I can’t hear what you are talking about: a newbies perspective on sound

By Jonathan Proby

Sound recording can be confusing if you don’t get the benefit of a master sound mixer’s feet to sit at, basking in the warm glow of their expansive, immense experience and wisdom. This was my fate, to traverse the silent lonely wasteland of learning sound recording on my own. But I have emerged triumphant back into the warm embrace of my fellow filmmakers with jewels of wisdom to share.

I started doing sound working at a small independent film company (AKA a group of friends wanting to make movies). Here are some things that I learned that I think the budding sound mixer will find useful.

Sound is YOUR job

Before you bemoan yourself saying “no one cares about sound” Remember, its not their job to care, it is yours. Ask yourself, do you think about what the camera is doing? Or what the actor’s thought process is? If you are thinking about those things remember, the set works best when everyone focuses on their job.

Don’t be afraid to say something

You can’t hide your mistakes. If there is a problem tell the Assistant Director. If you think you can “get away with it,” you can’t, the director and editor will hear it in editing and get really angry that you ruined the ONE good take by not saying the audio was bad

You get one chance to record a take

Sound can be a fairly relaxed position (props all you camera operators and gaffers that never get breaks). But you shouldn’t be relaxing, you should be using that time to make sure that you are ready to go. Including checking everything again right before everyone else is ready to shoot

Don’t try to be super thrifty with batteries

When they start getting low, change them. If you leave them until the last moments of their power, they are just going to die in the middle of the finally perfect 7th take,(coincidentally your last take). I recommend buying a few different types of batteries and testing how long they last in your setup. This will give you a good idea when you need to change batteries. Write down when you change batteries (especially if you don’t have battery level on your receiver).

Learn your mic noise

Clothing noise, interference and low batteries all sound very similar. But they all have different fixes. If you hear them, they need to be fixed quickly. The only real way to learn is by doing and experiencing the different problems. If you can get some time with the gear and put it though its paces, learn how long your preferred brand of batteries last in the mic packs, how far away from the receiver can they be?

The main thing I have learned by working in sound is that there are going to be different solutions to any given problem. Find what works well. Try different things, sometimes one solution with work, others you’ll need to try something else. Let me know any questions and/or what has worked for you in the comments.

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