Microphones for the Course

The students will have access to the following 5 types of microphones for the course. The students will be able to check out the microphones to use for the student’s recording projects. Videos explaining how microphones work and recording in phase follow.

1. Dynamic Microphone – Berhringer XM1800S: features an extremely high signal output that makes your voice cut through, and ultra-low distortion provides for super-clean sound. Presence lift in the critical mid-range gives you maximum voice projection, while exceptional off-axis rejection eliminates feedback problems. Super rugged construction copes with your toughest live assignments, and a foam-lined impact-resistant carrying case is included. The XM1800S also features an on/off switch.

  • Dedicated vocal and instrument mic brings unbelievable quality to your studio and live performance
  • With On/Off Switch
  • Extremely high signal output makes your voice cut through
  • Ultra-low distortion for super clean sound
  • Presence lift in critical mid-range gives you maximum voice projection
  • Exceptional off-axis rejection eliminates feedback problems

2. Super-Cardioid “Shotgun” Condenser Microphone – Panasonic AG-MC200G: is a camera mounted condenser microphone with superior directional characteristics than that of standard unidirectional microphones. The focused pickup of the AG-MC200G eliminates audio at the sides of the microphone, greatly reducing ambiance and potential feedback problems. The AG-MC200G uses +48V phantom power and features a standard XLR output. The microphone is ideal for camera use, as well as portable recording devices and field mixers.

3. Line + Gradient Condenser Microphone – Audio-Technica’s AT897: is designed for field audio acquisition in film/TV/video production, professional recording, wildlife recording and broadcast applications. It mounts conveniently on a DV camcorder without adding noticeable heft, and remains out of the frame even with compact digital cameras. This high-performance short shotgun offers outstanding long-distance audio pickup due to narrow acceptance angle of line + gradient design. It also features smooth, natural-sounding on-axis audio quality and excellent off-axis rejection of sound arriving from the sides and rear of mic.
  • Designed for video production and broadcast (ENG/EFP) audio acquisition
  • Short length (11″) ensures mic stays out of the shot — even when used with compact digital cameras
  • Smooth, natural-sounding on-axis audio quality
  • Provides the narrow acceptance angle desirable for long-distance sound pickup
  • Excellent sound rejection from the sides and rear of mic
  • Switchable low-frequency roll-off
  • Operates on battery or phantom power
  • RoHS compliant—free from all substances specified in the EU directive on hazardous substances
4. Wireless Lavalier Microphone – Sony UTX-B2: is a wireless body-pack transmitter for the UWP series wireless microphone system. Users are able to choose from 5mW output, which is suitable for simultaneous multi-channel operation or 30mW output for long distance transmission. The transmitter features selectable RF-output level providing added signal strength at long range. The body-pack transmitter features 188 selectable UHF frequencies and operates up to 10 hours on two-AA size alkaline batteries (10mW output power). An LCD display and a 3.5mm input jack is switchable between mic and line level signals.
  • Frequency Group 30/32 (566 to 590MHz)
  • Omnidirectional Lavalier Microphone
  • Mic & Line Switchable Input
  • LCD Display
  • 5mW and 30mW Switchable Output
  • AA Battery Powered x2

5. “Voiceover ONLY” Dynamic Microphone – Electro-Voice Broadcast RE20: dynamic cardioid microphone is truly an industry standard, a firm favorite among broadcasters and sound engineers worldwide. Its popularity also extends into music production as a premium grade instrument microphone. Its Variable-D™ design and heavy-duty internal pop filter excel for close-in voice work, while an internal element shock-mount reduces vibration-induced noise.

  • Variable-D™ for minimal proximity effect
  • True cardioid with no coloration at 180-degrees off-axis
  • Voice tailored frequency response
  • Studio condenser-like performance
  • Large diaphragm
  • Humbucking coil
  • Bass roll-off switch

How Microphones Work:

What is the difference between Balanced and Unbalanced Audio?

What is phase in audio and how to record with two or more microphones in phase:

For Fun – A look at how a 1920’s carbon microphone works:

Operating a Boom:

You’ll find that holding the mic just out of shot is quite tricky, but you need to perfect the art as the more distance you put between the mic and the actor or actress, the more of the ‘room sound’ you will pick up. This can be bad.

Take the time to listen to a few test recordings form your set. You might need to damp the set with blankets and foam (out of sight of the camera, of course) in order to get a dry enough signal to tape. The tie-clip mic will really help when you’ve got less than ideal acoustics on set as it is close enough to get the voice loud and clear without too much ambience.

