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5 Tips for Planning Your Audio in Pre-Production

Caleb Ward

Capturing great audio begins before hitting ‘record’.

Having low quality audio in your film or video is a quick way to lose credibility in the eyes of your audience. Instead of simply taking audio into consideration once you get on-set, you should be preparing to make your audio amazing before production begins. In the following post we will take a look at 5 ways you can plan out your audio approach during pre-production.

1. Go Scouting

Parking Garage Parking garages are notorious for being acoustic nightmares. Location scouting is one of the most important aspects of the pre-production process. As a filmmaker you probably have already developed an eye for finding good locations, but it is equally important to develop an ear. Keep the acoustics of your location in mind. Does your voice echo loudly in the room? Is it in a highly-populated area? Along with the room acoustics you need to be able to control other audio related factors like the air-conditioner or a humming refrigerator. What ambient noises can you anticipate? If you’re shooting in a large building you might not be able to turn off the air conditioner using a thermostat on a wall, so for this reason it is important to have a location contact that can help answer your location related questions. You should also be mindful of things like proximity to airports, fire stations and bus routes, as these things might not be heard during location scouting but can definitely be picked up by your microphones. It’s also important to look around and see if there are any construction projects going on, a setback that can be disastrous for location sound. You don’t want to be surprised by ambient noises once you get on set.

2. What Does the Shot Demand?

Top-notch wardrobe has the ability to add a greater since of believability to your film, but when picking your character’s clothing it’s important to consider audio. For example, silk clothing is notorious for being difficult to mic, so instead you might consider using a boom instead of a lavalier mic. You may even want to change the wardrobe to accommodate. Chase Scene That chase scene may be cool, but how are you going to mic it? It’s also important to think about the action in your scene before you arrive on set. Will the actors be walking and talking? If so, will their backs be to the camera while they are talking? How much are they going to move? Asking these questions before shooting may also speed up your production time. Instead of showing up on-set and deciding what mics to use, make an educated decision before you arrive. In order to do this you will need to have your audio person involved in the pre-production process. This admittedly adds another layer of complexity to the whole process but it definitely pays off in the end.

3. Invest

Indie productions are notorious for having incredibly bad audio. It doesn’t matter if your image is immaculate…if the audio is bad your audience isn’t buying it. If you’re serious about your project it’s important to invest in quality audio equipment. Online rental houses like BorrowLenses, LensRentals.com and LensProtoGo all offer microphone and audio gear at affordable prices. If you’re needing the equipment for an extended period of time, inquire about a discount off of the normal pricing. Good audio investments don’t end once the shoot is wrapped. It is equally important to invest in your audio during post-production. Instead of using low quality music, spending a fortune for original composition, or using copyrightted commercial tracks (which could put you in legal hot water), consider high quality production music.  PremiumBeat has thousands of handpicked tracks from professional composers at affordable pricing.

4. Hire a Professional Boom Operator/Sound Mixer

Tournage_de_film Image from PRA Sites like Mandy.com and ProductionHub are great resources for locating audio specialists in your area. This is a key crew member, so don’t fall for letting a friend or family member be your on-set audio person. Oftentimes filmmakers and video pros get caught up in the visuals of the production and the audio takes a back seat. Capturing audio on-set is more than just holding a boom pole. Professional sound recordists will have experience using field mixers, know the proper ways to mic talent, and can work in tandem with the director of photography.

5. Make a Plan

Storyboard Making a detailed plan is imperative for streamlining the production process.  If you are creating storyboards before you shoot (you should be!) take the audio into consideration during this process. The audio recorder and video editor will be appreciative when you hand them a detailed storyboard with audio notes. Always schedule time to record natural sound while you are on-location. Picking up several minutes of nat sound from every location is important for preventing choppy audio in post. Be sure to record additional nat sound every time the audio environment changes (for instance, if an A/C unit kicks on). This is really important for preventing choppy audio in post. Will you use a boom or a lav? Which shots will you ADR (if any)? What sound effects will you need to enhance the action? Will you need an external recorder, will audio be recorded into camera, or both? These are all important questions to answer before the camera rolls. Good luck! Have any other tips for good audio pre-production? Share in the comments below.