Your social videos will look 10x better if they actually sound good.
Everybody thinks that they’ve got to have 4k fancy cameras, or upgrade to the best phone, or get the new GoPro to have the best social videos. Whether you are vlogging, highlighting an event or just doing a little social media video for your property, you don’t need a new or more expensive camera to drastically improve your videos. The real secret to drastically improving the performance of your videos without breaking the bank is better audio.
Because of all the compression of media online and the many contexts in which we are watching video (like on tiny mobile screens), people have become much more forgiving of poor quality images. Of course, the better it looks, the more professional the viewer feels it is and the more likely they are to get drawn into your story. They will rarely ever turn the video off because of poor image quality as long as you meet a certain threshold.
On the other hand, people will exit your video in an instant if your audio is bad. People don’t want to strain to understand what you are saying over the noise of the room or listen to the wind howling. They have no tolerance for your audio static playing through their $300 Beats by Dre. They want to hear you loud and clear as if you were standing right in front of them. If you are using the built-in mic for your camera, I can pretty much guarantee that your audio is atrocious. Even if you are using a hot-shoe mounted mic, your audio is probably still lackluster at best. This is by far the biggest pitfall new video makers fall into.
The secret to good audio
The number one rule for good audio is to get the mic as close to the subject as physically possible. The closer you get, the better the audio. It is that simple. Whether you have a $3,000 microphone or you are using an iPhone mounted on a boom pole, the closer you can get it, the better it will sound.
This is the biggest problem with hot-shoe mounted microphones on your camera. Yes, they are very convenient, but they are too far away from the subject. Unless you are prepared to put a parabolic dish on that little shotgun mic on your camera, you are going to need to take it off your camera and put it on a boom pole. Or even mount it on a second tripod below the bottom of your frame. Your camera is most likely 6+ feet away from your subject and for most mics, you need to get them within a foot and a half of your subjects mouth.
If your subject is going to be moving around and you don’t have an extra set of hands to operate a boom pole, put a lav mic on them. You don’t need to buy an expensive wireless lav mic system and constantly worry about interference though. One of my favorite set ups is to use the $60 Rode SmartLav+ with a $100 H1 Zoom recorder in the pocket of the subject. It is surprisingly high quality and extremely reliable. It does require a little extra work to match it up in post production, but with a program like PluralEyes from Red Giant it takes a matter of seconds.
Editing your audio is a whole other can of worms that I will open up in a future blog post. For now, just know that you should adjust your dialogue audio to be about -12 decibels and background music should be around -20 to -30 decibels. It will sound different on different speakers and headphones, but these are fairly industry standard starting points. If you want to dive deeper on editing your audio, I highly recommend using Adobe Audition.
In conclusion, if you want to make your videos significantly more enjoyable to watch, improving your audio is the absolute biggest low-hanging fruit. You don’t need to break the bank to do it either. You simply need to take a few extra minutes to set up properly.