Ever wonder why interviews are recorded with both a lavalier mic and a boom microphone? The standard producer request, whenever an interview is recorded for television: Boom channel 1, lav channel 2, or visa-versa. Why 2 microphones for one sound source? The answer runs a little deeper than you may think.
20 or 30 years ago, two mics for a single interview was not done. The sound recordist chose his weapon, a lav or a boom, and recorded with that. The producer or director, or whoever was in charge, asked no questions. There was only one, recordable mono track anyway! Back in the news-film, documentary days, or anything that preceded video, the audio went to the mono Nagra track, or the single audio channel on whatever sound amplifier (Auricon, Cinema Products, etc) was driving a sound-on-film system. Not only were two mics unnecessary, there weren’t two audio tracks for two mics! Two tracks of audio eventually became available when 3/4” u-matic, stereo Nagra, or 1” field recording came into being. Yet two mics for a single-person interview was still hardly contemplated.
Enter the days of Tabloid and Reality television. And, the need for low-cost programming to fill 80 channels of cable/satellite TV. The tiny army of production mixers, in their lofty, revered, hard-earned union positions, were no longer enough in number, or even willing to meet the demand for the forthcoming tidal wave of cheap television.
However, there were plenty of young, inexperienced crew people flooding into the production work force, many never having picked up a boom pole or lavalier mic. They worked for cheap, learned by trial and error, clipping lavs on collars, happily chasing around cameras with their little mixers. Recording interviews with whatever audio gear the cameraman owned, or was thrown in the back of the truck. Often an Shure FP31 and two Sony ECM50’s…
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You can imagine what came next. Horrible audio came flooding into the edit bays. Poorly cued booms, lavs placed too low or too high, or no mic at all- when the soundman forgot to switch from the camera mic, or connect the umbilicle. If a mic battery died, or a location was noisy, the editor got what he got– 1 channel of crappy audio from one mic, recorded by a beginner.
It didn’t take long for word to come down on high. Make those jobs idiot-proof, because we’ve got an army of idiots recording our field audio! Thus came the new protocol- record lavalier on 1 channel, and boom on the other. In Post, now we can choose the less horrible of the two! The senior sound guys balked– they knew how to get good interview audio with one mic, and no memo from above was going to tell them how to do the job. Regardless, the protocol stuck, and is still with us today. I don’t begrudge the method at all. Today, having both mics going makes sense in a fail-safe kind of way- most of the time. Let’s say you have 15 minutes to interview the King of Jordan. One take, no interruptions. Mid-interview, someone starts a vacuum cleaner in the next room. Would you rather have one mic choice or two? Afterwards, the producer’s inevitable question- how was that vacuum? Which mic sounded better? These days, the on-set mentality is: Get it right, get it in spades, and if you can, postpone making a decision about anything. Works for me! All I ask is: Please, Mr Editor, pick one or the other, and don’t mix the two down to mono!
– by Pete Verrando