Benny had told me we could use a paint-roller extension as a boom pole, but I figured I was going to have to tape on my shotgun mike somehow. Much to my delight this was not the case. The day before the third Infest Wisely shoot, when I got my $15 Home Hardware Extension Pole (8′, #4538-682) back home I noticed there was a small hole in the removable black tapered tip. My Rode VideoMic has a shock mount that connects to a shoe mount for use on a camera, but I saw that the shoe mount was screwed in. I removed the screw and threaded it through the tapered tip of the paint roller and it actually fit!
The next day, we did an eight hour shoot and it was rock solid and sounded sweet — when I was perched on a rusted-out catwalk high above an abandoned factory floor, I was glad I didn’t also have to worry about the mike falling off.
Of course this is almost ridiculously specific to Rode VideoMic owners living in Canada, but it’s too neat a trick to keep to myself. For some more generally useful DIY Sound tips from my sound guru Carma, keep reading!
Hertz So Good: a beginner’s guide to audio production for video
by Carma Jolly
Ah yes, sound. Elusive sound. Refine your lighting, exposure and mise-en-scène as much as you like. Your video will not attain all the incredible heights of impact and engagement without an excellent soundtrack. Work with me here for a moment. Close your eyes for ten seconds. C’mon. That wasn’t ten seconds. Close ’em again. What did you hear that you didn’t hear before? What did your ear focus on? What did it let recede to the background? Now know that microphones are completely incapable of making those distinctions! They are equal opportunity sound collectors. The hum of a refrigerator. The buzz of fluorescent lights. The rumble of a bus outside. All of these waves will register along with your intended target. Welcome to yet another painful and heartbreaking aspect of video production: good sound.
Hey now. Don’t let it get you down. By this time you are used to painful and heartbreaking obstacles in the making of videos. Overcoming these challenges is what makes the whole thing worthwhile. N’est-ce pas? And there are few simple things you can do to capture sound cheaply, efficiently and eloquently.
Sound on the Scene
Here’s the simple truth: the closer your microphone is to the sound source you want to capture, the better that recording will be. I know what you’re saying: “Well, duh.” But this simple truth is quickly sacrificed when you are out there doing your creative thing. I know. I know. It’s tricky in videomaking for a couple of reasons. If you are using your camera’s onboard mic, the desired location of the camera does not always match proximity to the sound source. If you are using an extra mic with your camera, you may not want it to appear in the shot. Here are some solutions:
1. Check the area for ambient noise. Close your eyes and determine what extra sound present. If the air conditioning is on, turn it off. Get as clean a sound environment as possible.
2. ALWAYS WEAR HEADPHONES! You would be surprised at the things that can get in the way of a good sound recording. Mic noise. Hums you didn’t hear before. Letter “p” popping in human speech. Headphones will allow you to monitor the sound exactly as it is recorded to tape.
2. The more mics you have to choose from, the better. Microphones come in two basic types: omni-directional and uni-directional. Omni-directional mics capture sound from all points around them. Uni-directional mics will capture sound from a specific point and isolate sounds outside their focus. The onboard mic on your camera is likely an omni-directional. Great for capturing ambient sound in a scene. If you can get hold of a uni-directional mic as well, then you are in fine shape. The most all-purpose ones are called “shotgun” mics. They are long cylinders and will capture sound in a direct focus, even from far away. Think of them as binoculars for the ears. Great for capturing human speech.
3. Try to have an extra person along so you can wire your mic to a long cord. Use your sound person to get the mic away from the camera and closer to your sound source. Don’t be afraid to create makeshift booms by taping a mic to a broom handle or a hockey stick. Watch the coordination of movement between you and the sound person…
4. If you are capturing human speech in an interview setting, hold the mic about two inches below the chin and two inches away from the chest. Point the mic slightly to the right or left of the mouth to get rid of “p” popping. It’s best for you or your soundperson to hold the mic rather than letting the interview subject hold it themselves. This is to monitor and correct mic noise and other interference.
Adding Sound in Post-Production
Here’s another nifty trick. Video editing programs let you add .wav’s, .aiff’s, or other compatible audio files into the mix. You can add music, sound effects, or speech that has been recorded by other sources. One easy thing to do is to buy a cheap mic for your computer and record directly into your machine. Some things to watch out for:
1. Make sure your audio files are all of the same quality and settings. You can set your audio settings for sound on tape when you import your video. Note these settings down. When you save audio from sound editing programs, make sure it has the same settings before you bring it into your video editing software. At this point, you should work with the highest quality possible. I work with .wav files at 44,100 kilohertz, 16 bit, stereo. If they are not all the same, you will experience gut-wrenching and mysterious problems when you export your movies.
2. When you are layering sounds, pay careful attention to the resultant audio levels. Somewhere in your video editing software, there should be a sound level indicator. You never want your audio to distort (except for artistic reasons!), as this will produce crappy audio that is difficult to understand. Also, take some time to finesse the fades in and out of audio tracks and the transitions in between. This is where attention to detail in the audio world is most rewarding.
3. Eloquence over abundance. This tip is simply a matter of opinion. Too many sounds effects and other novel noises will suck. Simple as that. When you are tempted to add that comic slide whistle, conjure up images of desktop publishing in the eighties. We all know the effects of too much clip art and too many fonts.
Here’s where all that hard work is going to break your heart. Compressed audio can often spawn a horrid and evil twin of the beautiful waveform you have so lovingly crafted. As with video compression, you want to push for the highest quality under reasonable file size requirements. Your options depend on the video editing software you are using. A rule of thumb: bare audio files like voice only maintain tolerable quality under high compression. Complex audio files with a lot of sound and b.g. music need lower compression in order to maintain the subtleties in sound. The best thing to do is to experiment with several different settings and see what you can get away with. Don’t be afraid to make the audio into a mono file. You really only need to maintain a stereo setting if you have edited your soundtrack to move between the left and right soundtracks. Apart from that, try to keep the settings as close to those of the original files as you possibly can.
Enter into the Audiophonic Abyss
These tips really and truly are only the beginning. There is much more to know and learn. All of this I have gleaned through repetition, error, screaming and near electronic bloodshed. However, in the end, I was utterly and permanently seduced by the medium of the ears. SOUND ROCKS!
In a magazine article, Carma Jolly was once erroneously referred to as a DJ. In fact, she hasn’t spun any vinyl since 1978 when she played “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown” 13 times in a row on her Fisher-Price record player.
If you liked this, you might like to check out our other Do-It-Yourself Movie Articles on animation, shooting, scriptwriting and more!