Free Background Music 30: Echoes & Fragments

Echoes & Fragments (www.youtube.com/watch?v=_5KsXzP6KUc)

During the Christmas holiday period, I finished this short (three-minute) minimalist piano piece, though it is somber rather than festive. It is the 30th song in the free background music series. As with the other songs in the background music series, this song may be used for free for non-commercial purposes in videos, presentations or other multimedia projects; you only need to provide a credit: music by longzijun. You can also use the music for free in monetized YouTube videos (that are otherwise non-commercial in nature). For more information about the terms and conditions regarding using the music (including terms for commercial use), you can refer to the Terms of Use.

Read More »

Student Video Activities: Fifty People One Question, Language Challenge & Oral Histories

These are learning activities suitable for high school or even tertiary level students. They could be used classes in language, media. film, communication, social students or liberal studies or with student media production teams or campus television stations.

1. The Fifty People, One Question Approach

The Fifty People, One Question activity would involve having students work in groups to create a video a based on the Fifty People, One Question series of videos. In these videos, people are interviewed in the street and are asked one question. The original video was shot in New Orleans in 2008 by the creative partnership of Crush and Lovely & Deltree; their question was: “By the end of today, what would you wish to happen?”

The team also asked the same question in New York and Brooklyn and in London asked the question “Where do you you wish to wake up tomorrow?”  The videos are quite popular and have inspired a series of similar videos such as PostSecret’s: What’s your Secret? (The video set in Ottawa, however, isn’t suitable for secondary school classwork, however, as the interviewees are asked what their favourite curse word is.). The Fifty People One Question Team is quite happy for others to use their approach and even the same title as long as credit is given with a link back to their website: fiftypeopleonequestion.com

The 50 People, One Question approach can also be used as a starting point for students to develop their own formats. A much more visual approach was used by BenHaistFilms, who took the general idea and gave it a new spin by having interviewees write and down and physically show their answers to the question.

In the above video, the 50 People, 1 Question concept served not so much as a model to be copied, but as a starting point and as a source of inspiration.

A group of my own students in Hong Kong adapted the approach (they were the ones who noticed the original series of videos). In addition to the in-the-street-interviews, they also conducted sit-down interviews which allowed the interviewees to really talk a lot more and go into greater depth. In this video, the first part of series of short films entitled Dreamers, the students look at CM (a professional session musician, arranger and producer who also goes by the name of CMgroovy) and Chan Yat-kuen (an artist and retired teacher).They also conducted interviews in the street with passers-by and learned how varied our dreams can be. The video directors decided not to have a long introduction, but to get to the point almost straight away, starting with the interviewees repeating the question (so the viewer knows pretty much what to expect from the very beginning). Here is the main video (the other videos are at the end of the article):

Because the students collected quite a lot of footage, they produced a series of related films: cmestudio.wordpress.com/2011/02/22/dreamers-hk-part-1/

If students are interested in making a Fifty People, One Question video, they can first think of a suitable question. The questions in the orginal videos are quite good as they are a little unusual and would help avoid pre-thought-out ‘canned’ answers.

2. Language Challenges and Comparisons

This is a good activity for students to do if they know native speakers of different languages and if they are looking for something with a little more humor. The format is very flexible. In this video, we have native speakers of Italian and Cantonese try out each other’s language:

3. The Oral History Approach

The oral history approach was made famous by Studs Terkel, an American historian who interviewed thousands of ordinary people in-depth; he broadcast these interviews over the radio and published them in a collection of books. Often his interviews would have a specific (e.g., Work, Life during the war, etc.). Oral histories help give a voice to people who are often overlooked in textbooks and in media.  A lot of work on oral histories in the US, for example, has focused on Mexicans and Mexican-Americans who participated in the the Braceros Program, in which temporary labourers were imported into America between 1947 and 1964.


A student group producing an oral history video would interview one person or a small group of persons get them to talk as much as possible about their experiences. The focus is usually on the interviewee’s personal experiences and their thoughts and feelings on these experiences rather than their thoughts in more general issues or things they were not directly involved with.  This kind of  project is great in helping young people understand what life was really like during a specific period of time and understand how the world has changed.

