We here at Bottle Rocket Media acknowledge the importance of audio in video, and as video content creators we spend so much time producing, coordinating, and conceptualizing “the shot…” that oftentimes audio can get neglected. And somewhere between “Action” and “Cut” your precious audio track becomes somewhat of a Jan Brady – the middle child of the video project. So in order to protect you and your video from being distracted by “Marsh, Marsh, Marsha!” we bring you Bottle Rocket Media’s top ten audio checklist.

Bottle Rocket Media’s Top Ten Audio Checklist

1. Start by capturing quality audio.

These days it’s too easy to throw a wireless microphone on a subject, feed it directly into a camera, and roll. Alternatively we are also seeing a lot of folks recording their own audio using a smartphone. This rarely works. Think about it, imagine you’re using your phone to record someone as they are sitting across from you. Your off-camera audio is going to be much louder than their responses because you’re the one holding the device and it’s closer to you. Shouldn’t it be the other way around? If you want your subject to have an impact the audience has to be able to hear him or her.

2. Keep the set quiet. It matters.

Even if extraneous noise on location will not affect the on-camera talent, keeping a quiet set will save you time in post, keep the crew focused and allow you to dig up the hidden gems you may not have heard the first time around. Capturing broll for a non fiction video is a perfect example. If you allow your crew to chat while capturing the footage you might wind up having to find and edit similar audio into the scene versus just yelling “Quiet on the set!” before you start recording.  Not only does this waste money during post production, but it never sounds as authentic.  This brings us to number three on our list….

3. The importance of natural sound (NATS) or diegetic audio – audio that is part of the world of the video location.

In larger narrative films background noise and diegetic sound is often added during the post production process.  This is done by Foley Artists. In documentary work, the more you can record during principal photography the better. We would argue that background noise is not at all actually noise. Whether fiction or nonfiction, the realities of an environment tend to always include many layers of sound; voices, laughter, dishes clanking, ambient music, cars driving by, wind rustling through the trees. Pay close attention to all of your locations and capture those sounds. They always help set the tone for your scene.

4. Sound Effects

While these super important elements help bring the shots to life, even more so with graphics, you need to police yourself here. It’s really easy to go overboard on sound effects. They should help move your piece along and add depth, but if you’re relying on them solely there’s probably something else wrong you need to examine. Perhaps your music bed isn’t exactly right or you didn’t record dynamic audio to begin with? So use those SFX, but use them wisely.  Check out this list of the top ten most famous sound effects in movies.

5. Make sure you have a great voice over talent.

The market is oversaturated with options when it comes to finding quality VO talent. You need to invest time into auditioning the right person for your piece based on your budget. You can’t afford to compromise here. It needs to be professionally recorded and casted right, like any other aspect of the video. Have a solid understanding of what you want the VO to sound like and don’t be afraid to direct the talent and ask for several versions. Also, other than a script your VO person is likely blind to your project’s tone and high-level messaging so he/she will appreciate any guidance you can provide ahead of time. For more on this, check out our Directing the VO  blog from a few months ago.

6. Do you like to edit audio or video first?

Whatever you post-production process, it is critical that you allot the right amount of time for your audio editing needs, just as you would with the video editing. Throughout the revision process there could be music changes, major cuts, major additions, your VO could be axed and replaced by all graphics, you name it, it could happen. Your timeline will go fast, make sure you think this through on the front end in pre-production and scheduling.

7. A great editor can edit great audio

but whenever possible, try to use an actual post-production audio designer to at least mix your videos. It will make a massive difference in how your video sounds. Using a professional with a trained ear, who understands the medium, but also how things sound on various delivery devices, from a phone to a movie theater is critical to giving audio it’s due.

8. Silence really can be golden.

But… we get it. It can also be very awkward. You have to get over that though. In a conversation situation, whenever there is silence, the natural reaction is to fill it. Don’t. This is especially true when you’re interviewing someone or working with actors in an ensemble. When they finish talking or answering a question, don’t immediately jump to the next talking point. Sit there, smile and nod sincerely so they feel safe and comfortable, and see what happens next. Odds are, you’ll get more emotion, more story and the conversation could reveal something you previously didn’t learn in pre production.

9. Room tone

This one may seem obvious, but any good director/audio/sound tech will always make sure to capture room tone. Room tone is a small sampling of the environment without any talking. This can be super helpful in audio editing later in the process. When you are on location it’s easy to ignore certain ambient sounds that aren’t obvious. The air conditioner, fan, buzz of fluorescent lights, a train in the far off distance. They all make much more noise than we give them credit for and your microphone will capture it all. Recording room tone at each setup will help even out any of the wonderful impurities offered by your location.

10. Music

Last but certainly not least, one of the most important elements of your audio is… music. As you recall, it’s so important that we dedicated all of Part 1 of this blog series to this topic – The Importance of Audio in Video: Music. There are several approaches to finding the right track and it can also be very personal. Don’t be afraid to ask others their opinions.

Thanks for reading and stay tuned more tips and tricks and probably some less interesting stuff as well. In the meantime, feel free to reach out to us if you have any questions about audio recording, music, or just want to make a kick ass video.