4 Tips for Hiring a Sound Recordist
If you’re a solo videographer doing small gigs, usually just buying a nice shotgun mic that feeds to your camera will get you through many of your small-time gigs. Sometimes it’s worth renting some gear for when you need a bit more professional quality in your work. For a seated interview or non-moving talent, a Boom Mic on a stand pointing down towards the talent’s mouth will do an acceptable job.
If you have moving subjects, renting several decent lapel microphones, transmitters and a recording device will get you clear dialog for most part as long as you remember to record and stop it after each take. I do this myself for my own videography jobs. For most social media content clear dialog is 90% of what you are after anyway so decent wireless mics are a worthwhile investment. Thinking about both the visual and the sound can be a lot of multi-tasking at times but for smaller gigs its usually fine.
As the jobs get bigger with more moving parts, though, hiring a boom operator that can feed straight to your camera or a sound recordist with their own audio gear is going to save you a lot of stress, and more importantly, the potential for any mistakes.
You might at some point be tempted to get a friend or another filmmaker to hold that boom pole, it’s definitely cheaper. I can tell you though, having done a few audio post jobs where that has happened I can absolutely tell when the person holding the boom mic is good or not. The dance of the boom requires choreography, intuition and on-the-fly creative problem solving. An experienced boom operator captures better sound and makes better end product.
You are paying for things to run smoothly
Let’s be clear, when you start to outsource crew, you aren’t just paying for their gear and expertise. You are paying for no drama. You are paying for a product that’s going to be delivered punctually without hiccups. You are paying for a quality higher than what you would and could do yourself. Especially for the videographers out there, the more responsibility and things you have to pay attention to, the more likely you are to screw something up. When there is money and client satisfaction on the line that is a huge risk.
Any seasoned filmmaker will know that if you can procure that budget, having that extra expert onset adds a wealth of potential creativity, problem-solving ability and a higher quality to the end product. The problem I find with sound and music is that often videographers and filmmakers who haven’t worked much with sound are all visually based. They don’t really think in terms of sound and the benefits of using a professional. Many of us live and learn by doing things ourselves till either we get frustrated or finally experience a project where we have the luxury of that added professionalism.
You may only have one chance to capture that shot
For the solo videographers out there, if you have a gig where you are in a ‘run and gun’ situation, I would strongly recommend teaming up with a sound recordist on the Sunshine Coast or your local area. When you have to capture one-time action, sure, you can strap a mic to the top of your camera and rely on luck and deal with whatever problems arise in post. However, you will save a lot of time and energy while also ensuring a far more professional body of work if you have both visual AND aural covered. A recordist/boom operator will have that freedom to get much more focused dialogue and action which will allow you to focus on the visual elements. It will also give you a far more immersive sound and a more professional product in post production.
2. Can they do audio post production as well?
Onset sound recording and audio post production are two different skill trees with a multitude of jobs under the same banner in bigger productions. The Sound Recordist captures the location sound and the Sound Post Audio Engineer cleans up the sound, edits it, adds more audio elements, mixes it and makes sure it seamlessly interacts with the picture to fully immerse the viewer. Both need a great ear but both are solving different problems.
A sound recordist who works with both location sound and post production is going to have a lot more knowledge of what they can and can’t get away with onset. If there is going to be a problem in sound post they will probably know. They will be able to make informed decisions about what may need to be rectified on-location, what can be ‘done in post’ and how long it will take to do it.
A Sound Recordist who also does Post Sound can diagnose problems more effectively
If dialogue isn’t great, if the environment is too noisy, if a random noise is too distracting, a sound recordist can tell you on the day what problems to expect, what needs to be assessed then and there or what can be fixed later.
I do the whole kit and caboodle: sound recording, sound mixing, sound design and composing for film. I operate as your whole sound department all rolled into one. You bet I am making mental notes while I am recording. How I am going to mix the content? Where I am going to have problems? What atmos might be needed? Can I cover or replace ‘blemishes’ with sound design or not? I am thinking all these things.
I am also recording with action and sound effects in mind, not just dialogue.
Hire an Audio Engineer who does it all
For smaller productions hire a sound recordist who does both location sound and audio post production. It’s worth getting them to do both in many instances (if they are set-up for both). If they’re recording your onset sound knowing they’re going to have to mix it in audio post, they’ll ensure the recording is going to be the best it can be. They’re invested in reducing problems for themselves later on.
Schedules are tight. We have all heard the joke ‘fix it in post’. The only time you should ever ask the question ‘Can we fix it in post?’ is right before the question ‘do we have the time to fix it now?’. Sometimes the answer is a ‘No’, so it’s helpful to have a sound guy who can identify a problem when it happens and give you a clear answer right then and there about the cost of not fixing a problem right away.
3. What gear do they have?
So you got that boom mic sitting on top of your camera and it’s doing ok. Maybe you procure enough budget to hire a boom operator or even a rental and a friend to hold a boompole and hope for the best. Maybe you invest in some sound gear; some wireless mics or purchase a decent audio recording interface that is going to record at a much higher quality than anything your camera is going to.
Soon you might start moving into the world of wireless microphones and transmitters, then rigging microphones to vehicles, and even multiple boom operators to capture multiple talent and a whole bunch of microphone channels. Comprehensive audio gear like this is an investment.
The question is, though, what level of quality do you need and what are you creating content for?
For social media posts a good lapel mic will go a long way
If you are doing social media content, it’s most likely going to be listened to on phones and laptops. A good lapel or wireless mics like Sanken (I own the Cos-11D) or DPA will give you super clear dialog that’s going to be easy to deal with in audio post (if you aren’t an audio engineer this can save you a lot of hassle) . I highly recommend that purchase for all the social media creators out there. You will of course need to get a wireless transmitter for each lavalier and a recording device to go with it.
If you are recording for a streaming website, YouTube or a professional brand video then making that extra effort will boost the quality of your video threefold. A good boom microphone from Sennheiser or Schoeps is going to portray much more depth and nuance than a lapel will.
Boom Mics deliver more emotion
For anything cinematic, a good boom microphone is essential. Not investing in good sound can be a killer. If it sounds cheap then no matter what the visuals are like, it’s going to seem cheap. I have my post sound hacks to deal with cheaper gear but there is only so far I can raise the bar.the
4. You get what you pay for
We have all experienced moments where client expectations exceed the price they are willing to pay and the time it will take to achieve those expectations. This is no different between producer and crew or videographer and sound recordist. In the end, striking that fine balance of budget vs product is always a hard call.
You can’t expect quality work at a dirt price. As a film composer, don’t even get me started on client expectations for music; the skills and time needed in creating a quality soundtrack are far and above what most clients expect, especially when stock music is so cheap these days (although stock music cannot be tailored to the onscreen action which actually negates the main point of it… but that’s another rant).
As a sound recordist, I get offers that barely cover what a filmmaker would spend for gear hire for the day. It not only uncovers the lack of importance some filmmakers place on sound, but how filmmakers can undervalue what they themselves are delivering to the client. Yes, sometimes that low paid gig is worth the opportunity to expand your repertoire or gain experience, but it can also increase client expectations of what they can get for a small price.
Know the quality of what you are delivering
Remember, artists generally undervalue themselves waaaay more than they overvalue themselves (Imposter Syndrome anyone?). I say this with the utmost love to all the upcoming and budding filmmakers out there: do your time of low return gigs if there is something to be gained from it, but know when it is time to charge at a premium price because you know the quality and efficiency you offer.
You get what you pay for, and that goes for you, too. In the words of the great Bilbo Baggins from the Lord of the Rings trilogy, ‘After all… why not?’