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How Important is Good Production Sound?

Posted On: March 12, 2014

I never thought that I would start working as a location sound recordist when I got into video production but thats exactly what happened.  I always wanted to be a video editor but once I started to do it professionally I realized I liked the idea of it more than doing it.

When I started to work at Q Media 5 years ago I was working as an editor and helping out as a production assistant on shoots.  One day we had a small shoot and couldn’t find an available soundperson so I volunteered.  I had taken a sound class in school but I didn’t really know what I was doing.  Luckily that shoot turned out to be a great experience and I realized that I really loved doing production sound.  I began to focus as much time as I could on it.  I started doing research, volunteering on weekends, and getting as much practice as I could in different situations.  Five years later and I have a ton of fun doing my job.  I’ve travelled all over the world for work, met some very interesting people and had lots of crazy experiences.  I feel very fortunate to be doing what I’m doing and this blog is my way of sharing my passion.

We know good sound because we’ve all been exposed to tons of media in our lives.  Think of how many big budget movies and TV shows we’ve seen and how many hours we’ve spent training our eyes and ears to recognize when something looks good or sounds good.  This training filters down to smaller budget productions where we know either consciously or subconsciously how to gauge quality.  If someone’s dialogue is too echoey or there is too much wind being picked up by the microphone we recognize it as bad sound.  Sound is taken for granted in productions because some producers think it’s easy to do and they see cutting out a sound professional as a good way to save money.  I think the opposite is true.  No matter how good the visuals are, if a video has amateur sound, the viewer will perceive it as a cheap production.

Good sound is all about problem solving and that means having someone on set who is concentrating on the sound, whatever size production.  Why?  Because most shoots aren’t in studios or in soundproof rooms.  A soundperson can quickly solve location issues and the more experience they have, the quicker they can solve them.  Professional sound recordists have the experience to know when a location needs to be switched because it has too much ambient sound or when a scene has been blown from uncontrollable noises – everything from AC units, to fans, buzzing lights, car horns, and airplanes.

With professional camera gear becoming affordable more people are producing videos for way less money and more videos are sounding way less professional.  Some productions don’t budget to have a professional location sound recorder so the camera operator is doing double duty and it’s going to be difficult for them.  After properly lighting a room and subject, getting frame etc., they don’t have enough time or focus to capture quality audio.

Before I started working at Q I worked as a grip, which is a person who sets up lights on set, with that experience I always work closely with the camera operator when we are at a location, helping to set up camera and lights before I set up sound.  We recently did a shoot in Philadelphia where the camera operator and I had 30 minutes (we would normally budget at least an hour for a setup like this) to set up two backdrops, two cameras, lights, and sound but we were ready in time for our first interview.  I think something to consider when making a decision to include a soundperson in the crew (and the budget), is that soundpeople can be a part of the production setup and are not a separate entity.

So how important is good production sound?  It all depends on what your production needs are.  There are definitely situations where you can get away with mediocre sound quality (when interviews aren’t the main focus of the video) and some productions don’t need a dedicated sound person (music videos) but if you are doing a documentary style video, or anything involving dialogue, professional sound is key to a great production.  Q Media always has a professional sound recordist on set and with that person able to assist the camera operator, we get high production value out of the investment.

There aren’t very many resources about location sound, most of my learning has been trial and error, so when it comes to sound, what do you want to know?

Our resident film buff, Stew is perpetually laughing and 100% agreeable (the Q Yes Man.) He's our resident expert on all things "sound and media", traveling Canada and the US on shoots with Q crews– or often found cruising the streets of Toronto on one of his trusty bikes. Get the scoop on Stew! ...

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