As filmmakers and visual storytellers, we can get caught up in the imagery and forget a key component of great picture…great sound. So, how do we make sure we don’t sabotage our projects with inferior sound? Here are few ways in production and post-production that we can ensure our sound techniques are pristine while supporting the story and the visuals.
Capturing excellent sound on set is essential to having great sound in post-production and beyond. Whether it’s an interview setup or a narrative short, choosing the right microphone and having proper miking and sound techniques is a must.
Two main types of microphones on location or in the studio are shotgun and lapel.
A shotgun microphone is long skinny tube that is excellent at capturing audio in a tight, pinpoint pattern. It repels sounds from the side. This type of microphone reproduces natural sound while minimizing background noise. The best option is place it above and in front of your subject angling it slightly to point at their chin. For run and gun applications, you can mount the mic to the top of the camera.
This small omnidirectional microphone is the workhorse of live TV news. In single camera production a lapel (wireless or wired) can be extremely helpful in getting sound when your not in proximity of your subject, where hiding a shotgun microphone offscreen would be impossible, or as a backup to a shotgun. When using a lapel, it is a common practice to hide it beneath the subject’s clothing, especially in narrative production.
TIP: Sometime during your shoot, record 30 seconds of audio with everything set exactly as it is during your take. Ask your subject and crew to be completely silent. Known as “room tone,” this little slice of audio will help you smooth out your edits by having a perfect ambience track to splice in your edit.
Here are four tips for post-production to help you achieve the best sound quality possible:
Needless to say, dialogue must be intelligible. So making sure you have great levels and clear, crisp audio starts on set, but it continues into post. Adding compression to your dialogue can help even out dynamics. By adding a 3:1 compression ration and dialing in the threshold to just under the peaks, you can get another 3 to 6 db out of your audio track and push the dialogue to the front of your mix.
It’s easy to throw a track of music down and call it a day, but music with tons of lyrics can clash with dialogue. First, you could find music with no lyrics on a site like musicbed.com. Or try playing around with the EQ and dialing it down in the 1.5kHz – 4kHz range. This will help soften the consonants and send the vocal track back in your overall mix.
An often overlooked aspect of audio is atmosphere. Sometimes adding ambiance can help transport your audience into your story. If you have b-roll of people running through a field, try adding some tasteful nature sounds. There are plenty of royalty free sound effects available on the Internet. A little bit goes a long way.
4) Final Mix
How do you know what your overall mix level should look like? We could get really technical and complicated, but I won’t. For broadcast Television, the dynamic range is 6db. That means you would mix your video at -6db on your audio meter and only the loudest noises, like a sound effect or raised voice, would approach 0db without going over. This is a great rule to follow for videos that will be projected in your church. But generally, mixing at -12db is a good place to be. The following is a starting point for mixing your video.
- Final Mix Level: -10db to -14db
- Dialogue:-12db to -15db
- Music:-18db to -22db
- Audio Effects: -10db to -20db with occasional peaks up to -8db.
Audio for video is important but it is not hard. Just remember, garbage in – garbage out. Proper sound techniques that help you capture great audio from the beginning and sweetening it in post will produce a much better product and keep you from pulling your eyebrows out.