I have a habit of going off to the lesser touched aspects of film that are really really important. Most of this because I never really went to film school and learned a lot the hard way– by massively screwing the pooch (not to be confused with screwing the massive pooch)! So with that in mind, I’m starting a series of posts on sound for production!
I’ve already written about visuals a few times, from color theory to lenses, and I like giving a full picture on how films are made. The other reason is that, in a weird way, getting good sound is more important than getting good visuals.
Nobody is going to care what your film looks like if they can’t hear what’s going on. Audiences are way more forgiving to bad visuals than they are to bad audio (ever wonder why the current crop of found footage movie sounds way better than your crappy home camcorder?)
What is Sound?
Basically, sound is a change in air pressure that waves from a vibrating source. It’s loudness is measured in decibels (the smallest change a human ear can detect) and the pitch is measured in hertz.
These waves can be recorded either digitally or in analog. An analog sample will give you very high fidelity but will degrade with every copy. Much of the media used to capture an analog system will also degrade.
A digital recording, on the other hand, will be able to be perfectly copied but won’t capture a true sound wave. A digital recorder will sample the audio wave many times per second and the higher the sample rate, the better the sound quality. The following image will give you a good idea on the difference between an analog and digital wave. It’s a pretty extreme example showing a digital 4-bit wave (in black) and an analog wave (in red).
So What To Record To?
Not too long ago DAT recorders were the standard but they’re quickly being replaced with flash based recorders. For the run-and-gun videographer, the Zoom H4n or the Tascam DR-40 are popular products for an HDSLR user or some of the prosumer cameras have XLR inputs built in.
While it sounds like more of a headache in the long run to record audio independently of the video, it also gives the sound-guy way more control. Plus, you’ll piss off the cameraman if the audio guy needs to get his hands on the camera all the time to balance the sound.
Now you have an idea what to record to, the next question is what do you record with? In the next part, we’ll go over mics and which ones to use. Leave your comments and questions below, we love to hear from you!