Why? Well, audiences typically tolerate watching a film or TV programme with a poor picture as long as the sound is of good quality. Take away the sound, however, or distort it and the experience becomes almost intolerable.
This may have something to do with primal instincts, where a predator was more likely to be heard than seen, for example. Being more 'tuned in' to the aural environment may mean we have a lower threshold when it comes to bad sound.
So, what does the typical filmmaker or video producer have to consider?
1. Use the right equipment for the right job
Think through what you will be filming and make sure you use microphones that are suitable. It is possible to have all sorts of types of mics, but at the very minimum try and make sure you have access to the following:
- A lapel or radio mic for static interviews or presenting.
- A shotgun condenser for general sound pick up.
- A handheld dynamic mic for 'voxpops' and dynamic presenting.
2. Position the mic right
Depending on where the sound source is, you will need to make sure the mic is positioned appropriately. In general, you want to get as close as possible, but making sure you don't get undesirable side effects:
- If you are too close to a subject's mouth, for example, you might get 'popping' or unnaturally low frequency (or bass) sound.
- Placing the mic too close can mean it appears in shot – which doesn't look very professional!
- If the source is quite loud, the levels will peak and you will get unpleasant distortion.
- If you are too close to machinery or people doing a physical activity there is a danger that a collision with the mic will occur (and cause all sorts of problems, including breaking the mic).
3. Ambient noise
Most of the time, ambient noise is an expected part of any sound recording. Problems occur, however, when this background sound is so loud that it becomes overly distracting. Filming an interview in a canteen, for example, might be impossible during a busy lunch hour because not only will you have the loud drone of people chatting, but all sorts of other noises will pick up on the mics (plates, cutlery, cash registers, shouting, doors banging etc.). You simply won't be able to hear the interviewee clearly.
Filming in certain places can mean you have no control over the location, but if possible, make sure you scout locations in advance and make yourself aware of any potential ambient sounds that could cause problems for your shoot. In addition, liaise with your contact for the location and stress the importance of keeping background noise to a minimum. It may mean having to book a quiet room away from the hustle and bustle – but at least it keeps disruption to a minimum (as well as stress!).
If you film outdoors there is always the danger of microphones picking up excess wind noise. Failing to prepare for this can result in ruined audio. Most mics have no or minimal protection against this issue – typically, you will need to make use of an additional windshield or microphone cover. These help to dissipate the air as it blows around the casing, thus preventing any excess wind reaching the sensitive components of the mic.
5. Listen in
It can be very tempting to just plug in the equipment and leave it at that, but you need to make sure you monitor the sound as well as the visual element of your recording. By listening in on headphones, you can spot those rare occasions of audio drop-out. You also need to use headphones to check sound levels before you start.
During interviews, for example, make sure you get the subject to talk for a minute or two so that you can adjust levels on the camera. You want to ensure no peaking (ie distortion) takes place but that the levels are high enough for when it comes to editing.
Hopefully you'll find this a useful guide to audio when it comes to video production.
If you have any questions, just leave a comment!