Getting good audio in noisy environments

Getting good audio in noisy environments

We’ve all been there: just when your interview has started, someone nearby thinks it of utmost importance to start inflating their rubber swimming pool or violently water the plants. Joking aside, getting good audio in noisy environments like bars, festivals, and other less then pristine places can be challenging. Here are some tips to get good audio on the spot, saving you time trying to fix it later.

Move the microphone off of the camera

While many brands offer dedicated ‘on-camera’ microphones that conveniently slot into the hot-shoe on your camera, it’s the worst place for a microphone to be. To get better sound, your microphone should be as close to the sound source as it can get. No matter if you have a hyper-directional microphone, if it’s more than a few feet away from your subject, you will hear the room sound, voices will sound thin, and any background noise will likely get picked up.

If you have an on-camera mic like the Røde videomic or the Sennheiser MKE-400, get a minijack extension cable to move the microphone off camera and closer to your subject. It will instantly improve your audio.

Not the best idea...

Point your microphone upwards

If you have one of the aforementioned on-camera mics, a shotgun or any other directional mic, point it upwards when recording. Although shotguns are most commonly seen pointed downwards from a boom, this also increases your chances of picking up clothes rustling, fingers fumbling, and footsteps. Pointing your shotgun horizontally will increase your chances of picking up background noise. Pointing your shotgun towards the sky will give give you the cleanest sound, simply because there isn’t any sound coming from the sky. Unless your shooting under an airplane flight route, that is.

Go (hyper-)cardioid

Shotgun microphones are best at rejecting background noise because of their great directivity, but there are many scenarios where a shotgun isn’t the best option. Most shotguns don’t perform well indoors, and they often require a separate boom operator to get truly good results. In such cases a lavalier or reporter mic might be a better option.

While lavalier mics are a boon to one-man production crews, lavs often have an omnidirectional pickup pattern, making them a lot less useful in noisy environments. Omnidirectional mics (as the name suggests) pick up sound from every direction, so if you’re in a noisy environment or empty hall, that sound also gets picked up. For these demanding situations, a cardioid lav mic like the Sennheiser ME 4 can be a great solution. Cardioid mics are more directional than omnidirectional mics and have a tighter pickup pattern.

The same goes for reporter mics: while the most common ones like the Electrovoice RE-50, Sennheiser MD-42 and the Røde Reporter are omnidirectional, cardioid reporter mics like the Sennheiser MD-46 are much better at rejecting background noise. This comes at a cost though: cardioid reporter mics are more prone to wind- and handling-noise.

The Sennheiser MD-46 cardioid reporter mic

If all else fails...

If you’ve tried all the above, but still the inevitable happens and your set gets audiobombed by a man in a zorro suit, be sure to film it and include it in your edit. Viewers will at least understand what the noise comes from, and more easily be able to filter out the sound.

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