Operating the boom takes practice. You need to point the mic directly at the mouth of whoever is speaking. If it’s a conversation, you need to rotate or turn the mic to each speaker in succession. It’s quite hard to do, but the results when it’s done properly are far better than just getting the mic roughly in the right place.

  1. Make sure the director and crew know not to shout “cut” or anything else until the scene is properly over. You need a little gap after the last line to make the edit easier.
  2. Make everyone on set turn their mobile phone off.
  3. Check the set for squeaky chairs and floorboards – deal with them before you start shooting.
  4. Capture at least one minute of room tone before or after you’ve finished the scene. Room tone is the noise of the set without any dialogue. It comes in really handy during the edit for patching takes together.
  5. Do a site visit to any outdoor sets. Traffic noise, building sites and other odd noises can make a set unusable.
  6. For the physical part. Start doing push-up’s with your arms spread wide. Start slow then build up. On the last 2-3 hold in the down position for a few seconds. On those long takes that little exercise will do wonders.
  7. Many DP’s might not care about sound. Make the gaffer your best friend and he will happily put up a cutter for you where possible.
  8. Watch the lights being setup and look for your dead spot to boom from, if not from above then go from below
  9. Know that sometimes you will be completely boned!! 2-3 camera on wide/tight with lights dead overhead.. Grit your teeth and do your best.
  10. Fear not the frame line!! When you look at the monitor and see that safe area. THATS your territory!! Those 2-3 inches make a world of difference.
  11. Lastly, kindly remind people who are behind you on a tight set that if you are behind me during a take and I’ve got to swing the boom… Your are fair game to be hit.

Always check the audio before anyone leaves the set, just in case you need to do it again. It’s too late once they’ve gone and the set is no longer available! (http://audio.tutsplus.com/tutorials/recording/how-to-record-high-quality-audio-for-film-tv/)

Interview about working with a boom: http://www.thompsound.com/old-site/Articles/QSFT/zen_boom.pdf

Principles of Boom Operation:

The Boom Operator: one of the most crucial parts of a sound team, if not the most crucial. Also, one of the most misunderstood positions. He is a ninja. No, seriously, he is.

Let’s talk cinema style audio for a bit. On a film set, the boom operator is the “voice” of the sound team. He’s the one that communicates most set-related concerns to the proper crew. If he’s having trouble with placement, he’ll talk to the cam op or DP. If body pack or Comtek batteries are low, he’s the one that changes them. If talent is having trouble with their wire, the boom op is generally the one to fix it. The mixer usually stays off to the side. Because of this, the boom op needs to be a very personable character. He needs to know how to get what he needs without pissing people off. He needs to be able to get along with whomever is thrown his way.

Once we start talking ENG, the mixer not only mixes, but does everything the boom op does. He’s a one man band. He needs to be able to move very quickly, anticipating every need before it happens, staying one step ahead of the crew, lest he hear the dreaded phrase “Waiting on sound!”

Now, you could be the most personable person in the world, not stepping on anyone’s toes and getting all the work you need to get done finished without negatively altering anyone’s mood, and still be a terrible boom op. Let’s talk technical.

A boom op needs to realize how incredibly sensitive his gear is. It’s a game of inches. You need to be able to think one step ahead of the talent. You need to be quick, light on your toes, and stealthy. You need to be everywhere and nowhere, all at the same time. You need to be moving faster than the talent, staying dangerously close to the frame line, so much so that people are breaking into a nervous sweat. You need to perform near stunt moves, moving over and around obstacles on set during moving shots, being aware of your surroundings while sticking your mic on a spot the size of a quarter. You need to do all of this without making a single noise. This is why the boom op is a ninja.

As a boom operator, you have to be willing to do crazy things to get that perfect sound. You will, at times, find yourself in strange positions, in harms way, or in otherwise less-than-comfortable situations. You have to be on point at all times, knowing that if you mess up, you’ve compromised the entire shot.

1. Understand the reason you are using a boom mic.

This will help you understand what sound you are listening for and why. Wireless technology has come a long ways. If you have money for the high end systems, and have your wiring technique down, you can pretty much wire everyone and have fairly decent confidence that you’ll get well isolated, low noise audio from each of the talent. So, why wouldn’t you do this? When you wire talent, you lose the room. It doesn’t sound natural, rather it sounds sterile, and post production has to fix it. Post is perfectly capable of doing so, but wouldn’t you rather the natural feel of a room versus the artificial recreation of a room that might sound kind of similar to your room but isn’t quite the same?

