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Written by John Groves

It has long been the practice of commercial TV Broadcasters to increase the volume of transmissions during commercial breaks so as to attract your attention to the advertisements. Now it seems things are going the other way and the spoken dialogue in TV and film audio is becoming indistinguishable from that of the ambient background noise. How many times have you had to turn up the volume on your TV set because the dialogue was inaudible? The BBC have been found guilty of exactly this on their new flagship drama of Daphne du Maurier’s novel “Jamaica Inn”.

Over 2,000 people phoned the BBC to complain that the dialogue was inaudible and that they had to turn on the subtitles to understand what was being said. In fact over 2 million people switched off after episode one was transmitted. Feature films have also been guilty in the past of providing a poor sound mix making the dialogue difficult to understand. The reason is a mixture of the actor mumbling in an attempt to make the dialogue in a scene more realistic and the post sound dubbing or automatic dialogue replacement, ( ADR as it’s known), being mixed with high volumes of ambient noise making the dialogue inaudible above the special sound effects and explosions.

A senior BBC sound engineer also said that sometimes the poor sound quality on documentaries and news reportage could be attributed to the present practice of not sending out a location sound recordist with the camera crew in an attempt to save money.

It highlights what I have always said – sound is important and is often forgotten. Indeed, when I recently questioned a University Post Graduate on his knowledge of location sound recording his reply was that they didn’t cover audio in his training as it was covered in different course. I responded with, “well you are only qualified to make silent movies then!”.
Maybe every person starting a career in film or TV should begin by working in radio for a year. This will make them far more aware of the importance sound plays in any production.




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