Youth oral history projects can also help bring different generations together. Your average teen would rarely if ever have a conversation with an elderly person they weren’t related to. In many of the oral histories I’ve viewed, the interviewees seemed to appreciate the chance to tell their stories to the young interviewers. In the following video, Carey Giudici discusses some of the benefits of cross-generational oral history projects:

Here is an interview that is part of the African American Museum of Iowa’s oral history project, Adult Voices, Children’s Eyes.  In the first part of the interview, two woman recount their bitter experiences with discrimination and segregation and then, in the second part, explain how society has changed for the better, why they think it’s changed and how this change makes them feel.

If students are working on oral history projects, they should think of a question and period of time they would like to focus on (e.g., What was life like for you as a labourer in the Braceros Program?, What was life like for you, as a black person, growing up in America? What was life like for you  in Hong Kong during the Japanese occupation?).  Another very important consideration is the scope of the study. How many interviews will each student group conduct? Will the whole class focus on a specific theme or will groups be allowed to choose their own area to focus on?  Will the students only present the interviews or will they integrate what they have found with other sources? The students might find that their interviewees have other interesting things to talk about, but it would be good to start with one area to focus on and a clear idea of the scope of the project.

As the oral history approach has been used for a long time, there are a lot of supporting materials describing the whole process of conduction oral history interviews.  The following website describes this process: dohistory.org/on_your_own/toolkit/oralHistory.html

A detailed downloadable guide is also available from the Smithsonian Institute (this is very useful and it provides samples of release forms and other kinds of documentation like personal information forms):  http://www.folklife.si.edu/resources/pdf/interviewingguide.pdf

The following PowerPoint presentation (in video form) video clip gives a detailed overview of the whole process:

This clip, from the University of Leicester, focuses on the technical aspects of the interview (e.g., seating positions, audio recording techniques, cameras angles, lighting, and getting the interview started etc.) and gives examples of good and bad interview techniques:

4. Educational Benefits

The video activities have several benefits:

  • They encourage students to reach out to the community and come into contact with people from all walks of life and/or from different generations.
  • They help students develop their confidence and communication skills as they approach potential interviewees.
  • They let students listen to different views and challenge students to review preconceptions.
  • They give students the chance to develop their interpersonal skills as they work in groups to plan, prepare, shoot, edit and publicize the video.
  • They can give students inspiration for the further development of their own ideas (The activity could be followed up by written work like writing their own answers to their question and posting it on a class bulletin board or using the video of their oral history interviews as part of a larger research project. It could also be followed up by oral work like presenting their video to the class and reflecting on what they learned by doing the project).

The 50 People 1 Question approach also helps students learn how to analyze and use film techniques. The original 50 People 1 Question videos give students a framework to build on, not just in terms of the overall format, but also in terms of the shooting style. The creators of the original series of videos created them in a specific style. The videos feature:

  • Long introductions (the camera just examines some of the interviewees, creating a feeling of suspense)
  • A structure in which tends to start with shorter responses and with more insightful and deeper responses appearing later on in the video
  • The interviewer never being heard or seen
  • People sometimes being interviewed in pairs, so we can sometimes see reactions to comments
  • Some interviewees having their footage being intercut with others, often with some link between the interviews in the content or language)
  • Use of establishing shots to give the viewer an idea of the general environment
  • The use of background music to set a contemplative mood
  • The use of shots of interviewees getting into position and of the camera being positioned and being put into focus along with unfocused
    shots and shots of people people partly out of the frame. These shots give the video a sort of guerrilla film-making shooting-on-the-fly feel that contrasts with the professional-quality clear sound (quite difficult to achieve in a street interview)  and very still and clear images
  • Extensive use of close-ups
  • The use of specific camera techniques like rack focus (i.e., the focus of the camera gradually changes from foreground to background or vice-versa) and shallow depth of field (e.g., the foreground is clear, while the background is blurry).

