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On-Camera Audio Recording: Keep Your Head on Straight

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Trying to get great audio while performing as a one-man band can be a recipe for an anxiety attack. With so much to think about with capturing the footage, what do you focus on with sound? Find out in this tutorial. 

While You're Setting Up

When you're behind the camera and you're shooting a video of someone as they're speaking, there are a lot of things you're thinking about. You have the lighting, you're looking at the framing, and you're looking at the background to see if there's anything potentially distracting.

When it comes to sound, it can be hard to disconnect from what you're seeing and what you're hearing. One thing that can help is to do a lot of the problem-solving before you start rolling.

I start listening to the sound in the room or other location, before I start putting up any mics. As I'm finishing the setup, I start becoming aware of anything that's making noise—things like an HVAC system or any appliances on set if I'm indoors. If I'm outdoors, is there perhaps a better location nearby, e.g. behind a building that can block some unwanted noise.

Once you work on being aware of your environment, you'll start to notice a lot of things. You want to think about ambient noise and ways you can reduce that, so you can get that high signal-to-noise ratio that you want.

After Setup

Once you have your microphones set up, you want to be listening to things that are coming through the microphones. You want to try your best to key your ear into what the mic hears because sometimes you'll have noises in the space that the microphone isn't really picking up on. So you don't need to worry about that too much as long as the microphone isn't picking it up.

Once you have the mics rigged up and in place and the talent is all set up and ready to go, you want to start listening for any noise that may be coming from them. Jewelry often won't sound as if it will be an issue in the room, but then it's very apparent once the microphone—especially a lav mic—is on the subject. So keep your ears open for that, and don't be afraid to be resourceful in your problem-solving. A piece of tape hidden to secure a piece of jewelry works great, or moving the microphone and trying a different setup can also work.

Working With Talent

There are also other sources of noise to listen for, such as clothing noise. Someone may be wearing a type of clothing that's particularly noisy—think splash pants. You may have to coach your talent and suggest they avoid certain movements while remaining natural. These are things that are easier for people on the other side of the camera to do before you start recording.

Once you start recording, if the people on the other side of the camera are not seasoned professionals, chances are they might already be a little uncomfortable, and once you hit record, things can get weird. When people are nervous, their body language can go from natural to completely odd and unpredictable. So anything you can do to take care of sound issues before the red light is on, you should do.  

When I'm setting levels while someone is sitting in front of the camera, I'll ask them questions and begin to have a bit of a conversation to help get them relaxed. While they are talking, on my end, I'll be listening to the quality of the microphone and thinking about the placement. I'll also be asking myself if their voice is a little dry or too phlegmy, and what we can do to remedy it. In that case, I try not to mention it—I just offer them some water to help. It's a gentler way of saying to them that their mouth is making weird clicks. Remember, you want to keep them relaxed.

Switching Gears

Once I hit record, my brain shifts from making all those adjustments to focusing on the subject's performance, making sure they are making sense. For people with limited experience, there's a large possibility that they might start talking gibberish. That's why it's important to manage your shoot day step by step, so that you can focus on directing when it's the right time.

Thanks for following along!

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