Recent Changes to Meta Platforms
Videos on Facebook and Instagram used to have audio off by default. If you wanted to hear the sound as a viewer, you'd have to turn the sound on on the video. Therefore, only about 15% of the videos on those platforms had audio listened/turned on, according to a 2019 US Consumer study by Verizon. Now, in more recent years, TikTok has become wildly popular and since it's so audio heavy, with music tracks subjects are dancing to or the person in the video talking, Facebook and Instagram have begun to follow suit.
"[Meta] has made it clear that still images are not the main focus of the platform any more." ~Newsweek, July, 2022
In September, 2022, Instagram released an update that not only made audio on videos auto-play ON but also would not allow users to mute the audio. This has since been changed but Meta is seemingly trying ways to make Instagram and Facebook more video centered rather than photo centered as a response to TikTok's success. The bolstering of Reels is more directly how Meta is mimicking the success of TikTok's audio-reliant video platform. Now, instead of only 15% of viewers listening to audio, those numbers may reverse on Facebook and Instagram and already even higher for TikTok. In addition,
Of course, if there's no dialogue or script, what are you captioning? May, 2022, Business Insider describes the financial pressure TikTok puts on Meta to join in on the video with audio party. But Instagram and Facebook are right behind in terms of being video/audio friendly. If you're not yet hip with the TikTok and you have a message to get out, you may want to hop on that at the very least.
Sound Techniques for Social Media Videos
With the new trend of audio being vastly more usable and crucial for social media videos and the surprisingly high viewer count, let's talk a bit about sound for social videos from a technical perspective. I've done quite a few of these videos for major brands, especially for sports brands reaching younger consumers.
Shooting vertical can be a new challenge and opportunity. Some shoots will want to shoot wide and vertical for multiple uses as well. For sound, this can make getting good sound from a lav mic more crucial, or a plant mic which I've done for some training videos on a stationary bike. Although, I've been surprised how consistently easy it's been to get good sound from the boom mic on most of these shoots. Despite being vertical, with a pro crew, you can frame up nicely. Headroom on a 9:16 video should be about the same as it would be for a 16:9 video due to the rule of thirds (slightly more but not a lot). With good framing from a pro DP, you can expect to get good sound from a pro sound mixer, whether it be from a lav mic, boom mic, or the less common, plant mic. Of course, situations vary so I've found myself booming from below a fair amount on vertical because it was closer to the moving lips.
Syncing Sound with Video
Most of the social shoots I've worked on have shot on a pro camera of sorts, but some have shot on smartphones, iPhones mostly. I've been asked plenty of times, "how can we" and "how should we capture sound if we're shooting on an iPhone and how should we sync it?" Well, there are a handful of options: The simplest one and the one my shoots usually choose is simply recording on the iPhone with internal audio recorded, and recording a double system on my end. We use a slate, ideally a smart slate, then post production will sync my audio files to the video files from the phone by either using a plugin, such as PluralEyes, or manually syncing the files using slate timecode or the clap of the slate. The audio waveform method is likely the easiest and quickest here.
Another method for those with less time or ability to sync audio to video in those methods is the sound mixer can actually send their sound straight into the phone wirelessly. There's a handful of different devices for this, but the device I like to use is a Saramonic SmartRig II. It has one XLR input and one 1/8" TRRS output, which you can attach an adapter to to connect to an iPhone lightning or Google/Samsung S20 and newer USB-C connector. I would also attach a wireless hop such as a Sennheiser G3/4 onto that and plug it in to send my sound to the SmartRig which goes straight into the phone. There's also a headphone output on the SmartRig for monitoring in addition to a volume gain knob to adjust the levels going into the phone. It sounds like a bulky setup, but actually, in my experiences, all of the social shoots I can remember were mostly on sticks of some sorts. Dual lock velcro to keep these attached to each other and out of the way of any screen, camera and rigging.
It's actually pretty easy to get pro sound into a smartphone, or at least onto a social media spot where the younger audience is. You can create content for an audience all you want but if it's not where the audience is, it may be hard to keep getting budget for more videos. Post videos with audio on TikTok; people are listening and the clock is ticking. :-)
Brett Ainslie is a NYC based freelance non-union Production Sound Mixer owner/operator.
He has been mixing sound on location for Film & TV since 2010 for narrative feature films, TV commercials, corporate videos, musical and corporate event live streams and broadcasts, digital content, documentaries and network reality shows. Brett has mixed sound for TBS, HBO, Showtime, Bravo, Disney ABC, Discovery, Food Network, Fox, VH1, A&E, ESPN, MTV, National Geographic, Bloomberg, Vice and more.