Recently I got the chance to sit down with our Head of Techincal Tom Zandt-Valentine to pick his brains on all things Audio Technical. As the keeper of our Kit Room Tom knows everything there is to know about audio equipment and has agreed to share his tips for those who don’t know the difference between a boom mic and a lavalier mic.
One of the main things to consider when getting started in video is it’s all well and good having an amazing camera capturing amazing footage but if the sound quality is lacking people are going to immediately switch off. So ensuring that you are capturing and monitoring your audio input is essential to getting that seamless final video. Tom and I discussed what some of his audio essentials are when packing for a shoot, “Batteries” he says. “Batteries is the main one, you always have batteries because if you run out of batteries that’s obviously not a good thing. A lot of our cameras can provide phantom power and so it’s not necessarily the end of the world but we always need batteries for audio”. He goes on to explain having spares of everything from cables to headphones is a must for ensuring things run smoothly on the shoot and you don’t get caught in a sticky situation miles away from the office. He went on to say, “We use these little devices by Tentacles Sync which allow us to sync the cameras together through audio timecode and it just means when we’re editing multi-cam (a video technique which involves multiple cameras being used to film the same scene at the same time) and it just makes everything much easier”.
The Audio Bag
We then went on to chat about the vast array of equipment that we have available to us in the Bexmedia Kit Room, an area that despite knowing where stuff belongs now, still very much feels like Tom’s domain. “We have a lot of equipment here so we’re able to do quite a wide variety of different types of recordings. We have condenser microphones and shotgun microphones for interviews. As well as wireless microphones and lavaliers which are very good for hiding on set or for people that are doing walk-and-talk style interviews”.
We get onto the much anticipated audio bag, the green bag that comes pretty much everywhere with us and holds the secrets to all of our audio magic. In this bag, we have our Zoom H5 a portable recorder that we can use to record multiple inputs (so if we record an interview with more than one person this will enable us to edit the audio separately which is a time saver!). The Sennheiser MKE 600 shotgun mic which is very directional (meaning ideal for using for recording single-person interviews) we used this when we interviewed Neil Grundon for the Bristol EV Introduction video earlier this year. The Rycote Cyclone which we use for wind noise cancellation, basically to prevent the wind and handling noises from being picked up by the mic. When I asked Tom about this bit of kit he was quick to provide some backstory about the origins of our particular Cyclone.
“Craig, my boss, entered a competition with Rycote who were kind of local to us actually but we ended up winning a Cyclone which is an anti-vibration microphone holder that also gives you wind protection”. Last but by no means least we have the Sennheiser G4 Lavalier mic, a small, easily hidden hands-free clip-on mic. Needless to say, this is just the audio bag highlight reel, you will also find a plethora of cables, batteries, headphones, and tentacles in there if you were to have a rummage around – with Tom’s permission of course!
Can you hear me?
Naturally with technology, sometimes things don’t always go to plan but when you have the Head of Technical on hand a resolution is only ever a few tweaks away. “We had a problem once where one of the mics was cutting out due to wireless interference so we ended up using a different frequency channel, essentially we were getting like crackling noises and dropouts where the signal was being interrupted, it could have been a phone or Wi-Fi but it’s always good to know that you can change the channels on them because essentially you can avoid interference”
I asked Tom what advice he has for people getting started with audio equipment and the biggest piece of advice is to keep it simple, “ learn the basics and just stick with that for a little bit”. Given the amount of information available online he recommends finding equipment that works for you and what your specific audio needs are. “Find which whichever mic suits you, obviously there are lots of different types of microphones, but pick one that is for what you want to do”. For those who are aiming to record interviews, he suggests either a condenser or shotgun mic. “Don’t worry about getting loads of multi-track recorders and all that sort of stuff just keep it simple, keep it so you can press record you can interview your person and then you can then learn how you edit it”.
AI. Yay or Nay?
We are facing some big changes in the tech world with the rise of AI being used to replicate voices and there are some fears that this might constitute an end to voiceover artists being used. We discussed some of the pros and cons of AI being used with audio technology and how Tom keeps up to date with technological developments and new equipment. “ I’ve already seen technologies now where the AI will learn how a person talks. I think in the future the industry is going to have to do something to say that this has been made by an AI not by the real person because obviously, you can get people to say whatever you want in that situation. It’s going to cause issues with people sounding like they’re saying things that they haven’t said or disputing things that they may have said.”
On the other hand, there are some positives to these tech advances which are making life easier for editors, saving time in the edit process, and saving on budget. Tom went on to explain why incorporating some of these developments is essential to keeping on top of the ever-changing improvements being made. “AI can now be trained to know what a human sounds like, so if you’re recording a video and you’ve got some background noise of an airplane or a car or something it knows that that’s not a human talking and can kind of remove it from the audio so there are benefits in terms of it knowing what a human is to clean it up but also knows what a human is to then replicate it so I guess is both sides of it”
When it comes to staying on top of the technologies and techniques Tom’s biggest tip is to head to Youtube. “Staying up to date is very tricky because the industry is ever-evolving. You start seeing loads of videos about that, personally, I like to watch YouTube quite a lot and I’ve got quite a few people I’m subscribed to that will review gear. A good one would be CVP so they’re a big equipment supplier in the UK and they do like a monthly rundown of new equipment that comes out”.
With plenty of tips and tricks to go forth and begin recording the perfect audio, make sure to check back for more interviews with the team for a peak behind the scenes and a spotlight on all things equipment, tech, and Bexmedia. If you have any audio-related questions that you would like to ask the team please don’t hesitate to reach out on firstname.lastname@example.org