Smartphones have literally transformed the field of video recording: they are small, ubiquitous, easy-to-carry, and can shoot video that rivals $50,000 cameras from just a few years ago. What’s not to like? Oh, that’s right…the audio! THAT’S what’s not to like! While the HD or 4K video you shoot might make your viewers gasp in awe, if you use the audio directly from the smartphone, it’s likely they are also straining their ears in annoyance to hear what your subjects are saying.

If your budget or other factors don’t allow you to buy an external mic for your smartphone (more on that later), here are a few suggestions for making the audio straight from your phone’s internal mic as effective as possible when you are recording a person speaking.

  1. GET CLOSE! Get as close to your subject as possible…I mean, right-in-their-face close if you can. It may be a “smart”phone, but the built-in mic doesn’t hold a candle to our incredible brains, which do an amazing job of screening out background noise and hearing what we are focused on. The mic will simply pick up everything in the room at the exact level it reaches the phone at, and upon playback you will hear things drowning out the subject’s voice that you might not have even noticed as you were recording it. Getting close will allow your subject’s voice to be the dominant sound hitting the smartphone’s mic.
  2. GET CLEAR! If at ALL possible, find a place to shoot where there is as little background noise as possible…no phones ringing, no other conversations, no traffic, no elevator music playing (trying to put music under a video that contains other music in the audio track does NOT work…believe me!).
  3. GET COVERT! Make YOURSELF, as the cameraperson, as “audibly invisible” as possible…this means making sure you aren’t making any unnecessary noise, including responding to your subject (with “mm-hmms,” “ahhs,” “yeses,” etc.)

If your budget DOES allow you to purchase an external mic, we HIGHLY recommend you obtain one, and you have many great options. For iOS we really like the Shure MV88. Shure is a legendary mic maker in the audio world, and the lightning connector lets you plug the mic directly into any newer iPhone or iPad. There are also great options for Android and Windows phones, and this article goes into detail on the best options:

By the way…you STILL want to use the 3 points above, even with an external mic! It’s not a magic fix-all…but an external mic WILL allow you to set levels more accurately and will pick up sound more “directionally” than your built-in mic. You will end up with sound that is cleaner, with less hiss, and with much less of the sounds you don’t want. And your viewers will be able to sit and enjoy the sound as well as the beautiful video, annoyance-free!

Carry on.

Kerry off.

Kerry Cox