Clear sound: Planning ahead

Award winning sound supervisor Scott Talbott talks about how to plan shoots to give your sound team the best chance of recording great sound, using examples from Never Mind the Buzzcocks, EastEnders and Gory Games.

Sound is the single biggest issue that viewers complain about because, as Scott remarks, people only notice the quality of sound recording when it goes wrong. These simple tips are part of the BBC’s best practice guidance for audibility.

Plan ahead for sound
Clear audio is crucial to any production, no matter what its scale. Think about how you are going to capture sound and talk to your recordist (if you have one) about possible problems. A production meeting with the whole team is always a good idea.

"The best sound for me is the silence of no complaints." – Scott Talbott

Scott was involved from the outset on CBBC’s Gory Games. He was aware from the start that the children who were competing were going to spend much of the programme being covered in gunk. Because he knew this he was able to spec mics with mesh covers which prevented the liquid entering the mic capsule. He also added a heavy duty foam windshield to each mic to ensure that he could capture clear sound in the heat of competition.

Assess your location

When you recce, try to go at the time of day when you’ll be filming. Check for background noise such as nearby schools, roadworks, planes and traffic. For interiors check whether you’ll be able to switch off air conditioning, fridges and other sources of electrical noise.

Know your mics

Consider which mics will best capture audio for all your contributors and presenters and don’t get hung up on hiding mics. Research indicates that the audience would prefer to hear presenters and contributors clearly, even if their mics are visible.

A good new solution for events with levels of high background noise, like sports events or live comedy gigs, is the headset mic.

Be flexible
A sound recordist can’t eradicate background noise and may sometimes ask for a shot size change in order to incorporate visual information about the source of audio. This could be for a shot near a busy road or during heavy rain, where a wider shot would help to reveal the source of the additional audio.

Scott reflects on the example of an EastEnders scene shot at an airport. He covered the dialogue on the close ups using radio mics, but mixed boom sound on the wide shot to give a more realistic soundscape.

What not to wear
Clothing has a huge impact on sound. Some fabrics rustle and will cost you time in pick ups. If you’re working with presenters, ask them to wear outfits that aren’t made of crackly or slippery fabrics and which have suitable mounting positions for mics close to their mouths.

Of course, you don’t always have the control. On Never Mind the Buzzcocks Scott often has to mic celebrities in unusual outfits, including Alesha Dixon in a very low cut dress. Because the mic had to be further from her mouth than usual, Scott dialled in extra gain to push her audio level to that of the other contestants. There’s always a solution, but planning ahead can help your sound recordist to get the best result.

Plan for the edit
Separate voices on separate tracks will always give you the best options in the edit.