What’s more important- good audio, or good video? Short answer: good audio. Long answer… Keep watching!
While videographers tend to invest a lot of money into high end camera bodies with pricey lens kits, smooth motion support like gimbals or mechanized sliders and complicated lighting setups, what I find lacking in most videographer’s arsenals is good audio equipment. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve invested 10x into video equipment what I have into audio equipment, but many do far less. But why is that? I ask this all the time! I theorize that because creatives are often more visual, audio is a headache they don’t want to deal with.
Truth is, the easiest way to ruin a video is bad audio. The quality of the video can drop again and again and again but you’ll still be able to understand the messaging. Alternatively, if you start hearing room-tone, then overhead planes, then static or dropouts, you lose the meaning entirely. You practically need subtitles to know what’s even going on!
So here are a few audio questions to ask your videographer before hiring them out:
- Who is recording your sound? On larger projects I like to have someone on crew or a contractor just for sound alone, as it’s really important to have someone giving 100% focus to audio.
- What is the primary source of audio? If your videographer has a microphone mounted on their camera that’s supposed to capture your voice: run! High quality mics are essential. They aren’t cheap, but they’re worth it. You want the audio recorded as close to the source of sound as possible. Like a lav, table mic, or boom.
- Next, How are they recording sound? If they are connecting a 3.5mm headphone jack into a DSLR, you’re already losing a lot of depth in your audio. Typically you’ll want a camera that has good enough preamps like a cinema camera that it accepts XLR inputs. If not, they should record to an external audio device by a reputable brand, like Sound Devices, Tascam, or Zoom.
- Least but certainly not least: are they recording redundant audio? This is an industry standard term, so if your videographer doesn’t know what that is… run. Redundant audio is super important not only as a failsafe but as an essential option in the edit phase. No one wants to reshoot because of bad audio, so having 2 sources of audio is a must. Most skilled crews will have a lavalier, concealed or not, as well as a boom mic. Having these two sources have saved me in so many projects. The boom mic is usually resistant to wind, but will pick up external noises, and the lavalier is the exact opposite. It can pick up on wind, plosives, and jewelry sounds, but oftentimes won’t pick up on sounds nearby (like cars or airplanes). When having the option between the two in the edit phase, I often switch between them depending on the environment, as it’s not always 100% under our control what sounds we’ll have to deal with.
I’ll also say, none of these tips matter if your editor doesn’t know how to mix sound properly. If all the recording was done right but your editor doesn’t know how to EQ your vocals with the background music, it’s all a wash. So make sure to check the portfolio of your videographer. If it’s ever hard to discern what the presenter is saying because of music too loud, sound effects too aggressive, or if it sounds like absolute garbage in the first place, you’re not the only one who will notice. You know what to do. Run!