Cameras and built in Microphones – A Marriage of Convenience

wedding-rings-public-domainOkay, so yes. I’ll start out by acknowledging that Marriages of Convenience can sometimes work. And built in microphones in cameras can sometimes work too.

But for the most part —  an external microphone is always the better bet.

In the next few articles, I’ll talk about the various kinds of techniques and gear that video makers can use to get good sound. To begin with, some words about those built ins and why they’re not the best idea.

Stand the same distance from the person you’re going to be shooting. Ask them to talk. Close your eyes. What do you hear?

If you’re no more than a foot away, you’ll likely hear the person pretty clearly.

Step back about four feet.

When I did this yesterday, I heard:

a) the person’s voice. I had to strain because her voice was very soft. Some of the words were lost.

b) the ventilation system in the room.

c) the person sitting next to me coughed. It was loud.

d) And then an ambulance went by.

Built in camera mikes will pick up all of that sound. They are what are called “omni directional” microphones. Which means, they record everything they hear, at the same sound levels as your ears are hearing.

So, my recording picked up:

a) the main speaker. But she was very soft. I could hear her most of the time, but I was straining.

b) the sound of the constant furnace, which also masked the sound of my speaker.

c) the cough. Really loud. Ouch. My ears hurt.

d) and then the ambulance sound, which masked the cough, the furnace and my speaker.

Many video makers I talk to say that sound is one of their biggest frustrations. But it doesn’t have to be. There are many easy ways to get good quality sound from the get go, and make it sparkle in post.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be doing series of posts about Getting Good Sound for Video.

Next in the series, choosing the right kind of microphone.


The Birth of the Talkies — or “You Can Add Sound to that Movie!”

“Somehow or other it never seemed to dawn on anybody that they should talk in motion sound_technicians_setting_up_the_turn-table_and_amplifiers_for_the_first_-talkies-_in_australia_1927-1928_2877787608pictures”  – George Groves

You might not have heard of George Groves before. Sound people are like that.  Always in the background. (That is, until they stop the action on set because they can hear a truck roaring by in the background).

George Groves is credited with being the first person to figure out how to synch sound with film. The year was 1926. The film was Don Juan. (Incidentally, the film also has the distinction of containing the most kisses from the most characters of all time. 191 different women. That’s a lot of kissing) It was primitive – essentially, George recorded a record album with an orchestra of 107 musicians, timed to exact scene changes in the film. Essentially, they synched the sound on film by needle dropping at precisely the right moment when the film started. And they let it play until the end.

And of course, most people know that the next major development was the first “talkie”, The Jazz Singer, starring Al Jolson in 1927. Not much kissing in that one because the actors were too busy using their lips to speak words. Audiences were spellbound. Again, in the words of George Groves – “Everybody held their breath…It took everybody by storm that he just came out with spoken words”.

So why did it take so long for sound and images to synch up? It’s essentially because getting good sound and good images require different sets of equipment that are not really compatible. The solution these days is to buy a camera that has a built in microphone. But even then, these microphones and cameras don’t always live happily together.

In the next couple of posts, we’ll explore some techniques to synch up good sound and good pictures. It’s surprising how many of these techniques are the very same as those early film producers way back in those early days of film.


Why You Need to Add Podcasting to your Media Mix

1. Because we are in The Golden Age of Podcasting. More people than ever are listening to podcasts. (Source: Edison Research – Podcast Listeners in the U.S. In 2008 there were 46.8 million. In 2012: 75.4 million. And listenership has grown even more since then – check out Edison Research’s 2015 report on the podcasting consumer.)

2. Because people relate very well to the intimacy of The Voice. That’s always been the biggest strength of radio — people relate to radio personalities like you’re a best friend. Podcast hosts can achieve the same effect .. it’s not a rare occurrence to have listeners tell podcast hosts — “I feel like I know you”.

3. Because podcast listeners are very loyal. Studies have shown time and time again that once you’ve engaged a listener with your podcast, they keep on listening to future episodes. This builds relationship between you, your listeners (potential and current clients) and your business or organization.

4. Because podcast listeners have higher incomes than consumers of other media formats. According to Edison Research (The Podcast Consumer 2012), 1 in 4 podcast listeners have incomes of over $75,000.

5. Because listenership grows over time, and people will listen to your back episodes. It’s not like radio where a program is over once it’s on the air. There is lasting value from each podcast you produce.

6. Because your listeners can take a podcast anywhere. You can do different things at the same time with your eyes and ears. You can’t watch a video when you’re driving. Or knitting.

On the production side .. they’re not hard to create .. and they’re fun.

7. The technology is much less finicky than video. We all love video, but figuring out video sample rates, image sizes and file formats is enough to drive a person crazy. With audio, there aren’t as many technical variables. It’s easier to learn and get started.

8. You can edit a lot more precisely than you can on video. Say you’re editing a conference video and the person on the stage says “um” and makes long pauses between words. In audio, you can tighten up the presentation to make it sound better. If you do that with video, you’ll get stop motion animation.

