How to make an audio recording
Audio holds your story together. It’s great to have good footage, but if the audio is hard to listen to then your story will be hard to watch.
You can record audio on your camera, your phone, or you may have a recorder that you’d like to use.
Whichever method you plan to use to record, test it out before you start.
Do a test recording and listen back to it. Is the recording level ok? If it’s too low, you’ll hear a hum when you boost it later; if it’s too high, it could distort. Adjust the recording level on your device if you can, or if not then adjust how close you are to your subject.
Wear headphones where possible (some recorders won’t let you monitor what you are recording, but if you can, you should). Your headphones will give you a better sense of what you are actually capturing through your microphone, not just what you are hearing with your ears. And even more importantly, you will know straight away if there is something wrong with your device – a loose cable, flat battery, or you forgot to hit record (it does happen).
TIP: To get the best sound possible, work out where the microphone is on your camera or phone and make sure it’s close to the sound you want to record.
Recording an interview
We are surrounded by sounds – passing cars, the hum of the fridge, the neighbour’s whipper snipper.
Whether you’re recording with your phone or with the best gear around, you’ll get a better result if you record in a quiet environment.
Make sure you have power. Have extra batteries or an adaptor on hand.
Think about a place where your interviewee will feel comfortable, where you won’t be interrupted and where there won’t be too much other sound.
If you’re recording outdoors, avoid windy areas. You can use your parked car as a mobile insulated audio booth if it’s too windy outside.
If you’re recording indoors, listen closely to the environment. A café is a bad place to record an interview (too much sound) and even parks can be noisier than you think. Make sure there’s no music playing in the background. Stay away from fridges and computers, and choose a space with lots of soft surfaces – carpeted floor, curtains on the windows – to reduce echo.
Before you start recording, think about the things you want to talk about, and the best way to start and finish the story.
You can record more than you plan to use, and edit the recording, but try to keep your interview focused – it’ll save you time later on.
You may want to have some notes beside you, but try not to over prepare or read your questions.
Look at the person you’re interviewing. Eye contact really helps your interviewee feel relaxed.
It’s ok to stop and start the recording if your interviewee loses track or wants to say something again. If they have missed something that you think is important or interesting, or if you’re not sure that they’ve said something clearly, don’t be afraid to ask your question again. Or if you feel like their answer is too long for you to be able to use it, ask them to answer the question again, more briefly.
TIP: When you’re filming an interview, it can be difficult to get close enough to hear the person clearly, without having the microphone in shot. If you can’t get good audio, you could try using the video portrait method.
Film 10-15 secs of the person looking at the camera, then record your audio interview separately and edit it together with your other footage later.
Recording additional sounds
Record some extra sounds to go with your story.
While your camera will record sound with your video images, often you’ll discover that the sound is poor quality – especially if you are a long way from the action or there is lots of other noise around you. You can record good quality sounds separately and add them in when you edit.
Get close: The goal is to capture the detail in a sound, distinct from all the other sounds that envelop it. And that means getting up close.
Get details: Take a moment to think about what elements of your story have interesting sounds, and try to capture as many small details as you can.
Record more than you think you need: You may feel silly poking your microphone into strange places, and your arm might be getting tired, but try to record at least a minute’s worth of each sound. Sounds shift and change over time, and recording a minute or more of each sound means you have more to choose from when you’re editing.
TIP: If you’re using a smartphone, close down all other apps on your phone. Because of radio waves the input might get noisy. Turn on airplane-mode before you start. See the Recording audio with a smartphone tip sheet for more.