Basics of Sound
Up until now, I really haven't talked about sound and it's purposeful, because sound I wanted to treat very much in the way that I learned lighting in photography, it was probably two or three years of me learning photography, before I actually learned lighting and I think the way that I learned it was kind of elongated and protracted a little bit simply because of the fact that I was still a student and didn't have much time outside of my coursework, but I think what I benefited from was I benefited from this idea of learning as much as I could before I stepped into another element, where I knew nothing and nothing is more scary for an image maker, than to not know anything about a single topic and then be forced to learn something that's completely not image based at all, sound isn't image based obviously and it has weird characteristics and so I try to avoid teaching sound in the beginning of a course, because it's one of those things that one, everyone's afraid of and two, requires...
equipment, that if you don't have, is like it can sometimes become a barrier to capturing motion, okay, so now you've spent a day and a, you know, a day and a fourth with me, we're gonna talk about sound and audio, 'cause they're two separate things and if you've been paying attention over the past couple of days, I still trip up and I've been doing this for a while, but in our world, we record sound, we capture sound, we play back audio and it's really, really important. I wanna make sure, I try to make sure that I've been correct in everything I've said and sometimes my brain gets mixed up, and I mix words up and I say something incorrectly, but by and large I try to make sure, especially when it comes to this stuff, because when we deal with sound, we're not just dealing with image makers, we're dealing with people, who actually do it for a living and if you use the wrong terminology or the wrong words, it can be embarrassing for you, okay, so just try to pay attention to that. So we capture sound, we play back audio, so sound are waves, you know, sound comes back to us in the form of waves and when we play it back, it becomes a file, which is why it's called audio, alright. So... alright, deep breath, guys, we're jumping into it, okay. So first thing is don't be scared of it, okay, don't be scared of sound, because if you just take a step back and look at it as just another thing you've gotta learn, it becomes manageable, it's not some form of the black arts, okay, so you wanna set your levels on every device that has a meter and we'll talk about that, you wanna make sure you use a microphone, have a good set of headphones, we use something called double system sound and my last thing here, it's not an insult to drummers, by any stretch of the imagination, so the last thing here is if you wanna be in the field of creating images and capturing images, there needs to be a stopping point for you in capturing sound. Now I played in a band, I think everyone at some point in life played in a band, right, and in high school I played in a band and college, I played in a band and whenever I worked with the drummer, they always wanted to do something else, they always wanna play bass, he doesn't like your guitar, you know, if they really weren't a true drummer, they wanted to play something else and the phrase, don't be the drummer is if you really don't wanna be the drummer, don't play drums, okay, don't let everyone know that you can play drums and are actually pretty good at it, because they're always gonna ask you to play the drums, because every band needs a drummer, right, the sound guys are kind of the same, if you're really good at sound and you end up becoming a great sound person, sound technician, someone's gonna find out and they're always gonna ask you to work on a project with them and they're never gonna ask you to operate the camera, they're always gonna ask you to run sound and if you wanna run sound, please do it, because it's a wonderful career, but if you wanna be in the business and the process of capturing images and capturing motion, then there has to be a limit to the amount of sound that you learn and do, okay. So going back to this idea of what opportunities there are for photographers, for photographers I think we cap out in terms of production, we cap out at corporate profiles, if you can run sound by yourself for a corporate profile, that's where you should stop running sound and there are very specific types of sound, like techniques that you'd use to capture that sound, okay, and we'll talk about that. So a couple high level things, we wanna set our levels to negative 12 db, now sound is measured in decibels and every meter that we look at, even though it doesn't sometimes say a negative, it's measured in negative decibels and usually the meters go from negative 40 to zero, sometimes they go to negative and then a little bit passed zero, okay, now on every little meter, there's a hash mark, that indicates where negative 12 is and you wanna make sure that your levels kind of top off at that number and the second thing is we wanna get the microphone close to our subject, now if any of you understand lighting, you will know that there's two ways to make the light more beautiful or improve the quality of the light, the way you improve the quality of the light is by getting the light source closer to your subject or by enlarging the light source, microphones kind of work the same way, the longer the microphone gets, the more focused the capture of the sound, okay, we call those shotgun mics and the closer the microphone gets, the better the quality of sound or the better the quality of the audio, okay. So let's take a look at a quick little meter, we saw this yesterday when I plugged my camera in, I just took a horrible screen cap of it, so now here we go, that's a level meter, that's an audio level and these audio levels exist on any device that can record sound, it's really important for us to kind of digest that, because the minute we see this, we should automatically know negative 12, okay, negative 12, negative 12, negative 12, you see that, you think negative 12. Now, as you kind of evolve in your sound technician careers, you will roll sound between negative 12 and negative six, but negative 12 is a good space to exist in, because it gives us what's called headroom, okay, headroom allows us to amplify the wave, raise the level of the wave, so that it doesn't clip and usually if we amplify the wave and have enough headroom, we won't clip, we won't get that hiss noise, that sssss, okay, so stop here and ask questions, how we doing? Okay, you follow me? Not too much, right?
One question, does it work with the inverse square law like light or not, not really?