9. You can get an excellent recorder for less than $200. You can even use your smartphone or tablet. And there is some great software out there you can use to get started for absolutely free.

There are many more reasons why podcasting is a good thing to add to your media mix. Want to learn how? I can help. Either in person or long distance …

Podcast Intros and Extros – Best Practices

I listen to a lot of podcasts. It helps me keep up with all the different podcasting styles out there, and I’m always thrilled to find a new podcast to subscribe to.

I sometimes listen to them on the treadmill or when I’m out for a walk. It’s a different experience than listening on the desktop with show notes in front of me. Here are some of my best practices re: intros and extros to make sure your listeners have all the info they need in your podcast.

a) Assume that your your listeners won’t have the show notes in front of them. There will be a a general description, but not much detail. Some podcasters dive right into the content without an intro. This works when the listener has the website open in front of them, but not well when your podcast is automatically downloaded by subscribers onto their mobile device. So, my recommendation is that your podcasts be complete and self contained so they can stand on their own without the show notes. This also works out well if some of our radio friends hear your content and want to put it on the air. Broadcasters love it when everything is ready to go for them and they don’t even have to write a script.

b) theme: a very short, standard intro (possibly with a bit of podsafe music) will help your podcast be recognizable. It is your signature beginning .. when listeners hear it, they’ll know it’s your podcast. So when they’re previewing content on their ipod when they’re in the gym, or listening in the car, they’ll know right away it’s you. And a theme with music makes you sound so organized and professional.

c) calls to action: if you have promos, or website information, or other ways you’d like listeners to respond, put it at the end of your podcast. You want to get into your content right away, not ask your listeners to wait while you read a whole long list of things. It slows down the pace of the listening experience, so get into your content as fast as you can.

These themes and scripts don’t have to be long. Shorter is better. I recommend that your standard theme be less than 30 seconds long. And the spoken intro to individual episode can be as little as 3-4 sentences. What’s important in the intro to each episode is: Who your guest is, who you are, what you’re talking to your guest about, and why the subject is important. Give your listeners a reason to keep listening instead of requiring them to get into the piece so they can figure it out themselves. Because a many of them won’t. They’ll stop listening. Especially if they don’t have show notes in front of them.

d) And finally — don’t forget to say goodbye. And repeat who you’ve been talking to so they don’t have to go look it up. And this is where you can suggest email links, tell listeners about other shows or other promo points.

Interview Basics – Part 2 – Recording the Interview


Okay, so you’ve done your preinterview and know what you are going to ask.  It’s showtime.  

Before the interview:

Organize your technology. Arrive early. Check out the location that you have chosen. Make sure that no loud noises or construction crews have appeared since your last visit. (This happens. Frequently – when it does, think fast. And change location)

Be organized and calm. If you are flustered, your guest will be flustered too. The best way to relax your guest is to be relaxed yourself.

Check your gear. Take your time, do a short test recording and listen back to make sure your gear is working correctly. If you are working with a camera crew, make sure they have about half an hour before the shoot to set up.

Greet your guest. Say hello. Be friendly and personable. Make the person feel at home.  Resist the temptation to talk too much about the questions you’re going to ask.  You don’t want the freshest, best responses coming out before you’re rolling.

When you’re ready to go ..

Greet your guest. Say hello. Be friendly and personable. Make the person feel at home.  Resist the temptation to talk too much about the questions you’re going to ask.  You don’t want the freshest, best responses coming out before you’re rolling.

Keep your questions short and tight. The listeners want to hear your guest, not you. Your function is to get your guest to talk about the issue/subject. Avoid long and rambling questions. They are usually a sign that you don’t really know what your question is. Especially if your guest has to ask “excuse me, what was the question?”.

Stick to the questions you’ve pre-scripted. When you planned your questions, you crafted a “flow” to the conversation. Your questions are your roadmap. If something interesting comes up, and you have time, you may want to follow the tangent. But always return to your questions and keep the interview on track.

Avoid jargon. If your guest uses a term that your listeners won’t understand, ask “what’s that?”. Your listeners are not experts. Your role is to make the interview understandable. Avoid acronyms and abbreviations and “shop talk”, unless your target audience is a professional group that understands the shop talk.

Watch the clock. If your interview is scheduled to go ten minutes, don’t make it fifteen. Or five.

After the interview …

Check your recording.  Technical malfunctions can happen, even to seasoned pros. Make sure the recording is there.

Thank your guest.

Respond to her questions. Like “when will it be done?”. “When can I hear it online?”.

Confirm contact info.

And then, pack up, go home and get your post-production done (editing, packaging with themes, voice intros etc).  If you’ve followed these instructions, you won’t have a lot of editing to do.


