Not much is more distracting than bad audio in an otherwise good film or video. Let’s be honest, the industry is dominated by the visuals — the newest cameras, the most expensive lenses, the coolest monitors — so in our minds, that’s the most important element of a great project, right?
Well, let’s try to change that. When you think about a great film or video, what do you think of? Do you think of the mechanics that went into recording the film’s audio? Or how crisp the audio quality was in that dialogue scene? Or how there was no distracting noise or hum in the background of a shot?
Probably not. But it’s not because sound isn’t as important, more so that great sound typically goes unnoticed by the viewer. It stays in the subconscious, but as soon as you bring it to the conscious, that’s when you start hearing words like amateur, low budget, B-movie, and student film.
You want to avoid people talking about your project like that. One of the simplest ways to increase your production value and preventing any cringing faces while watching your creative work is to get good, clean, and crisp audio. Today, you’ll learn six tips to ensure you record your audio right in the first place.
How to Improve Your Film’s Audio Recordings
1. Use a Dedicated Microphone
This tip may seem simple to some of you, but there’s a lot of people out there who will use the built-in camera microphone and then wonder later why their audio quality isn’t very good. Using an external microphone of almost any quality can help you get better sound.
When it comes to recording audio, the microphone is designed to do a very specific job. Some capture sound from all around, others from a particular direction, and others are designed to be portable and attached to your body. The bottom line is that almost anything is better than your built-in camera microphone.
But if you can’t afford to pay for one upfront, we suggest renting one and seeing the difference for yourself. More likely than not, the experience will convince you that it’s worth your investment.
2. Get Your Microphone Close to Your Subject
Microphones are tools designed to do a specific job: capture sound. Even the most expensive microphone needs to be put in the most optimal situation to do it’s best work. And getting your microphone close to your subject is key!
The reason why you’ve heard so many jokes about boom mics coming into shots is that filmmakers know what they’re doing — they’re trying to abide by this rule. The rule is to get as close to your subject as possible without getting the microphone in the shot.
You can cheat with this rule if you find the right situation. For example, a lot of tutorial videos don’t worry about breaking the illusion of the fourth wall, so no one minds if you have a microphone right in the shot. Podcasts will do the same. And depending on your production, you might just be able to do this too!
3. Don’t Clip Your Audio
If you remember nothing else, remember this tip: don’t clip your audio. If you clip your audio, there’s no way to get it back to its optimal quality. It’s like it’s got a permanent crack in it.
What is audio clipping? It’s when your audio waveform gets distorted after being pushed past its maximum capacity. That’s when you start to hear that garbled sound. On a monitor, it looks like your sound waves are pushed to the spectrum boundary and squared off at the top.
Normally when you’re working with audio in post-production, you can simply lower it and it’ll retain its quality. But when you lower the volume of an audio file that’s clipped, you still get that garbled mess.
So, how do you avoid it? When you set up your microphone, change the sensitivity to match your situation. This will help if you have two items: an audiometer and headphones. If you’re using a microphone that’s plugged into a camera, you should be able to show this audiometer by diving into the settings. If you’re using a dedicated external device, this should be pretty standard as a default.
Give your subject some examples of things they’re going to be saying or doing, ask them to give their lines at the lowest volume they might be delivered, then at the highest.
Your goal is to watch the audiometer and make sure it’s picking up the very quiet bits, and at the same time, not clipping at the loudest peaks. You’ll know that your audio is clipping if your audiometer goes all the way to the edge. Some newer devices will have this area in red, and if you’re using headphones, you’ll be able to pick up on this garbled sound.
If you’re off on either end, either too soft or too loud, simply change your microphone sensitivity accordingly. Make sure to listen with your headphones, so when you go to post-production, there are no surprises regarding sound quality.
Believe it or not, one of the biggest things that impact the sound that you’re getting is the location you’re recording at. Having the same setup in two different rooms will change the way your audio sounds. Choosing a room that sounds good will dramatically decrease the echo in your audio.
When looking for a place with good sound, it’s important to think about what will bounce sound and what will absorb it. An easy rule of thumb is what would hurt if you fell on it — concrete and tile flooring have lots of echoes, but carpets have much less.
If you’re still getting an echo in your audio though, there are a couple of DIY options to help fix this. In front of any potential hard, sound-bouncing surface, try hanging up a piece of fabric, like a blanket. This will help absorb stray sound and prevent it from bouncing back into your microphone.
Just remember, finding a great location upfront can help dramatically reduce the work you need to do to get that good sound.
5. Get a Dead Cat
Probably the most overused joke in film, a dead cat is actually the thing you put over the top of your microphone to prevent wind noise. You can also go with a windscreen, which is less effective than a dead cat, but it works on the same principle.
Now obviously, you’re not going to have wind indoors, but a dead cat can help with that puffing sound from certain consonant pronunciations (like “p’s”). It can make a huge difference and prevent you from getting this distracting sound in the middle of your audio.
6. Capture Room Tone
This tip might be a little less intuitive. No matter how perfect your location is, there’s always going to be some background noise associated with it.
When you’re filming on a location, what you want to do at some point in time is to ask everyone to be silent for 30 seconds and record the blank noise that’s associated with the room. This is called capturing room tone, and it lets you do two things.
Firstly, it lets you fill in the gaps between your audio, so there’s not a blank space. Secondly, if you have a background noise that’s distracting, but you can’t turn it off, like an air conditioner or a refrigerator, then capturing room tone will help you isolate this noise.
Assuming that you have access to all of Adobe’s Creative Cloud suite, you can bring it into Adobe Audition. From here, you can grab a noise print of your room tone and apply it to your regular audio clip. The results can be shockingly good. We also have an audio editing tutorial for Premiere Pro when you’re in the stage of the project, too.
There you have it! Those are just a few tips to help you record and capture better audio in your next film or video. It’s amazing how each of these individual tips can help, so imagine taking them all into account for your next production. We guarantee it will hugely impact your audio quality!