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Tracing the signal from talent to recorder

From: Video Production Techniques: Location Audio Recording

Video: Tracing the signal from talent to recorder

When it comes to video and production problems, And I'm making sure that I have this set to input one, and I do.

Tracing the signal from talent to recorder

When it comes to video and production problems, if there is a problem during production on set, I would guess that there's a 80% or greater chance that it's an audio problem. Audio is notorious for slowing things down, because it can be complicated with all the different switches and things we need to check. So what I want to go through right now, is a quick scenario that I use for audio troubleshooting anytime there is a problem. So, if you're not getting a signal, or something's coming in too low or too high, I recommend that you start by checking with the source.

And working all the way through the audio chain to the camera. The reason I often say that your audio is more important than your video, is not because it's more important storytelling-wise. But because there are many more potential points of failure that you need to pay attention to. If just one switch or button is wrong, you might end up with no audio at all or really bad audio. So we want to make sure that we check all these switches and buttons every single time there's a audio issue. So let's start with the very beginning. The first thing I look for if I'm having issues with my levels, is, is talent speaking? Is the boom pole in position? Is the boom pole on axis? These are the first places I look before I even get into the equipment.

Sometimes it's just a matter of talent needing to speak up. Sometimes a wireless loud mic might have fallen out of place if it's hidden inside the clothing. Things like that occur all the time. So the first place I'm looking is, is the microphone in the right position? Is the talent speaking up as much as they need to? If all of those things are fine, then I move into the equipment. So let's trace a signal, physically. I'm going to start with the shotgun mic. And we're just going to trace our signal from here. So assuming that I've checked my cables for shorts. Another problem I want to make sure, assuming the cables are okay, the signal is going from the microphone into the mixer.

So I'm going to check all of those buttons that we set when we were hooking it up, in case anything is not set properly. So coming into the mixer. First thing I'm checking here, is making sure that I have phantom power turned on. Phantom power not turned on, not going to get any audio. From there, the signal is going to the input pot. Now on some mixers, like the big brother of this mixer, the Sound Devices 302. This is a mixspre. On the Sound Devices 302, there's an additional button here I would want to be concerned with.

And that is the gain button. The gain is essentially a macro audio control, and this is more like a micro control. Your gain button, if your mixer does have it, should be set at unity or the neutral position. So once I check the gain if I have it, I'm going to go to the input. Is my input turned up? Might be turned down, might be over modulated. So, I'm checking that. After that, I'm looking down here to make sure I panned it to the proper channel that I want it to, and that's on the left. And, then I'm going from the input right here on the mixer. I'm also coming out on this end right here.

I want to make sure I'm coming out at the proper signal. Line or mic. If I click this over to mic, my camera's setup at line, I'm not going to be getting any audio. So I want to check all of those things. I also have to worry about whether I have power. Sometimes your batteries are just failing. It's a simple source of problems, but it's one thing you want to check. And that's one thing that can catch you off guard. So you want to check your battery power regularly. Also, just dealing with the mixer right here, another scenario on the mixer that I want to check. And this is kind of like the duh equivalent of leaving the lens cap on sometimes, but it's headphone volume.

Sometimes your headphone volume's turned down, and you think you're getting low levels. But really, it's just your headphone that's turned down. So, I want to check that. Now again, I don't have it on this mixer, but some mixers have what's called a monitor selector switch. This determines what you're listening to on your headphones. So, I want to make sure that I have the monitor selector switch set to the proper channel that I want to listen to. Which is usually going to be the return from the camera. So from there we're going into the camera, right? We've made sure everything's okay on the mixer.

If I haven't detected any problems with the settings there, I'm going to be looking over here on the camera. The next thing I'm going to be checking on that shotgun mic is, am I coming in at the proper input level, line or mic? If I just click this switch over here, audio as you can see, isn't sounding too good. So we want to make sure we're on the proper setting there, and we are. From line level, I'm seeing that signal which is going to the settings that are inside of here. And I'm making sure that I have this set to input one, and I do. If this was set on internal mic, I'd definitely be getting no signal from this right here.