Interview Basics – Part 1 – Getting Ready

Charlton Heston
Yes, that is Charlton Heston being interviewed. By a very young Victoria Fenner

Interviews are building blocks for every kind of communication project. Whether you’re doing an interview for a podcast, a video or as the basis for a text article, the principles are the same.

The more prepared you are, the stronger your interview will be. Do research before turning on the camera or microphone. It will save hours of editing and writing time if you only get the information you need. And you will impressed your guest with your ability to focus the conversation.

Here are a few tips:

a) Know WHY you’re doing the interview. This is also known as “focusing” your interview. What exactly do you need to know from the person you’re interviewing? The clearer you are about why YOU think this is an important subject, the clearer it will be for your listeners.

b) Do a Pre-interview – Call your prospective interviewees on the phone before showing up to film or recording. Do they know their subject? Are they good talkers? Can they talk about their subject in a way that ordinary people can understand? Are they available when you need them? If yes, book them for an interview. If not, thank them for the useful information and look for another guest.

c) Set the time and location for your interview – Where and when will you do the interview? If it’s an audio interview you will want to think about background sound. If it’s a video interview, you have to think about both the visual background and the sound background.

d) PLAN your on air questions in advance. Every good interview has a beginning, middle and end. By planning your questions in advance, you won’t have to make it up on the spot. If your interviewee is a good talker, you will need less questions. Figure on six questions for a ten minute interview if your guest is reasonably verbose.

There are only six questions in every interview that really matter: Who, What, When, Where, Why and How.

Next time: Doing the interview

A Big Thank You!


I met Linda Dessau about five years ago through a mutual friend in Hamilton, Ontario. I was very impressed at the time that she was able to take a relatively new communications tool, blogging, and create a whole methodology to help people and businesses get their message out. A forward thinker, to be sure.

So I was really happy when Linda asked me if she could interview me about podcasting. Her blog post is now out. She did a great job of taking my ideas and condensing them into a format that works with her blog. One of Linda’s strengths is her ability to take many ideas and summarize our conversation in a concise form. Because that’s what blogging requires.

She was really specific about what she wanted to hear from me. I can talk for hours about podcasting … all kinds of podcasting. Interviews, documentaries and the whole range. Linda wanted me to talk about podcasting in the solo voice. I appreciated her sense of focus, and her ability to take a large idea and narrow it down to one specific topic.

That’s why she’s been so successful building her business around blogging for business.

Thanks so much, Linda!

Your Very First Podcast

By House of Sound and Story’s Victoria Fenner, founder and creative director

The focus of House of Sound and Story is to help you tell your story. Literally. Tell your story. Using your own voice, the voices of your clients, customers and people whose opinions you value.

I help a lot of people launch their own podcasts and audio blogs.

One of the most common things people ask us is “How do I get started?”

There are a lot of answers to that question. The first thing we do is take it back to basics. You have to have a good story to tell, and you need to be able to tell it in an engaging way.

I often suggest that you start out by doing audio versions of a couple of their favourite blog posts. The reason why this is a good place to start is that a) you’ve already got the material written b) blog posts are short and therefore c) a good way to start working with your voice in a way that won’t take up a lot of your time.

Here’s what I suggest as a way to get started.

a) Pick out one of your favourite blog posts. Start with one that’s only about 500 words. Short, concise, to the point. And since you’ve already written it, it’s no extra work at this point. For the purpose of this exercise, you can focus entirely on your words, which will be right in front of you.

b) Read it out loud to yourself. Don’t turn on the recorder yet. Read it over a couple of times so you’re familiar with the words. The purpose of reading it through a couple of times first is that your words will just roll off your tongue if you’ve already rehearsed them.

c) Turn on your audio recorder. At this early stage, use whatever you’ve got. We can talk about what kind of recorders to buy in a later episode. Right now, the purpose of the exercise to be able to listen back to yourself.

d) Talk your words into the recorder. Don’t worry too much about getting pristine audio quality yet. That will come. To begin with, make sure your recorder is no more than 6 inches away from your mouth. Not too far or too close.

e) Listen back to yourself. Do a bit of a self-critique. You’re just getting started, so be gentle with yourself. You’ll be able to hear things that you want to change next time. And that’s good but don’t bog yourself down yet by needing to sound like you’ve been working at a radio station your whole life. The point is to get started.

Another reason why I’ve suggested you start out recording little bite-sized pieces rather than a whole 30 minute podcast — listeners like it. What you’re listening to is an audio blog style of podcast. Short, sweet and to the point. This podcast is about five hundred words. It doesn’t require a long time commitment for your customers and clients. Just a quick little bit of information that they can use without having to invest a lot of time. In future episodes, we’ll explore some of the other kinds of podcasts you can do. Like interviews, documentaries and even things like audio newsletters.

I love working with voice.  I can help you launch your podcast and also find the people who want to hear it. I can teach you how to write, record and produce your own podcast. Or, if you’d like, I can do it for you.

Talk to you next time with some other ways to help you get your voice out there on the internet.

Here’s an audio version of this blog post.