How I Produce My Videos

Every now and then, someone asks me how I produce my YouTube lectures. Rather than answering each of these questions individually, it’s sensible for me to take a moment, create a single answer, and make it a good one. Hence this post.

There are two overall themes: (1) anyone can do it and (2) it is way easier than you probably imagine.

First off, you need something to record your lectures. I use CamStudio. It’s free, and it’s efficient. You simply highlight the part of the screen you want to capture, hit record, and stop when you are done. It will pick up whatever you do in that region and also grabs the audio from your microphone. It also takes very little time to process the file, which is a plus.

Everyone has a monitor, but you need one with great screen resolution for CamStudio to pick up enough to shoot your videos in HD. I have a 23″ LG model. It’s a bit excessive, though–as long as you have a decent external monitor that has 1080p resolution, you’ll be fine.

I use PowerPoint for the most part since it is straightforward. Every now and then, I switch to Beamer because I need to do fancy things with math or grab something from my various academic writings, but that is rare. I shoot the videos from PowerPoint’s standard editing view rather than from the presentation mode so I can keep track of what will appear on the following slides. However, I make sure to increase the size of the slide as much as possible (and put it in widescreen rather than the ugly 4:3 standard) so I can keep the resolution high.

The slides normally come from lecture material I am presenting in class or have presented in previous semesters. This cuts down heavily on how much time I dedicate to this enterprise.

You. Need. A. Nice. Microphone. Don’t believe me? Compare these two videos:

(Also, note the difference between widescreen and 4:3.)

The first one uses a crappy $5 microphone I bought at RadioShack in 2007. The other uses a Yeti Blue microphone. And it is glorious:


Its $100+ price tag might look shocking, but I haven’t regretted the purchase for a moment. It has two major pluses over the prior RadioShack setup. First, it is amazing at filtering out feedback and background noise. You can basically hear my voice and nothing else, and that was not the case before. Second, you can plug earphones into the microphone to hear yourself as you talk. While it is disconcerting at first, it really helps you understand how the end product is going to sound. In fact, part of the audio improvement between those two videos is because I have developed my “radio voice” over last couple of years. I would not have been able to that without the microphone.

Pop Filter
I don’t have one yet, but I probably should. These help differentiate your B’s from your P’s.

Filming and Editing
From there, I pretty much press record and read what’s in front of me. I have a rough idea where things are going, but normally the lecture you hear is the first one I have completed. (A lot of takes don’t actually make it to completion because I did something stupid along the way.) In the rare instance I combine two separate takes, I use YouTube’s video editor. It’s a simple splice between the two cuts, though it can be tricky to get it so that the flow stays natural.

That’s basically it. Like I said, it isn’t as difficult as it may seem. The delivery takes practice, but presentation practice never hurt someone’s academic career.

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