5. Questions to Consider

Using video in assignments comes with all kinds of challenges. You will need to consider the following:

  1. Are the educational benefits the students will get from the activity worth the time required by students to produce the video?
    How much do your students know and what skills do they already possess?
  2. What support do the students require in terms of equipment and learning?
  3. If the assignment is assessed and not for a film course, how will you take into consideration the gap between students who have easy access to equipment and software and those who don’t or the gap between those with some video-making experience and those who are working on their first video project?
  4. How will you handle copyright infringement and how can you get students to respect copyright?
    How will you handle privacy issues?

For any kind of video project, students should formally gain the consent of the interviewees by having them sign release forms (an example is here:  www.smccd.edu/accounts/brenner/lsci110/OralHistoryReleaseForm.html) and personal information forms.


If your students do work on a 50 People 1 Question video or oral history project, let me know. I’d love to see their work.


~by longzijun

education

Return to Education (Projects, Resources & Articles)

Video Recording: Improving Sound Quality – Basic Noise Reduction

This is part of a series of three articles on improving audio quality during video production while using consumer-grade equipment and software. This article focuses on how to reduce noise in video that has already been recorded; the other two articles are on:

(I’ve noticed that some people have arrived at this page by searching for information that isn’t included here, but that I may be able to provide. If the information you are looking for is not here, leave a question in a reply/comment and I’ll do my best to answer it).

The first thing to consider is whether it is practical to even try reducing the noise. If is quite easy to clean up constant, steady noises like hums and hisses with freeware programmes such as Goldwave and Audacity. However, If you want to get rid of sounds like someone talking during a piano recital, a baby crying during a wedding ceremony or a plane passing overhead, you will need to get more specialized audio spectrum editing software like Spectralayers Pro, which is not particularly easy to use.

Rather than try to reduce sound later, it’s always better to try to tackle noise during the recording process. Sometimes, however, that’s not an option; we just have to work with what we have.

Why is it Difficult to Remove Noise?

It is helpful to understand a little acoustic theory before trying to reduce noise. If we play Concert A on any musical instrument, the frequency of the sound waves of the fundamental tone of that note is around 440 hz (or 440 vibrations per second). Concert A on a piano and concert A on the violin have the same fundamental frequency, but the two instruments sound different. This is because the sound being produced is  made up of the fundamental tone and a large number of overtones. The frequencies, amplitudes (i.e., strength) and shapes of these overtones give a piano, violin or your own voice its characteristic sound (or timbre).  This is why when you try to reduce background hisses by reducing the level of high frequencies, for example, you affect almost everything else in your audio clip—you are also altering the overtones of things like the human voice, which is why you can sometimes end up with a heard-over-the-telephone voice or a robotic sound instead of natural human voices.

Removing Hums and Hisses

Fortunately, a very steady noise in the background—like the sound of an air-conditioner or fan—can be reduced significantly. For that kind of noise, you can try using the noise filter in your video editing programme, but you will probably get much better results if you use audio editing software such as Audacity (freeware) and Goldwave (shareware) or software specifically designed for noise removal  such as Magix Audio Cleaning Lab (commercial software).  Use your video editing programme to export the audio file or to render the audio part as a separate file. You can also open some video formats in audio editing software like Goldwave and save the file as a WAV file.

Once you have opened the audio file in your audio editing programme, locate the noise reduction function (In Goldwave select Effects → Filter →  Noise Reduction; In Audacity, select Effect  → Noise Removal). Once there, you will see various presets that might prove useful (e.g., Reduce hum, Remove hiss) . However, I would recommend trying the Use Clipboard function in Goldwave or its equivalent in Audacity—Profile Noise Print. To do this, you need to a short segment that contains only the noise you want to get rid of (i.e., you can just hear the hiss or hum; no one is speaking, no music is playing)—a little less than one second will be enough, though in general, the longer the selection of consistent and continuous noise the better. Select that part (just hold down your left mouse button and drag).

