The Merryweather Films Guide to Wedding Audio

Our take on the importance of good sound at your wedding and why you should be taking it more seriously

We’ve shot a lot of weddings at Merryweather Films. In fact, we’re quickly closing in on the big triple-digit milestone. In all of our time spent at weddings, we’ve observed that the single most consistently overlooked item is good sound. And while it seems obvious, good sound is even more important than you might think.

For your video

There are a few different ways in which sound is critical, but since our expertise is in video, we’ll start there.

 Sound is the foundation of a great video, accounting for 60% to 80% the "viewing" experience.

Sound is the foundation of a great video, accounting for 60% to 80% the "viewing" experience.

If you ask filmmakers or AV enthusiasts, you’ll likely hear them say that audio represents 60% to 70% of the “viewing” experience (legendary director, Danny Boyle, says it’s more like 80%). That means that audio is two to four times as important as the image on screen. In a wedding video, that audio portion can be broken down further into a few core elements: music, ambient sound, and dialogue (vows, toasts, etc.)

 

At Merryweather, we rely heavily on quotes from your ceremony and reception to tell the story of your wedding in our Highlight Reels, and the impact of audio quality cannot be overstated. This is why we include an audio tech in all of our standard packages. And while we always do our best in all circumstances, there are several key steps you can take to greatly improve the audio quality in your video.

For your guests

Before we delve into the details of ensuring good sound, we should note that this isn’t just about your video. Generally speaking, the guests at your wedding represent the most important people in your life. They travel from near and far to support you and witness the union of you and your fiance. Unfortunately, all too often, wedding guests are left struggling to hear your vows, momentarily deafened by feedback, or distracted by scratchy wireless interference. Most of the couples we work with spend months laboring over the tiniest decorative and aesthetic decisions for their big day, but when the attention of guests is directed toward bad sound, the impact of that effort gets lost.

Common Pitfalls

No Sound System

The worst case scenario for both your video and your guests is the lack of a sound system during key moments of your wedding. We see this all to frequently at outdoor ceremonies. We understand that many couples have an initial aversion to an obtrusive sound system in an otherwise rustic outdoor wedding, but we firmly believe that the benefits significantly outweigh any potential drawbacks. Without fail, these unamplified ceremonies leave guests craning to hear the couple and officiant, or worse, feeling completely left out, checking their watches and waiting for cocktail hour.

We always come prepared with lapel mics, but we’d much prefer to use them as a backup, rather than the primary audio feed.

A slight variation on this problem arises every so often when an officiant assures us that they don’t need to be mic’d because they “project.” This might be true, but it won’t do your video any favors. If your officiant doesn’t strike you as a very technologically savvy individual, it might be worth discussing with them that you’d like them to wear a lapel mic for the sake of your wedding video prior to your wedding day.

Unreliable Sound System

More commonly, we find that unreliable PA systems to be the culprit of bad sound. Imagine your wedding day just as you’ve planned it. Everything and everyone looks beautiful and you’re listening to an honored guest read that special poem you thoughtfully chose, when suddenly their mic cuts out. Or maybe you’re in the middle of reading your wedding vows when a blaring static crackle makes all of your guests shudder. Or worse yet, your officiant is about to emphatically pronounce your newly minted union when their voice is overpowered by a deafening burst of feedback. Unfortunately, we’ve seen all of these things happen. Situations like this usually rear their ugly heads when live sound was planned as an afterthought or not at all. Which brings us to the next pitfall:

Deferred Responsibility

At Merryweather, we take the responsibility of audio capture very seriously. And with this in mind, we always ask our clients who will be managing sound for their ceremony two weeks prior to the wedding. By a longshot, our most common response is “we’re not sure.” At many weddings, the job of live audio, particularly for ceremonies, is left without clearly delegated ownership. We’ve seen planners bring microphones where there are no speakers, string quartets bring a speaker with no microphone, and a number of other bizarre situations that were all easily avoidable.

Microphone Shy Toasters

While the ceremony is more often the venue for audio issues, your reception is not immune. Bad sound during toasts is almost always a direct result of microphones being held incorrectly by the speaker. The handheld mics used at almost every wedding reception are designed to work at very short distances. At a majority of the weddings we shoot, there is at least one person who refuses to hold the microphone up close to their face for one reason or another. They might be self conscious about hearing their voice amplified, or they might think that it looks more casual to hold the mic down by their waist.

 Microphones should be held up to the speakers face, at an angle of about 45 degrees

Microphones should be held up to the speakers face, at an angle of about 45 degrees

When mic's are held improperly, one of two scenarios usually occur:

  1. The audio level on the PA is not adjusted, and the person sounds extremely quiet. To counteract this, we have to boost the signal in post, but that also means boosting the ambient room noise along with the speech. This can be cleaned up using noise reduction software, but it will never, ever sound as good as a mic held at the proper distance. Good toast audio is all about maintaining a good signal to noise ratio.

  2. The DJ or band sound engineer will boost the signal in the room to compensate for the low volume, greatly increasing the risk for feedback. As the mic gets farther from the mouth of the toaster, the percentage of sound coming from the PA speakers back into the microphone increases. Raising the speaker output literally amplifies the problem. DJ’s know this, but it’s often their only option if the mic placement isn’t adjusted.

Talk to the members of your wedding party who are giving toasts, and tell them to hold the mic up to their face. It’s better for everyone. And while you’re at it, send them our handy guide to the do’s and don’ts of wedding toasts.

So, what can you do?

1. Make sound a priority.

If you’re working with a planner, tell them good sound is very important to you. If your venue has a sound system, make sure there is someone there who can run it properly.

2. Delegate.

Make sure one individual vendor knows that they are in charge of the sound. Go over the details with them and be certain that they have a plan. Communicate any unique sound requirements for your wedding to that individual. If your officiant wants you to pass a mic around, make sure the sound engineer knows about it ahead of time.

3. Test it.

If possible, use the house system during your rehearsal. This will ensure that everything works, and that your wedding party are a least slightly accustomed to speaking into microphones if necessary.

4. Ask for Help.

If you feel totally lost, or are unsure about the answers you’re getting regarding sound, let us know. We’ve worked with enough live audio to recognize the red flags and help you get things back on track before they become problems.