Hands down the most over-looked element of any television production is the audio.
When a television production has great audio few people notice but everyone takes note when you cannot hear the talent. Nothing distracts a viewer more than bad or none existent audio.
Many things can impact the audio quality of a production. First, the environment in which you are shooting your show. Is it a studio (generally quiet)? Are you outside with lots of background noise? Are you in a large room (such as a ballroom or convention center)? Once you know your environment the correct microphone can be selected. For example: most studio productions would use a lavalier microphone clipped to the talent’s shirt, tie or jacket depending on attire. A production shot outside with lots of background noise would use a direction stick microphone with a small pick-up pattern or a headset microphone (used by play by play and color commentators in sports).
For the purpose of this article we will focus on studio productions using a lavalier microphone.
As you string your XLR (audio cable) to the set being used in the production consider placement. Run the cables so people won’t trip or step on the XLR. Never run audio cables parallel or next to extension cords or power strips. Electrical power can create a “hum” in your audio. If you need to cross electrical cable with XLR always do it at 90 degree angles to minimize the amount of cable touching. Also consider how you’d like to dress the cable on set. In other words, how are you going to disguise this XLR cable running to the set so it’s not seen on camera?
The technical staff should always perform a thorough audio check prior to any production. Obviously this includes the microphones on set but should also include any other playback sources of audio such as video tape, file servers or digicarts.
Once your equipment and set is ready for the production it’s time to place the talent. Encourage your on camera folks to arrive early. Place them on set with enough time to dress microphone cables and perform audio level checks. Most importantly make sure the talent places their microphones correctly on their clothing. Different attire may require different placement! Improper microphone placement will lead to poor audio.
Standard news sets usually include 2 anchors (male and female). The anchors sit next to one another and often turn to speak to one another. In this case proper microphone placement would be on the inside lapel closest to the other anchor. This ensures when turning to speak to one another the anchor will be turning into the microphone and not away (causing a level drop).
Never place a microphone on the interior of a jacket or piece of clothing. As the talent moves the clothing will rub against the head of the microphone creating a rubbing or “whoooshing” sound.
Tip: Loop the microphone cable through the back of the microphone clip. If any tugging happens from the cable getting snagged the clip will act as a barrier for that force rather than having the microphone pulled right out of it’s clip!
Good audio habits and microphone placement will keep all your projects sounding good. Practice audio and micrphone checks everytime.
Alex McBurney is a Director and Producer at KIRO-TV in Seattle, WA. He specializes in directing live television programmin indlucing news, entertainment, sports, and talk shows. McBurney is the Technical Chair of the TV Broadcast News competition for SkillsUSA.