What the Use Clipboard / Profile Noise Print does is digitally remove from your recording the part of the audio signal that matches the selected noise sample. To me this function is like magic; I learned about audio recording using analogue equipment (like reel-to-reel tape decks), and to be able to remove noise this easily digitally never fails to amaze me. It still isn’t perfect—if you don’t have strong enough reduction settings, you will get chirping noises in the background, and if the settings are too strong, you will affect the original timbre of the voice of musical instrument—but it is still an amazingly effective way to eliminate noise.

In Goldwave, you need to copy the segment you selected (Ctrl-C or Edit Copy) to the clipboard. After copying, select your entire file.  Then, open the noise reduction dialogue box and select the  function Use Clipboard. Adjust the various settings to find the ideal amount of noise reduction  (Click on the play icon in the noise reduction dialogue box to hear the effect. Unfortunately, you need to re-click the play icon whenever you change one of the settings). Select OK when you are done. The whole process is shown here:

In Audacity, the process is similar, but you don’t need to copy the selection. Just select the sample then go to Effect Noise Reduction Noise Profile Get Noise Profile.   After getting the profile, select your whole file then return to the Noise Reduction dialogue box to adjust the settings and apply the effect.The whole process is shown here: Audacity: www.jakeludington.com/ask_jake/20050922_eliminating_noise_from_phone_recordings.html

You can also use this noise-print removal function with Magix Audio Cleaning Lab, which is very effective at reducing noise and enhancing audio quality. I recently used it to remove noise and enhance the quality of some music I had recovered from twenty-year-old cassette tapes and thought it did a great job. The software offers finer levels of control than Goldwave and Audacity, making it easier for you to avoid the chirping effect mentioned earlier. Also, when using this software, you can hear the results of any changes in setting on the fly’ (i.e., in real time), whereas in Goldwave or Audacity, after you change a setting, you need to audition (i.e., preview) the sound.

If you are using Premiere Pro for video editing and have Adobe Soundbooth installed, you can also the noise print removal function of this software. In Premiere Pro, just right-click on the audio clip in the timeline, select Edit in Soundbooth and then Render and Replace and your audio file will open in Soundbooth. Select a short clip of the sample noise and then select Processes and Capture Noise Print. Select the whole clip and then select Processes and Reduce Noise. Soundbooth, however, doesn’t give you as much control over settings as in the other software programmes.

Some noises bring their own problems. For example, the noise of a passing traffic may seem like a steady sound, but if you remember you high school lessons on the doppler effect, you’ll also remember that the frequency of objects moving towards and away from a listener will change as the soundwaves are compressed and stretched out. The sound may not be as constant enough to allow you to use a noise-print noise reduction method.

Reducing a Sudden Click

If the sound is really short like a click, I will usually use Goldwave, zoom in on the click so that I can see on the waveform exactly where it begins, select that part and reduce the volume of that by about 70%. The click will still be there but it will be less noticeable. If you reduce it by 100%, you will get a short burst of complete silence, which might be as noticeable as the short click. Magix Audio Cleaning lab also has a de-click function specifically designed for this purpose. You can control how aggressively the software seeks out and eliminates clicks.

Reducing Isolated Sounds

What if you want to reduce the volume of something like a baby suddenly crying during a piano concert? You will probably need to get specialized software for this (and this kind of noise removal is not at all easy).

Using Purchased Software

You can use audio spectrum editing software; these are programs in which you work with visual representations of the audio waveform. For example, you can use Sony’s Spectralayers Pro’s Extract Harmonics tool or Extract Shape tool to visually identify and extract an isolated sound. In their review of the software, MusicRadar writes: “success is entirely dependent on your ability to select the offending frequencies, and that can take time. Once that’s done, though, the results are often excellent.”

Using Freeware

The quick and dirty method is to simply reduce the audio level (fading out and fading back in) and making the part where the baby screams quieter.

