I often get called in emergencies. Thankfully they are not real life or death emergencies, just audio emergencies. But they can still make you nauseous. Your reputation or career might be at stake. You might be missing a valuable professional opportunity, or you might have wasted thousands on crewing your film for the day. It's a common enough occurrence that I think it warrants a detailed discussion.
The first question I hear is usually, "Can you help me repair this audio?" The answer is, "it depends," but I think repairing bad audio is a completely separate discussion. In this post, I want to show you how to take more preventative measures so that I get fewer emergency calls. Truth be told, I might get less paid work as a result, but I would rather be paid to give good advice and mix your clean audio than do the audio restoration.
To understand the situation let's look at the symptoms and some of the likely causes:
Lets get right to the solutions:
I can't stress this enough. Listen carefully to what you are recording, and do it with a decent pair of headphones. Put yourself in a position to hear the mistakes while they're happening. You simply can't do that by looking at a meter bouncing. A bouncing meter could be your camera's built-in mic (bad!) or total white noise (also bad).
It's not one piece of equipment, but rather, a second piece of equipment to cover your ass when something fails - and don't worry, it will fail. Your gear will fail, you will forget, your camera operator will forget, and you will be forced to make a quick decision. You will have to decide between losing the shot and losing the sound.
As an audio engineer, you already know what team I'm on: Lose the shot, and save the audio! No. Just delay the shot for a few more seconds and whip out your REDUNDANT backup audio solution.
Here are some of my gear suggestions to prevent your next shoot from being aurally challenged.
1) HARD WIRED LAVALIER
Not very fashionable but extremely compact, reliable and practical. Before the age of cheap wireless you wouldn't leave home without it. Not susceptible to wireless interference or power loss, and way less susceptible to human error as there are fewer connections to make and no calibration. It's also inexpensive and great sound quality (assuming you don't buy the *absolute* cheapest mic).
The lav is terminated with a standard XLR connection that connects directly to camera (or another recorder). It may be powered by 48v phantom power or a battery depending on the model. Throw it on the talent, plug it in, shoot. Watch the old-school ENG teams and you'll see cables running on the floor. It's so fast to connect and only one cable.
You can even buy an adapter for your current microphone if it has a 3.5mm connection. I recommend you also carry one more XLR cable than you have microphones. If you have two lavs, bring three (3) XLR cables with you.
The only "cons" I can think of are that you have to actually wire the talent, clip it to their clothing, and the microphone may be in the shot. Also, don't forget to disconnect quickly when the interview is over, or that mic (and silk tie) is going to get yanked!
Ease of Use 5/5
2) LAV WITH BELT PACK RECORDER eg Tascam DR 10L or Zoom F1-LP
A marvel of modern technology! High quality audio recording now comes in a gadget the size of a pack of gum (or smaller). This is a great option when direct connection to camera is not possible or if your talent is moving. It's an ordinary lavalier microphone, but the cable connects to a belt-pack with built-in local recording on an SD card. Just press record and keep fresh batteries on hand.
At higher price points there are options with timecode and even wireless transmission simultaneously.
Ease of Use 4/5
3) COMPACT BOOM & MIC eg. Rode Mini Boom + NTG-4
A bit more work but the sound quality is almost always superior under controlled conditions, and definitely when your wireless is wonky. You may look more like a doc-maker, but hey, you are a doc maker! I think they look cool.
Ease of Use 4/5
4) A MICRO BODY-WORN RECORDER https://instamic.io/
I actually bought two of these but don't use them much in the field because I'm not a shooter. But if I were you, I would probably use it all the time. You literally just stick it to the talent and it records to itself. Manual sync and it's young tech but totally viable as a source for you guys.
Ease of Use 3/5
Good luck and have fun! Reach out with questions by social media or email me!