By Dan O’Reilly-Rowe, 2009.

Quality sound recording is often sadly neglected in community media production. This simple activity helps participants get familiar with their microphones and helps the crew make thoughtful choices in how they record location sound.

Goals

  • Practice sound recording (monitoring, mic handling, troubleshooting)
  • Develop listening skills

Participants

A ratio of 3-4 participants to each camera kit is ideal, but this activity can also be done with just one camera kit and a room full of people.

Equipment/Supplies

  • Video camera
  • Any available microphones (may include lapel mics, handheld mics, shotgun mics)
  • Headphones
  • Cables
  • Tripod
  • Paper & pens

Instructions

  • Split the group into as many teams as you have camera kits.
  • Distribute camera and microphone kits to participants. Ideally, this kit would contain a video camera (with built in microphone), and several other types of microphones (handheld, shotgun, lapel), a tripod for stability, and any necessary cables.
  • Have participants identify each item of equipment in their kit and what its function is. Ask participants how many microphones they have. TRICK QUESTION! Most video cameras have a microphone built in to them.
  • Demonstrate the set-up and mic handling for each of the different microphone types.
  • Each group should pick one person to speak a few lines of text, or sing a song, or count to 20. This should be the same person for each of the test recordings, and they should speak at the same volume in each take.
  • If you are able to go outside to do this activity, the results will be clearer.
  • The person who is speaking should stand 3-5 meters away, and speak in a normal voice while facing the camera.
  • With each microphone (including the camera’s onboard mic), record the chosen voice in two takes, NEAR and FAR from the speaker’s mouth. One with the microphone next to the camera, and one with the microphone 10 centimeters from the speaker’s mouth. Describe the sample at the beginning of each recording (eg. “Take 1, shotgun mic, far”).
  • Emphasise the use of headphones to monitor the recordings. If no sound is coming through the headphones, something is not set up correctly.
  • Once all teams have completed recording samples from each mic from near and far, select one group’s footage to use as an example for playback.
  • As a group, go through each sample and describe how it sounds, filling in a table like the one below as you go. Pay special attention to the clarity of the voice and the relative level of background noise.
  • Process by asking questions like:
  1. What are the advantages/disadvantages of each type of microphone?
  2. When would you use each of these different types of microphones?
  3. How do you feel about seeing the microphone in the frame? Is it ever OK?

 

Other Things to Try

  • Describe the difference between various types of microphones. Some information on different microphone designs can be found at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Microphone.
  • If you have the capability, show the group how to split the tracks and record from two separate mics.
  • Propose a range of situations and ask the group to suggest how they would mic them (eg sit-down interview, street interview, on-screen presenter at a rock show, ambient sound of a quiet street… etc)

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