Another method would be to apply a form of equalization. You can try (with try being the key word here) using what is called a spectrum filter to identify and decrease the levels  of the frequencies associated with the baby’s scream. You are not just looking for at a fundamental tone (i.e., the ‘musical’ pitch) of the baby’s scream, but you are also looking for the overtones that make the baby’s voice sound different from that sound of a piano. You would visually compare the frequency spectrum of the piano before the scream with the spectrum of the combination of piano/scream. You might be able identify which frequencies are associated with the baby and apply notch filters to those frequencies (a notch filter decreases a very narrow range of frequencies). The following shows an example of a spectrum filter (from Goldwave) with the frequencies around 550 hz and 2kz being sharply reduced (using two notch filters).

The chances for success (i.e., piano unaffected and screaming diminished) using freeware programmmes, however, are minimal.

Other Ideas

There are other things you can do to handle background noise in your video besides removing it. For example, you can cover it up with something else like music to make it less noticeable. In some situations, you can even add more noise to make it seem like the noise belongs there. For example, let’s say you are editing a street interview and you have to re-record the interviewer’s part later at home on in the studio. If you cut between the interviewer (with almost no background noise) and the interviewee (with lots of street sounds in the background), the contrast will be very noticeable. You can mix some ambient street noise into the edit to make the background sounds more consistent and therefore less jarring (this is  why its a good idea to record some ambient sound whenever you are doing video recording).

Further Reading


~by longzijun

writing

Return to Writing

Video Recording: Improving Sound Quality – Audio Equipment

Beachtek DXA-2t

This is part of a series of three articles on improving audio quality during video production while using consumer-grade equipment and software. The article was first published several years ago, so some of the actual models show are outdated, but the principles still apply.

This article focuses on the equipment you can use to get good sound quality while doing video recording with consumer-grade camcorders; the other two articles are on:

If you are satisfied with the audio recorded with your camcorder, you don’t need to waste money on purchasing audio equipment. In general, however, most consumer-grade camcorders don’t record audio very well. There are several reasons for this:

  • The internal (or on-board) microphone may not be of  the best quality to begin with.
  • You may not be able to control the audio input level or easily change this level while recording. The recording levels may end up being too low (leading to a poor signal-to-noise ratio) or too high (causing distortion).
  • You may not be able  monitor the audio effectively as it is being recorded. You will need to use headphones, but some camcorders do not have an earphone jack and with many other camcorders, the audio signal sent through the headphones during recording is not as clear as it should be. Also, in audio recording, it is helpful to have a visual display of the audio input so that you can see if the levels are too low or high. Many consumer-grade camcorders don’t have this visual display function.
  • There is not much flexibility when it comes to  choosing the sound you want to record. Whatever is loudest and closest to your camera, that is the sound you get. A related problem is that some internal mics, because of their placement, are especially good at picking up the sound of wind.
  • Because on-board mics are housed in the body of the camera and are next to moving parts (especially in camcorders recording on mini-dv or tape) and electrical components, they may also pick-up mechanical sounds and humming noises.

Having a a professional-grade camcorder would solve almost all of these problems, but there are various equipment set-ups you can apply to consumer grade cameras that can help you deal with at least some of them. The approach you choose would depend on your budget, recording needs and technical expertise, as well as the equipment you already have. Seven approaches are discussed in this article:

  1. Dedicated external mic mounted on a hot shoe
  2. External mic → camcorder mic port
  3. External mic → XLR audio adaptor → camcorder mic port
  4. External mic → mixer → XLR audio adaptor → camcorder mic port
  5. External mic→digital audio recorder
  6. Digital audio recorder
  7. Digital audio recorder → XLR audio adaptor → camcorder mic port

This article is just a brief introduction to the kinds of equipment that you can use. Once you decide on the audio recording approach that’s best for you, you will need to search for more information about what equipment is available (online or at your local audio equipment store) and would work best with the video recording equipment you already have.

1. Dedicated external mic mounted on a hot shoe

Most consumer-grade cameras have a hot shoe on the top—a kind of slot for attaching accessories like microphones and flashes.  For some camcorders, there is a dedicated microphone specifically designed for that model of camera. If you use a Canon HG10 camcorder, for example, the corresponding microphone is the Canon  DM50 mic (pictured below). You just fit the mic onto the hot shoe and you would not need to connect it to the microphone port.

