Great audio can transform ordinary video into truly inspiring content. Whether for web content, live streaming, cinema or television, how do you make sure your audio has the power to captivate the audience?
We went along to ‘Sounds Fantastic’- an event organised by Bristol Media – to find out.
The panel included some of Bristol’s leading audio specialists from Films at 59, Wounded Buffalo and We are Audio, who used clips of their own work, as well as other video examples and an open Q&A, to help demonstrate the importance of great audio.
Here are our top 10 takeways to remember when considering the audio aspect of any type of film…
1. Always start with good source audio
Sound mixer Brian Moseley from Films at 59 says this is the single-most important thing to get right. “If you start with something bad, it’s impossible to make it good – you can only make it less bad,” he says.
Not convinced? A clip of a film with bad video quality and good audio was pitted against the same film with bad audio quality and good video – it was definitely easier to follow the first.
2. Plan sound early on in the process
Everyone on the panel agreed that sound is usually the last thing to be added – and considered – in the creative process. Often, this means that time and money runs out. A good editor will talk to sound editors early on in the process to get their input.
3. Mic up properly
The team from Films at 59 made a short film with a variety of different mics to show how much the audio quality can vary between personal mics and booms. It showed that personal mics general produce a very ‘clean’ sound, whereas a boom picks up more background noise. The conclusion? It’s a good idea to use a variety of different mics when filming – not only does it give you a backup if one source fails, each one will record a different range of sounds that you might need later in post-production, depending on the atmosphere you want.
4. Record speech separately
Following on from point three, always try to mic up each speaker individually if your resources allow. “You want speech to be as clean as possible as it’s hard to edit out background noises afterwards,” advises Brian.
5. Don’t make common mistakes with mics
Covering personal mics with jackets, hitting them with your hand, batteries running out, cables coming loose… there are many common mic mistakes that can ruin the audio quality so try to be aware of them. And, if all goes wrong, revert to tip two to make sure you’re covered.
6. The importance of good foley
Foley is the process of physically recording sound effects for film; adding audio layers back in during post-production. It’s a sound editor’s job to recognise where foley needs to be added, source it and layer it up.
“You need to make a soundtrack that will work on its own before music and commentary get added in,” explains Kate Hopkins from Wounded Buffalo, an award-winning sound editor on Blue Planet. Kate showed us a clip from Blue Planet with a huge range of different audio layers, explaining that she builds everything up from scratch after being given a mute 60-minute film to work with.
7. Sounds can be as powerful as music
Kate explained that a lot of her hard work is often dropped in the final edit – when music is added, a lot of the foley and sound edits are removed. “It is all part of the process and you have to accept that a lot of your work will be dropped, but sometimes having too much music can mean that it loses its impact – it can feel like the film hasn’t properly started,” she says.
Ruth Rainey from We Are Audio agreed, explaining that you need to find a balance and build up light and shade through stops and starts in music.
8. The approach to sound can make a huge impact on your final film
Each company on the panel was given the same short film to add their own audio to. The three different edits were all brilliant to watch, but all used very different approaches: the first used no music and some realistic sound effects; the second used a DJ to scratch a dub tune in time to the film; and the third used a mixture of music and sounds specific to each location on the film.
It was fascinating to see how much on an impact a different soundtrack can have on the same 90-second film – another reason to ensure audio is at the forefront of the creative process.
9. Know the rhythm of the film
Ben Mason from We Are Audio comes from a musical background and approaches much of his editing with rhythm in mind. “A good editor will make sure a film has a natural rhythm,” he explains. “If it does, this makes our job a lot easier.” This may be more relevant to more stylised films, but even with documentaries it can be worth considering.
10. Listen to your edit on different devices
Remember that your audio will sound very different according to how it’s being played back. It’s a good idea to create a different version for uploading to YouTube and for playing on a big screen, for example. Always listen on lots of different devices, including phones, laptops and headphones, to get an idea of how it sounds on each.
We’d love to hear your thoughts on what you do with sound. Tell us in the comments below or tweet us @AmbitiousPR.