BOOM Goes the Microphone!

I love all things indie. Some of the best works I've heard in music, and in movies are in the Independent market today. The storylines are compelling, and the production is very interesting as well. However, as an audio engineer who has had to do his fair share of cleanup work on independent projects, I want to give away some helpful information that will help creative people get their projects sounding good at the source. Because believe me, if it's bad at the source, no amount of engineering on the other side is going to make a bad recording good. 

Why write this? Many people come to me looking for the audio magic to happen in post. What do I find? Actors aren’t miked. You hear the room more than the dialogue. Bad stuff seaps in and masks the good stuff. 

If you want a good quality movie, good sound has GOT to be there. Take the time, and get it right at the source by following some guidelines. 

Get a good quality capture 

There are a couple of different ways to do this: 

a. Boom Mics 

b. Lavalieres 

Boom Mics - These are "shotgun" mics on a pole. In this scenario, Someone has to hold the microphone over their head for a long period of time and remain perfectly still. The microphone should be as close as it can possibly be to the subject's mouth without being in the frame. 

A good boom operator needs to keep the microphone as close to the performer as they possibly can, even when they're in motion speaking their dialogue. The tip of the microphone should be pointed towards the mouth of whomever is speaking. In fact, the microphone needs to be positioned before the actor/actress starts talking. 

Boom operators must watch rehearsals to get a feel for where they're supposed to be and when. Opt for a high quality, lightweight, boom pole with the cable already built-in. Since finger noise can travel up the pole into the microphone, the technique is to rock it back-and-forth in your hand instead of running it cross your fingers. 

Listen with headphones to see how much noise you’re making. Coordinate with your camera operator to adjust and make sure you’re out of the frame. The pole should be parallel to the floor above your head. 

Lavalieres - These need to be hidden in a movie setting. If you just put the mic underneath your clothes, this produces an unpleasing sound where clothes are brushing up against the mic capsule and producing a wooly, scratchy, rubbing noise. 

Solution: take two strips of gaffer’s or first aid tape and fold them both into triangles, but not tightly. The goal is to create a sort of cushion. Now sandwich the capsule with the two tape triangles. Now one side can adhere to the performer’s shirt and the other will adhere to the underside of a collar, skin (ouch), or undershirt. 

The cable can make noise, too, just as the boom can. By noise running up and down the cable, it puts stress on the cable and transmits into the recording. 

Solution: Start as though you’re going to be tying the cable in a knot, but do it just enough to create a small loop. You can then tape the loop and excess cabling to get it out of the way, and further reduce stress noise. 

Watch your recording levels 

If you’re recording your actors digitally, please please PLEASE watch your recording volume. If the little lights on your rig are glowing red, your audio will get clip distortion. This is nasty stuff. Opt for a moderate level, and use your ears. 

Hope this helps! Leave your comments, and techniques below, and keep the conversation alive. Happy moviemaking!

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