Canon DM-50

Pros: With this kind of mic, you will get better sound quality. The mic will also be much more ‘directional’, that is, it will pick up more of the sound it is pointed at. With some microphones, you can choose whether you want the mic to focus on the the subject in front of you or to pick up more of the ambient sound from all around. This is a useful feature, so you might want to make sure that your mic has it. Another advantage is that you can easily manage both audio and video recording at the same time without having to worry about cables, mic stands or power supplies.

Cons: The problems related to being unable to control levels and properly monitor sound still exist. Also, you may want to get more control over directionality and proximity (i.e., to choose where the microphone is pointing, what polarity is being used and how far away the mic is from the subject being recorded). One additional problem is that if you upgrade your camcorder, the microphone will probably be rendered obsolete as well.

2. External mic → camcorder mic port

Many camcorders have a mini-jack port for external microphones. If you use this set-up, you will have greater flexibility in choosing a mic that meets your needs and budget. The problem I have encountered with this set-up, however, is that the audio will be affected (e.g., distortion, missing audio channel, audio suddenly cutting out) if the connection between the mic and the camcorder isn’t secure. This is especially problematic if your camcorder doesn’t have a headphone jack; you won’t be able to monitor the input to check that everything sounds OK.

When choosing a microphone, there are several things to consider:

2.1 Polarity

  • Hyper-cardioid or shotgun mics focus on picking up sounds within a narrow angle in front of the microphone. They are good for recording interviews and sporting events (to pick up sounds on the field). For interviews or drama productions, your mic would still need to be quite close to the subject.
  • Cardioid: These focus on sounds at the front, pick up a little from the side and are good for interviews or for reporters using a hand-held mic.
  • Bi-directional (or Figure 8): These record sounds from the front and back and reject sounds from the side.
  • Omni-directional: These record sounds from all around and are useful for recording ambient sound and discussions (where everyone is seated around the table).
  • Multi-directional: These allow you to choose from a selection of different polarities.
Rode NTG-2 Shotgun Mic

2.2 Lavalier vs. handheld vs. shotgun

Lavalier microphones are the small mics you attach to a person’s shirt collar. They are great for interviews and other types of video recordings where the voice is the most important thing.  Lavalier mics are normally omni-directional, but because they are placed on the actor or announcer, they don’t pick up a lot of ambient sound. I find that even inexpensive ones can give you a very clear sound. If you are doing a man-on-the-street style interview, you would might want a handheld mic. Shotgun mics are the long-bodied microphones used for isolating distant sounds (or they be held overhead actors performing a dramatic scene and pointed downwards to pick up their dialogue).

2.3 Wired vs. wireless

You can  also use wireless mics. Wireless lavalier mics, for example, are a good choice if you are shooting a video and you want some long shots (where you can see the actor’s entire body). For wireless mics you need to get a system—including the clip-on mic, batteries, a transmitter which the actor wears, a receiver which is mounted on top of the camera and a cable that connects the receiver to the camcorder’s mic port. The system you buy should ideally be produced for use with a camcorder (Bill Myers has an excellent video explaining this set-up:

The receiver for most lavalier mics normally goes directly into the mic port of the camcorder. However, I have a couple of lavalier mics, but they are not made for camcorders, so I have to run the output from the wireless receiver through an adapter or mixer. or:

Azden WMP-Pro Wireless Lavalier
Sony ECM_AW3 wireless microphone: mic (left) and receiver (right)

(Update: May 2012) In the last couple of years the bigger manufacturers have started producing different kinds of camcorder microphones. For example, I have been using the Sony ECM-AW3 wireless microphone. With this model the transmitter is built into the mic (so you don’t need the on-screen talent to wear a separate transmitter. It has a range of around 50 meters and the signal can pass through walls. The silver capsule-shaped mic/transmitter is around 7.5 cm in length has a diameter of around 2.5 cm, so it is small enough to wear comfortably, but not small enough to be inconspicuous. It is very useful in situations where you don’t mind the viewer seeing the mic. A capsule of the same size and shape acts as the receiver and plugs directly into the camcorder’s mic port.

