The curtain rolls back and the performance begins. Everything looks great on your video, but why is the sound coming through so unevenly? If you’ve ever tried to record a live event and run into problems, you’re not alone. Many of the things that we want to record in our lives are the plays, concerts and recitals that we attend or perform in. Almost every videographer will end up making a video of some sort of live event.
It really doesn’t matter if you have the most expensive equipment available or just the camcorder that you got underneath the tree six months ago. The main thing that’s going to get audio onto your recording is you and how you treat the event that is being recorded. Keep reading, and we’ll provide you with some basic tips to keep your event videos sounding good.
Just You and Your Camcorder
The easiest and most common way to videotape a performance is to act the lone shooter using a camcorder with an on-board microphone. The first thing you’ll want to see is whether you can turn off the auto gain control on your camcorder. If you can, turn it off (see Auto Gain Pain sidebar). Now you’re ready to get going.
The first rule of event videography is to keep that camcorder rolling. Even if you are moving from one spot to another, you’ll want to keep the tape going so that the audio portion of the event isn’t broken up. If you want to go back later and fix the spots where you were moving around, you can. However, it is important that you have a solid, unbroken audio track to work with (especially if you take some generic crowd shots that can be repeated in the video without anyone the wiser). As long as you keep the tape rolling, you’ll have a complete recording.
The second rule is to get close . If you hang out in the back of the room, you’re likely to pick up more of the random conversations going on around you and people shuffling their chairs than the sound of the performance. Now getting up close to the sound source may not always be possible, but get as close as you can without making a huge distraction of yourself.
Next, position yourself front and center. You’re going to be depending on the microphone to pick up the sound for your tape, so you’ll want to put it in a position where it can pick up the action. If you’re at an event that’s using a PA system, you can cheat over to one side to allow the microphone to pick up the sound right out of the PA speaker.
No matter what you do though, you should use headphones to monitor your audio. Remember to keep the camcorder running, because every time you press the pause button, there’ll be a gap in the performance audio.
Let’s Add Some Mikes
The next option for live event videography is using external microphones with your camcorder. Often this is the best choice for recording live music. At music events where video recording is permitted (see sidebar) you’ll often find people doing audio-only recordings.
Many of these audio recorders have exceptional microphone rigs and aren’t shy about letting other people tap into their signal. Often these will use high-dollar shotgun microphones in stereo pairs. Just make sure you come equipped with the variety of adapter cables to take an external signal into your camcorder.
If you are recording a play, or other quieter event, you can try using a wired external mike: place it on or near the stage . Alternately, if you have wireless microphones, you can check with the stage crew before the event to see if there’s an inconspicuous place for you to place mikes.
When using external microphones, you’ll want to make sure that you’re getting a good audio signal. Once again make sure that you monitor your audio with headphones, and with all live event videography, keep that tape running.
SBD is A-OK
If the event you’re recording has a PA system in use, there’s a sound mixing board around there somewhere. For music performances, the sound board will often be in the middle of the audience. For a play or recital, it can sometimes be found on the side of the stage.
This soundboard gives you the ability to tap into the microphones and instruments on stage as if they were your own. This can be an excellent audio source for your video, provided the sound person knows what he’s doing.
To tap into a sound board, you’ll want to get there early to find out where it is going to be. Then make quick friends with the person running the audio that night. They will usually accommodate videographers provided they have time to work with you and you ask politely. If your camera doesn’t have the ability to take a line-in signal through RCA connectors, then you’ll need a line attenuator to run from the sound mixer’s line-out to your camcorder’s microphone-in jacks. A line level signal from a sound board is too hot for your camcorder to handle without using an attenuator to lower that higher line level voltage to the much lower mike level voltage.
The only problem with being tethered to the sound board is that you’ll be stuck taping from that vicinity. If this is in the middle of the audience, you’ll end up having to zoom in and out a lot, so you may want to have a tripod. A little trick you can use that will give you mobility is to combine the power of the sound board with the flexibility of a wireless microphone. Hook the transmitter of the wireless system into the soundboard (using attenuators as you would with a camcorder) and have the receiver on your camcorder. You’ll get the clear sound of the house system and have the ability to move your camcorder around to get different angles. Just remember to keep recording and never hit pause.
Getting decent sound from your live performance videos isn’t that difficult. If you use what you have wisely, your videos will sound top-notch.