Fix Crappy Audio

Hisssssssssssss bad audio hissssssssssss is the hisssssss bane of hisssssssss most filmmaker’s hissssssssssssss existence. hisssssssssss Certainly mine! Bad sound is, for me, at the top of a list titled: reasons your film sucks. Bad audio will instantly take any viewer out of your short.

That annoying hiss you get comes from several sources. The most common are:

  • air conditioners
  • heating
  • refrigerators
  • computers
  • buzzing soda machines

The hum of these appliances go unnoticed in our daily routine, but once it makes its way into your perfect take, it’s all you notice.

What can you do about it? There’s a production solution and a post-production solution, both of which have helped me greatly.

Production Solution

I don’t have a separate microphone. The one on the camera is the one I use. I’ve learned to record my audio separately, after I get all the shots of said scene.

It’s simple: Before you move on to the next scene, have your actors stand close to your camera mic and go through their lines. Pretend it’s a radio play and they’re sharing a mic. When you edit, you’ll have a clean & crisp audio take. You can always record it days later, but doing it right then and there gets it out of the way, and the actors still have the material fresh in their minds. Their performances will match up better.

Don’t forget to get ambient area noise. Record 20-30 seconds (at least the length of the scene) with no one speaking and get a good background audio take. ESPECIALLY if your scene is outside. Again, we tend to not notice airplanes going by, but when the sound is only in your close up and not in the wide shot, everyone will notice when you cut. Pow! Your scene is ruined.

Listen to Dan Harmon and Rob Schrab of channel101.com (They mention more than sound. Great advice. Watch this whole thing!)

Post-Production Solution

I recently shot a short in a wine shop which had 4 different refrigerators running in the background. The audio was crap. I got the ambient background, but it was not enough. I knew this would happen, so I planned to re-record the audio (aka ADR).

The good news is: it wasn’t necessary. ADR is crucial when the audio is unusable, but if the problem is ONLY hissing, let me recommend Adobe Soundbooth. What this program does (among other things) is remove hiss from audio very well.

Allow Mike Petrik to explain:

Its actually pretty simple to clean up, if the raw audio is presented correctly. The way you gave it to me was perfect. Note: I edited my short to completion. Then exported each audio bit one line at a time. Turned out to be 13 4-second tracks. During each audio clip, there were long chunks of speaking, as well as long chunks of silence. Since the hiss is constant throughout both the silent part and the talking part, ... I sampled a chunk of the audio that was silent (no speaking), which was filled with loud ass hissing sounds. Once sampled, I can use just that isolated hiss, bring down the noise and decibel level, and apply it to the whole audio clip, which then gets rid of the hissing during the talking parts too. Make sense?

Basically: You select just hiss on a track, select the de-hiss option, and it removes that noise from the track. It also has levels you can control to fine-tune it.

Here’s a little before and after from the Coke Zero sketch:

"Sounds great, Joe, but I don’t have the money to purchase expensive software! I thought you said you weren’t going to spend any money! Choke to death, you bastard!" -You

Easy. I got me a free copy courtesy of Mr. Bit Torrent. If you have some sort of moral compass and don’t want to “steal”, a hiss removal option exists in the free audio program Audacity.