Sound advice

Recording moving images can be hard enough; you’ve got a lot of different things to think about when the camera’s on. But the sound that goes along with your video is just as important, if not more so.

Consider this, we have to compress the heck out of video to get it into formats that will play happily on the lowest-common-denominator computers out there. However, audio quality remains pretty good, even when it’s compressed. So, as the quality of the video decreases, we must rely on audio more and more to carry the project.

Put another way: Users will often tolerate poor quality video, but if that crappy video is paired with terrible sound, they won’t even give the video a chance.

So, here are some things to keep in mind about the sound you’ll be recording with videos in the field:

  • Rooms are sel­dom as quiet as they seem. Even things like a run­ning com­puter, the air vents and flu­o­res­cent lights can turn what you thought was good audio into unus­able trash.
  • Make small talk with your inter­view sub­ject while you set up the cam­era and micro­phones. Not only does it help put the sub­ject at ease, and you can get an idea of how loudly they’ll be talking and whether you’ll need to tell them to speak up.
  • Be aware of the sounds you make.
  • If you’re using a clip on micro­phone, ask your inter­view sub­ject not to move around too much. The sound of a micro­phone mov­ing against cloth­ing can ruin an oth­er­wise per­fectly good soundtrack.
  • Be aware of the dif­fer­ent abil­i­ties of the micro­phones you’ll be using. If you’re relying on the microphone built in to your camera, realize it will not produce great quality in noisy situations. It may be best to ask the person you’re interviewing to step into the hallway or some other, quieter space.

I want to add one thing to this list (for now). Rooms with hard walls, like most of the cinderblock-built rooms on cam­pus, tend to cre­ate an echo when peo­ple speak loudly and clearly. We kind of tune it out when we’re sit­ting there hav­ing a con­ver­sa­tion with a per­son, but a micro­phone is not so for­giv­ing — even a poor qual­ity one like the one built-in to your Kodak cameras.

If pos­si­ble, sit­u­ate your inter­view sub­jects in a room with some­thing on the walls, cur­tains or fab­ric or even wood. Just some­thing that won’t echo as much.

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