Updated: Jul 10
When I first started filmmaking, the world of audio recording intimidated the heck out of me. I think it was because of how much work it had taken me to get comfortable with the ins and outs of camera settings, that I was nervous to take on a whole new aspect of production.
My first projects were simple enough that if I pointed the mic at the subject, the audio recorded well enough. It wasn't until I started taking on client projects in the early days of my production company, that I realized my audio could be better. I had to dig in and learn more about how to record audio, but surprisingly, I found that it wasn't acutally that bad. In some cases, I even had a lot of fun witht sound designing my projects.
Although I'm not an audio technician, and will still hire a audio professional when I can, I can say that with a bit of practice, it's not so bad. I want to share with you some of my top tips that I've learned to help take your hesitation from learning audio.
My partner Myles taking care of audio while I focus on filming.
1. Listen while you film!
Our brains are really good at picking out the important sounds in a room and tuning out all the extra noise. It's easy to think that recording in a room with background noise will sound fine, because it sounds okay to our ears. But a microphones, unfortunately, don't work like our brains. They'll pick up every sound within their audio reach.
If the sound that you're recording is important, always listen with headphones. Headphones isolate exactly what the mic is picking up, and how much the important sound will be lost in the background noise. It sounds simple, but I've learned from experience when I've brought the footage into editing, headphones are your best friend.
2. I can't stop the noises in the background, what do I do?
The main thing to figure out is how much will you hear the extra noise, and if it competes with the sound you want to focus on. For example, if you are in a crowded room with people talking, and you want to hear just one person, you can put the mic very close to that person, but you will still hear the background chatter. The question then becomes, how much are the background noise is competing with the clarity of our subject? Is it hard to understand them?
Another consideration is the tone of your film. For example, if you are interviewing a person about a difficult time in their life, you really want to make sure there isn't some upbeat jazzy music playing in another room for example. Or if your'e interviewing someone about a desert, you don't hear the sound of the ocean from the open window. But, if you're at a party capturing little clips from excited party goers, some general ambient chatter in the background wouldn't be out of place.
3. Always roll sound.
It's always a good idea to have at least the built-in camera mics recording when you're capturing video. This way you capture any relevant sounds in the chance that you might use them in the background of your video. If you were filming a day in the forest for example, but didn't capture the sounds of the wind swishing the trees, or the overhead birds, you either go back and take and audio recording of these sounds, or find a similar sounding track online.
It's easier to have some extra sound and not use it, than to decide you need it after all, and have to re-record the audio.
4. Boom mics typically have the nicest audio.
Lav mics are great for getting a clear recording of your subject, but for the richest, fullest audio, a good boom mic is often the best choice for recording dialogue. Boom mics are better at capturing the bass, and fuller tones of a voice. I rely on a lav mic for when I have to capture audio of a person who is preoccupied with an activity, where following them with a boom wouldn't be easy, if they have to be further away from me, or if there's enough background noise that being closer to them to get usable audio will trump the richer tones of the boom mic.
5. Watch your levels!
I think that we've all had that one (or two) times, where we get back to editing and find the audio we recorded on location is either too loud, or too quiet, or on the heartbreaking occasion, not there at all. When you're out filming there's so much to pay attention too. Especially if you're often out in the field as a one person shooter like I am. You're watching framing, you're directing your subject, or interviewing your subject, you're checking focus. Sometimes you forget about the audio levels.
Always have at least one part of your brain making sure the levels are moving and recording sound. Keeping an eye that they're not peaking, and make sure they're above -20 at least. Practice making checking your audio levels as important as keeping focus. Sometimes, it's even more important. For example, what's an interview if you don't have usable audio?
6. Room Tone!!
Capturing room tone can be a huge help once you get to editing! Room tone is capturing about 30-60 seconds of "nothing", just the sounds of the room. This means everyone on your shoot sits completely still for this 30 seconds so you can get a "clean" recording of whatever natural noises occur in the room. Maybe the sounds of the furnace or the AC, maybe the wind or traffic noise, whatever the background room noise is.
What this does is lets you then layer the room tone audio recording underneath edits to your audio so you can create smooth transitions or pauses without the noticeable cut of your audio clip.
7. When in doubt, hire a professional
Like I mentioned above, sometimes there's just too many things to think about when you're a one-person band. Having someone there to focus solely on recording audio can be a huge time and energy saver. Especially if you're in a busy situation, have multiple people in a scene together, or want to free yourself up to really interact with the people that are part of your film.
And there you have it! I hope that these tips help you out on your films and get you started recording fabulous audio!
p.s. please don't actually drop your mics😬