Sound Recording Basics
Microphones in the Camera
To start off with the basics of sound recording, it is easy to assume that if the microphone on your video camera — most likely your smart phone — is working, your audio will be fine. However, sound always sounds different to the camera microphone than it does to your ears. The microphone on your camera is like the ear of a dog: it picks up all these sounds that you can’t!
So how do YOU hear all those sounds that the microphone hears? Plug in or bluetooth your headphones.
Use headphones to monitor sound while recording – If you plug them into your camera, you can hear exactly what the microphone is picking up – the sound of the camera running, the wind, music in the background, fans, refrigerators humming, etc.
Smart Phones Tips – To get the most out of the mics on your smart phones, first know where the mic actually is and be sure it is pointing toward your subject. Before you start recording, mute the smart phone or put it in ‘airplane mode’ so that the pings of incoming messages don’t interrupt your recording. Finally, check Settings and see if there are ways to increase audio quality. For example, in iOS phone, in Settings, there is a Voice Memos section. Go to Audio Quality and change the setting to ‘Lossless.’
Distance to the actor – Now that you know that the microphone on your camera will pick up all the sound in the area, you need to stay pretty close to your actors. The further away your actor is from the camera, the more sound with which that voice has to compete.
External microphones- One solution to all the distracting sound that may be drowning out the actor’s voices is to borrow or purchase external microphones. Why? Because external microphones are designed to move where the actor goes, staying close to their voice.
One example is a wired or wireless lapel microphone or Lavalier mic. Lapel microphones are small, unobtrusive, and can be clipped to an actor’s shirt. The advantage of wireless lapel mics:
1) The actor can walk far away from the camera and the sound will still sound great.
2) The lapel mics do a decent job of not recording all the distracting ‘ambient sound’ – the wind or waves crashing or cars driving by. They just capture the actor’s voice.
Another option to consider, of course, is the hand held mic, like you see reporters using.
The Wind – Still, your biggest nemesis in sound recording is probably going to be WIND. So be sure that you mic has a ‘windscreen’. Windscreens are those fuzzy, foam rubber covers that slip over mics that serve as a barrier between the wind and the recording structure inside the mic.
Ambient Sound – Filmmakers are always talking about ‘ambient sound’. What is this? It is the ‘sound’ that the room or environmental setting makes. If inside a restaurant, that sound may include the hum of conversation, utensils clanging and some music in the background. If inside a living room, that sound may just include the faint vibrations of the furnace in the basement (this is also called room tone). If on a meadow, that sound may include the wind, the birds and a car driving on a road a half-mile away.
Ambient sound isn’t good when it interferes with voice recording. Ambient sound is good when it is helping to set the tone or atmosphere of the scene. Either way, you need it.
All filmmakers want to record a minute of Ambient Sound…where everyone just stands there, doesn’t speak and quietly listens…to the sound of the place. Why? Because if you need to add a line that takes place in that restaurant, living room or meadow, you will need to convince your listeners/viewers that that line was spoken there…and not in your basement! So you record the line, and then mix it with the ambient sound track.