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How to record better interview audio

Whether it's a 'talking head' piece to camera, a quick grab for the local news or a busy trade show event, recording an interview is one of the most effective ways to communicate a real-life story. Unfortunately, the right gear for the job can vary as much as the job itself, so how do you figure out which audio recording equipment is best to use?

In this post, we discuss some of the main challenges of recording quality sound in common interview setups, and which RØDE microphones and other equipment will help you get the best out of each situation.

Setup one: The talking head

Typically, a 'talking head' interview situation will feature one or more subjects facing and talking directly to the camera. It is common for the picture to be framed so that all we can see are the head and shoulders of a subject, sometimes also cutting to the interviewer in a similarly framed reverse shot.

This tight visual frame around the subject, combined with a stationary position, is great for microphone placement. You can set up in an optimum spot and not have to worry about the subject moving out of position.

Regardless of where you are - be it a quiet space, noisy room or outdoors - the main objective is to capture the subject's spoken dialogue as clearly as possible, and ignore or reject all surrounding noise in the area.

For this situation, we would go for either a shotgun or lavalier mic. Here's why:

-Benefits of a shotgun mic

Shotgun mics are designed to capture sound at a distance, while being positioned just out of the camera's frame. The highly directional polar pattern is perfect for focusing on sound coming from one specific area, which is exactly what we want in this situation.

If the subject is to be stationary during the interview, you can mount a shotgun mic at the end of a long stand, positioning it several inches in front of the subject and above, just out of frame. From here, you point it down at the speaker's mouth.

Should the subject need to move or walk during the take, a boom pole will typically be required. This will need to be handled by an experienced boom pole operator to ensure the mic is close to the subject - again, typically above and in front - while never passing into frame.

Make sure your camera or audio recording device can provide 48-volt phantom power to the microphone if it is required. Some shotgun mics, such as the RØDE NTG2, can also be powered via AA batteries, while the RØDE NTG4+ has an internal lithium battery. If you test your power sources before shooting, it will save you a lot of hassle on location!

-Benefits of a lavalier mic

Lav mics, such as the RØDE Lavalier, are extremely small, and are designed to easily clip onto the shirt or jacket collar of the subject themselves. This gives us very close proximity to their mouth, and therefore a very good signal to noise ratio - which is great for this situation.

It will take some time to attach the lav to your subject and either run cables back to your digital recording device or setup a wireless system. For this reason, lavs are typically suited to an interview situation with a decent setup time, rather than run-and-gun shoots.

For more information on lavalier techniques, check out our related blog post, 'Lavalier mounting: Best practices'.

Setup two: Trade show interviews

For a more causal, fast-paced or impromptu interview situation where two or more people are speaking to camera (such as a trade show event or live news coverage), we need to take a completely different approach to recording clear, quality sound. In these instances, there may be no setup time at all, a lot of unwanted background noise and a lot more movement - the interviewer may need to be mobile and free to walk around the room or outdoor environment.

With these factors in mind, we will look at a more portable solution: the handheld microphone.

-Benefits of a handheld microphone

Handheld mics are large, designed to be seen but take no time to set up. This makes them perfect for a quick audio recording, where you may need to approach the subject and begin recording immediately.

They are best used when placed very close to the chosen sound source, so microphone technique is important. Cardioid polar pattern mics, such as the RØDE M1, have a very localised and directional pickup, so you need to get extremely close to your talent's mouth to capture dialogue clearly. However, this can be distracting to the audience and also the subject.

As an alternative, omni-directional polar pattern mics such as the RØDE Reporter are designed to be positioned between two subjects speaking, which results in a smoother transition between them, with less physical movement required.

It is common for handheld microphones to be unpowered, also known as dynamic mics, which means they do not require 48-volt phantom power to operate. If you choose to use a condenser mic, it's important to be certain your camera or recording device can supply this power.

-Should you use a mic flag?

Considering handheld mics are most likely going to be seen on camera and by the audience, many interviewers take advantage of this fact and install a 'mic flag' onto the body of the microphone. The RØDE Reporter is supplied with a custom mic flag that sits above the grill, and has a double-sided surface to which you can stick your own company logo or brand imagery onto. This is a great tool for busy trade show events or news scrums where you will more likely be seen by a large crowd.

As with with most recording situations, there is no black or white rule as to how you should mic a subject. If you're happy to use a lav at a trade show or a handheld mic for a sit-down discussion, feel free! As long as the resulting audio is clear and audible, your audience will be more likely to stay tuned for the duration of the interview.