Sound Bites:
Part four - Location Recording
                                                                       Sound recording can be simplified into      
                                                                        two parts: capturing the sounds you          
                                                                        want and avoiding the noises you              
                                                                        don't. Spending a few seconds                  
                                                                        remembering this and approaching           
                                                                        each sound recording situation with          
                                                                        this mantra in mind can make life               
                                                                        easier. It's a lot easier to avoid                  
                                                                        recording bad sound than trying to
rescue it in post production so wait until the aircraft has flown over, the train passed
and the ambulance has turned off the siren before pressing the "record" button. It's
worth learning how to hear. Huh? Take time on your way to work, or when walking along
a street, to listen to what's going on around you. The sounds and noises which our
brain ignores and rejects will all be picked up and recorded by your camcorder. By
becoming aware of sounds you'll find that you can take more control over your audio
recording, and it will improve dramatically.
If you're indoors then closing windows and doors, switching off appliances (especially
mobile phones) and expelling those who keep sneezing and coughing will become
second nature. If possible use a proper microphone stand, available from any music
shop for about twenty quid but make sure that you use a decent mount to hold the
microphone. Don't be tempted to use cheap plastic mic holders, spend a few quid on a
rubber Rycote mount, it'll absorb a lot of vibrations (such as from passing traffic) which
otherwise might be transferred to the microphone.
Don't be tempted to use those small tabletop
microphone stands unless it's absolutely
unavoidable as they will pick up every knock,
scrape and noise as cups are put on the table,
papers moved, computers hum etc. etc. For that reason you should never
rest a boom on a table unless it's cushioned by a folded sweater or suchlike.
In days of old microphones used to be hung from horizontal poles clamped
to lighting stands, these were called booms. Now the term has been
adopted to mean any pole with a microphone on the end and the longer variants are
often referred to as fishpoles.
Microphones work by converting the sound vibrations on
a membrane into electrical signal. Unfortunately other
factors such as wind can also affect the membrane
which is why a foam protector is vital. Even indoors it
helps to protect the microphone and stop plosive
sounds (like the letter "p" for example) from becoming a
problem. It really is only the first line of defence though
and outside you need much more robust solutions...
Rycote is a name to remember when it comes to
working outdoors. A basket or shield is essentially a
tube which lets the sound through but blocks wind
noise. Covered with a hairy sock (aka a "Dougal", after
the Magic Roundabout character) they'll cut out just
about everything which blows and get attacked by
every small dog within miles. The hairy cover blocks the
wind before it can reach the microphone.
If the subject is moving or a long way from the camera, a
radio microphone can be the answer. The Sennheiser
G2 is the videographer's favourite and although
Sennheiser promote it as a prosumer system, many
news teams and broadcasters use it every day. Don't go
for cheap radio mics, they tend to pick up everything
from the local rock radio to mini cab firms and wireless
                                                       Having looked at microphones and how to use them on        
                                             location. The next step along the sound path is the mixer. Some     
                                    people plug the microphone into the camcorder and hope for the best     
                         but if you're serious about sound then, on location, you really need a box of       
                       tricks known as a field mixer. There are cheap units available on the internet        
               with prices starting from five hundred dollars but they really are just plastic boxes
filled with cheap components. At the other end are the three, four and five thousand pound
units which can handle a feature film or multi-camera soap show but aren't suitable for a
documentary, single camera drama or wedding videographer with a trio of camcorders, where
speed, ease of use and portability are prime concerns.
Expect to pay about a thousand pounds for a decent stereo field mixer. Now that you've got
your breath back it's fair to say that a mixer isn't absolutely essential for the average
enthusiast. What it does do is take the sound recording up a level in terms of ease and quality.
Sound mixers work on the principle that they take the output from a microphone or other signal
and then arrange it to suite the recording medium, in our case a camcorder. A good mixer,
those from Shure, SQN and Sound Devices are the news and documentary crews' choice, can
filter out noise, boost weak signals, mix multiple inputs and match different sources such as
radio microphones and line inputs. It's not worth going for a cheap field mixer, much better to
save your money and either rent one when you need it, anything less than five hundred
pounds will have saved the money by using cheap components.

Professional microphones work with very low voltages,
hundredths if not thousandths of a volt, and these
signals need to be amplified before they can be
recorded. Some cameras have a built-in amplifier but,
even on top professional camcorders, it's not as good as
one in a decent external mixer. A camcorder's amplifier just boosts the signal it gets from the
microphone, this means that low frequency wind and handling noises get boosted as well as
hiss and other unwanted stuff. By using a decent field mixer you can filter out a lot of noise,
especially when using more than one microphone, closing down or dimming the unused mics,
thereby reducing unwanted ambient noise.

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