I was recently asked a question about wireless handheld microphones. These transmit a signal to a receiver, which you would then connect to the mic port on your camcorder. They would be good for conducting news-style interviews. Most models are designed for use on stage and come with relatively large receivers. There are not that many wireless handheld microphone systems for camcorders and it seems that the cheaper mics don’t work very well, so you should consider getting one of the well-known brands (Sennheiser, Shure, AKG and Audio-technica all have good reputations for their microphones). You can consider trying the Audio-Technica Professional VHF Wireless Hand-held Camcorder Microphone System or Sony’s Wireless Handheld Mic Camera Pack (model UWPV2/4244).

2.4 Dynamic vs. condenser

There are two main kinds of microphone: dynamic and condenser. Dynamic mics tend to be more durable. Condenser mics tend to be more sensitive to a wider range of frequencies, but they are more fragile and  may be too sensitive if recording really loud sounds. Condenser mics also need a power supply, either a 48v phantom power supply or batteries (48 volt phantom power usually comes from studio mixing panels, but is also a feature of some digital audio recorders and some audio adapters. A portable phantom power supply can also be bought separately).

2.5 Windshields/windscreens

These can be bought separately and are attached to the microphone or placed in front of it. They help cut down on wind noise and p-popping (the distortion caused by the sudden rush of air if you say plosive consonants like p, b and g directly into a mic).

Pros: The advantages are similar to those listed for the custom-built mics— you will get better sound  quality and even better control over directionality. You will also have greater flexibility to record in a variety of different situations and environments.

XLR to mini-jack cable

Cons: There is still no way to adequately monitor and control audio input levels. Also, the set-up is becoming more complicated. You now have cables to handle and you might have to deal with batteries, power supplies and receivers. You may need to get a mic stand to hold the microphone in place while you are filming or you may need to get someone to hold the microphone. The mini-jack port on the camera may also pose a problem. Most higher-quality microphones use XLR jacks and some lower-quality ones use 1/4 inch audio jacks (too large for the mic port of your camera), so if you are using a higher quality external microphone you can either use an XLR to mini-jack cable or use an audio adapter (see Set-up 3). You will get better sound quality with  the adapter.

Also, as mentioned earlier, the mini-jack ports on camcorders sometimes have connectivity problems; unless your jack is inserted in just the right way, the sound may not be recorded properly (e.g., no sound, one missing channel, distorted signal, etc.). This can cause problems especially when you are moving the mic around.

3. External mic → XLR audio adapter → camcorder mic port

This set-up solves a few of the problems mentioned in the preceding paragraph. In this set-up, you  use higher-quality XLR microphones (with three-pin XLR connections) to an XLR adapter (which can be mounted on the base of the camera), and you can also convert line outputs (like from a mixer) to mic inputs (for the mic jack in your camcorder. These adapters—produced by companies like BeachTek and juicedLink 9Azden has now come out with a model as well)—also come equipped with audio level controls (now you can finally control audio input levels while recording). They cost from around 250 to 400 USD. They are very useful, so if you are doing a lot or recording where the audio is important, I would recommend you get one.

Depending on the brand and model you buy, you may also get the following features:

  • Phantom power (a 48v power supply for use with condenser microphones, but only the top-of-the-line adapters will have this feature )
  • Two inputs (you can record from two microphones at once)
  • Line/input switches (you can also choose input from line signals like line outs from a mixing panel)
  • Stereo/mono outputs (you can choose to combine the two input channels as a mono signal or assign them to left and right tracks).
  • A visual display for audio input levels (to warn you when your incoming signal is too strong—but this is only available on the top-of-the line adapters).
JuicedLink DT454 XLR Audio Converter

Pros: You can control and monitor audio input levels and you have greater flexibility when it comes to arranging mic set-ups. You can use different microphones for different purposes.

