Sound Tip #6 If you got the room… use a boom!

I wasn’t planning on this being a sound tip. Sometimes, like in any profession, there are things we just do and never stop to ask “why?”. I received an email a few days ago from a gentleman going into field audio on a commercial shoot and he asked “if we are using lavaliere microphones on all the actors, do we even need to use a boom mic?”. My rule has always been, use a boom (also known as a shotgun microphone) any time you can.

Sound Tip #5: ALWAYS use a boom microphone as an addition to any shoot whenever possible.

What if all the actors are on lavaliere microphones as well? As stated above. If all of your subjects have their own mic, why add the awkwardness and second set of hands it takes to have a boom microphone as well? There are a couple of answers to this.

1) To make the recording sound natural. Take a minute and listen to your surroundings. Seriously, stop reading this for 30 seconds, close your eyes, and just use your ears (…I’ll wait). Other than reaching a blissful state of zen, what did you hear? As I sit in the living room writing this, I hear the dog sigh next to the window, the fish tank filter trickle water, the refrigerator just kicked on, the heater kicked off, and faintly in the back ground I heard a motorcycle drive by. That is a lot of noise for what I consider to be a quiet place to write. What did you hear? I’m sure you have a surprising list! The fact of sound is, even if you removed all things that make noise in a room, like you would for a video shoot, you still have something called “room tone”. Yes, rooms have “tone” and unless you find an isolation booth at a scientific facility, there is no such thing as absolute silence. Capturing this “room tone” with a boom microphone, allows you to mix pauses and gaps in the speech and sounds when on set. If the actors move an object, the lavaliere microphones may not capture the sound, but the boom will. Even if you use the lavaliere microphones to capture the speech of your actors, the boom mic will capture the rest of the rooms sound. Imagine if you were in a meeting and all you heard were the vocals of the person speaking and nothing else, that would stand out tremendously and sound VERY unnatural. The addition of a boom microphone solves this problem.

2) Safety audio. If your actors are wearing lavaliere microphones, then the mic is likely attached to their clothing or possibly their skin via surgical tape. ¬†You really don’t have many options when trying to attach a lavaliere. This means that with any turns or movement, you risk the actor rubbing the mic on their clothing or skin causing an abrasive and distorted sound. This is less likely when the mic is simply attached to the lapel of a jacket, but is still possible. What happens if this occurs while the actor is speaking? The distorted sound will cover up the persons vocals and the recording will be a loss. With so many things going on in a recording, it is possible to not even know this happened until after the shoot, in post production. That is not good! A well operated boom mic however, should have also captured the dialog and using the lavaliere audio, boom mic dialog audio, and the room tone, you should be able to easily blend and edit out that nasty bit of sound distortion.

3) Boom mics just look cool… ok maybe not, but you get the picture.

Sometimes, your shoot might be in close quarters and a boom mic is hard to fit in the room. At this point, strapped the boom to a camera and send it in. If it is THAT close and all that can fit is a camera, then the attached boom is better than no boom at all.

I hope that calrifies a bit of reasoning to why I ALWAYS suggest using a boom. Lavaliere microphones are really nice, but like tools of any trade, you get the best quality when they work together.

-Lee Kebler

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