Video Production Techniques: Location Audio Recording
Illustration by John Hersey

Setting up to record a musical performance


Video Production Techniques: Location Audio Recording

with Anthony Q. Artis

Video: Setting up to record a musical performance

So now I just want to talk about a couple of different strategies

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Watch the Online Video Course Video Production Techniques: Location Audio Recording
1h 23m Appropriate for all Nov 20, 2013

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Audio is one the most important but least appreciated aspects of filmmaking. Your audience will notice if you don't put the same care and attention you pay to your visuals into your audio. In this how-to course, Anthony Q. Artis walks through many of the most common audio recording scenarios. Think of it like an audio "cookbook" with step-by-step recipes for situations like conference panels, stage shows, and narrative dialog scenes. Anthony also shows you how to set up mixers, wireless mics, and booms, and make sure your camera is correctly set up to capture audio. He wraps up with troubleshooting tips covering a range of issues, from wind noise to echoes, and shows how to fix the problems you can't solve on set in post production.

Topics include:
  • Hooking up a mixer
  • Selecting the right mic for the job—table, lavalier, or boom
  • Using wireless mics
  • Hiding mics
  • Mic'ing the crowd at an event
  • Capturing the action up close
  • Matching visual perspective to audio
  • Dealing with background noise
  • Reducing rumble, wind noise, and hiss in post
Anthony Q. Artis

Setting up to record a musical performance

So now I just want to talk about a couple of different strategies that you can use to record any live musical or other stage performance. First off, we'll talk about plugging in. One of the easiest ways to get quality audio from a live musical event is to simply plug into the pre-existing audio system that they already have. More often than not, there's a musical performance in the venue, they already have microphones and audio equipment and even audio engineer there. And in the best case scenarios, I'm able to show up with nothing more than a couple of feet of XLR cable or maybe 20 to 60 feet of XLR cable.

And plug in to their sound system and run it to my camera and all I have to do is make sure that the level of signal that I'm getting is appropriate for my camera. So if it's mic or line I want to make sure I switch accordingly. And sometimes I may occasionally have to make an adjustment. So a mixer really comes in handy for cleaning up those signals as well as using your camera's Audio Trim feature. So look in the Audio menu. Some cameras have them, not all do. I know the Canon C100 does. I know the Sony EX1 does. But look for a feature called Audio Trim under your Audio Input menu and that will allow you to adjust the level of the signal as it's coming into your camera before you even get to the external level of controllers.

So look for that Audio Trim. So plugging in, is a great way to get good, clean audio. The only problem with plugging in that could be a potential problem that is, is that you may not like the sanitary cleaned up sound. So you're not going to get as much of that live sound of the room. So when the audience is shouting or screaming things, Free Bird, we love you Jay Z, whatever they're yelling out. Well, we're not going to pick that stuff up that clearly. If we're plugged in we're just going to get the music and the instruments. So sometimes that's what you want. Other times it may not be.

Now the other method you can use that will allow you to pick all those things up is to put a shotgun mic directly on top of your camera. This too is not without its drawbacks and issues, but first I'll talk about the main advantage of it. The main advantage of it is that is that it's quick and easy and you probably already own a shotgun mic. What you want to do if you're using this, method, is you want to position yourself in the audio sweet spot of the room. So you want to try to figure out where the best acoustics are in the room. You don't want it to be too loud or too soft or too bassy.

So experiment around a little bit, but generally, you're going to find that the best spot to watch a concert from is probably also going to be the best spot to be stationed with your shotgun mic on your camera to pick up audio. So this is going to hear the live house sound. Now the problem with this method that you do have to worry about is simply a practical one. The practical problem is that you're now out in the middle of the house often in the middle of the audience. So if people are dancing, and jumping or moving around or just standing up and sitting down to go to the bathroom those type of things, those could all be problems that you have to worry about.

When you're micing from that camera position. So if you do do this method, make sure you defend your camera position and try to block it off if you can, or have an assistant help you out. The other method that we can do, is micing the instruments individually. So the thing that will help you do that is if you have a dynamic microphone. Now a dynamic microphone is a type of microphone that doesn't require power. So these microphones can use very loud sounds, they can handle loud sounds. They're often used for recording music and instrumentation because they can get right up close to a drum or a piano and they won't over modulate.

So these are good microphones to have for that method if you are individually micing instruments. The problem with individually micing instruments, as you can obviously figure out, is that you now have to have multiple microphones. So you wouldn't just have one or two, you would have one microphone for every single instrument that you have. That's a little more work than you probably want to go to. It also requires that you have a multi channel mixer. So if you have a multi channel mixer and you have a little bit of audio engineering skills, you could do this. But I really think this is a method best left to audio professionals.

If you find that you really do have to record the instrument yourself, there is no, say there is no setup in the house whatsoever. Often what I have found is that the musicians themselves often have a good idea of how to best record their instrument. So you can get a lot of good feedback from musicians themselves. The other thing that you can also do with the dynamic microphone which brings us to the other method is you can put these on a mic stand just like this one right here. And get right up close to the speaker and record the sound coming directly out of a amp or a speaker as long as it's a full house mix.

Now, the reason we want a dynamic microphone, as you can guess, is that the speaker's going to be really loud and this can handle really loud sounds without over modulating. And you'll be able to adjust the levels with no problem. Now you could experiment and try and see if you could get away with that method using a shotgun microphone, but shotgun microphones are very sensitive to audio. So if you are using a shotgun microphone, you're going to want to look in your camera's Audio Input menu again and look for a feature called Mic Attenuation. Mic Attenuation basically just dampens all the audio coming in down by about 20% or so.

It's the audio equivalent of using a ND filter on a light to cut down the light. Well, on a microphone, we use Mic Attenuation. So between those methods I just gave you, at least one of them should help you easily capture any musical performance.

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