Lesson One: Creating Great
Audio for Video
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Target Audience: High School Students
Subject Area: Media Arts Production
Objective: Students will learn the basic concepts
necessary to produce broadcast quality audio recordings of human speech
(which can then be used in professional radio or television productions).
Video camera with Microphone Jack
Lavalier Microphone that is compatible with
selected Video Camera
Headphones for Video Camera
Tri-pod for Video Camera
Video monitor with playback cable attached to
Videotape stock that is compatible with selected
- In TV, sound is much more important than most people
imagine. It doesnt matter how captivating the action or how beautiful
the images. If our viewers cant hear what the on-screen person
is saying, then weve failed our viewers miserably.
- Source:Ambience Ratio. This is a fancy term that
means that the dialogue that we want to record (the "Source")
exists in a world of competing sounds that we dont want
to record (the "Ambience"). We want to make this ratio as
high as possible.
- Signal: Noise Ratio. This is a fancy term that
means that the sound that we want to hear when we play back the
recording (the "Signal") exists in a system of competing sounds
in the sound recording system that we dont want to hear
(the "Noise"). We want to make this ratio as high as possible
- Professional Quality Audio and Video. Ask
your students to name examples of reality TV and "home video" programs
on TV. After they make a list, ask them about production quality of
different shows--what's the advantage or disadvantage of "home video"
programs? Hopefully sound/video quality will come up.
Explain that your students are going to learn
about ways to create high-quality footage with the same equipment that
many amateur or semi-professional videographers use. Screen Show 1 of
American High ("You Only Live Once") to see that students
their age can produce broadcast quality audio. Show selected video diaries
from the show: E.g. Morgans "porno porno porno" manifesto
(00:40-01:00), Kiwi talking about his fears (18:47), Sarah talking about
how she is torn between wanting Robby to go off to college and the desire
to keep him at home (21:35).
- To illustrate the importance of sound to the
video image. While your students watch, set up the camera about
ten feet away from yourself and start recording. Start talking about
the concepts youre demonstratingnamely the importance of
good sound for TV, Source:Ambience ratio, and mic placement. Place a
boom box close to the cameras built in microphone and turn on
some music. Play the music loud enough so that it will overpower your
voice in the video recording. But not so loud that the students cant
hear what youre saying in the room. Walk around the room, turning
away from time to time, from the cameras built in microphone.
Play the tape back for the students. Your monologue will be unintelligible
on playback (while the music is on), making the recording pretty worthless.
- To illustrate how to get a great Source:Ambience
ratio. At this point your students should understand what is source
and what is ambience. Ask them to brainstorm
ambient noise sources for different settings--outside/urban, outside/nature,
house, office building, etc. They might also look at video segments
from American High and reflect on the possible ambient sources the filmmakers
had to contend with. In Show #1, look at Robby driving and talking (02:23).
Also Robby following Sarah in a crowded hallway (02:58). Ask your students
to brainstorm ways to reduce the ambience in these situations. You should
then explain that the ratio may also be improved by increasing the source
noise. They should talk about ways to do this (lavalier mic pinned to
clothing, interviewer with handheld mic getting as close as possible
to the interviewee, and using a boom mic) Then, ask students to work
together to create examples of poor source: ambience ratio, and an improved
ratio in the same setting. Students will learn that the path to a good
Source:Ambience ratio includes placing the mic as close as possible
to the source, choosing a quiet place, turning off ambience producing
appliances, and making the source louder at its origin. Encourage students
to listen carefully and be assiduous in their pursuit of a good Source:Ambience
- To illustrate how to get a great Signal:Noise
ratio. Create a recording situation with a horrible Signal:Noise
ratio and have the students improve upon the situation. Students should
be encouraged to wear headphones to monitor the sound critically as
they improve the Signal:Noise ratio. For example, set up an interview
using a lavalier microphone and an interviewee wearing a jangling metal
necklace. Help the students to recognize that the necklace has to goits
creating unwanted "mic handling" noise. Have the interview
fondle the mic cable to create unwanted cable noise that the students
can recognize and eliminate. Have students attach the mic to a mic cable
with a "short" in it (if you can find one). Encourage students
to realize that the unwanted hum, buzz or crackle thus produced can
be eliminated by replacing the defective cable with a better one. (If
you have a very sophisticated camera with a VU-meter, you can introduce
the twin Signal:Noise ratio evils of hiss and distortion.) In summary,
students should recognize that the Signal:Noise ratio can be improved
by checking out the right gear thoroughly and by making adjustments
during the recording.
Extension Activity & Evaluation Checklist:
Allow students to work in pairs to interview one another
at another location. Have them bring the tape into the classroom for a
group critique. Evaluate each tape in terms of audio quality and intelligibility
by addressing what the students did
1. Source:Ambience Ratio
- Did they select a relatively quiet place?
- Did they eliminate unwanted ambience? (closing
windows, turning off appliances)
- Was the microphone placement appropriate?
- Did the subject speak loud enough?
2. Signal:Noise Ratio
- Did they select a relatively "dead" acoustic
environment? Or did they improve upon it?
- Was there mic handling noise?
- Was there wind noise?
- Were there other system noises (buzz, hum, crackle)?
- (Was there distortion or hiss?)
Recommended Reading and Reference Links:
Schroeppel, Tom. The Bare Bones Camera Course for
Film and Video available from TomSchroeppel@worldnet.att.net
The Digital Filmmaker's Resource Site: http://www.2-pop.com/
Exposure: The Internet Resource for Low Budget Filmmakers:
Adita Video, Inc. Links to Video Resources: http://www.adita.com/links.htm
Videomaker Magazines Website: http://www.videomaker.com/scripts/index.cfm
About the Author: Jonathan Mednick is both
an award-winning filmmaker and an experienced educator in the fields of
film/television production and media studies. This past year, Mednick
was a producer and director on the critically acclaimed PBS TV series
American High. Mednicks role on American High included
teaching video production to the students at Highland Park High School
and supervising the making of the student-produced video diaries that
are featured so prominently in the show. Mednicks latest film, Dita
and the Family Business -- a personal documentary about the family
behind New York Citys fabled Bergdorf-Goodman Department Store --
will begin its theatrical run in New York's Film Forum in September 2001.
Jonathan Mednick is currently teaches film directing and producing at
the University of Central Florida. He has also taught media production
at New York University, Wesleyan University, and at the University of