On a more practical note for audio, I thought I would share a couple of the common audio issues that I see when working with people using video for the first time.

When recording

*Use a tripod – Tripods reduce handling noise.
Step away from the camera. But not too far.
– If you only have the onboard camera mics to record audio then you want to avoid any extra noise like you breathing and grunting in to the mics as you lean over the viewfinder.

If you step to the left or right of the camera it helps you frame the shot better – the interviewee has to look across the frame at you – but if you make sure you are standing in the direction of the wind you can offer a little shielding for the microphone.

Setting up the camera microphones

When you only have the camera microphone make sure you set them up as best you can.

*Manual audio level control *– by default most camcorders will control the audio levels automatically. They tend to record at quite a high average level – what some audio people would say is quite a hot. Which means that they often dip the level if things get too loud.

Whilst this is good for avoiding distortion (too high a level) it can cause problems. One is a problem of reaction time. A sudden loud noise can force the level so low that it takes a second or so to come back to normal. It means the sound either side isn’t usable.

Another problem is ‘noisy silence’, As well as reducing loud levels it tries to ‘lift’ or amplify lower levels. That’s why you often have that sound like waves washing in when someone stops speaking. That’s the noise floor (background noise and camera noise) being amplified.

Combine the two and you get what is sometimes called ‘pumping’ – you will know it when you hear it.

By setting the level manually you will up the risk of having distorted audio but avoid that noisy silence.

Split audio channels – If you can plug an eternal microphone in to the camera, then do when ever you can, then don’t forget the microphone on the camera. Make sure that the camera is recording the audio channels separately. You may need to dig in to a menu setting for this one.

Some cameras can record a mix of any microphones on to each track. You want to keep things as separate as possible.

External Microphones

When using and external microphone use a specially designed reporter microphone (like the Beyer M58). These are Omni directional – they pick up sound from all round the head of a microphone. (they type you see at most gigs are directional, they pick up sound from the top) They are designed to be held still between interviewee and interviewer. They pick up closer sounds better but still pick up ambiance. They don’t need to be pointed so are less susceptible to handling noise. Holding them between you and your subject will also help cut down wind noise.

When using tie-clip mics don’t point them in to the wind. Point them downward and away from the wind using clothes to shield, but not cover, the mic. You should also check out Cyndy Greens make-do and mend windscreen tutorial (with video!). She also has some great audio tips.

Cyndy also points out that you should position tie-clip mics “on the side the subject will speak towards. So (looking from the camera POV) if the reporter is camera right, the clip should be on that side.

She also*, “Can’t emphasize wearing a headset/earphones enough…the best totally cover the ears…but anything is better than trusting to luck.”*

Back in the edit

One of the biggest causes of poor audio on video I see comes from the mixing of track in the edit suite. This isn’t just down to poor setting of levels.

Some edit suites drag all the sound down(both channels) with the picture when you are cutting. But even though your camera might record two tracks they will very rarely be stereo. Even if it is, you will generally only want to use one channel. Your contributor only has one mouth!

What we often have is one channel with an external microphone and one with the camera microphone. The camera microphone is usually louder and will drown out the other mic so it needs to be discarded or used at a much lower level. The News of the World Video in my previous post sound s like it was a mix of microphones.

Set all of you tracks to mono – to start with I would set all of my output tracks to be panned in the centre (check you edit suite manual for details of this)

By default most edit suits will have track one panned hard left, track two panned hard right, three to the left etc. etc. Ideally you want to have several tracks panned to the centre for speech – one mouth gets one track – and then one stereo set.

I usually have them set as follows:

1- interview audio
2 – wildtrack – sound from pictures to run in the background
3 – voice over
5+6 – stereo music track.

Split your tracks* – Once the tracks are set up always, always,split your tracks. Make sure you only edit to the timeline/sequence, the best audio track. Even if you have used the camera mics, chances are one of the channels will have better audio that the other. Pick the best.