Sound like a million bucks: an audio checklist by Hindenburg
I’m often approached by producers struggling with bad sounding audio segments.
“Should I get a Sennheiser 421 or a Electrovoice 635A. And what do you think about the Tascam DR-100MKII vs. Zoom h2n …. ”
I’m a sound engineer and understandably often mistaken for someone who cares.
But I don’t.
Field recording is like a bicycle ride. I enjoy the wind in my face. I like getting to the beach. But I don’t really care if the bike has 245 gears and carbon-ceramic brakes.
And most times, if you do have a bad sounding interview, it has little to do with the equipment in the first place.
Most times, it has something to do with the person holding the microphone — you.
And so I will answer …
“To be honest, I have no idea. But if you wish to be a great audio producer, you do need to get comfortable with being awkward…”
Standing in a public place with oversized headphones wrapped around your head, an audio recorder strapped around your chest, and a microphone in your hand can be … unnerving at best.
And then you need to order people around.
“Sorry we can’t do the interview here, the refrigerator is too loud and the lady next door is arguing with a parrot.”
On top of that, you need sit close to your interviewee. Very close. Cringingly close. Limbs slightly touching close.
It’s all too embarrassing for words.
Still up for it?
This is how it’s done.
Listen to the room
After “Hello” and before “Let’s roll the tape”, there is a few things you need to do.
Listen to the room. Really listen. Is that air conditioning going disturb the recording ….?
If you find it all to noisy, then move. Simply tell your interviewee that you need to find a more quiet place. They might not go to the end of the world with you, but pretty close.
Then ask them to be quiet and enjoy the silence.
For about sixty seconds.
Sometimes the best moments are spent recording … nothing.
Recording this room tone will save many an edit later.
And you will both settle down.
Get in close
The best interviews are done up close.
You can’t sit on opposite sides of a table. Or have the microphone in a vase (I’m not kidding — someone did that). Hold the microphone a short distance between you, so you don’t need to move it. That close.
The upside is you get the best sound in world. And even the answers are better. More personal. Naked, some would say.
Painting with sound
Now gather the colours for your audio canvas.
Wide shot. Mid shot. Close up.
The city. The shop. The wine bottle.
Treat your microphone as a camera.
Now take it all home and begin painting in your favourite audio editor.
With a background in sound engineering and radio journalism at DR (Danish National Broadcasting Corporation), Nick has more than 15 years experience in public radio broadcasting. Before founding Hindenburg Systems, he worked as a consultant for community radio stations in Zambia.It was while working on a radio project there that he made the initial sketches for an audio editor. “I just need something simple that can be used by any storyteller …”