5 Ways to Improve Your Audio!
by Jeff McLain
For those of you who are interested in videography, you will find that the hardest new skill to learn will probably be audio. Capturing clean audio is easier said than done, and that's why I want to help. We all know to avoid using our internal DSLR mics, and we have heard about shotgun mics, lavalier mics, and dead cats. Here are a few more tips for bringing it all together for good sound quality in your videos.
1. Stay out of the wind if you don’t have the tools to combat it.
Wind is a killer. It produces a low rumble that can absolutely ruin your audio track. If you are shooting in windy situations with a lavalier (clip-on) mic, you may be able to hide the mic under clothing to reduce the wind noise, but you’ll also lose some of the tone of your subject that will need to be fixed in post-processing. You might also run into issues with clothing noise. If it’s a very windy situation, you’ll need special tools to combat the wind - and often those tools come with a pretty high price tag. Usually it is better to just hire a sound person to handle it if you think wind will be an issue on your shoot. The best plan would be to avoid the high wind scenario if you can. The wind is calmer in the morning more than it is in the afternoon.
2. Get the mic closer to the sound source.
As legendary sound engineer Jay Rose once wrote, “90% of sound issues are because the microphone is not close enough to the sound source.” The further away the microphone is, the more of the environment it will pick up, which will color your sound with room reverb, echo, or background noise. Get that microphone as absolutely close to the sound as you can.
3. Use the mic that is most appropriate to your situation.
Microphones have different polar patterns, and knowing when to use one over another polar pattern is important to the overall quality of your audio track. There is no single microphone that is the best for every situation. Often having a combination of a few types of quality microphones is the best place to start. If you only have the budget for one mic, this could be a great choice!
4. Treat the room.
Typically, you’ll roll into an interview or filming situation and just set up camera and lighting and begin rolling camera - which is a mistake. You’ll often get your footage into the editing bay to realize that the fridge was running and dropping ice and you didn’t notice it then - but, it is glaring now! Or that the central air was on, producing a low rumble on your audio track. Or there is a lot of room echo because it’s a bare room with nothing on the walls and your subject is sitting at the kitchen table - which are all surfaces that bounce the sound around producing that ‘tinny’ sound. A simple solution is to bring a bevy of furniture blankets and lay them on the floor under the subject, and hang them on stands around the room to dampen the reflections in the room. When dealing with central air - you’ll need to turn it off for the filming if you can. And unplug the refrigerator. An old sound recordist trick is to put your car keys in the fridge - that way, you won’t forget to plug the fridge back in at the end of the shoot!
5. Use Limiters or Dual Channel tracks.
The higher-end audio recorders offer a couple options that can help when peoples’ voices suddenly get louder. Limiters are built-in effects that sense a sound getting louder and automatically adjust so that your track doesn’t ‘peak’ and distort. Analog limiters do a much better job at this, which is why the gear with analog limiters is very expensive. Another tool is to record Dual Channel, which allows you to record your master track, and it simultaneously records a second track but 12 decibels lower in gain, so that if someone gets loud all of a sudden, you can use the lower track to patch over the loud sections. This feature has saved me in a number of situations and is available on the Tascam DR-10L, a great mic for those of you looking to get started capturing clean audio!