Capturing Perfect Wedding Audio

Wedding video is back! Only this time, the production value is much higher. In the past, wedding videos were simply a camera on a tripod at the back of the venue. Today’s wedding videos are called “trailers” and look very much like the movie trailers they’re named for. With this increase in visual production style, your wedding audio chops must keep pace. A simple microphone at the camera position won’t cut it today. At both indoor or an outdoor weddings, you’ll need good gear, though not necessarily a Lectrosonics D4 Digital Wireless System, but some strong people skills and the mind of a wedding audio ninja to stay with the action and clearly capture every moment.

Gearing Up for Wedding Audio

Let’s get this out of the way right now – you can’t run cabled microphones for everything at the wedding ceremony. There is too much movement in a wedding and cables are too easy to trip over.

A Canon EOS 60D camera on a rig with a Zoom recorder and a shotgun mic
A Canon EOS 60D camera on a rig with a Zoom recorder and a shotgun mic
You need a mobile audio solution. This could be a wireless microphone, or several. Wireless is a great option with a couple of caveats. First, you have to coordinate wireless frequencies with the sound system at the ceremony venue. A wireless mic operates on a small group of available frequencies and most sound systems use one or more at a time. Your wireless microphone must work independent of those already in place. Second, wireless is expensive.  Unless you already own a multi-microphone wireless setup, this is a costly proposition. A handful of professional wireless mics can cost thousands of dollars, although rental is an option in some areas.

Then, there’s the mixer. When using multiple microphones, you need a way to combine the audio sources and blend them into something of a final mix. This requires an audio mixer. Audio mixers come in all shapes and sizes. You need one that accommodates all your microphones and provides an output for an audio recorder or camera. One balance of size and input options is the Roland Systems Group R-88. An audio mixer offers a great deal of control, but it has a downside or two as well. A mixer requires power. While a few mixers run on batteries, the majority need electricity from a wall outlet. This means extension cords and a flat surface to work from. And, of course, an audio mixer needs someone to do the mixing. Needing to keep the audio control at your fingertips can be important, especially for DSLR users, so for those instances a Beachtek DXA-SLR Pro can accept a couple mic inputs and send it right to the camera. Leaving each mic on all the time creates a messy mix that is difficult to edit later. The wedding ceremony venue may supply sound reinforcement and personnel, but it may not be available to you.

Don’t get discouraged, there is another wedding audio option that works well in many situations. Azden offers wireless mic systems at many prices, including a very competitive one in the WMS-PRO for $240. Most wedding shooters today use portable audio recorders for all their sources. Starting around $100 each, you can easily own three to five of these audio tools for the price of one wireless mic. Placement is easier since there are no cables. They’re small, most are only slightly larger than a wireless transmitter pack. The recorders run on batteries for hours at a time so you can start them earlier in the day and forget about them till after the reception if you like. During post, the audio from each recorder must be synced to the visuals, but there are software tools that do this automatically and you can do it by ear with some patience.

Capturing the Wedding Ceremony

Regardless of the type of wedding videos you’re creating, there are several key moments in an indoor or outdoor wedding that need solid audio recording. The minister, priest or officiant has some pretty important dialog in every wedding ceremony. The couple has spoken vows and there may be others who participate, such as parents, friends or musicians. The only way to guarantee clean audio from each is to mic them all. This could be quite a chore, but you can make some safe compromises.

Let’s start with the officiant. Their title usually determines their wardrobe and, consequently, your wedding audio strategy. A priest or judge will likely wear a robe or vestment of some kind. These are notoriously difficult to work with from an audio standpoint, but a simple wireless lavalier clipped to the collar works well in most situations. A Protestant minister or pastor usually wears a suit and tie or possibly a tuxedo.

A groom placing the transmitter to a wireless mic system into his breast pocket, with the mic attached to his lapel
A groom placing the transmitter to a wireless mic system into his breast pocket, with the mic attached to his lapel
It’s pretty easy to drop a recorder, such as a Zoom H1, or transmitter pack in the inside jacket pocket and clip a small mic on the lapel. Don’t forget, you may have to share mic space with a mic from the house sound system.

