A Linux Recording Studio
UPDATE: Check out my follow-up to this entry for details about how I've built upon what I described here!
I've recently completed my first video production, and virtually the entire process was done on Linux. Screen capturing, audio recording, and complex video editing, all done with free software. It is totally doable, and rather pleasant too. Read on for the full story, or check out the video here!
First, some background. I haven't any prior video editing experience, but I have captured and streamed plenty of desktop and gameplay video before. I've also done a tiny bit of audio recording in my home "studio", but nothing really serious (or great-sounding, to be frank). 1
So how does someone like me decide "I'm going to make an ambitious video"? In my case, there was an opening so I volunteered. How hard can it be, right?
→ The Stack
With the exception of some gameplay scenes that were captured on Windows 10, everything was done on Void Linux. These scenes were captured on Windows due to a AMD/Linux/Mesa-specific bug that I can't track down as of this writing, but it is a known issue. Specifically: the sun flare effect doesn't render on my setup (with an AMD graphics card). This would be a glaring (hah!) omission in certain scenes.
→ Video/Gameplay Capturing: OBS
OBS is pretty well-known, so I don't think I need to say a whole lot here. There are plenty of alternatives, but in my case I've used it in the past for capturing and streaming and knew how to use it well enough. The power of OBS can be a potential pitfall in that the advanced configs are indeed quite advanced, so if you don't know what you are doing then don't mess with that.
There's isn't much else to say; like I said I already knew about OBS and didn't feel that further evaluation was needed, so I went with it and it worked well.
→ Audio Capturing: Audacity
I've used Audacity in the past and was also somewhat familiar with it. For someone like me, who isn't really that experienced with audio production and recording, it's easy to use and generally works as expected.
I click record, do my thing, then stop. When I'm done, I export to
.ogg, and that's really it. I'd occasionally have a situation where: I'd click record, recording would begin and then instantly stop. I work around this as it happens by running
pulseaudio --kill; and pulseaudio --start from the command-line, so I guess it's a problem with pulseaudio (but don't quote me on that).
In any case, Audacity is a pretty good choice if you're new to recording. It has served me well for many years and I'll probably keep using it in the future.
→ Audio Capturing: Hardware Part One
Of course, it's not all software when it comes to recording audio. Normally, this all lives in my "studio" which is actually my basement. But for the purposes of this new video project I wanted to move to a smaller, closed room for quality reasons.
Anyways, on the hardware side of the stack:
- A Samson R21S microphone, though I've always lacked a stand and pop filter for it (more on that in a bit). This was a gift from a friend. 2
- A PMP2000 powered mixer, this was also a gift.
- My Ideapad Y510P laptop, which ran all the related software and more. 3
- And an assortment of cables to connect everything as needed.
Pretty bare bones; until now I've been dangling the mic from the ceiling when I wanted to record instrumental audio. I hadn't really gone into recording vocals/reading territory, and when I did, several glaring issues with the stack became apparent.
→ Audio Capturing: Hardware Part Two
When you've got a setup that's as "minimal" as this, combined with my own lack of knowledge, there's bound to be problems.
- Because I wasn't recording in my basement, I had no "good" way to make my "dangle the mic" method work, and holding the mic while recording just isn't an option for various reasons (the least of which being, quality).
- Additionally, words with certain consonants such as Ps produce a horrible audible pop.
- The mixer, perhaps due to its age, caused a significant amount of background noise in all recordings. I'm unsure if this is due to age or other reasons.
The noise from the mixer alone was enough to doom the entire project. It was impossible to get audio recorded that sounded even close to good. The solution? Get better and more hardware! This includes:
- This mic clip and this stand
- A proper pop filter by Stedman (the PS101)
- And for a new mixer: the Behringer Xenyx 802
I did a bit of research on the mixer, but I was advised on the Stedman by my contact at Sweetwater. 4 This new equipment was enough to significantly clean up my audio, but there is probably some room for improvement.
There's still a lot of noise on my audio input, I suspect this may be related to the input on my laptop but I'm really not sure. For now I've been able to make the audio sound clear with techniques that'd probably make a real audio engineer cringe: I've jacked up the gain and turned down the input on the pulseaudio end (laptop/Linux OS). Further research, work, and experimentation is needed to determine how I can optimize the setup.
→ Video Editing: Kdenlive
Without a doubt, the video editing aspect of this project was the most daunting and the most challenging. A friend of mine had produced some decent-looking videos and I didn't know him to be a pro editor or anything.. so I asked him what he used. "Windows Movie Maker" wasn't a totally useful response for me, but it was enough to get my search started. It wasn't long before I found OpenShot.
OpenShot is really nice and was rather easy for me to figure out just by using it, but in the end I didn't use it because I found adding text/subtitles to be somewhat confusing. Maybe I missed something, but at that point I wasn't heavily invested so I decided to try an alternative: Kdenlive.
You might have guessed that Kdenlive is a part of the KDE project. This is kind of relevant, because Kdenlive seems to update with KDE as a part of that ecosystem. This can at once assure you that the software is being looked after and maintained, but also make you wary about updates. Thankfully for me, they project provides an AppImage of Kdenlive, so even if an update borks something you can pretty easily return to where you were.
Kdenlive really rounded off the things I wanted from OpenShot, and also had many other features I wanted but didn't know yet, including:
- Easy caption/"title" creation and editing
- Easy transition adding/editing for audio and video tracks
- Easy, granular volume gain control
After just a little bit of time, I found myself becoming quite comfortable with Kdenlive and I'd like to use it for future projects. Even if I end up going with Blender instead, I'd definitely recommend Kdenlive to a newcomer to video editing that wants something that's easy to grasp but also very powerful.
→ The Final Product
Well, you've read this far so I may as well link you to the video itself. That's here. I want to give a special shoutout to the fine folks who are usually known collectively as "the OpenMW dev team"; AnyOldName3, elsid, psi29a, Capostrophic, akortunov, nelsson, David C, Koncord, Lysol, Atahualpa, and anyone else I'm forgetting. That video wouldn't have been possible without you folks!