In the past, video production required a professional studio and tens of thousands of dollars invested in equipment. Today, anyone with a digital camcorder and a computer has access to video-production tools that rival or surpass older professional equipment. The problem is learning how to use all those features. For users who only occasionally want to add improved audio to their home movies or homemade live music recordings, a few simple techniques can substantially improve your sound quality.
The simplest way to improve your sound is by taking advantage of your camcorder’s external microphone jack. Camcorder microphones vary widely in quality and pickup pattern. With an external microphone, you can choose between omnidirectional and directional microphones at several levels of quality. A directional microphone picks up sounds only in the direction it’s pointed, making it ideal for single performers or areas of high background noise. Omnidirectional mics pick up sounds from the entire room, making them better for a group recording. If your camera has two microphone jacks, you could use two unidirectional mics for a singer and guitar or two omnidirectional mics for a larger group.
Adding a mixer to your setup increases your recording options exponentially. For example, a small four-channel mixer would let you mic two guitars and two singers separately or provide each member of a quartet with an individual microphone. Each mic plugs into its own channel on the mixer, and then the mixer’s output connects to the camcorder’s microphone jack. By monitoring through headphones, you can adjust the sound until the four sources are balanced. As long as you have access to the board, you can use the same technique to easily record a full band or your church’s Christmas musical.
Your microphone setup depends in part on how many mics you can support, and in part on the audio you’re recording. If it’s a staged scene, a few well-spaced omnidirectional microphones will serve the purpose. For a short film or a group discussion, it might be more practical to mic each person separately. Miking a full band can be especially tricky if you have limited space on your mixer for microphones. A professional band might use eight or more microphones for drums alone. In your garage, you might have to settle for one or two omnidirectional mics and perhaps have the snare and high hat share a directional mic.
Finishing Your Video
The three major operating systems all have standard movie software for amateurs. For Windows users it’s Microsoft’s Movie Maker; on the Macintosh it’s iMovies, and for Ubuntu and related Linux distributions, it’s the PiTiVi video editor. More powerful programs are available for all three platforms, both paid and free. Most provide at least limited ability to edit sounds and synchronize them accurately with your video. Standalone audio-editing programs such as Audacity, which is available as a free download on all three operating systems, provide a more powerful set of editing features.