Up to just a few years ago if you wanted or create some kind of promotional showreel you would have had no option but to use a specialist company or individual in moving image. The ability to now create your own short videos is easier than ever with the increased quality of smartphone optics. With resolution up to 4k this makes mobile film-making a reality for many. With an understanding in training on good technique people from all walks of life can today, with the smarphone in their pocket and one or two accessories, highlight a business and cause or record some other event that tells a story in a creative blend of digital images and moving pictures. The one area I see, or hear rather, that is often forgotten in the process is the use of audio - The simple fact is that you can get away with the odd shaky or grainy clip but not poor sound. Our ears are less forgiving than our eyes it would seem. As a consequence recording and adding good audio to your clips is worthy of some consideration Here’s my top 5 tips getting good audio from your smartphone:
1. If you are using your smartphone’s built-in memo/voice recorder app be sure its close enough to the subject for a good quality recording.
2. Use better audio recoding use an app that lets you set the audio level 3. For the best audio recording you can use an external microphone. (Note. You will need some form of pre-amp/adapter for most smartphones)
4. Get around music copyright/permissions by creating your own music for your videos with a specialist music app.
5. Record in upper middle level and always stay out of the red zone. Or around -3 db for the highest peak volumes.
We can take this a step further where several systems have developed to help the trained user and creative practitioner alike. Software and hardware development has become a blessing and a curse with great power to the learned disciple, but also allows basically anyone with a decent smartphone to produce something quick in a relative short time. But it’s the rise in Stock Music & Audio Libraries that interests us here. Stock Libraries can be used for sourcing a plethora of pictorial items, graphic content, moving items and of course music and sound. Used in the right hands such libraries can be very effective with your creations. The trick is not so much to match the audio to the visual but the tone and style of what is heard with the narrative (filmic and/or spoken) of what is implied. This can get further complicated with counterpoint whereby you can intentionally oppose the two. All this does need some skill to carry of effectively. The problems with Stock Libraries however is if used inappropriately they do little to achieve what you want – to get noticed and stand out from the crowd for all the right reasons. So how should you use Stock Libraries for your video and what options are there for you to get that killer sounding clip out there. Here are few tips that I’ve gleaned that might be of help: Budget for producing music and recording audio Ask any pro film-maker and they will tell you what you hear is just as crucial as what you see. Of course the two working well together is the winning formula. Last thing you want is to have your beautiful visuals let down by poor audio and some music slapped on as an after thought. If you want great audio in your clip, then be prepared to pay to get it.
Tip. If you do plan on purchasing some music licenses and getting professional sound recorded allow approximately the same cost again as what you’ve earmarked for your visuals. Some of you may think this a bit over the top but pro-audio can easy be 40-50% in micro-mid range production budgets. Remember this includes mastering which gives that sonic polish that will take your sound to another level. It’s all in the mix
Ok, so you don’t quite have the budget to get ‘Hans Zimmer’ to do your video music. But that doesn’t mean you’re restricted to what comes free with your smartphone. Stock Libraries can help if you do a little research and plan your scenes.
Tip. If you do decide to use Stock Library music don’t just choose one track and insert beginning to end. Use several pieces to highlight different moods and pacing in your clips. They don’t need to be played in full, instead let them ebb and flow in and out of each other reflecting what’s on show. And whilst it may sound counter intuitive, where you don’t add audio is just as important as where you do.
It’s not about personal taste Believe it or not music for moving image isn’t made, or initially used, to stand out on its own, regardless of how dramatic or emotionally charged it sounds. With so much choice in Stock Libraries and music playing appliances abound, the temptation is to go with what you like rather than what will work well in your finished video. It is a developed skill knowing what will work and what won’t, but there are some simple things you can do to help.
Tip. Choose music that mirrors what’s happening on each scene, pieces that complement each other and be sympathetic to your story as a whole. Try and avoid the pop-video style where the music is hard up front - unless that’s you intention of course. Also, don’t overlook pitch on any dialogue, in case your music is having a cancelling-out effect on any spoken words.
Bad sound effects can ruin a well-made video
It’s amazing how many well-made big budget films or TV programmes are ruined by the inclusion of misplaced sound effects. The evolved processing power of computers has now given us high impact sound design to choose from in Sound Libraries. However, with this does comes the need for ever-greater control. Patching in found cinematic effects at random can be really corny.
Tip. If you do have a real need for sound effects it’s best to include them as part of your overall sound mix. Adding a sense of depth is the key and if you’re determined to add - do show restraint - don’t use ever few seconds - don’t use at extreme volumes. Adding a little reverb and/or delay can create that sense of depth, but be careful not to overdo it.
Like a duck to voice-over
Despite latest trends in filmmaking, not being able to hear dialogue properly is pretty unforgivable. If your clip requires any kind of recorded dialogue you want it evenly-paced and well enunciated. ‘Ducking’ is where the level of one audio signal is reduced by the presence of another. A typical use is for creating a voice-over.
Tip. Be sure that any audio, music and/or sound effects are significantly reduced so that speech is heard clearly. Also be sure that any dialogue is well recorded in the first place (This takes us back to having some training in using your smartphone for audio recording). And, be careful that any underlying music is not distracting from any spoken dialogue.
So you’ve got your killer-video finished and you’re ready to go. One last thing! Where you intend to show your masterpiece plays a vital role in the audio process. Cinematic epics go to great lengths to be sure we get that immersive experience with huge Dolby and other Pro systems, whereas a clip used as a podcast (or even radio) might only need a narrow stereo or even mono signal.
Tip. When you’ve completed your finished video test it where it’s most likely your intended audience will view and hear it. Will it be people in open plan offices? – In which case surround-sound won’t be ideal. Will it be mainly people using a laptop? – In which case elements in the low end may be restricted whilst the mid – high range will be exaggerated. Is it on smartphone or tablet? - In which case ear buds/headphones will give a different dynamic response. (Of course chances are that it will be a combination of situations to be accounted for)
Nothing quite beats getting original music and sound created for your project. It will fit like a glove, be mastered for a range of listening environments and give you that true professional sonic edge. It adds impact and conveys a deeper understanding of what you are trying to communicate to your audience. However, it is good to know that you can get perfectly acceptable results with a little thought, research and testing using Stock Library sources.
© 2017 Rob Aitken