Recording audio at the wrong levels can result in pretty crappy sound. Here's how to avoid all that.
Getting good audio is arguably more important than getting good images when making a film, but when it comes to no-budget filmmakers, they tend to know far less about what it takes to record clean, crisp sound than they do about capturing a great shot. So, if you're thinking you're in need of a basic lesson on audio, Caleb Pike of DSLR Video Shooter shows you how to set audio levels when recording, issues to look out for, and which levels you should use when exporting.
Pike provides a great introductory lesson on audio, covering everything from what a decibel (Db) is and how they're measured to the difference between recording and delivery levels and where you should set them.
Where you should set your recording levels
According to Pike, your audio level should stay on the negative side of the number scale and never go above 0. Anything above this results in distortion, which will make your audio torture to listen to. He suggests keeping your level at around -10 to -12, but this can vary depending on your project and your subject. If you're shooting a concert for example, you may want to drop it down even further.
Where you should set your delivery levels
This depends on where you're going to be delivering your final project. If you're distributing your project to services like Netflix, Amazon, festivals, and theaters, they can have pretty strict guidelines and standards for where your levels should be when you deliver your audio. If you're posting something online on YouTube or Vimeo, you can pretty much set them however you want, but Pike suggests getting your audio as close to 0 as you can. This makes your video loud enough for people to hear (and turn down if they need to) without having any of that nasty distortion.
Chat with your subject before recording sound
It's a great idea to chat with your subject before recording anything for a couple of reasons. First, they might be nervous and talking with them will help them get more comfortable with speaking on-camera. Second, and this is really important, it gives you a chance to measure where their audio levels are while they're speaking so you can adjust as needed. Pike even suggests getting them to laugh or talk louder so you can see where their audio peaks.
What are some other things filmmakers should think about when recording and/or leveling audio? Let us know in the comments below.