Making the Screencasts (Part 1: Recording the screencasts)

We recently published an all new set of BatchBook screencasts. I often am asked how I record our screencasts, so I’m going to write up the process in a series of three blog posts. Today, I’ll tackle the actual recording of the screencasts. Part 2 will discuss encoding and embedding in your site while Part 3 will discuss building a feed for your screencasts and getting them on iTunes.

So, let’s get recording! First, what do you need?

My screencasting setup

Hardware

My personal philosophy in pretty much everything I do is to do as little as possible to do the job right. So, my recording setup doesn’t have any mixing boards, high-end microphones, or silly things that make my p’s and s’s sound better. It has a laptop and a microphone. Specifically:

  • White MacBook: I do love my BatchBook-issued MacBook. I’m not quite as lucky as Matt (he has one of the new MacBooks), but this is still my second favorite Mac I’ve ever had. If you’re not a Mac person, I apologize in advance for the Maciness of this post. I’m sure you can do all of this with Windows. I just don’t know how (that’s what comments are for!).
  • MacMice MicFlex USB Desktop Microphone: This microphone might (I said might, not admitting anything) have accidentally come with me from my last job. What’s to love? It’s USB. It’s bendy. It has a stand if you need to bring it further away from your computer. It’s perfect. And it’s around fifty bucks.

And that’s it. Don’t go crazy. Your interface is going to change in 60 days anyway and you’ll need to record these again.

Screenflick

Software

My setup doesn’t involve a ton of software either:

  • Screenflick: Screenflick is a solid video capture app for the Mac that only costs $20 (regular is $29, but they’re running a special). I’ve gotten quite used to it, though I have to admit that if I was going to start from scratch I might use Screenflow. The effects in Screenflow are gorgeous—but of course, they also increase production time a LOT. Screenflick doesn’t have many bells and whistles, but that also makes it dead simple to use.
  • QuickTime Pro: Screenflick exports to QuickTime. Once you accept the fact that you won’t get it all done in one take, you’ll record your screencast in well-planned segments (more on that in a bit). I use QuickTime Pro (at $29.99, still one of the best bargains in software) to splice these together and re-export as a new QuickTime movie. Then they’re ready for Flash or iPod encoding.

I do use other software for my screencasting process, but those are related to the encoding (Part 2) and feed creation (Part 3). If you’re just looking to record the screencasts, this is all you need.

Script

My best advice about a script is to have one. However, don’t script every word and action. When you’re recording and clicking around the screen, you won’t have much attention left to devote to a piece of paper. I used a bulleted list of topics I knew I needed to cover. I could use whatever words felt right at the time, but I knew I needed to hit everything on that list.

The most important part of the script, for me, was setting up a BatchBook account specifically for the screencasts. I needed to make sure I had the correct data in place (at the right time) to show what I needed to in the screencast. This can become a pain when you re-record because of mistakes, because you need to remember what to delete before you start recording again. Nothing like starting to talk about adding a particular Affiliation that you then notice is already on the page. You immediately trip over yourself and need to start over yet again.

So, take 90% of the time you assumed you’d devote to the script and instead focus on creating a useful, tailored and REALISTIC account for demo purposes.

Environment

I work from home. But I also have two small children. Recording audio can be a challenge. So, I did what any rock star would do—I started recording at about 10pm. While the six screencasts actually total about 23 minutes in length, recording them took more like 4 ½ hours, bringing me to 2:30 am.

Despite the late hour, this definitely had it’s benefits. Not only was it quiet in the house, it was quiet outside the house. No garbage trucks or school buses go by at 1 am. I went as far as turning off the heat to make sure it didn’t kick on as I recorded. When I used to try to record podcasts in an office building, the air conditioning was the bane of my very existence.

I also have a new, small office in our basement. Turns out that when I closed the door it had excellent natural acoustics. I didn’t add any audio effects whatsoever.

Tips

Here are some things that I picked up and will definitely do again next time I record:

  • Record them all at once: The day of recording, we decided we should probably have an Import screencast. While my first thought was “eh, I’ll just do it later”, I changed my mind and wrote the script that day so I could record at night. The reasons to record at once are plenty—your cropping settings are the same, your data is the same, your voice levels are the same, the environment sounds the same, etc. Basically, the one way to ensure that all the screencasts feel like they belong together is to do them together.
  • Strategically pause: As I mentioned before, you’re not going to be able to do the whole thing at once. Focus on nailing one main concept, then if you’re not 100% sure how the next section is going to go, pause. But don’t just pause, pause strategically. Be completely silent. Do not move your mouse. Leave your mouse in a spot where you can easily put it when you start to record again. It can be frustrating when you need to re-record a section, but you realize that you talked straight into the mouse clicks of the next section. That means you need to do both of them all over again. Keep the mouse still and be quiet—you’ll thank yourself later when it is a super-easy cut and paste in QuickTime Pro.
  • Repeat, repeat, repeat: At some point it is going to feel like you’ve said the same thing 500 times. You probably have. But every time you go back to re-record because of a messup, it comes out better. I promise you. Keep at it until you get it right. It’s worth it.

So, there you have it. Now you’ve got a whole bunch of screencasts recorded and trimmed and edited in QuickTime Pro. Next time, I’ll talk about how to encode the screencasts for the web.

  • http://screencastr.com Michael Stewart

    Very informational tutorial Adam. I completely agree with you about just having a script for the key points. When I did my first screencast I tried to write the whole thing out like a blog post then read it and it was horrible. From then on I have just used dot points on my second monitor.

  • http:www.plainwhitepress.com Julie Trelstad

    Thanks for the tutorial Adam. I’m planning to do some of these next year, but wasn’t sure where to start. I actually used your tutorial on how to use BatchBlue with MailChimp just yesterday and found it more helpful than if I’d read written directions.

  • http://batchblue.com Adam Darowski

    Thanks, Michael! Yes, I’ve tried over-scripting and non-scripting. This approach definitely worked best for me. Keeps your eyes on what you’re doing, but also gives you (a quick glance away) the main points you were planning to hit.

  • http://batchblue.com Adam Darowski

    Thanks Julie! I’m glad you found the MailChimp screencast useful. While recording, it made me realize how slick that feature is!

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