Effective video production provokes a reaction from an audience and should stir emotions within them. Pictures only provide half the experience. The other, often forgotten, fifty percent lies in the sound. The audience is far less forgiving to poor sound, and can spot mistakes instantly, so it’s very important to get the best sound recording possible. I have compiled my fifteen top tips for recording sound on location, and I hope these will help you develop the reaction you get from your videos.
15 step guide to better location sound recording
Always monitor your sound with high quality closed back headphones, such as the Sennheiser HD 25-SPs.
2. Centimeters matter
Position the microphone as close as possible to the sound source. If using a directional shotgun mic to record dialogue, position the tip of the mic just out of frame, get as close to the actor/participant as possible. Just a couple of centimetres came make a huge difference.
3. Microphone choice
Use the highest quality shotgun microphone possible, such as the Sennheiser 416.
4. Microphone grip
Never hand hold a mic, place it in a mic grip to eliminate any vibration from holding and moving the mic.
5.Position On Axis
Position the mic above the actor’s/contributor’s head on a boom pole pointing towards their mouth (On Axis). A directional mic such as the Sennheiser 416 has a narrow pick pattern and requires precise positioning. These mic’s only pick up from the very tip of the mic and moving the mic just a few centimeters can make a difference to the clarity of the recording.
6. Cables first
Always hard wire microphones where possible, cables are more reliable and don’t suffer from interference or running out of battery mid shot. Only use radio transmitters and receivers where you cannot reach a cable.
7. Avoid wind noise
When working outside use a Windsock (Fluffy mic cover) to eliminate any wind rumble on the mic.
8. Reduce controllable noise
Isolate or turn off any equipment that is creating any unnecessary background noise, such as computers, air-conditioning etc.
9. Practice Levels
Do a rehearsal so you can set the sound levels on the mixer/camera.
10. Dedicated sound recordist
Where possible have a dedicated sound recordist and separate boom operator. The camera operator has enough to think about without needing to monitor and check sound levels at the same time.
Use a location mixer – these have better preamps for the microphones. The mixer allows the sound recordist to be positioned 8-12ft away from the camera and concentrate solely on monitoring the sound levels and getting a high quality, clean recording. It also gives the camera operator space to work without worrying about the sound recordist getting in the way.
12. Wired for sound
Use a headphone splitter box/cable. The boom operator, sound recordist and director should all be wearing headphones to monitor each shot correctly.
13. Know your levels
All sound should be recorded with plenty of headroom to ensure the sound does not distort and become unusable. Record your sound between -20db and -6db.
14. Room tone
Always record 1 minute of room tone after each setup. This is will be needed to smooth cuts made in the sound editing process.
15. Additional sounds
Record incidental sound effects on location as you work. Create a list of sound effects that will need to be picked up. Wait until the crew take a break or at the end of the day record the sound effects as cleanly as possible without any background interference or overlapping dialogue.