Monday, 4 April 2016

AUDIO APRIL : DIY Audio (Getting Audio Without A Sound Guy)

Slasher House (2010)
Now before we get started let me just say, when it comes recording sound on set, there is absolutely NO SUBSTITUTE FOR A REALLY GREAT PROFESSIONAL SOUND GUY!!.
Someone who really knows what they are doing and can capture professional quality sound is indispensable and if you can afford a professional sound guy then thats exactly, without a doubt, what you should do.

However, if you're making a film on buttons and glue, the chances are you can't afford to hire a really great sound person and so the temptation is is to get your mate 'bob' to do it because he kind of, sort of knows his shit about music or something. This is a big mistake. 

Filmmakers often overlook sound on their films and they really shouldn't, good sound is probably more important than a great picture, as you probably heard a billion times before, but its very true. 

My first couple of films, I had dedicated sound guys, I couldn't afford 'professionals', but these guys had just come out of college/university studying music or sound production and claimed they could do the job and when you're working with nothing and people are offering their 'expertise' for free the temptation is strong to take them up on that. The sound I got from these guys was bad, for different reasons each time, by the end of the 3rd feature I literally thought "Fuck, I could do this better myself". So that's what I decided to do.
Legacy of Thorn (2013)

A quick note : On Slasher House we sent our sound guy home about half way through and we're lucky enough to get the friend a cast member, who was working for the BBC as a sound recordist, to kindly donate his time to help us finish up. The second half of the film had much, MUCH better sound, which goes to prove my original point, there really is NO SUBSTITUTE for an professional sound guy. 


The Mycho SuperBeast MK1 : With Audio set up
Remembering that audio is half your picture is a good start and if, like me, you can't afford a professional sound recordist then you need to start thinking about how you're going to get you're audio on set whilst you're filming. This comes down to a bit of practice and a fair amount of planning.

When I'm planning my shot lists, I now plan, from scene to scene where I'm going to get my audio from too. For me, making narrative film, the important stuff becomes dialogue. Almost everything else is going to be done again in sound design (or at least can be if its not right), but dialogue is something you're going to have a tougher time covering if you fuck it up.

So when shooting any scenes with dialogue my intention is to get my mic as close to the source as possible. My mic is mounted to my rig along with my external recorder, along with headphones for monitoring and at first I would run a cable for long shots and mid shot and have someone hold boom for me. This however started slowing me down a little with having to change out connections and reposition mics every time and was only remounting the mic to my rig for close ups. Then I noticed something in my edit. 


When I was matching audio, the wide shots, the mid shot and close up dialogue almost always matched up, or at least close enough, with the other shots. Of course the close up audio was always the best and clearest and so I was adding that every time and just adjusting levels for distance in post. So then I stopped getting my audio at the wide shot, but instead starting getting it on the mid shots and close ups. I even set up my rig so that the mic was closer to the actors (Using a magic arm) for better quality sound.

Hollower (2015) : MonoPod Boom-Pole
If you're doing a shot with just one or two lines, just make sure you jump in after an just grab a couple of clean decent takes of those lines too. The more you have to work with in the edit the better you're final piece will be and more importantly the easier it will be. On top if that, grab some general room tone, about 30 seconds will do it, just to fill in the gaps. I quiet often find that if I forget I can snatch it from pauses in the dialogue, but its not a great habit to get into.  

Its important to note, that after shooting a scene I also get 3 takes of just the audio from the actors standing them much closer to the mic, I find myself using this audio as much as possible as its obviously the best quality of the lot. I'll also have actors give me any noises that they'll make through out the scene. Fight noises, grunts, gasps and anything else we can think of, very similar to the way Robert Rodriguez recorded dialogue for El Mariachi.

MychoBeast MK2 : Added magic arm and iPhone Monitor
After that I'll often wander round set just recording sounds that will be useful in my sound design, some of these sounds you pick up fine whilst recording visuals, but its often a good idea just to wander around getting sounds that keep the sense of the space, like bangs, doors, interesting background and other things that would be hard to find in stock afterward. 

