Four Sound Rules to Live By

Some rules were meant to be broken. The following were NOT.  Break these rules at your own risk.


1.)  Get the Mic as Close as Possible

The most basic rule for recording dialog is to get the mic as close to the action as possible without being in the shot. The closer the mic, the better the quality of the recording. This is why boom mics so often end up creeping into scenes; the sound person was trying to get as close as possible and accidentally allowed the mic to enter the frame. The sound person should always confirm the frame line with the DP before shooting starts to avoid this problem.

2.)  Always Use Headphones… Always

There are a wide variety of things that can ruin your sound that can be heard only by listening to your sound with professional over-the-ear headphones. Simply watching sound levels on a meter or relying on your naked ear will not reveal the following: a cable clunking against the boom pole, air conditioner noise, hum from a computer, a distant plane, a loose mic in the zeppelin, excessive street noise, etc.

Photo by Alubavin

If using a mixer, you should monitor the sound being recorded by the camera, as opposed to monitoring the sound coming from the mixer. The sound could come out of the mixer perfectly but still be ruined by bad levels or other settings on your camera. Many mixers have a setting to monitor sound from the camera. The bottom line is to always listen to the sound from its final recording destination, regardless of whether you run through a mixer or other sound equipment.

3.) Monitor the Sound Levels from the Camera

Not even the most skilled sound technician can do anything to fix overmodulated sound in post. If you record sound that is too loud, you’ve just jumped on a one-way train to Stinktown. If you are using a mixer, remember to match levels between the camera and mixer. Once your levels are set, use the mixer controls. Be sure to monitor sound from the camera by feeding it back to your mixer through the “monitor in” or “return” jack because that’s what’s actually being recorded to tape and that’s what counts. If you can’t feed it back, keep an eye on the sound levels on the camera LCD.

4.) Scout Your Locations For Sound

It is vital to carefully observe every location, inside and out, for any source of noise or sound problems that could interfere with your shoot. Murphy’s Law—whatever can go wrong will go wrong—is always in full effect when it comes to location shooting. If you don’t take sound into full consideration when location scouting, or even worse, if you haven’t observed your location beforehand, you are personally inviting Murphy to wreak further havoc on your shoot. Always think about sound in addition to those beautiful images in your head. Do that cool director viewfinder thing with your hands…then cup your ears and listen to your location.

Excerpt from The Shut Up and Shoot Freelance Video Guide by Anthony Q. Artis ©2012 Taylor & Francis Group. All Rights Reserved.

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