Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The importance of audio

What is the most important thing you can do as a videographer to ensure people watch your video, and watch it all the way through the end?
It’s not picture quality. It’s not composition. It’s not lighting or even having action shots or B-roll.
Nope — it’s all about the audio.
“In testing viewers, viewers will watch video longer if the audio is good even if the video is bad. But, if you have good video but poor audio, people will lose their patience much quicker,” said Joe Johnson of CMNtv, a cable access channel providing video production training for a number of Oakland Press staffers.
This is critical for everyone shooting video at JRC properties to know. It is the single most important thing you can get right while shooting a video.

For Flipcam users
For those using Flipcams, this has huge implications. You must be close enough to your interviewee for the camera to capture good audio — I recommend being no further away than three feet. Flipcams have no inputs for microphones, so you have no choice but to get close.
The good news is, you should be close anyhow because your goal is to get a close-up, head-and-shoulders shot.
If the person you’re filming is at a podium and using a microphone to amplify sound, you can probably get away with being a little farther back. But even then, use caution.
Additionally, we sometimes find ourselves filming in noisy places — boardrooms, protests, busy streets, etc. Don’t get lazy. Spend the time to explain to the person you want to interview that in order to hear them on camera, you need to move outside the noisy area.

For Sony camera users
Quite a few years ago, more advanced Sony cameras began making their way to our newsrooms. Not everyone uses one of these cameras, but for those who do, or those who want to learn, it’s important to know the ins and outs of the camera’s audio settings.
If you’re using a microphone, you need to have the setting switched to “Mic.”
This seems simple enough, but what about that setting called “Line”?
The “Line” setting is only to be used with a line feed. A line feed is a cable that connects to a sound mixer. The sound mixer amplifies the sound coming from the microphones — and that’s where it gets confusing.
You’re using a microphone, so you want the setting on “Mic,” right? Wrong — not if you’re also using a sound mixer. The “Mic” setting amplifies the sound within the camera. If you use that in conjunction with a sound mixer, which is also amplifying the sound, you get double-amplified audio — and what does that get you? Distortion.
From my point of view, having distorted audio is worse than having barely-audible audio. With something you can hardly hear, you just get frustrated and turn it off. Distorted audio, though, is like nails on a chalkboard. By the time you turn it off, your mad because your ears hurt from the awful noise.
And, if you’ve got quiet audio, you can at least try to amplify it during the editing process. Distorted audio, though, cannot be fixed.
The lesson? Make sure you get it right from the start, or you could lose the entire project.

How audio can be the single most important element of your video does make sense. Think about it — we may offer podcasts or slideshows with voiceovers or even just a plain audio recording of an interview along with our stories. With all those types of media, it’s the audio that keeps the viewer viewing or the listener listening.
Basically, there are more applications for audio than just video. The versatility of audio, the many different ways we can use it to present a story, should say something about the importance of audio to our news consumers. Which, of course, means the quality of audio should be important to us when producing videos.

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