9 Things You Should Check Before Recording Audio
Sound can make or break your project, so be sure to work through this checklist before recording audio on your next shoot.
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It’s an unfortunate fact that audio concerns are often not the highest priority on a video production set. Other issues like lighting, composition, and camera movement often come first — along with slightly more annoying things like actors’ requests for more Pellegrino in their trailers.
However, good audio is the difference between successful projects and bad ones, so if you’re getting started in the audio recording world, check out the items on this list before you record again.
1. Room Tone
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Room tone is one of the first things you should check when you arrive on set. (But it’s also important to keep tabs on it throughout production — especially right before you record.) To combat unnecessary tones in your audio edit, record at least a minute or so of uninterrupted room tone before your shot.
2. Check Connections
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Just like recording digital video, digital audio recording requires lots of wires, ports, and connections, which need to be plugged in and adequately secured. XLR connections are ideal for their sturdiness, but when you’re dealing with smaller audio jacks and headphones, be sure to make sure everything is set.
Pro-tip: when investigating audio level problems, checking connections should always be your first step.
3. Auto vs. Manual
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Depending on your setup and the size of your crew, you’ll need to make a decision about recording audio levels manually or with “auto” settings. Obviously, there are pros and cons to both of these options — auto is convenient but not always perfect, and manual is not always reliable either. Regardless of your choice, double-check your selection before recording, and make sure you’ve got someone monitoring your recording with a pair of headphones.
4. Reading Audio Meters
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By the same token, even if you go with auto level recording, you still need someone reading and monitoring the audio meters. Your biggest concern will be avoiding peaking (or making sure levels don’t stay too low). Here’s a great resource on setting audio levels and other best practices.
5. Boom Placement
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If you have decided to use a boom microphone as part of your audio recording setup, choosing your boom microphone, boom pole, and boom pole holder are your next step. Here’s a great in-depth article about all things boom, but for our purposes, once you have the right tools for the job, you need to decide on your placement. Ideally, you’ll have your boom operator holding the boom above your subject. However, when this is not feasible, you can boom up from below.
6. Protection from the Elements
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The elements are always a major concern for audio recording equipment. The biggest factor is often wind, which can come out of nowhere at any moment. Adding “dead cats” and other windshields becomes a necessity, but so does locational awareness and using things like natural enclosures and screens to reduce noise. Even when you’re indoors, you need to take things like heat and cold into consideration — along with external noises like appliances, air conditioning, and foot traffic.
7. Phantom or Battery Power
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Depending on your microphones and audio recorders, you may have several different power sources to consider. You also have to decide which pieces of gear you want to power with batteries versus phantom power (which draws power directly through an attachment to a camera or audio recorder). Once you’ve decided on all your gear, you’ll need to keep plenty of different batteries handy as backups (and chargers).
8. Microphone Level vs. Line Level
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When you’re planning out your audio recording workflow, consider whether or not you’ll be sending a line level or microphone level into your camera or audio recorder. Line level is generally better, as it’s much higher than a mic level and will yield a better signal-to-noise ratio. However, when you go through a mixer, be sure to check whether or not your camera or audio recorder accepts line levels.
Image via AtomStudios.
Finally, when you’re recording audio on set, it’s very important to have a good pair of quality headphones to monitor sound in real time. Whether you’re manning a boom pole yourself or sitting at a mixer, you’ll obviously need headphones to focus on the stereo channels. Keep plenty of headphone jack adapters handy in case you need to go directly into an XLR. And always, when navigating audio problems, make sure your headphones are properly plugged in before you go looking for other problems.
For more resources on audio recording, check out some of these articles, or tune in to our Audio Recording Archives.