Audio is King

So you have raised some money or got a new credit card and gone out and bought a Sony FS7. The playblack of the 24p setting and 4K capability looks amazing. Yes – I know.

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And a you got ahold of a Red Rock Micro M2 and a few 35mm lenses – kicking the picture up another seven notches. So you think you’re ready to start shooting? Okay. But what audio solution have you picked-up? If you’ve spent $1,000 on a Sennheiser shotgun mic and another three hundred on headphones, then read no further.

However, if you are like me, when I was new to this – you might have just spent $75 on an external ‘field’ mic hoping that its specs will be more than sufficient for your movie. Well, if that’s the case – think again.

BAD AUDIO WILL KILL YOUR PICTURE FASTER THAN AN INAPPROPRIATE TONGUE-KISS. Watch this —

Alright – that was a bait-and-switch as that was an example of bad acting rather than bad audio. But Resident Evil is considered one of the greatest games ever, yet if you listened to the audio you wouldn’t believe me. Audio matters. Trust me.

I can’t stress too often that in low-budget or micro-budget movies; audio is king. Say it with me: AUDIO IS KING.”

Despite what you may have read or been told – audio will account for a great deal of your picture. The dialogue, which will probably occupy 60-70% of your screen-time is reliant on being crisp, clear and audible. Sure if you messed-up, you can try to fix it in ‘post’ – but the truth is, if you go that route, you are in for a world of pain.

In the immortal words of Aristotle, later appropriated by Mary Poppins : “Well begun is half done.” What does that mean in the case of audio? Well, simply put, you will need THREE things to acheive quality audio on your production. In themselves they don’t seem like much, but together they make for a powerful package.

1) SHOTGUN OR RIFLE MIC
You can spend anywhere from $500 to $1,500 on a shotgun mic and all the extra bits that you might need to run it. Aside from the mic itself, you will need some kind of ‘blimp’ or windshield. Also a boom pole and shock mount. And in some cases you might even need a thing called ‘phantom power’ – which is basically a little box that another battery goes into – to power the mic via long cables. All the extras soon add up. But they are usually worthwhile having and can mostly be purchased inexpensively as ‘used’ items. Myself – I bought an Audio-Technica because of its specs and price point. But I know others who will only use Sennheiser products. So you might want to shop around.

2) HEADPHONES
It makes no sense to have good, clean audio going into your camera, if you are monitoring it with your $20 i-pod headphones. Invest in a pair of ‘pro’ headphones, that feel comfortable. Get ones with good padding and ear coverage. It makes most sense to have headphones with a long cord – which adds to flexibility of use. Again price points range from $130 to considerably more. It is invaluable to be able to monitor your sound effectively.

Check out this reddit post on what headphones to buy.

3) A SOUND PERSON/BOOM OPERATOR
Yes – you can set up your mic on a c-stand or hide it behind a potted plant. And yes – your camera-person can monitor the audio. Don’t get sloppy here. Remember audio is king. If you don’t know an experienced sound person – try to find one on the likes of craigslist. The right individual will be worth their weight in gold. But if you don’t have that individual – find a person with good ears and attention to detail. Let them wrangle the boom and monitor your audio. Do some field tests with them. Remember – a shotgun mic is very sensitive with a narrow ‘cone.’ That means it must be directed correctly for proper reception.

With the above three elements in place, the technical quality of your movie will increase a great deal. So happy shooting and keep making kick arse video productions.

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