The bride and groom both have spoken vows, but let’s be honest, you’re not going to find a place for a recorder or transmitter in a bridal gown. Yes, it can be done, but don’t bother.

Front of the groom’s tux
Front of the groom’s tux
Put a microphone on the the groom instead, he won’t mind. The couple will be close together when they say their vows and you can push the microphone gain in post to cover the bride. It’s a compromise, but it works well in most situations.

Many ceremonies feature musicians and readers. You can get great audio for your wedding videos from these folks a couple of ways. First, you can mic them with an all-in-one portable audio recorder. Just put it on a stand in front of their performance position.

A Zoom audio recorder on a mixer board
A Zoom audio recorder on a mixer board
If the ceremony venue already provides sound reinforcement for these participants, it’s possible to “borrow” a line output from the audio mixer and feed it into a portable recorder. As a bonus, you may also capture clean audio from the officiant, bride and groom this way. Whenever possible, make friends with the house sound operator and leverage this option for maximum coverage.

Finally, as a last-ditch wedding audio backup plan, make sure to record audio with the built-in camera microphone. The quality will be less than ideal, but it’s great for audience reactions and could provide some ambience in your final edit if the source-recorded audio is a bit dry. If something goes horribly wrong with one of your remote recorders or wireless mics, at least you have it covered.

Recording the Reception

Wedding audio for receptions is usually quite a challenge. No two receptions are alike, the schedule can be pretty flexible and things move fast. Your challenge is to decide what elements are important in your final video.

Toasts are a common reception element in wedding videos. The best man, maid/matron of honor, fathers and mothers may all take part. Depending on the reception venue, there may or may not be sound reinforcement for the toasts. If there is sound reinforcement, it may be provided by the house sound system or the disc jockey’s sound system. Whenever possible, make contact ahead of time with the audio provider and ask permission to attach a portable audio recorder to their system.

If those toasting are known in advance, it may be possible to repurpose audio recorders from the ceremony, giving them to the important speakers. A shotgun mic is handy here too, especially if you have no sound reinforcement. Plug it into your camera or another audio recorder and keep it pointed at the action.

As with wedding audio for the ceremony, record with the built-in camera mic too. As an alternative, place a portable audio recorder on a stand and point it toward the dance floor, DJ booth, cake table or wherever the majority of the action takes place. You’ll have everything covered one way or another. It’s sometimes a hassle to sort it all out later in post, but better to have it than not.

Up for the Challenge?

After reading this, you’re probably thinking that this sounds complicated. You’re right, it is. Recording wedding audio is a real challenge, especially when you need to get it right the first time. There are no second takes on wedding day. Your equipment and strategy has to work every time if you plan to deliver a killer wedding video. The delivery option of sending video to those that can’t attend may include a device like Teradek’s VidiU.  If you’re unsure of anything, attend the wedding rehearsal and adjust your wedding audio strategy accordingly. A professional wedding video is an amazing keepsake that the couple will enjoy for years and wedding audio is an important part of the final edit.


The Outdoor Wedding

Not all weddings take place inside. If you plan to shoot an outdoor wedding and/or reception, you might as well plan on wind too. Wedding audio is no different than audio for any other video production. If there’s the slightest breeze, you can bet on it getting into the absolute wrong mics at the worst possible times. There are some precautions you can take to minimize wind noise and preserve your wedding audio. First, use windscreens on everything. The Rycote Windjammer and other similar furry-type windscreens are your best bet to minimize wind noise on exposed mics. For lavaliers, fuzzy windscreens are available, but not very cosmetic. As an alternative, try placing the microphone beneath shirts, behind ties and anywhere the wind can’t catch them. Your wedding audio will be a bit duller, but better than the distorted rumble guaranteed otherwise.

Contributing Editor Hal Robertson has worked hundreds of weddings over the years as a photographer, videographer, sound provider and recording engineer.

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