In the traditional film production, sound recording still has a certain status. EB (electronic reporting) teams, however, don’t necessarily handle it in a professional way, often even neglecting it completely. This can lead to ongoing problems with the sound. More understanding and attention from editors, directors and other responsible people could help though. Everyone is at least a bit interested in camera technology, mainly because the result is visible. The interest in sound engineering and recording, however, is still extremely poor.
We have asked Michael Mücher, a trainer and expert for video, TV and audio a few simple, ever-recurring questions. The interview was conducted by Nils van Well, project manager Volkswagen TV.
Mr. Mücher, let’s start with the lapel microphone: Is there a lapel that is suitable for all purposes?
Mücher: Lapel microphones are always a bad choice. The positioning makes the voice sound dull and this must be corrected later. If you decide to clip the lapel to the left or right, the direction of the sound is often wrong, particularly with several people talking. Clipping it on in a more central position is often not possible. Due to pointing into a specific direction lapel microphones can also hardly be protected against wind and only moderately against the sound from movement. All this would need to be picked up before the recording, which in return significantly reduces the time advantage of a lapel. There are lapel microphones that react less to wind and movement but they are harder to install and you still need to monitor them constantly.
On set if there is the choice between lapels or a boom pole, which would you choose?
Mücher: A boom pole is always the better choice. An experienced sound technician always achieves a more comprehensible sound, as it is constantly monitored. With the right microphone, there’s neither a problem with wind nor body movement. In case of noise, a slight rotation of the microphone is sufficient to reduce it. A boom pole is also always quicker than a lapel and does not require interfering with the interviewer’s privacy.
Audio links are popular and convenient but have already caused a lot of trouble for me. Do you have to be particularly careful?
Mücher: There are quite reliable audio links. However, radio interference can always be a problem. A Diversity link – 2 receivers in one – increases a safe reception. When transmitting to the camera, only a reverse link can provide 100% safety. This allows the sound engineer to hear the result, which is also recorded. However, both a good audio link as well the reverse link cost a lot more money – which is why they are often dismissed.
To avoid noise from nearby areas, many camera assistants adjust the sound to a very low level, often much too low. What would you recommend?
Mücher: It’s not always obvious how the distance from the mixer to the camera is determined in general. The controls are often misleading. Only experience and knowledge can help here. Many professional camera recorders have a ‘limiter’, a kind of compressor, which turns down peaks, thereby making it unnecessary to turn down the volume of your track. However, this is often not the case for lower-priced devices.
Basically, the correct control requires a lot of experience. A good sound engineer works with a perfect combination of listening to the volume and headphones. That way he doesn’t have to constantly look at the controls, which is not always possible.
Years ago, the rear-belt control on a camcorder was essential. This ensured that no cable broke and ruined the sound recording. Today nobody does this anymore. What are your thoughts on this?
Mücher: Such a control, where you check whether the recording system failed, is no longer necessary today. But it’s still common practice in a cable-based recording to check whether there actually is a sound signal on the camcorder. This, however, requires a reverse link, which is frequently lacking for simpler sound equipment.
Is stereophonic sound recording and processing really so demanding that EB teams rightly stay away from it?
Mücher: Stereophonic atmosphere (environmental noise) is a gain for the viewer in any case. Speech can be understood better and the spatial effect is improved. In times of HD, in which pictures are recorded quite realistically, a monophonic sound does not fit anymore. However, stereo microphones and the corresponding sound mixers aren’t often part of the standard equipment. Stereophonic radio links are still the exception. And, of course, some basic rules must be followed. You can’t just wave a stereo microphone around wildly. A bigger problem, however, is the fact that professional monitoring is a prerequisite for a good result as well. The editing suite also needs to be equipped adequately and the editor must be able to handle a stereophonic effect. This may not be suitable for every genre though. To learn about all of this we offer seminars at BET.
Michael Mücher is the CEO of BET (Base of Expert Training). The production engineer has worked in TV production and video technology since 1978. He worked for German TV stations WDR, SWR and ZDF as well as the British broadcaster BBC. More than 30 years ago the expert turned coach and started training for public as well as private TV stations and production companies.