October 9, 2017

5 Things That Will Help You Record Audio That Doesn't Totally Suck

If you're a filmmaker who gets completely lost when it comes to audio, you're not alone.

Most of us got into filmmaking because we wanted to tell stories with beautiful images. That's not really news to anyone. However, there's the visual side of cinema, which is important, and then there's the audio side, which is arguably even more important, and the unfortunate thing about is many new filmmakers don't know a whole lot about how to record great audio. If that's you, you might want to take a look at this video from Matti Haapoja of TravelFeels. He admits to not being much of an "audio guy," but provides some really simple, really basic tips that can help you get better sound without knowing much about it.

I'll be the first to tell you that if you want to be good at something, you have to learn everything you can about that thing. However, I've tried for well over ten years to understand audio and, like chemistry (which I failed miserably in high school), I just don't f**king get it. Sorry about it, but I don't. That's why I need clear and simple directions on recording that don't require me to know much about how sound works.

So, here are the tips Matti talks about in the video, which are, yes, super easy to understand and super easy to apply.

  • Use an external mic: Do not use your camera's onboard mic. It's total shit. Trust me. Get yourself a shotgun and/or lav mic and a boom pole. You don't have to break the bank, but expect to spend a few hundred dollars on a decent unit.
  • Choose the right mic for the location: The kind of mic you use depends on a few different factors: location, type of scene, type of audio being recorded. Lavs are great for interviews and wide shots (and other shots in which a boom operator would be visible). Shotguns are good for just about everything else.
  • Get your mic as close to the source as possible: When it comes to audio, the closer you get your mic to the source the better. Just make sure your boom isn't in the frame! Also, don't forget to point your shotgun mic in the direction of your source.
  • Try not to go over -12dB: You really have to watch out for clipping, which is when your audio signal goes past an amplifier's limit and the sound wave basically gets its head cut off, resulting in distortion. And distortion is (almost always) bad.
  • Make sure you're monitoring your audio: Look, I know you're super focused on the visual aspects of your film, but you really have to give some attention to your audio, too. Whether you get a friend to monitor for you or are able to hire a pro, get some ears on that audio to make sure it's sounding great.

A few other easy things I've learned on my misadventures with recording sound are:

  • Using good handheld recorder with XLR ports allows you or your sound recordist to go where they need to go without being tethered to your camera. Yeah, you'll have to sync your audio later in post, but it's usually worth it. (I've had my Zoom H4n for years and it's still a beast.)
  • Blankets and mats are pretty damn effective at cutting down on echo and reverb. You can throw down some heavy mats on surfaces like wood, cement, tile, or marble floors, and even hang up blankets around your set if you're shooting in a big open room.
  • Don't be afraid of ADR (automated dialogue replacement). Also called looping or dubbing, this process seems a little scary because having your actor re-perform their lines over their previously recorded scenes can be awkward and messy and not look or sound natural. However, after a little bit of practice, your actors will most likely get the rhythm and delivery right. Besides, slightly off ADR is better than unusable audio anyway.

What are some other audio tips you can share with mega ultra audio noobs like me? Let us know down in the comments.      

Your Comment

6 Comments

If you're on a big enough production that camera wants timecode for sync but you like to run and gun or just don't have TC output, you can usually rent a Tentacle set for ~$20 and generate or jam-sync as needed. For projects where I am the whole sound team or times that I need maximum flexibility I like to roll with a Zoom H6 attached to the back of my boom by Superclamp, which acts as a nice counterbalance and means I can tweak levels in a take while holding the mic steady.

October 10, 2017 at 6:12AM

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Close as possible isn't always the best solution for audio. You'll get major dropouts when the talent turns their head or moves. You also pick up the annoying mouth sounds that you do not hear in a normal distance conversation. Sound should reflect the distance to subject.

October 11, 2017 at 10:02AM

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d shay
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Rule of thumb for pro audio is 18 - 24 inches from your subject's mouth. When mic'd further away the audio quality of your subject degrades and you start to compete against the ambient noise of the environment you are recording in.

Also, expensive shotgun mics ( $1,000+ ) are effective both indoors and outdoors, but cheap shotgun mics ( less than $500 ) pick up too much reflected audio from the floors / walls / ceiling to be effective indoors. An inexpensive "pencil" condenser mic is great for indoor dialog and can be bought for as little as $60. ( see TakStar CM-63 $60 on eBay )

October 11, 2017 at 10:23AM

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Guy McLoughlin
Video Producer
32021

Shock mount

October 14, 2017 at 8:15AM

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Also, constructing audio in post to create warm, clear sound. Workflow should look something like this:

Dialogue
ADR
Sound FX (Foley)
Ambiance (room noise)
Music

Start at the top with dialogue and work your way down. Think of it similarly to your video edit: Video, FX, color grading, etc. One can't be done before the other (or rather shouldn't be).

I find it's all about workflow. Nobody wants to spin their wheels or work uphill. Take it one step at a time, completing the step before moving on to the next. Watch a few youtube vids to learn finer details such as reverb, compression, db levels... it might sound a little scary but it's not. Simple stuff really that just requires a little time to get right. Once you construct great sounding audio for your vid you'll realize the time was worth it. You'll probably feel like an expert too! Then you can go forward confidently. Isn't that what it's all about?

October 14, 2017 at 8:31AM

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One big thing that is not mentioned here, is recording WILDS!

Wilds are audio recordings done without the camera running, and can be anything important to the scene.
I´ll list a few examples that is a definite must to record:

1: Roomtone or ambience (Your editor will love you for it!)
2: Doors and important props
3: Dialogue that you are unsure was recorded right when the camera was rolling

This will save you tons of work on post, and will generally improve the quality of your edits.

October 15, 2017 at 11:24AM

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Thomas Pape
Sound Designer
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