Bad sound is frustrating.
Think of all of those times when you couldn’t hear someone speak clearly; did it make you want to give up on listening and walk away? If the sound on your self-tape isn’t up-to-par, it’s easy to become annoyed and stop watching. If you pay a bit of extra attention to your sound, that dreaded outcome is easily avoided.
COMMON SELF-TAPE SOUND ISSUES:
1. Your reader is 20x louder than you. This is the MOST common sound problem we see in self-tapes. (Especially egregious if your reader is not a great actor or their voice is more engaging than yours.)
2. There’s an echo. You’ve cleared your space so that you have a plain background, but now you’re in an empty room/hallway which is ripe for sound issues.
3. The ambient noise is constant and distracting. Dogs barking, kids playing, sirens, smoke detectors beeping, etc. All of these things can land in your audio and take away from your read. (Note: it’s ok if some normal ambient noises exist, but if a siren is taking over 20+ seconds of your tape, we’re losing something…)
4. The volume is just WAY lower than you expected. This generally happens at the source/on your device, but can also happen as you’re exporting and compressing your file… OR it’s because…
5. You aren’t using your full voice. Perhaps this is because the device feels like it’s in your face, or you don’t want to wake someone, but an unnecessarily whispered read feels energetically dead.
6. The sound is out of sync. Again, this is usually an export/compression issue when something truly goes awry. But it can also be the curse of taping on an old device. This is the #1 thing that will make us turn off a self-tape.
SIMPLEST SELF-TAPE SOUND SOLUTIONS:
1. BUY A MIC (lavs, shotgun, etc.) A microphone kit can be quite pricey, but if you look on eBay or another site for gently-used equipment, you can find some great products at a discount. (Videographers are constantly upgrading and re-selling their equipment!)
NOTE: You can find very affordable mics online but when it comes to sound equipment, you truly get what you pay for. Might be worth investing a little extra money if you want to buy a mic.
- Side story: We use lavalier microphones in our office. 98% of the time, they’re AMAZING. The other 2% of the time, they’ve run out of batteries without us noticing or the “mute” button was accidentally switched on or the adapter wasn’t pushed hard enough into the camera for the sound to be picked up or a cell phone rings (on silent) and the phone waves create static. Sound afflictions happen to the best of us. So if you DO decide to buy mics, test/check them OFTEN.
2. WHEN TAPING ON A DEVICE THAT HAS AN INTERNAL MIC (phone, tablet, DSLR) PLACE THE CAMERA CLOSE TO YOU, AND HAVE YOUR READER SIT A FEW FEET BACK FROM IT. Not only will this help your frame/light, but it will clear up the issue of your reader being too loud or you being too soft.
3. AVOID LOUD AMBIENT NOISE BY MAKING SURE THAT WINDOWS AND DOORS ARE CLOSED, and your pets/children/roommates are either aware of what you’re doing, away, or asleep. You will likely always have SOME ambient sound (unless using mics,) and that’s ok. As long as it’s not massively distracting, it won’t ruin your tape.
- Side story: we were once in an office where the AC was UNBELIEVABLY loud for some unknown reason. Even though we used lavalier mics, when the AC kicked on, you could barely hear the actor and the reader became non-existent. As such, we had to turn the AC off whenever we had sessions. (It was July, in the valley. Fun.) So as long as your ambient noise doesn’t drown you or your reader out at any point, you’re probably ok.
4. LEARN HOW TO EXPORT OR COMPRESS A FILE WITHOUT LOSING QUALITY. YouTube vids are a great way for you to pick up some exact settings for whatever program you use to edit/export.
5. AVOID AN ECHO BY MAKING SURE YOU SELF-TAPE IN A ROOM WITH SOME SORT OF SOUND-ABSORBING MATERIAL. If the emptiest place for you to tape is the hallway or stairwell in your apartment building, you will likely end up with an echo. Taping in a room with furniture or things on the walls (just not in the frame,) will almost always help you avoid this issue.
6. USE YOUR FULL VOICE. Remember that this is an audition: would you come in to a casting office and use a quarter of your voice because you don’t want to disturb anyone? Probably not. (If yes, then we’ve got bigger things to discuss.) A self-tape should make use of the same kind of energy, voice and breathing techniques as an in-person audition. If you feel like the scene has too much yelling/screaming and someone may call the cops on you, perhaps do that audition at a taping/coaching facility. Otherwise, don’t muffle yourself for civility’s sake or because you think you’ll be overly loud due to your proximity to the camera. Perform appropriately for the scene.
7. CHECK YOUR SELF-TAPE. I can’t stress this enough. Once you’ve picked a clip and/or compressed/exported/uploaded it, CHECK IT. Watch it back, and make sure that nothing went awry in the process. Actors are always shocked when we tell them about technical issues we’re having with their tapes. Before you send your self-tape to casting or your reps, take 30 seconds and make sure it plays the way you want it to.