Now obviously this works well for narrative filmmaking, where your actors are reading and performing the same lines over and over, if they're good actors then they're timing and beats should be pretty close, if not exact, every time. I know one actor who is so good at this that they take any decision making out of my hands as every take is exactly the same, including timing and tone.

If you're shooting a more run and gun style, or shooting doc stuff, then you'll probably have to reconsider your set up. But for me this works great and is actually easier for me than spending hours syncing files up in post afterwards.


I originally built this rig for use with a Canon T3i and eventually my Panasonic G7, it works fine with both. In building an audio rig, you need FOUR hugely important components that will help you capture your sound on set. 


If you're shooting on a DSLR or Mirrorless camera then the sound directly from your camera isn't going to be that good, this due to the poor pre amps that a featured in most models. If this is the case then you're going to want an external recorder to record your audio, like in the good old days of shooting on film. I use Zoom recorders as I find them the best value for money in terms of quality, but there are plenty of other options out there.

There are literally dozens of affordable recorders available for this type of things and they range from about £100 - £1000+ depending on the level of professionalism you're after. They offer solid digitally recorded sound and are a clear upgrade from using the sound that your camera records. You might be lucky enough to shoot on a camera that has a decent sound input and also allows you monitor your sound which is the is the most important aspect when recording. Most decent recorders also allow you to monitor levels via the LCD screen on the front, they'll help you know pif your sound is too quiet, too loud or when it peaks. 

I'll be looking at recorder options in another blog over the next few weeks.


To record decent sound you're going to need a decent microphone, something that records good quality audio. There literally hundreds of options out there and the prices can get pretty serious, pretty quickly, but for the low budget beginner there are still some great options out there. Most notably the Rideo VideoMic and the Rode VideoMic Pro, which are cheap, solid solutions to good on set audio. 

Its important that you make sure the microphone you get suits your needs and does what you need it to do. For me, I needed a boost to the sound input for quiet scenes and so I made sure the microphone that I chose allowed for that, but really the sound you get and how good it is comes down to how close you can get that microphone.

I'll be looking at Microphone options over the next few weeks.


After you have your recorder and microphone set up, you'll need to be able to monitor what it is you're recording. This is incredibly important if you're recording your own audio, because this is where you'll know if you need to do retake, or if your audio peaks and generally just getting what you need. 

I would suggest in purchasing a pair of large 'can' style headphones, they block out outside noise to give you a better overview of exactly what you are recording and the levels and quality of that recording. I've had to use in ear headphones in a pinch before and they are no where near as good. You can some usable headphones these days for as little £10-£15, although the more you spend the more durable they'll be and the longer they'll last, just don't forget to be monitoring your audio at all times. 


You'll need something to mount your microphone and recorder to, most cameras have a hot shoe adapter for mounting a microphone, but if you also have a recorder to mount then you'll need something to extend the amount of space you have to mount things to or you'll need to add a separate mount for your recorder. I found that for my eternal recorder a GoPro bike mount works great. 

If you want to get your microphone closer, you'll need  an extension cable for your microphone and something to mount it to. I found that I could get extra use out of my old MonoPod (which I picked up for £15 over 10 years ago) by adding a hot-shoe and mounting my mic to that for wide shots using it as an extendable Boom-pole. If you don't have a monopod, I've got away with using a £1 selfie stick before. 

I'll look at low budget mount options over the next few weeks. 


Like I said before, the best way to get great sound is 'hire' a really great sound guy, but I promise that doing it yourself is much better than relying on someone who doesn't know what they are doing. It will save you time, effort and major headaches when it comes to post for one and it will help you under stand the importance of audio when you can afford to hire someone. 

This is the first in my Audio April series, over the next month I'll be looking at how I record sound on set, what I use to do so and how I mix it afterward.


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