The boom operator has control over what you are hearing in the mic. You can get closer to the talent, further from the talent, you can rotate the mic, so on and so forth, to shape the sound that you are getting. If you have talent that’s supposed to be in a very echoic room, or if you are trying to show distance, you can pull the mic a bit further away from the talent to bring less of the talent and more of the room into the mic. If you want very little room and a very direct voice, such as you might hear in a close-up, bring the mic as close to the talent as the frame line will allow.

With a good boom mic, even rotating it an inch can change the sound. Listen to the sound you’re getting to make sure you’re getting mostly dialogue, and little room noise. If you’re getting reflection from a wall, articulate the mic so that the wall is at the side of the mic instead of in front of it.

Now, of course there will be epic wide shots and very noisy environments that won’t allow you to boom and will force the use of wires, but your goal should be to use the boom as much as possible.

2. Aim the microphone at the solarplexis.

Not in the general direction of the talent, not at the talent’s head, mouth, face, etc…

(The solarplexis is basically the sternum area.)

The human voice has many components and emanates from different parts of the body. The deep part of the voice comes from the chest and throat. The mids and some highs come from the mouth and nose, and the high highs come from the skull. Aiming at the solarplexis grabs all of these.

Aiming at the solarplexis also gives you a bigger target. If you aim at the mouth, you have to move the boom with every head movement in order to keep the same frequency response. If you aim at the solarplexis, you have a much larger target, allowing the talent a much larger range of motion without having to follow without having to move the boom as much, all while maintaining a consistent frequency response and overall sound

3. Booming from below opens you up to a world of problems.

Literally think about it. If you point the mic down, you deal with a few things on the ground such as footsteps, props, and whatever faint reflections that might be there. All things you can control. You can use foot foam to quiet steps, you can use blankets and carpet on the floor to quiet reflections. You can use fake keys and jewelry to quiet prop noises.

Now, think about aiming your mic up. If you’re outside, you have airplanes, wind, birds, traffic bouncing around, etc… None of which you can control. If you’re inside, you have reverb bouncing around in the ceiling, A/C if you didn’t manage to turn it off, light noises (especially if you’re using HMIs), and whatever else might be up there. Much of this you can’t control.

Let’s revisit aiming at the solarplexis. When we mic from above, we’re intersecting all of those nice frequencies. When we mic from below, you get a low end bias. You’re closer to the diaphragm and chest, where the low end comes from. Remember the mic is very directional, especially at higher frequencies. Therefore, if you’re aiming at the solarplexis from right near the solarplexis, you’re going to only get the solarplexis, and not the frequencies that come from higher in the body. As a result, the voice sounds “tubbier” – the low end frequencies really stand out. Something you want to try to avoid if possible.

4. The frame line is your friend. Give it a nice big hug.

In most circumstances, you are going to want to ride the frame line as close as possible. I know, I just talked about pulling back for more reverb, etc… All that is good to know, but you also have to realize that microphones pick up more reverb than your ears do. So, in most cases, you’re going to want to be as close to the frame line allows, often riding it dangerously closely. An experienced boom operator can ride that line so close he’ll make people sweat, but he’ll never break the frame.

5. I’m being followed by a boom shadow, booooom shadow, boom shadow.

Lame Cat Stevens references aside, boom shadows aren’t fun to deal with. A boom op should be present for blocking and all rehearsals. He will be able to find where the lighting will fall during blocking, and can request flags from the DP if needed (politely please! You want to remain friends with the DP!) Also, the boom op will work with the cam op during blocking and rehearsal to find out where the frame lines and shadows fall. The cam op is the boom op’s best friend on set.

Please, don’t be that guy who doesn’t show up for rehearsal, and then proceeds to ask what’s going on. Do your homework. Know what’s happening before it’s happening.

6. Fancy Footwork.

One of the biggest mistakes that novice boom ops is not moving enough. I’ve seen some boom ops who I though had their feet cemented to the floor. Not good. A boom op needs to be agile – quick and fluid. In order to stay on axis, you need to move a lot. You need to move your arms, your body, your feet – anything it takes to get that perfect audio. When you watch a pro boom op do his thing, he is often moving so fast that it looks nearly violent!

The trick to all of this is to be able to do it all silently. When you walk, walk heel to toe. Wear shoes that don’t squeak. Wear a shirt and pants that don’t rustle. If you have trouble with foot noise, try some foot foam on yourself! (http://www.colinhartonline.com/?p=336)

Link talking about the Boom: http://www.filmschoolonline.com/sample_lessons/sample_lesson_sound.htm


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