Set Up Your YouTube Studio Smartly With These Tips

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Set Up Your YouTube Studio Smartly With These Tips

If you want to get going on YouTube, you’re going to need some gear. You probably have what it takes to get started in your pocket right now, but as you grow into your channel, you might want to update some pieces to give you higher quality output and more control. Here is a pathway to help get you started, along with some tips and tricks for getting good results.


Beginning with video? Just use your phone. If it’s anything from the past four years, it’s going to do a great job (bonus: the built-in editing and uploading functions are maybe even better than a desktop). Don’t let your gear hold you back — go to your shop and start filming.

Two quick beginner tips

• Keep yourself and your project in the center of the frame.

• Try to keep camera movement to a minimum. Even better, put the camera on something that doesn’t move. A small cheap tripod is helpful (and doubles as a handle).


The second thing that a lot of creators focus on is audio. The classic adage is that people will overlook bad video quality, but bad audio will push them away.

The good news is you can get a $20 condenser lavalier microphone that will provide a sound improvement in many situations. The general style has an extra long cord (be careful to not trip over it) and uses a battery to provide power when used with those cameras that require it.

This story was featured in volume 74 of Make: Magazine. Subscribe today!

Putting the microphone close to yourself will help keep your voice clear and center, while minimizing further-away sounds. This setup works fine for a one-person presentation, but if you have two or more people, it gets trickier. We’ll get to that in a bit.

The space you’re in will also affect the audio. A big, spartan interior room will create a reverb-ed, echoey sound, which generally isn’t too pleasing — it sounds amateurish and can make it hard to understand the person speaking. Closer microphone placement helps, but sometimes not entirely. To rectify it, you’ll need to absorb the sound into something. Furniture can help — you may just want to go into another space with sofas and curtains to help soak up those echoes. Some people will get fancy and add foam sound panels on the walls and ceiling of their studio, but you can get the same effect by dragging a couple mattresses into your space and standing them up on their sides (shown with pillow-booth, detailed next). Just try to keep them out of frame.

Another common trick for controlling your sound environment, especially for recording voiceovers, is to stand inside a closet while speaking. The fabric clothes and tiny space will give you a very dry sound.

In a pinch, you can also build a small one-sided vocal booth out of pillows or cushions on your desk. Worst-case scenario? Hide under a heavy blanket while doing your lines.


If you’re filming outside, lighting isn’t a huge issue. Just be sure to not to stand between the camera and the sun, or you will be a silhouette. Smartphones and GoPros are configured to handle everything else almost perfectly, and dedicated cameras have enough manual control to let you dial in the right shot too.

Indoor is trickier. If you’ve got big windows, you’ll likely be fine with natural light during the day. But after the sun goes down, or in interior spaces without those big windows, the darker environment can be more problematic — forcing your camera to get into grainy ISO levels or just capping out so everything is a dark mush. This is where lighting kits come into play.

You can spend thousands on lighting gear, and can even dedicate your career to being a lighting professional (the same goes for any of the topics here). But there are a few tips for getting better, brighter shots without having to go that far.

First, turn on your lights. All of them. You may be surprised that even with what seems to be a bright lamp, your footage still seems dark. That’s because our eyes are so dang good at compensating for dark environments, but technology is still working on it.

Next, try to avoid direct light — a flashlight or even headlights from a car will cast stark shadows. Instead, you’ll want to diffuse your light over a large surface. Lampshades do this. Bouncing your light off a big white wall will do the same, although the bounce will eat up some of the brightness. If that’s hard to do, just try to spread your lamps out around the subject so you really envelop it in light. Google “three-point lighting” for a more advanced approach to profiling a subject.

You may want to get a low-cost lighting kit. These run about $100 for a three-light set, and can be configured in a variety of ways. Or you can build your own — there are tons of step-by-step options online (see “DIY Gear” down below).


If you’re this far along, you may be getting ready to move past your phone camera. There are a few reasons to do this: more settings control, better resolution, adding new lenses, swappable storage and batteries. You might want to put the phone to use for other reasons (like recording audio, as we’ll note in a moment). Or maybe you’re just tired of getting phone calls in the middle of your best takes.

