Top 10 myths about sound for video production

It’s unfortunate that sound for video isn’t better understood by marketers and even some creative professionals. I’ve had the pleasure of working just about every kind of production in the nearly twenty years I’ve been a creative professional. I’ve done lots and lots of commercials, Web videos, POP videos, trade show videos, event videos – I even once did a “safety video.” Unfortunately, very few people who write the checks ever give a second thought to the sound on location. But they are always attentive to what they see on the location monitor. Remarkably, by the time a project gets to edit, they can become very good listeners.

The advances in technology have made this problem worse. We used to shoot most things with film which required a separate audio system and professionals. Now with everything going digital and budgets under attack, some people are questioning why we need to spend all this money on sound when the camera records it already.

With this background, I present the 10 most troublesome myths about production sound:

You don’t need a dedicated sound department: Yes I said department. Even on a small shoot, there needs to be someone responsible only for getting great sound. If they’re worried about the camera and lights, odds are they will miss something.

Picture is more important than sound: Ever see a good movie with bad sound? Ever see a low budget indie movie with not so great camera work but was moving thanks to a killer soundtrack and dialog? Or how about a television commercial that was all type and sound but no moving pictures?

Cameras are a great way to capture sound: Very few cameras actually capture sound at the same quality a professional location recorder can. And none of them are manned by a dedicated sound professional that will be able monitor and control the input for best results.

Lavaliers (or any other type) are the best microphone: There are lots and lots of different types of microphones created for different purposes and environments. They all have their pluses and minuses. Lavs for example are great at isolating voices and are almost always better for wide shots. But they’re also susceptible to interference, rustling, and don’t do a good job with environmental sound.

It’s better to scrimp on sound than anything else:  Good audio is going to cost you. But not nearly as much as your camera department or talent. May as well save money on something like lunch, maybe hotels or how about that masseuse the producer wanted.

You can easily fix spoiled audio in post:  If you have enough money you can do just about anything in post. Just ask George Lucas. Big budget movies use a lot of ADR. But reconstructing audio in post is no easy task and it requires reassembling your cast, potentially weeks later, for a costly audio session at another location while trying to match the same energy captured on screen. Good luck and please don’t send me the bill.

What a location looks like is more important than how it sounds: This is only true if you are not shooting sync sound. If you are shooting sync sound, the way a place sounds if far more important than what it looks like. Sorry art directors.

A PA can do it: A PA probably shouldn’t even be holding the boom. If a PA can actually do it well while following the dialog, she probably deserves a promotion.

Shotgun microphones are for capturing sound from across rooms or are supposed to be attached to camera: They’re designed to be on a boom or stand, and usually just above the talent. Period. No matter how sensitive, a poorly placed microphone can sound perfectly awful.

You can easily enhance an actors voice or a thin recording in post: Yes there are post production tricks to make someone sound different. But if the recording is weak it will only get weaker the more affects are applied to it. Think of it like making a photo copy and then making a photo copy of the photo copy. The more times you repeat the process the fuzzier the image becomes.

Posted on: March 1, 2012, by :