So again, it's often these problems that you have with audio. More often than not, it's just a single switch that's in the wrong place. And this is unfortunately something that only comes with experience. Hopefully this tutorial will help you, as you watch it through a few times. But the best way to get familiar with this is to trace a signal. And ask yourself logically, what is the very next button that's being affected and go all the way through. So that's the internal mic. The other thing is phantom power. Do I need phantom power on the camera? I'm using a mixer. In this case, I don't. But if I plug the shotgun directly into the camera, phantom power is a switch that I'd want to check.

So now, everything is good coming into the camera. But remember, the way that we set this up earlier, we have a return coming out of the camera that's sending our headphone jack audio into the mixer. So that means I also need to make sure I'm checking headphone volume on the camera. So I have headphone volume on the camera, and headphone volume on the mixer. They both have to be turned up in order to get clean audio signals. So that's pretty much the signal that I need to check for the shotgun mic from beginning to end. Now I'm going to come back over here, and we're going to do the same thing for the wireless.

So wireless makes it really tricky. When we start dealing with the wireless, because there's a couple of points of failure, just right here. There's at least three things that could be wrong right here, with just the microphone before I even get into the mixer. So let's go over what those things are. First off, I want to check, make sure I've got proper battery power. Always, any time I'm using something battery operated. And by the way, when it comes to batteries, I recommend that you only use fresh, premium brand batteries. If you wouldn't put it in your pacemaker, I wouldn't put it in my audio equipment, period.

So I like Duracell and Energizer, the good kind. So in addition to that, we also have the microphone channel. So if we're talking about wireless, they must be on the exact same channel down to the decimal point. So I see this one is at 518.700, and this one is also at 518.700. Great, I'm covered there. my receiver and transmitter are talking to each other. In addition to that, in the menu I also have two different settings that I want to check. And that is sensitivity.

Is my microphone sensitivity, or more or less, fancy word for volume level of the microphone, is that adjusted properly? Is it too low or too high? I want to check that. And then in addition to sensitivity, the other button on here that again is a kind of a duh one, but it does happen plenty of times, and that's a mute button. So if talent gets up, or leaves set, they have to go take a phone call, they will often click this button to mute. Well, when it's turned on mute, it's not sending any audio. So, that's a very simple problem to fix. But one that could tie you up for three or four minutes on set, while you figure out what's wrong.

the good thing is that, if this does run out of batteries, or if it's turned on mute, the receiver will actually say mute in the window. So look in the window if you have one of these Sennheiser brand of wireless microphones. So from right there, my mute button, I've made sure that's not turned on. The signal is being sent from the transmitter to the receiver. A couple of settings I want to check on the receiver. Again, I'm making sure my receiver is on the exact same channel as this. Or I'm getting no audio, or audio with static and drop outs. Even if it's off by a decimal point, I could be getting drop outs in and out.

So it must be exact. Battery power also. I want to to check on this. And this also has a setting that's called AF out, which is the equivalent of more or less another volume type setting. So this controls the level of the audio coming outta here. So all of those things I have to check to make sure, and that's before I've even gotten to the mixer. That's like, six, seven things right there that could go wrong. If any one of those things is on the wrong setting, I'm getting no audio or I'm getting bad audio. Now, coming into the mixer. I want to check and make sure that I'm set on the proper level.

Again, because this is a wireless microphone, it has its own battery power. I don't need phantom power. So I want to make sure that I'm coming in at mic level and not line. So once that's correct, I'm checking all those settings I told you before in the mixer. And coming back into the camera. And I'm checking the same exact settings I said before on the wireless, which is the input mic line level on here. As well as my headphone volume and everything else in between. So if wasn't clear before, I hope you understand now why I say your audio is more important than your video.

It simply takes more attention. And unfortunately for some of you, it does take more experience sometimes. So the only way to really get to know these things all the way through, is to just do it more and more, and to become more familiar with it. But get into the habit of tracing your signal from the very beginning. Starting with the talent that's on camera, all the way to the end to the camera. And you should be able to troubleshoot those audio problems a little bit faster.

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