Making good video requires a lot of help, and the ideal video team consists of a range of people and talents. In high-budget productions, every role is delegated to an experienced professional. Normally, though, you don’t have the luxury of a big team when you’re getting started in the world of video or working on small productions.
At a certain point in the growth of your video practice, you'll need to build a small team to achieve a higher level of quality. One of the first responsibilities to delegate is sound recording and audio production. In this tutorial, you'll learn how to add a dedicated sound technician to your crew.
Sound Makes the Picture
A sound technician is the ideal first member to add to your video team. Passing all audio responsibilities on to somebody else has a number of benefits. Primarily, it frees up time and lowers stress. Assigning audio gives you one less thing to worry about, one less thing to go wrong, and more time to concentrate on photography and directing.
The Buddy System
The best sound is recorded with microphones close to the source, ideally with a boom mic. This limits your options. In most situations it’s very difficult to capture high-quality sound when you are also behind the camera; it’s impossible to operate a boom mic and a camera at the same time.
As soon as you put somebody else in charge of sound
recording, the quality and dependability of your sound recordings will
increase considerably. With the extra brainpower freed up by letting
someone else worry about sound, so will the quality of your photography
Rolling With the Action
Having a fluid team is important when filming documentaries and action scenes. Without a dedicated sound technician who can quickly move around and react with a boom microphone, this would not be possible. The classic team of two relies on just two people: a director-photographer operating the camera, and a producer-technician operating the audio equipment.
This setup is popular for cinéma vérité, observational cinema, direct cinema and other documentary styles where reaction time, inconspicuousness, and portability are key. It also works well for business, news, and event videography.
Responsibilities of the Sound Technician
Within a high-budget production, audio capture and production are delegated to a whole team of people. The boom operator is in charge of positioning and using boom microphones, ambient microphones, and lavalier microphones. The sound mixer is in charge of controlling levels and recording the audio. The dialogue editor is in charge of editing dialogue and recording ADR (additional dialogue) and voice over. The sound designer is in charge of adding sound effects and foley. The mixer is in charge of balancing the dialogue, sound effects and music for the final production.
On a small budget, the sound technician must take on all of these roles. Sometimes post-production—editing, sound design and mixing—is left to the director or video editor. However, in most cases the sound technician will do it all.
Responsibilities of the Small-Team Sound Technician
A professional sound technician working as part of a small team has to wear many hats. She will:
- Consult with the director or producer to find the sound equipment requirements for each shoot.
- Rent or provide audio equipment.
- Assess the acoustics and noise levels of a recording location and consider other factors that could affect the audio recording.
- Use the boom mic, set up ambient microphones (when needed), set up lavalier microphones, and operate wireless audio transmitter systems.
- Check levels and record audio to a portable recording device or transfer the audio signal to the camera.
- Manage the master clocks and audio-video synchronization.
- Anticipate and fix any problems with audio equipment.
- Do the audio post-production and processing, including dialogue editing, ADR and voice over recording, sound design and foley, noise reduction, and mixing.
You Don’t Always Need a Sound Technician (Until You Do)
There are some situations when having a dedicated sound technician might not be completely necessary. Wherever lavalier microphones are used exclusively (for example, in an interview), it might be easier to set these up yourself. Nevertheless, if you want to save some time and stress, a sound technician is still beneficial.
If you are on a low budget and can’t afford to hire a dedicated sound technician, you will need to resort to lavaliers, static microphones, and on-camera microphones. The range of shoots where this works well is limited, but still doable. It actually takes more experience to pull off direction, photography, and audio all at once, so in many ways it makes sense to work with a sound technician, even on small jobs, when you're starting out.
So, in theory, you might not always need a sound technician, but conditions on the ground change rapidly. Beyond being just a valuable creative collaborator and friend, your sound technician is a kind of insurance: they add a certain flexibility and resilience you just can't have when you work alone.
How to Hire a Sound Technician
Most positions are filled by word of mouth. Tap into your network and ask around for somebody who is interested in your project. In most areas, the film and television audio community is pretty small: once you know one sound technician, you know them all.
If you don’t know any sound technicians or industry professionals, artist-run media centres and independent filmmaker cooperatives are good places to look for connections. Most have job-boards or email newsletters that you can tap to get the word out that you're looking for someone.
If you don’t have any friends in the industry, or are in a region without a media centre or coop, there are many places online where you can look for the right person. I have had success with Film and TV Pro, and I know others who have used Mandy. You can also try regular job boards.
Before hiring a technician, check their credits and show reel. Although major credits are impressive, quality is more important. Listen to their reel on good speakers or headphones, and focus on the quality of the audio. Can you hear everyone clearly? Is everything well balanced? If they don’t have a show reel, you could ask for a reference or request a sample of their work.
If you are building your portfolio and working on a video that will not make a profit, you could try reaching out to an inexperienced sound technician and see if they have an interest in joining you on the project. Otherwise, expect to pay at least $20 an hour for a technician on a low-budget project.
A dedicated sound technician is the ideal addition to a small video team, and should be your first consideration. Delegating all audio responsibilities will result in clearer audio and dialogue. It will save you setup time and allow you to create a portable, fluid team. Recruit from your community, if you can. Look for technicians who have made quality recordings, even if they've only worked on smaller projects.