Video production is a complex art, and one that involves dozens of different processes that need to come together to create a finished asset. One of the most important of these is undoubtedly audio, which plays an enormous role in the quality (or lack thereof) of a final product.
Accordingly, spending time securing the best audio equipment – as well as skilled operators who know how to use it – is an important investment to make during the pre-production phase of any video project. However, simply hiring an experienced pro isn't always an option, particularly if you're working with a low budget. That's why it's so important to know what you'll need in an audio toolkit, and why each component is so valuable.
Overlooking audio can have serious consequences. even if every other element of a production is world class.
Why audio matters
Overlooking audio can have serious consequences, even if every other element of a production is world class. Similarly, great audio can elevate a below-par video project to a professional level, helping to hide flaws that would otherwise be glaringly obvious.
Despite this, many filmmakers, especially at the independent end of the spectrum, tend to focus much more on the cameras that they use, sometimes ignoring audio entirely until it's too late. It's easy to understand this, as recent technological advances have seen high-quality 4K cameras made available at relatively low prices for the first time.
What many video producers don't understand however, is that the difference between HD and 4K doesn't matter as much as the difference between a solid audio track and a poorly recorded one. If your audience can't hear your message, or has to struggle to understand what's being communicated, they're far more likely to switch off than if the quality was slightly better.
Assembling an audio kit
The solution to poor audio, on low-budget projects in particular, is to make sure that you and your crew have everything that you might need to capture high-quality sound. There's no point investing in an expensive microphone if you don't have the other gear you'll need to get the best out of it, so we've put together a quick cheat sheet of everything you'll find in a typical audio bag.
Now, not everything in this kit may be applicable to your particular project. For example, if you know that you'll only be using one microphone, and that it will be attached directly to the camera, there won't be any need for an external audio recorder. Even so, this basic set of equipment will provide you with enough versatility to cover almost every type of audio recording.
We recommend selecting a shotgun microphone and some form of wireless lavalier system.
The most difficult choice when assembling this kit will likely be which microphone to choose. If you're looking for a quick primer on the different types and their uses, check out our recent article on the five most common pickup patterns. In general, it's best to go with versatility when selecting a microphone. There are all sorts of different specialised options, but if you're on a budget and want one or two products that will give you the greatest variety of options, we recommend selecting a shotgun microphone and some form of wireless lavalier system.
These two types of mic will give you the ability to capture everything from intimate conversations to large crowds, and are easy enough to use in almost every filming environment.
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The external audio recorder
The rest of the equipment in our typical audio bag is pretty self-explanatory, but one common question that a lot of low-budget video productions ask is whether or not they really need an external audio recorder. There's no simple answer to this, as it all depends on the type of project, where you'll be shooting, and what your resources are like.
In general, an external audio recorder will provide a better quality recording than simply capturing sound to camera. It will also provide more freedom for changes on the fly, such as real-time tweaking of the recording volume, and better monitoring of what's being captured – invaluable if a plane passed by overhead.
However, an external audio recorder will require an operator. If you're working with a skeleton crew and can't spare a pair of hands, this can be a challenge, and one that may be best solved by simply recording directly to camera. If you do decide to go down the route of ditching the external audio recorder, make sure to do plenty of tests, and if possible, monitor the sound levels while you are recording. Although it is possible to repair recordings that are too loud or too quiet, the quality will never be as good as if the levels had been correct in the first place.
The bottom line
While you may not be an expert in audio, it's important to have a decent grasp of these basics. If your budget can stretch to it, the best way to ensure your project has great audio is to simply contract an experienced sound pro. They'll likely come with their own audio bag, and you won't have to worry about whether or not you'll get into the mix and find that every line has been recorded at a barely audible level.
For more information on assembling the equipment you'll need for your next video project, contact the DVT team today.
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