Clear sound: making the most of post

George Foulgham is a BAFTA award winning dubbing mixer with credits across series including Trawlermen, Who Do You Think You Are? and the Academy Award-winning documentary Man on Wire. He shares his advice about what you can do in post production to get the clearest audio possible without compromising your artistic vision.

Sound problems are the single most consistent topic of viewer complaints. These simple tips are part of the BBC’s best practice guide to audibility.

Think carefully about recording your audio
Post production can improve sound quality by EQing voices and reducing background noise, but it is much easier if the sound is recorded well in the first place. Listen out for audio problems on location. Use the right microphones to collect material, with appropriate windshields. Wind noise in the microphone cannot be magically fixed in post production.

"The dubbing suite is where you bring a 3D element to the audio." – George Foulgham

Record your voice-over cleanly
Ideally use a voiceover suite. But if you haven’t the budget or resources for this, it’s possible to produce a suitably dead sound by recording beneath bed clothes. You’re expecting the voiceover to be consistent and to hold together the whole film, so it needs to be recorded as well as possible.

Consider your use of music
Background music can enhance the emotional impact of your programme but if the levels are too high it can interfere with the clarity of your narrative. Be careful when using percussive beats or lyrics under voice-over or dialogue. If you want specific lyrics to be heard, make sure there’s time in the cut for them to sit aside from other elements.

Don’t be afraid to strip back the music
Once you hear the cleaned-up dialogue and enhanced effects, you might find you don’t need music at all to enhance the emotional effect of a sequence. Also, try taking the music down by just 1ppm. This small amount can make a massive difference to the audience, often without any impact on your creative vision.

Listen to the mix on TV speakers
Dubbing suites usually have top quality sound speakers, far better than most of us have at home. So in order to know how the listening experience will be for the audience, check the mix on domestic TV speakers.

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