I don't wanna answer that incorrectly, my gut says yes, my gut says yes, but I don't wanna say yes, okay. Alright, so distance to subject, alright, the closer your mic is to your subject, the better and here's the one thing I might get skewered for it, because there's probably some audiophiles out there, but it doesn't matter how much you spend on the microphone, if you can get it close, alright, okay, that's gonna be, it's gonna send up a lot of red flags, so send up a lot of red flags, but I believe that if you get the microphone close, you can use a less expensive microphone, not necessarily achieve the same result, but achieve a good result. Example, I heard a story about Frank Sinatra, who when he was recording one of his studio albums went through hundreds of microphones, hundreds, he would listen, record it, listen to it, no, record it, listen to it, no, record it, listen to it, no, he did this hundreds of times and then he saw a guy push a cart with a bunch of audio equipment on it or sound equipment on it, he stopped the guy and he says, "Give me that microphone," pulled the microphone, plugged it in, recorded it, played it back, that microphone was an SM58, a Shure SM58, which in the world of live sound is a tank, is literally a tank of a microphone, couple of hundred bucks, you can literally drop the microphone from a three-storey building, plug it back in and use it, it'll still sound good and that's the microphone he picked as the story tells me, okay. So I, from that story, it kind of reinforces my gut feeling to say that if you get the microphone close, at some point it's gonna give you a higher quality sound, we're gonna prove that right now, okay. So for you folks at home, you're gonna have the benefit of living this experience live, okay and folks in the audience, you're just gonna pretend you know. (laughs) okay, so what I'm gonna do here is I've got this microphone, it's live and we're gonna turn my microphone, my lav mic off in just a second, okay and what I'm gonna do is I'm gonna talk into that microphone at different distances, this microphone, when I bought it a couple of years ago was about 700 dollars, okay, up close, it's gonna sound like gold, but I'm willing to bet, 'cause I kind of know the answer already, that when I go across the room, regardless of how much money I spent on this microphone, when I step across the room, the audio quality is gonna sound very poor. Okay, so let's do that, so I'm gonna shut my lav off and I'm gonna do two things, I'm gonna talk into the microphone, I'm about a couple of inches away at this point and what you should hear is you should hear a very round, full sound in the way that my voice comes off as. Now the thing is, if I move to the left, this is a very directional microphone, if I move to the left and don't change the direction of where my head's going, you should see here a very distinct drop off or fall off in the sound, in the quality of sound and as I step and move across to the other side and as I turn my head to the microphone, you're gonna notice that the quality of sound changes significantly, okay, so I'm gonna go ahead and just step right back, let's talk about, let's see, let's be fair, I'm gonna point this microphone right at me and I'm gonna step over right here and I'm gonna talk right to the microphone, now at this point, you're gonna hear the sound reverberate off the room, it's gonna hit the microphone and you're gonna hear more of a hollow sound, more an echoey sound to me, in some circumstances that's actually okay, but in other circumstances, if this was for production and if I was actually really gonna do like an interview at this point, that wouldn't be okay, would it? So now we go ahead and step all the way back across the room, now I see this all the time, when I'm like watching Dads record their kids, okay, so here, let's pretend I'm Dad and let's pretend I've got my kid all the way across the stage and I've got my camera and my microphone right where I am, big problem guys, I'm here about, what, let's call it 25 feet away, that's a very expensive microphone, I spent a good amount of money on that microphone and I guarantee you the folks who are sitting at home hear way too much echo, they didn't hear quality sound, they didn't hear quality audio, the quality of the sound was very poor and here I am, back close to the microphone and you can hear my voice clear and round and robust, okay, so that's something that we really want to make sure that we understand is at some point, it's not about how much you pay for a microphone, it's about how close that microphone can get to your subject, make sense? Okay, we're gonna stop here. How are the folks at home? I'm gonna move some stuff around, let the folks at home get a chance to catch up and I actually want some feedback, I wanna know what you guys heard.
We've got Hannah, who says that it was definitely poor quality at the back and awesome in the front.
Okay, cool, so here's the thing, right guys, when we start capturing sound, we start capturing sound, it becomes something that we bite off into manageable pieces, that's your first lesson, negative 12, get the microphone close, okay, don't get caught up in different pickup patterns and don't get caught up in all this other stuff, manage yourself and don't get scared by the beast, okay, it's not an elephant in the room, it's a little mouse, that you can catch, okay, so let's move on. So I've prepared a little microphone test and hopefully you folks at home and the folks in this room can get to hear the difference in quality between some of the different microphones that I've used. A little disclaimer about this thing is I am playing the song out of a Bluetooth Jambox, it's very small, it's a very tinny speaker, okay, so just be aware of the quality, it's gonna start off with the reel track and it's gonna pair off into other things, okay, so enjoy this and here we go. ♪ I met an American girl ♪ ♪ She said she was born down south ♪ ♪ I hung onto every word that came ♪ ♪ From her candy colored mouth ♪ ♪ And on the tip of my tongue I caught words ♪ ♪ That I couldn't say to her ♪ ♪ At least not today, no not to her ♪ ♪ She's an American girl ♪ ♪ Yeah and I fell for the way ♪ ♪ She wears her skirt so short ♪ ♪ Showing off those American legs ♪ ♪ She's an American girl ♪ ♪ Yeah you know what I mean ♪ ♪ Do you mind if I take off my shoes ♪ ♪ She asked in her sweet-southern twang ♪ ♪ But I couldn't help but laugh when she smiles ♪ ♪ Looks like Jessica Lang ♪ ♪ And on the border of imagination ♪ ♪ She would come to me ♪ ♪ And say let's start romancing ♪ ♪ She's an American girl ♪ ♪ Yeah and I fell for the way ♪ ♪ She wears her skirt so short ♪