite SaaS package. Admittedly, you do not need to use After Effects to accomplish the types of post-production I tend to do, but it is nice to have the power to have the option should I wish to devote more time into learning the bells and whistles. I just used it because we already pay for the service, and i wanted to have a play with some “professional” level tools. ;D

Audio hardware

The Blue Yeti USB Microphone is a very nice piece of equipment made by the Blue company. They make a few models, and really, anything you get from them is quality. I like this model since it has 4 different recording patterns, a hardware gain knob, and was USB, so it plugs directly into the computer, and piped to Audacity. If you have another mic, cool you use that instead!

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I also recommend using a pop filter or some sort of wind screen between you and the microphone. It helps large blasts of air from the way you pronounce, the “p” in pronounce for instance. These types of busts of air get picked up on the microphone quite easily, and could lead to peaking and sounds like shit, so it is to be avoided. If you have a wire-coat hanger and some old pantyhose, you can use that instead of buying one, but they are only like $10, so you may as well get one. I prefer the metal grate pop filters, instead of the fabric ones, for what it’s worth.

Recording Voice Overs

My goal with this recording process is this: I use the length of the finished VO to determine the entire length of my video. Meaning, I make the voice over the limiting factor, and then record and cut video to match that determined length. It is trivial to record a 3 second long clip, and stretch it to run for 12 seconds, or vice versa, but impossible to do so with recorded speech.

When recording the voice overs, it is important to be aware of everything – your breathing, how fast you are talking, did you just mutter that word right there, did I say that too loud that it peaked in the recording, so on and so forth. Be sure to say your words clearly and distinctly in your voice overs. When I record VOs, I usually repeat the stanzas of words 2-3 times completely, and later pick out which one sounded the best and cut it in. This is a pretty easy way to ensure that the bulk of your booth time is handled all at once, and you do not need to keep running back from editing to the vocal booth because you did not say a word clearly enough.

Once you are happy with your performance (bravo btw!), go back to Audacity, stop the recording and save/export the file. Take a listen to sections that you recorded for each stanza, and decide which one you like the most. You can highlight that entire section in Audacity, and copy and paste it into a new audio track. You can create multiple tracks inside of Audacity, but I prefer to have multiple instances of the Audacity window open, so I open up a new window, and paste in the sections that I like. You would then go through the entire master recording of your VO session, and pick out the sections you like the most then copy and paste them into the new track.

Once you have the sections you enjoy the most, I then tend to standardize the gaps between the scenes – meaning I add silences between the stanzas to give me time to incorporate a transition in the video side of things, and to allow the viewer time to digest the last bit of information before we launch into the new scene. I usually make each silence between the scenes 2 to 3 seconds, depending on the total length of the video thus far (Remember, make the videos as short as possible please!).

This is barely covering just the basics of this process, but I am already writing a novel so I will spare you! There are things like mixing in booth noise to normalize the silences, messing with the gain and positioning of the microphone, adding music, using virtual filters on the recording to make you sound even better, and much much more if you really felt the desire to dive in. If you want to get more tips from real experts, check out Sound on Sound’s guide to voice overs, and Audacity’s indepth manual on using their software.

Recording Video

Now that you have recorded and edited your voice overs, you now know exactly how long your video will be, great work! Hopefully you have not yet discarded the script that you used to deliver the VOs from, it can be very helpful in the next part of the process!

In order to know exactly how long each scene is going to need to be, I like to give a listen to the VO, and make notes on the script regarding the length of the section. For example, the first stanza you have delivered, listen to the VO, and figure out the timestamp of when that “scene” ends. If the stanza starts at 0:00 in audio track, and continues on until 0:30 seconds in, then make a note next to that paragraph “0:00-0:30.” Do this for each section of your script, so you end up with a list of lengths for each scene. Now that you know how long each scene is, now lets actually record the video!

Let me preface all of this by saying, I am very lazy ;) Instead of capturing the video for each scene independently, I record all of the scenes I need into one video file and then cut the sections out of the video.

Camtasia Studio, like most video clients, will let you alter the speed of the video clips independent of one another. This means, if you have a 3 second shot of a scene that you need to be 10 seconds, or vice versa, you can make that happen very easily. It makes creating the videos really trivial! This, mixed with using the voice over as the “guiding light” for video length makes it very easy to make videos both quickly and with consistent high quality.

Posting, Hosting, and Analytics

As we glide towards the end of our time together, i wanted to touch on a few last loose ends. As mentioned a few paragraphs up, you can do most post-production work inside of the video editor itself during the recording process. Be it sweet graphics, a text overlay, or even embedding video in video, the magic of the movie making process is most often added during the post-production phase. In the videos I made, I use Adobe After Effects to add in post-production elements. Admittedly, it is a bit overkill using After Effects for just adding in overlays and text to the video, but I wanted to spend a little time using this program as a reward for making these videos.

When it comes to hosting your video, use Wistia.

As far as analytics go, it may be valuable to you to see the fruits of your labor, and measure your visitors reaction based on the fact if their behavior changed after they have watched the video. For us, we don’t worry about those things. We’re happy knowing that customers are viewing the videos and retaining at least some of the information.

To wrap it up, people learn things in different ways. Some prefer to read a manual and then give it a try, others would like to have someone help them through each step of the process. By creating videos, not only do you create something that will continue to provide knowledge to your customers without any further resources spent by your team. Combined with the other textual and contextual information we give the customers during their search of information, we can guarantee that we can reach the majority of our customers are getting exposed to the most important points of our features in multiple ways. It is a small investment with a large and consistent payout, and I hope you have enjoyed this guide and wish you well on your video voyage!

Check out Part 1 and Part 2!

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