Author Topic: The Four Biggest Myths about Location Sound, Sound Gear, and Sound Mixers  (Read 1871 times)


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This was a post on Craigslist that was later passed on through the sound community.

Myth #1. Sound is less important than your picture. Most new people to
the production biz always think this is the case, and it has actually
been proven to be the opposite by several focus group studies by major
studios and smaller acoustic societies. With the dawn of Youtube and
similar outlets our public have become conditioned to accept shaky
cameras, grungy looks, and bad lighting as shooting style, which is
actually great news for a new shooter with little experience. However,
audiences will sub-consciously or consciously lose interest in the
material, change what they are viewing, or completely turn off what
they are viewing within 30 seconds of being subject to bad sound. What
makes up bad sound? Bad sound includes poorly EQ'd voices, a high
noise-to-signal ratio (from too much background noise and/or
electronic noise captured with the voice signal), and non-continuous
sound (sound quality changing often) so as to make it difficult to
edit, to name a few.

Myth #2. The camera costs more than the sound gear. When comparing the
price of a good camera and its tripod which are the basic essential
gear for a shooter, versus the gear for an even adequate sound person,
the cost of sound gear far surpasses the costs of the camera. This has
not always been the case, but starting 20 years ago with the advent of
lower-cost digital video it's a solid fact. Here is an example of a
basic sound package provided by a typical location sound person:

•Portable 3- or 4-channel field mixer ($1500-2500),
•Boom pole + head + zeppelin + windmuff (for indoor & outdoor sound)
($800 - 2000),
•Boom mic ($600 - 3000)
•Shotgun mic ($300 - 1000)
•Lavalier transmitter/receiver combo ($600 - $2400 per combo),
•Lavalier mic ($150 - $400),
•Portable 2- or 4-track Recorder ($900 - $4000)
•XLR cables/connectors ($100-300)

This pretty much covers the basic sound package ranging from the low-
end gear to the accepted industry standard gear. At the lowest end
with bargain low-quality gear, the cost of gear is roughly
$5000...equal to or much more than many of the cameras used in the low-
budget indie scene today. And when you have access to the gear that
anyone that's been in the industry for more than 2-3 years will have
strived to own, and which is considered good sound, the gear will cost
in the neighborhood of $12,000 to $18,000 and up -- usually double or
triple the cost of the camera gear used for the shoot. (Cart-based
sound packages are even higher). Rental of a very basic lowest-end
gear package from any indie-friendly rental house in the country
starts at $250-350/day. In addition, with the multiple components and
connectors of a complete sound system comes additional upkeep, repair,
and replacement of about double the rate of camera gear--easily
$1000-2000/year. A lens or tripod can last for 20 years, a lavalier
mic or transmitter might break in 3 months.

Myth #3. Anyone can do sound. I've witnessed several productions
willing to train a PA to do sound with the most dismal results,
including: the boom in the shot, the boom shadow on the actor's face
during the shot, incorrect levels from the mixer to the recorder
causing the recorded signal to be too hot and distorted to use, the
mic not facing the subject or being too far away to be usable, the
heavy-handling of a boom pole creating rumble in the sound, clothing
noise from poor lavalier placement, RF noise on the lav's wireless
channel, and continued shooting through sirens and plane noise. I've
seen it slow down production to half, and when the person starts
feeling inadequate and a liability, they won't speak up when a plane
goes by because he doesn't want to create any more problems. Result:
even more surprises and problems in post-production.

I actually witnessed an entire feature having to be ADR'd due to a so-
called sound team with no previous credits with "borrowed" gear and no
clue how to use it. The producer found out the hard way that he needs
to pay the professionals in the sound department first before
allocating any further funds to other departments. Any producer that
has produced more than one feature has either learned it the hard way
as above, or learned it the easy way through advice of experienced
colleagues who have tread that ground before them.

Myth #4. Sound operators need your material for their reel. Have you
ever listened to a sound operator's reel? No? Probably because first
of all no one (except other sound people) really know what good sound
is and what to listen for. Also, anyone can throw up their most-quiet
scene they've ever recorded at the most ideal, sound-isolated
location, with adequate time for placing and positioning mics and then
heavily EQ'd in post-production by them to sound like the most
professional sound ever... do-able and time-consuming. But in truth,
on a set you don't have time to find that perfect sweet spot for a mic
via multiple trial & errors, nor do you have 3 weeks to work on the
post-processed sound for a single scene. Sound reels are misleading
and easily manipulated. This is why sound guys don't need a reel -- it
is a complete mis-representation of what they truly can do on a set
when time is of the essence to ensure a shot list is completed and
your budget is maintained.

These "four myths of sound" that seem to run rampant on Craigslist
and the like, get perpetuated by new people to the business that read
ad after ad of "no pay", "copy, credit, and food", and "will be a
rewarding experience and good for your reel" over and over. It's like
the blind leading the blind, and please chime in if you concur. If
you're a producer or potential producer, please consider this a
friendly chunk of knowledge to help you along your way. Nothing is
worse than the setback that an unknown "myth" might subject you to.