11. Managing the audio

In the broadcasting language, audio is often reduced to the commentary or the words of the interviewee. These voices are useful to get the information through, but they shouldn’t make you forget how important direct audio, or ambient sound is. It gives life to the images and allows the viewer to truly get into the package. Between loud music and radio silence, there’s a whole rang of sounds that give depth to the news package.  

Live audio

Live audio or ambient/wild noise is the “signature” of the field package, which is supposed to capture a snapshot of real life, images and audio alike. If the image shows a smith dipping iron in a bucket, you should hear the noise of white-hot iron getting in contact with water.

In many packages, the audio is stand-alone information. It helps the viewer see how “violent the demonstrations were”, to hear “the joy of the winners”, some “noise pollution” people living near a highway are complaining about… Such information is even stronger when carried by ambient noise than by a commentary.

Stand alone audio

When shooting, taking the time to record standalone audio is a good habit. To identify them when editing, you must should them with test cards or hide the lens with your hand and announce it’s “stand alone audio”.

  • Stand alone audio is useful when editing to link images and accentuate the strength or key shots.
  • It’s useful for the mix, to ensure audio continuity and homogenize ambient noise from the beginning to the end of the package.

The interview is first and foremost audio.

  • The wireless effect

When an interviewee is given a wireless microphone and is framed with a long shot, his voice is loud and clear even though he’s but a silhouette in the shot. In such a case be wary of the sound levels.

  • Mic position

To hold the mic without putting your arm in front of the camera, you should hold your mic with the opposite hand. Hold the mic low enough not to be in the frame but high enough for it to properly record the interviewee.

A lapel mic is more discreet and less unsettling for the interviewee.

A regular mic allows the journalist to interrupt when he wants.

Musical illustration

It’s used to give rhythm to sports packages and arts & entertainment packages, and particularly with portraits. It’s acceptable if carefully chosen to fit with the treated topic. For boxed texts it can be used as a guide for editing and ensure fluidity of the explanations. It’s better to edit according to image logic than to stick to the rhythm and tempo induced by the music. For fields package, you’re better off avoiding added music. However, if there’s music where you’re shooting, don’t forget to film where it’s coming from: the radio, the orchestra, or the flute player…

Advice from the sound recordist :

  • Before recording : check the batteries.
  • To ensure audio continuity during a concert or a speech, don’t switch the camera off between takes.
  • If the interview takes place in a car, shut the windows and stick the mic to the sun visor for quality recording.
  • After recording: check with headsets that the sound is good (especially if using a wireless mic).

The sound recordist records ambient audio as well as interviews. He chooses the best spot to get high quality recordings that’s not polluted. He might use a perch to get the mic closer without it getting into the frame. He alerts the journalist and the cameramen if there are parasites. He might also use a soundmixer to balance the audio of the questions and that of the answers.

If there’s no sound recordist, the journalist uses a mic and must know that :

  • a lapel mic is more discreet and less unsettling.