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When Recording Audio, Always Think of the Editor

In the analog days — when audio was recorded on magnetic tape — the razor blade was the dominant way to edit. If the razor blade became too magnetized, it would cause nasty-sounding pops in the edited sound.

Fortunately, audio editing today is much easier and faster. But sound operators still make a lot of mistakes, in both audio-only programming and audio for video tracks. Most of these errors are in audio transitions, where the ultimate goal is to have edits sound smooth, seamless and unnoticeable.

Clean sound transitions are the result of good audio design, which comes from good planning and an efficient workflow that avoids excessive sound processing.

Just because one has access to thousands of tools to tweak audio today, it does not mean they should be used indiscriminately. Very often too much processing adds noise and artifacts that weren’t in the sound to begin with.

A few practices during recording can save trouble in the edit room. Two of the most important are to record good original audio levels in quiet acoustic environments and then record plenty of ambient room sound for the editor to work with.

When working solo in the field with little time to properly monitor audio, try to use a 32-bit float audio recorder. These inexpensive devices offer massive dynamic range that can offer protection from overmodulated sound. Levels still need to be set correctly in the beginning, but 32-bit float is good insurance that allows more flexibility to correct levels in post.

Make sure you are recording sound in a place that is as quiet as possible. Avoid locations with loud background noises, such as factories, machine shops, coffee shops with chattering patrons or other places with ambient noise that can overwhelm the sound. Recording in such places can make editing much harder. If you have to record in noisy situations, be to use the right microphone type for the job.

When recording voices, be sure to get a few extra seconds at the beginning, before their first words, and at the end after their last word. You need the extra recording time in post-production to avoid too tight transitions and establish a natural cadence in speech.

When editing, a speaker’s rhythm and breathing matter and transitions need to allow for that natural flow. This why a good editor avoids cutting too tightly at the end of words. Spoken word should flow very naturally.

As long as sound is natural to itself and its environment, a recording will work. Leave in the occasional “ah” or other pauses, since they are normal human speech. Avoid very tight cuts. They stand out in productions like a sore thumb.

In awkward sound situations with abrupt sounds, use the fader on the digital audio workstation (DAW) to adjust and lower the level. The fader can be helpful in solving certain kinds of difficult problems.

Use repair and processing tools sparingly. Plug-ins can offer great convenience for fixing specific problems, but avoid them most of the time. Simple basic processing tools like compression, EQ, limiting, noise gate and a de-esser are the most useful in recording good sound.

Sometimes a voice in a recording has sibilance, a hissing sound that’s created as a result of the letter “s” or other letter combinations. In this case, use a de-esser to help reduce it. This tool that can be very useful in post-production, but it is best to avoid it during the recording itself.

Instead, if you hear sibilance or plosives when recording, angle the microphone so that it’s not in a direct line with the speaker’s mouth. This will usually reduce sibilance. If not, change the microphone. It is always preferable to fix this kind of problem when recording rather than later in post.

Use the ambient sound recorded in the field to mask silence between edits or to provide a bed of sound at transitions. This “room sound” can even be mixed with music to fill time between events.

Sound effects, correctly chosen, can be useful for titles, transitions and credit rolls. These effects must fit the content. It is very easy for an effect to sound odd if it’s ill-chosen.

When recording audio on a public podium in a crowded event, things can get tricky. First, when using wireless microphones, check them carefully in advance for interference or noise.

Unless you are using a very expensive digital wireless system with automated frequency checking, all wireless mics often have interference problems. Sometimes nothing will fix the situation, especially on cheaper wireless models with only a few frequencies. Always be ready to use wired mics and have them ready to go in your recording kit.

Once getting a clean signal, calibrate the wireless microphones to a gain level somewhere in the middle. You don’t know the voice level of everyone that will speak. Also use a separate mic and recording channel to get crowd noise and room ambience.

In such a public speaking situation use a noise gate set at a lower threshold. A noise gate can provide a buffer against mechanical noise when a person speaks.

Also, some compression should be added to compensate if the speaker goes off axis of the microphone. This helps reduce the voice dropping out too much if a speaker wanders during a talk.

Eliminating unforeseen problems when recording original sound can make post-production much easier. Anyone recording audio should be familiar with the editing process in order to learn the tricks to make the editor’s job easier.

Writer at Broadcast Beat
Frank Beacham is a New York-based writer, director and producer who works in print, radio, television, film and theatre.

Beacham has served as a staff reporter and editor for United Press International, the Miami Herald, Gannett Newspapers and Post-Newsweek. His articles have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, the Village Voice and The Oxford American.

Beacham’s books, Whitewash: A Southern Journey through Music, Mayhem & Murder and The Whole World Was Watching; My Life Under the Media
Microscope are currently in publication. Two of his stories are currently being developed for television.

In 1985, Beacham teamed with Orson Welles over a six month period to develop a one-man television special. Orson Welles Solo was canceled after Mr. Welles died on the day principal photography was to begin.

In 1999, Frank Beacham was executive producer of Tim Robbins’ Touchstone feature film, Cradle Will Rock. His play, Maverick, about video with Orson Welles, was staged off-Broadway in New York City in 2019.
Frank Beacham
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