At this point, people tend to move up to DSLR and mirrorless options. You’ll have to spend a few hundred dollars for one of these at the entry level, and you might not even notice the difference most of the time. The convenience factor will also go down a bit — they’re bulkier, the preview screens are not always visible from the front, and the footage can be harder to deal with too. They’re definitely harder to use in an on-the-run, handheld selfie video clip moment.

But the flexibility can be worth it, especially when you get into manual exposure and focus situations, or upgrade to high-quality lenses that can give your scenes that tasteful blurred background look (called bokeh) that keeps the main subject clearly as the primary point of focus for the viewer.

This is also the time to get a new tripod. Check Craigslist and other secondhand marketplaces for good deals.


Now you’re moving into the deep stuff. Again, when it comes to video it’s all about audio. Advanced audio often uses a dedicated recorder rather than the one in your camera — the quality ones will provide better sound. But at the DIY level, even just using your phone (which may now be freed up with a dedicated camera in use) and a free recorder app will give you more control options. Slip your phone upside-down in a shirt pocket to mimic a lav mic, or just use that $20 corded lav you got at the start, connected to your phone in your pocket. Have two people appearing on camera? Have them both do the same thing, and you’ve suddenly got two-channel audio with levels you can adjust in post.

Most decent editing software will let you bring in multiple audio channels, and many even have a system to sync everything up with your video — no more hand clapping needed. We’ve found that moving audio files from a phone to a computer can be frustrating, but you’ll figure out a workflow with practice, and it will become straightforward.


Music can be a nice touch for a video when used aptly. If you’re trying to make money with YouTube, stay away from commercial tunes, as they’ll be recognized automatically and any earnings diverted to the rights holder. Instead, look for royalty-free tracks: has a number of Creative Commons-licensed tracks, and YouTube has free options as well. This is also an opportunity to reach out to your friends in bands and ask if they’d let you use something (be cool and buy them some beers at the very least), or brush off your rusty skills and make your own tracks. Hey, you’re a content creator now. Time to create that music content too.


Our advice is to keep it as simple as you can — the fancier you get, the harder and more time-consuming it will be to complete your video. Plus, equipment isn’t cheap; there may not be a good return on investment from a dedicated piece of gear that does something only a little bit better than what you already have.

In the end, consistency is important, both with producing content regularly, and with giving that content a recognizable look and feel. But most crucial of all is the content itself — you can have the nicest video setup of everyone, but if your projects aren’t interesting or useful, people won’t come back. 


As mentioned previously, GoPro-type cameras can be an option, although we find them best for outdoor environments. Their ultra-wide-angle lenses also give an odd look to a person being recorded. They’re not bad for a second camera when getting into a two- or three-camera setup, being a bit more rugged (especially when in their protective case). They can be fun for close-up shots of cutting and drilling, for instance, or strapped to the lumber you’ve got on your roof as you drive home from the store.


Here are some pieces you can build yourself to expand your video kit.

Brownie Pan Light Panel

Build a few of these and you should be able to set up effective lighting on a budget. From Make: Volume 38.

Noise Insulation Panels

Put these around your studio to suppress those pesky echoes. They also make your home office and home theater room a lot more audio-friendly.

Rolling Dolly

If your video style incorporates hero shots and lots of b-roll, a configurable roller dolly can add smooth pans and rotations to your options.

Motorized Slider

Great for putting motion into timelapse videos, but you can use these in a variety of other ways, especially when you’re filming yourself alone.

iPad Teleprompter

For host-style camera shots, a teleprompter lets you use your script without looking away from the camera. This one puts your iPad to use for it.

Published in Make: Volume 60 (get a membership to access all the back issues at

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Mike Senese

Mike Senese is a content producer with a focus on technology, science, and engineering. He served as Executive Editor of Make: magazine for nearly a decade, and previously was a senior editor at Wired. Mike has also starred in engineering and science shows for Discovery Channel, including Punkin Chunkin, How Stuff Works, and Catch It Keep It.

An avid maker, Mike spends his spare time tinkering with electronics, fixing cars, and attempting to cook the perfect pizza. You might spot him at his local skatepark in the SF Bay Area.

View more articles by Mike Senese


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