When it comes to audio in your video, viewers are pretty unforgiving. Let's be honest we've all stopped our fair share of YouTube videos that suffer from poor quality audio. If we don't like how it sounds, we move on.
However, several factors can cause lousy audio to happen. In this blog post, we are going to give you some tips and tricks that you can do to get better sound in your videos.
Wireless Transmission Issues
If you have used wireless microphones, you have likely faced transmission issues that cause crackling, audio dropouts, and buzzing sounds. All of these problems, when recorded, results in poor sound quality later on.
You will most likely encounter these issues at convention-style events, where wireless microphones are in abundance, and there are many conflicting Wi-Fi signals with which to contend. Almost inevitably, your receiver will experience this frustrating dropout when your interviewee is saying something significant.
So how do we reduce the chances of this happening? We use a microphone that relies on a dedicated Wi-Fi frequency rather than the standard radio frequencies. For more information on what these microphones are, read our blog or listen to our podcast on this topic.
In short, Wi-Fi microphones such as the Røde Filmmaker Kit, get around the issue of overloaded radio frequencies, which can result in audio bleed over from other mics, interference from Wi-Fi, and short signal requirements.
Wireless and wired microphones both have something in common. They need to be tethered to a recording device using a wire. You could argue that wireless isn't genuinely wireless...but why waste your time. The fact remains that when requiring a cable to connect something, damage can occur. Wires can fray, they can break in two, and plugs can snap off. A multitude of issues can make that cable (often customized for the device) completely useless very quickly.
I was filming a commercial on a baseball field with a client, and the audio kept dropping out and cracking. I was using microphones that use Wi-Fi, so there was no reason why they should have been dropping out.
After finding a sweet spot on the cable, and pressing it together with our fingertips, we were able to keep a reliable connection and made it through the shoot successfully. We later discovered that the issue came from inside the cable and because its protective sleeve, we couldn't see that the wire had frayed. The frayed wire compromised the quality fo the signal going into the camera, and we were fortunate that the cable remained partially intact, enough for us to get through the shoot anyway.
Sometimes the problem can't be fixed, and it's not a "turn it off, turn it on again" situation. You have to think about the what-ifs when it comes to audio, especially if you want to be able to fix it.
If you have a strong microphone signal, and your wires are intact, the next thing you need to be aware of is where to place the microphone when recording your subject.
If you are using a lapel microphone on an interviewee, the best place is on their breastbone, clipped to their shirt. However, this isn't always possible if they are wearing a t-shirt or a dress, so you may have to get creative. Use the t-shirt collar or clip the mic to one of the straps of their dress.
Even though your microphone placement is correct, you may need to be aware of long hair brushing on the tip of the microphone, which can create a rustling noise. You should also be mindful of the interviewee hitting the microphone, which often happens with an energetic person who "talks with their hands." I've found that it's always better to ask the interviewee to repeat their response and get the audio right, rather than try and fix it later. Always pay close attention to how the audio sounds throughout your interview.
If you are using a shotgun microphone, then you should place this mic as close to the subject as you possibly can without getting into the frame of your video. Sometimes, if you are filming in 4K, you can even put the microphone within the frame and then crop the microphone out in post. Some tools, such as Adobe After Effects, also let you digitally remove unwanted elements from a shot with Content-Aware Fill. However you want to do it, your microphone needs to be placed close by, to capture the best audio for your video.
Distorted and Harsh Sounds
Fewer things will annoy editors and viewers alike than audio that goes above 0dB on the level meter. At this point, your audio is collapsing and distorting from your speakers, and your viewer is moving on.
If you've positioned your microphone correctly, then you should not need to do too much with regards to volume. If your interviewee speaks clearly and at regular speaking volume, keeping your volume control at around midpoint/medium level should give you a clear, undistorted sound. Each camera is built slightly differently, so we recommend that you experiment. Aim for your camera audio level to be between -6dB and -1dB to retain the audio. You can always digitally boost the audio level in post-production by a couple of decibels if needed.
Another thing you can do is avoid harsh-sounding letters in your subject's speech. P's and S's are big culprits of this. To get around this issue, we invert out microphones to prevent those hard sounds from hitting the microphone with full force. If you turn the microphone upside down (trust us the audio will not suffer), then those sounds reverberate off the floor, the interviewee, or the wall. The words are dampened slightly resulting in a clean audio sample.
We have a PSA. Always check your camera for a hidden setting that, when turned on, boosts the Gain of the microphone. This setting can result in severely damaged audio that is extremely difficult to fix in post-production.
Microphones which are set too low, where you can barely hear the person speaking, need boosting in post-production. However, doing this will result in poor audio. Because you're not only raising their voice, but you are also increasing all the noise that was around them during recording.
Conversely, microphones which are set too high, as we previously discussed, result in audio that is irreparably damaged.
However, even if you have your levels set correctly, you can have a lot of background noise that can contribute to poor audio quality. Fortunately, there are a lot of tools out there that can help to reduce (but not altogether remove) this unwanted background noise.
Stating The Obvious
The above tips will serve you well in your audio endeavors, but only if you take care to recognize what you need to change during the recording process. Your interviewee will thank you if you strive to get their audio right the first time. You should also remember to keep any batteries charged to 100% before you head out on a shoot if you want to eliminate that issue from the equation.
By Michael Lunt | Mike is the owner of Parasol Media, a video production company in Columbus, OH. He has spent over a decade assisting small businesses with realizing their creative vision for video content. From social media videos to broadcast commercials, Mike's industry experience has placed him all over the world to create content that moves.