Sound is King

by | Jan 25, 2012

High quality audio is one of the top things clients and delegates request in event video coverage, even at smaller events.
 
In this post, we consider how to improve both our sound equipment and techniques.

 
Over the last year I have seen an increasing number of requests for my amplification services at small workshop sessions, generally ranging in size from 20-40 participants. Many of the organisers of these workshops ask me to produce videos of each presentation in their programme, as part of the permanent record of the event. These are normally uploaded to video sharing sites such as Vimeo or YouTube.

Unlike larger conferences, where you often find professional AV assistants, high quality PA systems, proper staging, lighting etc., smaller workshops are often conducted in situations which make filming more challenging. Aside from the difficulties of positioning a camera in what may be a poorly lit room (for the purposes of filming) without obstructing the view of participants in the room, we often find it is particularly difficult to get good quality sound at such events.

Beautifully lit, HD quality video is obviously very nice, but when you are producing video of a presentation for the web, the sound is the most important aspect to get right. People will often play videos or live streams on their computer whilst working on other things, making the picture quality of the video secondary to the quality of the audio. This is an issue I have been struggling with for a while, along with my husband Rich, who often assists me at events and does much of the video post production for me. After spending hours trying to rescue some particularly poor audio from one such event, we decided that we needed some help and a strategic rethink of how we approach covering these events.

We enlisted the help of a friend, Gavin Tyte, a professional performer who and a former music technology teacher who does all of his own sound engineering and video production. This is the kind of thing Gavin normally gets up to:
 

 

Gavin was able to give us an audio surgery, in which we assessed our existing equipment, discussed the different scenarios we face at events when we are required to record audio, and established what we can do to improve both our raw recordings and the post production of our audio.

This was quite a wide ranging session, so I want to focus in on just one of scenarios we discussed, and the changes in practice we hope to adopt…

 

Problem: The Wandering Speaker

 

One of our most pressing issues was how best to mic a speaker at a small workshop. We often find that when a local PA system exists (and is turned on!) the microphone is fixed to a desk or lectern. There is normally no way to take a direct feed from this, so we have to position our shotgun microphone next to a PA speaker close to the video camera. However, speakers rarely think to reposition the PA mic to an appropriate height before they start talking, and often wander away from it all together. This is very easy to do in an informal setting, particularly if the room and audience are of a size where the speaker can be heard perfectly well with minimal projection.

The same thing happens when we put our shotgun mic near the front to pick up the speaker’s voice directly. The shotgun mic is directional, and ideally needs to be as close to the speaker as possible to pick up the best possible sound. If the speaker moves around, or chooses to stand in a position away from the mic for the majority of their talk, I have no opportunity to turn it or reposition it without obstructing the view of the audience.

 

Potential Solutions

 

Gavin advised us to forget about any local PA system completely and concentrate on collecting the sound directly, preferably using a good quality wireless lapel mic with the receiver plugged directly into the camera. A top of the range wireless lapel mic set can cost upwards of £500, but there will be cheaper solutions. He also suggested using the shotgun mic in addition to the wireless lapel mic, positioning this close to the speaker and attaching it to an iPod or similar device. This will create a separate back up recording, which can be used to supplement the audio from the lapel mic in the event of any problems. This allows us to take full control of the quality of the audio we get, without relying on equipment in the room or speakers making correct use of such equipment.

Whilst this technically solves our problem, I believe there is a human issue to be addressed here too. I need to encourage organisers to brief their speakers more effectively, not just so that the remote audience can hear them on the recording (particularly in the event that we need to rely on the back up audio for any reason), but also to help improve the accessibility of the event as a whole. After all, anyone in the physical audience who may be hard of hearing will experience exactly the same problem as the remote audience if the speaker fails to use the PA equipment provided effectively.
 

Conclusions

 
We discussed lots of other topics in our audio surgery and got some really valuable advice from Gavin about working with professional sound engineers at conferences to get the best possible feed from a managed desk, and where replacing key pieces of kit with high quality equipment will really pay off. Whilst he was able to give us training to make better use of our software for post production, he was very firm: you can’t repair a bad recording. It is vital to take control and invest in the right equipment to get the very best original recording possible. This has to be our focus at smaller events over the next few months to improve the quality of what we produce for our clients.

 
 
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