You already know how important good audio and sound is for a film. When was the last time you watched through the entirety of a video with bad-quality audio? As an audience, we can deal with a certain level of poor video quality, provided the sound quality is still good. However, as soon as the sound is bad, we’ll stop watching.
While filmmaking is a visual medium for storytelling, it’s undeniable that audio plays a huge role in the process. To create great films and videos, you need to produce great audio and sound. Let’s take a look at 8 tips to achieve great film audio production.
First things first, let’s talk about microphones. Yes, every camera nowadays comes fitted with its in-built microphone, but let’s be honest…these simply don’t cut it.
If you’re serious about capturing great audio and sound, you must invest appropriately. Just as we invest in cameras to achieve beautiful visuals, we need to invest in microphones and develop professional microphone techniques to capture stunning audio.
For video production, there are two main microphones to consider:
Long and cylindrical, the shotgun microphone is directional. It picks up sounds directly in front of the mic while rejecting and toning down ambient sounds to the rear and sides.
Shotgun microphones are highly versatile, allowing you to capture all kinds of sound, from actor dialogue to room noise and wild sound. Because of its directional nature, you will need to think about where you place a shotgun microphone and how you use it. We’ll take a look at how to do this below.
Some of the broadcast-grade shotgun mics you may want to consider:
Lavalier microphones, often termed “lav mics” or “lavs” in the industry, are the classic small-form clip-on microphones you’ll see used frequently in interview videos or where a presenter is talking to the camera.
Unlike their shotgun counterparts, lavalier microphones are very small and designed to be lowkey and unobtrusive. Because of this, Lav mics don’t really pick up that much background noise. Lavs are much more about capturing quality, clear audio from the person they’re attached to.
Some of the broadcast-grade lavalier mics you may want to consider:
To boom, or not to boom? That’s a common question when tackling how to capture great audio during video production. As discussed above, there’s a clear difference between shotgun and lav mics. To capture really high-quality audio and sound for your film project, you need to consider the following:
- Which one you’re going to use
- When you’re going to use it
- Where you’re going to use it
With a lavalier microphone, you’ll capture clear, crisp human speech from the actor. However, it can create a sense of closeness for the audience, which may feel a little jarring or strange if we’re watching a wide shot. This is where you need to think about the microphone perspective.
Shotgun microphones can be attached to a boom pole, which then gives you the freedom to experiment with the microphone perspective. If you’re looking for closeness, you can bring the boom in closer to the actor. Equally, if you’re going for a wider shot and want to capture a bit more of the room tone or environment, you can bring that boom away so that the audio recording feels more natural with what you see on screen.
Stop and listen
When you’re in the middle of production, firing on all cylinders and juggling ten things at once, it can be easy to forget to check your audio before hitting record. However, it’s an essential part of any professional production.
When you take the time to listen to your audio before each shot, you’re allowing yourself to catch any potential mistakes or errors. You may notice that you can hear the traffic from a distant highway or planes from a nearby flight path. All these details help you to adjust and rethink the way you shoot this particular scene. Or perhaps (I’ve experienced this plenty of times), you realize you need to switch on your microphone!
By taking the time and slowing down to listen and double-check things, we save ourselves a lot of pain further down the line in post-production.
Invest in necessary accessories
Again, just like with cameras, where we buy different lenses and ND filters for specific scenarios, along with tripods, lights and whatever else you can think of, you need to invest in additional accessories and gear for your audio-capturing gear.
On the topic of listening to audio before shooting, it’s well worth purchasing a high-quality pair of noise-canceling headphones. These will eliminate all the background noise on set and enable you to focus on the actual sound of the film. This approach often helps you detect any potential mistakes that need to be smoothed out. When the guy with the headphones on set says do it again, you do it again.
Some of the best noise-canceling headphones you may want to consider are:
It’s advisable always to avoid filming in windy conditions at all costs. However, that’s sometimes easier said than done. As filmmakers, we can’t control the weather; therefore, it’s well worth ensuring all your microphones (lavaliers and shotguns) have deadcats. These fluffy mic buffs will shield the condenser from any unwanted noise, such as wind or even a sharp exhale of breath, that could cause the audio to clip and create all kinds of issues in the edit.
Compressors and limiters
Making use of compressors and limiters can help you to smooth out an audio signal. On many higher-end microphones, you may well find that they already come with an in-built option for limiting. Employing a limiter prevents the amplitude of a signal from exceeding a predetermined value. In other words, you hopefully stop any potential clipping from happening.
Meanwhile, a compressor will reduce the volume of louder sounds while amplifying quieter sounds. This effectively compresses the audio signal’s dynamic range, making it “smoother” and easier to work with.
Think about your location
When you’re location scouting in pre-production, don’t just analyze a space from a visual perspective. Think about location in terms of audio.
How does your voice carry in a certain location – is it bouncing off walls and echoing? Are you on a busy flight path? What elements of the environment can you control, and what can you not?
Developing location-sound strategies will help you immensely later in post. Ideally, the more things you control, the better.
On the topic of location, it’s a great idea to pick up room noise and ambient sound from the places you shoot in. Think of this as Foley on set.
When you’re in post-production working on your film sound design (more on that below), it can be very difficult (often impossible) to recreate the exact ambiance and match it with the scene you’re working with. Sometimes called “room tone,” this process helps you precisely capture the tone of your room.
For this, you may want to invest in an audio recorder, or you can use something like a shotgun microphone. However, you do it, it’s a really useful habit to have, giving your sound designer much more to work with in the edit.
Depending on the type of video or film you’re making, you may want “clean dialogue” capture.
Even if two actors are interacting with each other, going back and forth in a scene, it’s a good idea to have them redo their lines afterward, just one actor at a time. Capturing these lines crisply and clearly, with no interference from anyone else, gives you much more to work with in post-production. Clean dialogue can allow you to speed up lines, cut them out, overlay them elsewhere, and perform many other little tricks in the edit.
Typically, the phrase “we’ll fix it in post” should cause you to run for the hills. As a professional filmmaker, you should never rely on post-production as a surefire way to patch up bad production. However, certain elements of post-production audio are essential when it comes to quality audio and sound.
For example, don’t be afraid of SFX. Great filmmakers understand that not everything can be captured during production. When you’re editing your film, you need to work closely with SFX to help build out your environments with sound design, helping to bring the visuals to life and make the audience feel like they’re truly there. This is where capturing things like room tone and ambiance can lend a helping hand.
Additionally, if working with actors, you may also need to capture ADR (audio dialogue replacement) to ensure you’ve got the best-sounding edit possible.
So, there are 8 great tips to help you capture great audio and sound in your next video. It’s a challenging part of the filmmaking process to perfect, and many filmmakers can shy away from it. However, as this arti