Recording Wedding Audio 101

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Pretty much on a daily basis I get asked the same questions when it comes to recording clean audio at a wedding. Friends from around the wedding industry both new and old always seem to have issues with audio. Now, my method might not be the best, but, for the time being it's been amazing and I love it. So... I usually wake up to the same questions in my inbox from videographers:

How do I record vows?
What LAV mic should I use?
What audio recorder should I use?
How is your audio so clean?
What did you eat for lunch on Tuesday?!

Okay so the last one wasn't real haha. But, the others are! Audio is the hidden gem in wedding films. It's the one aspect of a film that can make it or break it. You can have an amazing image and bad audio will take your viewer right out of the experience. Which is not what you want. You want to keep the viewer immersed in the story.  I'm pretty sure I've found the answer that works especially for run-and-gun type wedding filmmakers. 

When I'm trying out new gear 2 things have to be there in order for me to really love it. It has to reliable. I don't want to kill it all day long knowing I got amazing shots only to get home and have the magic die when I hear blown out audio. It also has to have a small footprint. I have a minimalist style when it comes to gear. Not out of "want" but out of "necessity." The majority of my weddings are on beaches and in areas where having tons of cases is not going to cut it. You try hiking miles up and down the beach in July with tons of cases... not going to happen :) 

The system I've switched too, fits all of that. But first! A little history... it's story time, so settle down. Before moving to this system Ive tried a ton of gear. I have a shelf full of Zoom H1s, H2s, H4Ns, H6s, Tascams, Olympus's, you name it... it's probably collecting dust on my shelf. I like to preface that because the audio system I use now is a 1/4 of the cost of some of these. It's not out of a budget need. Although awesome gear that doesn't break the bank is always a plus. 

Before we look at the gear check out the audio in this film. All of this audio is straight out of the audio recorder with ZERO post production. As of today I am engineering the audio in Logic Pro X to give it an edge. But, at the time of this film... I wasn't. 

Alright let's talk about the gear. I use the same audio recorder (3 of them) for the card readings, ceremony, and the DJ/Band. Actually we're also using them on a documentary right now. This little guy is versatile. 

Let me introduce you to my little friend. 

 
 

This thing is amazing. I absolutely love it. BUT! It has to be this model. I've tested out 3 other sony models and .... they were less than satisfactory. But this guy paired with the right lav mics and audio inputs is a dream!

Okay let's talk about how to use it. 

Ceremonies + Card Readings
 

By far the easiest thing for us to record during the day is audio of someone talking. Why do I say that? Well this is the time all of the gear is ours. Its our mics and our recorders. So we have full control. As opposed to the reception when we have to defer to the band or Djs mics. 

So what do we do in this situation. I run a Rode Smart Lav+ to the Sony recorder. Yes, I know what you're thinking, the smartlav is for phones isn't it? Yup. But, Ive wasted thousands of dollars testing lav mics only to be brought right back to the Smart Lav. I absolutely love the sound this gives off. You'll need to use an adapter which can be bought as an add on but it's an amazing mic. 

Once you have the gear set up place the recorder out of site and run the lav to the person's chest. This is super easy with suits. Usually their is an inside pocket on the jacket to place the recorder in. Then I run the lav up to where their flower is and hide it behind there. 

For ceremonies I like to get a LAV mic on as many people as posible and also on each podium where someone will be speaking/reading. Now, you can totally plug into the church/venue's sound system instead of mic'ing the podiums. But.... I've found running a lav mic there to be more reliable. 

 
 

Reception

Once we get to the reception audio becomes a whole other monster. Now, we have to tap into a DJ or Band's sound board. A good habit to get into is emailing them a week or so before the wedding so you know exactly what you need. Here is my email:

Hey XXXX! My name is XXXX I am XXXX + XXX’s videographer this weekend. I’ve heard nothing but awesome things about you and am super excited to work with you. Hey, would it be cool if we tapped into your sound board? I really want to get that awesome audio. We have XLRs, RCAs, whatever you need just let me know! Thanks!

Don't ever show up and expect the DJ/Band to just allow you to take over their sound. Honestly, Ive never had anyone say no. But still, be respectful and friendly when asking and if they say yes be grateful. 

You're going to need a couple connectors to plug into a sound board the three most common are:
 

These three are known as XLR, RCA, and 1/4 Inch. The first two would be the most commonly used. But, it's great to have all three just in case. I would also pack an AUX cable in your bag just in case too. 

Okay so you have the connectors but what do you do now? Your sony recorder isn't an XLR recorder?! No worries. You need two more things. A 1/8 inch to XLR cable which will plug into your recorder and an attenuator which will allow you to quickly switch out the different connectors. Another bonus to the attenuator is that it cuts down on the audio signal coming out of the sound board. This helps clean up audio a lot especially when you're dealing with bands!

With this kit you'll be prepared to cleanly and efficiently record audio in any situation during a wedding. I recommend getting a couple of the recorders. This way you can mic up multiple people and during the reception you can have a back or two. 

If you questions reach out! I'm always around to talk about weddings and filmmaking! Contact me at Michael@FlagshipStudios.co and be on the lookout for all of our future articles in our new wedding filmmaker series. 

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Michael Hook