Tips for Better Audio in Any Video
by Steve Secor
As consumer digital camera equipment continues to improve, there is one problem that still distracts me while watching video – the audio is horrible. Sure it’s awesome that you can use your mobile devices to record everything from your child’s piano recital to an informational video about a new product you are making. But getting quality audio is just as just as important as the resolution of the video. There are lots of things to remember when making videos, but being in the habit of thinking through your audio is as important as anything.
Videographers (and parents, too!) quickly discover that it’s usually the distracting noises that are most easily heard in their videos. There are many steps that can be taken before a shoot that will help prevent these audio problems from occurring, and lots of measures taken in post production to repair the damage that may already have been done. And while you might not have the ability to “post” produce your video/audio (fix it after you shoot it), I think it is good to know how the pros work to get it right.
Clear the Area. Proper planning begins before you start shooting. Take a few moments to eliminate problems before they occur. Turn off air conditioners, televisions or other distracting sounds in the room.
Use an External Microphone. Any mic is better than none at all. Just remember that if you are relying on the tiny microphone built into your phone, all of that space between you and your device is getting recorded better than your voice is. There are so many different types of mics – so obviously look for the one that suits your situation best, but again, I am just hoping to get you thinking about better sound. Amazon (and other stores) have lots of cool (and inexpensive) gadgets to help you record better sound. Rode is one company that offers a lot of solutions for this.
Choose Locations Wisely. Choose a location where you haveless ambient sound. Scope out your shooting locations in advance when possible. Try to bring the camera and microphone that you’ll be shooting with and a good pair of headphones to identify problem noise sources. What you hear through the microphone is often very different than what you can hear with just your ears. That air conditioner noise that you have subconsciously blocked out may seem much louder when listening through your headphones.
Consider a Separate Recorder. Many smaller (consumer grade) cameras now employ an automatic gain circuit that maintains consistent input recording levels so that you don’t have to. The problem with this system is that it does not always yield desirable results and in some cameras it cannot be bypassed. Making use of a separate audio recorder will not only curtail this problem by giving you more control over levels, but you will gain superior results from a dedicated high quality audio recorder. Obviously this isn’t something that makes sense for a family shooting video of their kids on a playground, but it is something to think about when you plan to edit using a non-linear editing (NLE) program like iMovie, Final Cut Pro or Adobe Premiere. NLEs have a process for syncing audio that is recorded separately from the video in a different device.
Get Close. NAT (natural) sound that a person would normally hear if they were standing there is important, but not as important as the main subject. Remember to get a clean and clear recording of what they are saying and doing. Sometimes, if you are editing later, it is necessary to record the audio up close and lay it in when editing. That is a best-case scenario and not always an option to home users, so just be aware of the sounds around you and how your recording is picking them up.
For more professional productions, a studio interview or voiceover situation is a great time to make use of a hardware dynamics processor. Compressors and limiters are often overlooked units that can help smooth out your signal and allow you to get more level to your recorder. Many portable field mixers have built in limiters, so don’t be afraid to try them out in your studio as well. A little limiting can work wonders.
Use the Tools. In my experience, every shoot has something happen that is not as you planned it, and you don’t always get everything you hoped to. That is what editing is for! We are fortunate to have tools that make many things almost automatic today (although you shouldn’t ever rely ONLY on those!). Mobile apps have been released in the last 3 years that greatly enhance the editing process for mobile shoots and even quick, fun home movies. Use these tools – they can make life easier. Take all of your content and lay it out in order so you can choose the shots you want, choose the audio you want, and lay them in. Go back at the end to tweak it!
What can you do if background noise from an air conditioner has ruined an otherwise well-recorded interview? Restoration software can operate within your host editing program as a plug-in, or as a standalone application. It can help you reduce problematic audio situations like background noise, clicks, pops, crackles, and wind noise. 60 cycle hum (a term that audio professionals use to refer to that nasty humming sound that electronics sometimes produce), low frequency rumble, and switching noise all fall under the category of undesirable sounds that restoration software can improve.
As with video, smooth audio edits should be virtually unnoticeable when executed properly. With a little practice, you should be able to remove unwanted coughs and other extraneous sounds when they do not support your video footage. It is well worth your while spending some extra time learning to properly trim your audio segments by making use of all your available software options.
If you are just beginning to focus on better audio in your video work, we hope that these tips introduce you to some new concepts that you may not have thought of. If you are a seasoned veteran, perhaps some of these points will act as a reminder of concepts you may have overlooked, and may be worth revisiting. If you have any more questions about improving your audio in your video productions, we would love to hear from you!