In this article, we’ll take a look at a few tips and tricks for getting fantastic sounding audio in your upcoming video projects.
I say this all the time but for good reason, audio just might be the most important aspect to your video work. Look, every camera is good now. I say that because every new camera that gets released can produce stunning results. Even your phone can produce mind-blowing cinematic video.
So, making sure you get good audio is the real challenge. Every little detail matters—recording audio, editing, mixing, and delivery.
Microphones for Video
Before we dive into which microphone does what, let’s see what Charles from PremiumBeat found when comparing these different microphones to each other. This way you can know what quality to expect before diving into which microphone does what.
Choosing the right type of microphone all depends on your shooting scenario. But, by far the most important piece of information to know when picking out a microphone is the pickup pattern, which dictates how the microphone records sound spatially.
Here are four pickup patterns that every filmmaker should know:
Cardioid microphones have an extremely flexible pickup pattern, which is why they’re popular, all-purpose microphones. This pickup pattern is perfect for documentaries, weddings, events, etc. However, if you’re not in a controlled environment, a cardioid microphone will pick up plenty of background noise.
Omnidirectional microphones record audio in every direction. They’re perfect for interviews, but they tend to pick up additional background noise. In video production, the most commonly used omnidirectional microphones are lavalier mics.
Hypercardioid microphones have a directional pickup pattern. These mics are perfect for mounting on top of cameras for documentaries, news interviews, or even recording instruments.
Also called mini-shotgun mics, the hypercardioid pickup pattern picks up little sound behind the microphone. So, it won’t capture too much of the camera operator’s breathing or the sound of changing camera settings.
Supercardioid microphones act much like hypercardioids in that they have a directional pickup pattern. These shotgun mics are the type frequently used on boom poles. They offer the ability to isolate audio, focusing only on capturing the sound of your subject.
So, in case you’re wondering what a few good techniques are to follow the next time you’re on set, check out the tutorial above. Much like every other aspect of production, there are right ways and wrong ways to approach it. Who knew!
Many indie filmmakers and corporate video producers need to have a separate audio recorder, since many DSLR and mirrorless cameras don’t have XLR ports for capturing quality audio from a professional microphone.
If you have a camera with an XLR input, you should have a solid audio recorder built into your camera. You can just attach a boom with the XLR cable and you’re good to go, if you’re not recording dialogue or a specific sound.
But, if your camera requires a microphone with a 3.5mm input jack, you should only use that audio as a backup or for syncing purposes. This is where an external audio recorder will come in handy.
If you have the budget to invest in a serious recorder (like in the image above), you’ll want something like a portable field recorder or a high-end handy recorder. Those recorders can cost anywhere between $200-$1000.
If you’re looking for a simple to use recorder, you can purchase a handy audio recorder between $100-$300. If you have no budget, use your iPhone. Trust me, the voice recorder is way better than I imagined.
Sometimes, I’ll record an interesting sound and add it to my “SFX” bank on my drive, just to use later if I get the chance. That’s how good the mic is, in my opinion.
In fact, check out Lewis from Shutterstock Tutorials showing us how to use it to capture quality sound effects.
Editing Sound for Video
Editing audio is one of the most difficult things to do, not because audio is hard to adjust, but because broadcast standards can be so overwhelmingly confusing that people give up and go with whatever sounds best. But, bailing on it all together is not the best idea. Recover, ranger!
No matter what you’re editing—a film, commercial, documentary, or a YouTube video—one of the most important things you should be implementing is a clear organizational structure to your edit, specifically with audio. One of the tried-and-true tricks to organizing your audio is to figure out which category each sound goes in.
Organizing Your Audio Tracks
- Audio Tracks 1 and 2 – Sync Sound (SOT)
- This is the audio of your main speaker, what was originally called Sound-on-Tape (SOT). Think “dialogue” or your interviewees voice.
- Audio Tracks 3 and 4 – Sync Sound (NAT/SOT)
- This is the audio from B-roll footage, called Natural Sound-on-Tape (NAT/SOT). Think foley or natural sounds you might hear from location.
- Audio Track 5 – Narration (VO)
- Audio from any voice overs (VO). If you want to know how to record VO/ADR click here.
- Audio Tracks 6, 7, and 8 – Sound Effects (SFX)
- Any additional sound effects used. By using tracks 6, 7, and 8, you allow Mono and Stereo SFX.
- Audio Tracks 9 and 10 – Music Cue 1
- This tracks is reserved for the score, songs, soundtrack, or royalty-free music. (Side note, if you need tracks, be sure to check out our stacked library of songs and cinematic soundscapes.)
- Audio Tracks 11 and 12 – Music Cue 2
- Having separate tracks for music allows you to easily fade between songs.
These organizational tips apply to any NLE you might be using as they all have multiple audio tracks on the timeline for you to use.
Recommended Audio Levels
Every single audio mixer will tell you something different about where your levels should be. However, they all agree that audio levels should never go above 0dB. Digital audio begins to distort when audio levels exceed zero.
So, if you’re looking at your levels on the right (or left) side of the timeline, the meter crosses into the red once the levels are peaking. Try to stay clear of this as you’ll get unusable audio.
Though the following guidelines have some leeway, these are a few of the average levels for audio:
Audio should never exceed: 0dB
Audio mix levels: -3dB to -6dB
Speaker (SOT) audio levels: -6dB to -12dB
SFX levels: -12dB to -18dB
Underscore music level: -20dB
Like any aspect of filmmaking, these rules can be broken and changed to fit whatever your project calls for. You just need to make sure that the most important sound that drives the narrative can be heard.
Whether it’s dialogue or a sound effect, make sure the audience has a clear guide for the viewers’ ears.
For more audio-based tips, check out these articles:
- How to Improve the Audio Quality of a Built-in Camera Microphone
- Should You Use Camera Audio Recording or a Field Recorder?
- Video Tutorial: How to Run Audio on Set by Yourself
- Learn Music Video Playback From An Audio Professional
- The Best Lavalier Microphones for Video Production
Cover image via LightShoot.