Capturing Event Audio: Basic Concept
When Capturing event audio, there are a couple of things one must follow to get the best audio possible. There is a saying: “You could have the best footage in the world, but if your audio is no good, your footage is no good.” The number 1 rule for any filmmaker out there is “Audio is King.” Here are a couple of tips you can follow to get the best possible audio recording for your projects.
- Drop the built in mic from your camera and use an external microphone preferably a stereo external mic. Having an external microphone will give you more flexibility and far greater audio quality.
- When choosing your external microphone look into a Shotgun mic and wired or wireless lavaliers. Shotgun microphones are industry standard. They pick up very natural sound of the area around them, which is another reason why they are used so much on film and studio sets. Shotgun mics can be mounted on your camera or held in place by a mic stand, but if you are doing a moving shot, you will need a boom operator to hold it above your subject’s head.
- Lavalier microphones: These are the microphones that you will often see hooked on the shirt of the interviewee. They work really well because they keep the microphone directly on the source. There is no need to worry about having another person follow the talent around or not being in the right spot at the right time. There are either wireless or wired lavalier microphones.
- Space and where do you point the microphone?
Anything in production has a flow. In audio, we call it signal flow. Think of it like water flowing through a pipeline. It starts at the source but then has to take many different routes to get to the faucet. If one route is blocked, then you get no water. Audio is no different. It doesn’t have to be complicated, and understanding basic concepts will make it much less of a headache. If you are recording in a large space, and you want your audience to feel that space, then you want to make sure that your microphone is far enough away from your source (subject) to pick up the ambiance of the space. More often than not you will want to have your microphone as close to your source as possible and pointed directly at it. Microphones act exactly how ears act to some extent. If you were in a large cave and heard a sound happen from far away in the cave, you could tell that the sound was coming from far away, and also how big the space was even if your eyes were closed. You could also tell if the sound happened three feet away from you in this same space. Amazing right? This is a survival technique for humans and it’s a survival technique for the success of your video.
- Recording Outside: If you are recording outdoors, you must take wind into consideration. Obviously, avoid this situation at all costs, but when you can’t, your best option is to invest in a windscreen/deadcat for the microphone. These are cheap and very helpful to keep that swooshing wind noise from ruining your production. You also need to take other noises into consideration when filming outside. Typically filming outside is not a controlled environment; you have planes going by, dogs barking, cars honking…you get the idea. Shots have to be set up and prepared for these particular cases. If you live in a part of town where you know it’s particularly noisy then you may want to consider driving somewhere else in order to have more control of the situation. The last thing you want to happen is to have a beautiful take ruined by some random noise. Sometimes you can fix that in editing but most of the time it’s impossible. Also, make sure that you have water protection for your gear if you plan on filming in the rain. Keep everything under tarps, plastic bags, or even garbage bags if you have to. You don’t want to ruin the gear you just purchased.
- Recording Inside: Now, if you are recording inside then you will be presented with a new set of obstacles. You need to make sure that the space that you are recording in is treated properly for sound. Don’t worry! It’s not as difficult as it may sound. It doesn’t have to be a professional recording studio or a Hollywood set, but it does have to sound good. How do you know if it sounds good? Walk into the space that you plan on recording in and start speaking. Does it have an echo? Does it sound hollow? Remember this rule, if you can hear it, then your microphone will hear it as well. You need to treat those problems. You can go out and buy audio sound panels or even try to make your own panels. However, these can be expensive or tedious to make especially if you plan on only using them for a one-time shoot. I recommend using items that you have at your disposal. Use rugs for a hard floor, blankets on the walls, or bring large sofas closer to your sound source and stand them up to block noise reflections from getting to your microphone. Any sound from the source bounces off the material in the room; it makes a big difference if you are in an empty room vs. one that has some furniture or sound protection. If you’ve ever been in a fully furnished room and then returned after the furniture has been removed, I’m sure you noticed the difference in sound levels; this same concept applies in filming.
This may seem a little overwhelming but as with anything you will continue to learn for the rest of your life and get better and better at it. The goal here is not to become a master overnight but to be able to understand basic concepts so that you can start creating. Not just creating content but creating quality content. The goal is to connect your audience to what you are trying to say as seamlessly as possible. You don’t want them to think about what they are hearing; you want them to experience it. Sound for video might be an afterthought for many, but if you don’t take the time to get it right, I can assure you that you will not be given the time by your audience. People’s expectations are higher than ever. And while the average viewer won’t be able to point out the specific problem with your poor quality audio, it will be one of the first things that will stand out as unprofessional. This is a beautiful medium to work with, and its power has a much larger reach than you may think. So use it wisely, with intention, and you will be amazed at the rewards that come with it.