Cons: You will need to spend some time setting up the equipment and testing levels before you are ready to start recording. Also, you will probably need different mics for different purposes.

4. External microphone→audio mixer→audio adapter→camcorder mic port

The audio adapter is required  in order to turn the line output of the mixer into a mic input for the camcorder. I would recommend against using this set-up as it seems to be getting unnecessarily complicated and would require setting a lot of different levels before recording.

5. External mic → digital audio recorder

With this approach, you are recording the main audio separately using a digital audio recorder. When you edit your video you will have the video/audio recorded from the camera and a separate audio file from the digital audio recorder. You combine the video and audio during the editing process.

Handy H4 digital audio recorder

Pros: Basically this set up takes care of all the problems mentioned at the beginning of the article. You can easily control and monitor the audio input levels and can get input from a greater variety of sources, including internal mics, external mics, wireless clip-on mics and line outputs. For example, when recording a musical performance, you can use the digital audio recorder to record directly from the mixing panel. This can provide the main audio source for the video. In the editing process, you can mix it with the audio recorded using the camcorder (at a  much reduced level), which will have picked up the audience noise and the audio that was bouncing around the performance venue.

Similarly, if you are recording a dramatic scene, the mic and digital audio recorder can be positioned closer to the actors (while still staying out of the frame) while the camera can be positioned further away. If you were recording a discussion, you could use the digital audio recorder on its own (using the recorder’s internal mics) or set it it up to be used with an omni-directional mic. In short, you get a lot more flexibility now that the audio and video are handled separately.

Tascam DP008 digital audio recorder and mixer

Cons: This set-up is complicated, especially if you are using things like wireless microphones. It would take some time to set everything up and test levels. If you are using a handheld shotgun mic, for example, you are starting to look at having a three-person crew: one person to operate the camera, a second to handle the mic and a third to monitor and record the audio (of course, you can use tripods and mic stands, but if you are doing everything yourself, you will have a lot to take care of at once).

Note: In professional film-making, audio and video are often recorded separately. This is one of the reasons why film clappers (also known as clapperboards or slates) are used at the beginning of a shot. The editor can synch up the video and audio by matching the sound of the clapper to visual image of the closing clapstick.

6. Digital audio recorder

In this set up, you are just recording the audio using the internal microphones of the digital audio recorder (during the editing process, you add the sound file to the video). There are three main advantages to this set up:

  • Digital audio recorders usually have two internal mics, so you will be able to get a decent stereo recording (this can be helpful when recording concerts).
  • They are small and are portable (you won’t need any cables or mic stands).
  • The smaller recorders are discreet (if you are holding one, you won’t stand out as much as you would if you were holding a shotgun mic with a a long cable attached to it).

These microphones are usually not very directional, however; they pick up sounds from the side and front and only slightly block sounds coming from the rear. Therefore, they tend to pick up a lot of ambient sound.

I have been using two digital audio recorders (pictured below) to record discussions and live acoustic music performances: The Sony PCM-10 and the Roland R-05. They are a little pricey, but the sound quality is very good.

Sony PCM M10 Digital Audio Recorder
Sony PCM M10 Digital Audio Recorder

7. Digital audio recorder → XLR audio adaptor → camcorder mic port

This is a variation of Set-up 3, but you would use the digital audio recorder as microphone.

Roland R-05 Digital Audio Recorder

The headphone or line output of the digital audio recorder is fed into the XLR adaptor. The only advantage this has over Set-up 5 is that the audio is now recorded on the camcorder. I use this set-up sometimes for oral discussions (using a Roland R-05 recorder) when I don’t plan on doing any editing afterwards.

Conclusion

Good quality audio recording doesn’t really work with a one size fits all approach. Different recording contexts may require different kinds of equipment and different set-ups. In the end, your choice of equipment and set-up depends on your needs and budget.

~by longzijun

Further Reading


~by longzijun

writing

Return to Writing