Audio Production Tips

This is targeted to non-audio professionals, we hope the material contained will be a useful guide to assist with achieving the best production values possible. At the very least this article should at least get you thinking of sound when you go out to make your next video - this is just a guide, so take it with a grain of salt!

The most common problems we find are videos which record the narrations incorrectly: bad sound levels, too much noise, blowing air into the mic, inconsistent sound levels throughout video, noise cutting in an out abruptly between scenes...etc.

Remember, sound is usually equally as important as the image. The intelligibility of critical audio information through dialogue, sound effects, and music gives the audience key facts, a contiguous and pleasant viewing experience. In order to achieve the best possible results, expensive equipment is not necessary to achieve great results in audio.

Location Location Location:

The real-estate brokers are on to something. Just because a location looks good, doesn’t mean its suitable to shoot a video. Low noise locations are critical and suitability of a location can change during the day, as traffic patterns, or possible noise interference occurs (for example: schools, air traffic, air conditioning, heavy birds or wind) and can ruin the audio.

Control your environment:

What is critical in the editing process to maintaining continuity of sound is consistent and suitable backgrounds. This is important because you may want to cut together two shots captured at different times of the day. Therefore, hearing loud cars or a big shift in the background sound makes editing dialogue very difficult to achieve contiguous sound. Continuity is key. If you can hear noisy fluorescent lights, or a fridge humming, then the microphone will definitely pic up on it. The same goes for a distant radio or television. A constant sound source, especially sounds with complex copyright issues such as music can render all the material captured at that location useless.

Recording Narration

Two free applications that could come in handy:

  • Audacity for audio recording and editing.
  • Levelator to adjust the audio levels in your narration.

When recording you should be aware of the sound level at all times.The level at which you record your audio is very important. If the level is set too low, your audio will have background noise when you turn the volume up to hear it properly. If the level is too high, you will hear distortion. Think about using free software such as Audacity to record narration you should generally shoot for a sound level of approx -6db. More details on proper recording levels here.

Here are 13 quick tips to record narration which is worth checking out.

Boom Shot Gun Mics

Ideally, a shot gun microphone should be between 20” and 40” from the mouth. Important is that the microphone point towards the mouth, without the mouth pointing at the microphone. Aiming the mouth directly at the microphone is unnecessary and may lead to pops, clicks, un-wanted breaths. In the field, it is usual for a boom operator to hold the microphone as close as possible, but just outside a predetermined frame line. Boom operators must be constantly vigilant they are not adding handling noise. In exterior breezy locations, a wind jammer could be employed. If the wind is too strong I recommend not shooting out doors that day. If that is impractical, then look for physical buffers to wind.

Lavalier Mics

If you can borrow these from the sound department they will really help! Depending on the style of programming being created, lavalier mics are usually hidden out of view.  Typically the lavalier mic is hidden under the top layer of clothing and as close to the sternum as possible. This allows the mic to capture the maximum output from the chest cavity. Acoustically sensible clothing (non scratchy, and rustley fabric) worn by the performer is necessary to capture clean dialogue, without adding unwanted noise. For example, plastic shopping bags – or any white noise generating materials should be avoided.

Additional techniques

The more takes you record the more options you will have in post-production. Therefore I recommend you record audio on rehearsals. Also be sure to record at least one minute on location tone (sound of silence) - this can be used to cover any sharp transitions. In post-production, when it comes to filling audio gaps created by edits or removing unwanted noises, clean location tone will be your saving grace.