My search for a new, go to EQ

My go-to EQ change.

For the better part of 15 years, I've been using the Waves Renaissance EQ's and they come in 3 varieties, 2-band, 4-band and 6-band.  For most of that time, the 6-band EQ (Req6) has been my go to EQ for almost everything.  Almost.  In Pro Tools, when you click on an insert, you can have your go-to EQ and Compressor live ABOVE the plug in category menu and this makes reaching for it even easier while simultaneously making reaching for another one feel like a chore - when you're in the zone mixing, getting technical even for seconds can be a drag.  I have a good sized pile of EQ and compressor plug ins, so those menus are stacked with options and too often, lots options can be a bad thing.

So, the Req6 has been living there for a long, long time.  I think it's a VERY easy to use EQ and it sounds good on just about everything.  It's not overly clinical, but it doesn't make it's presence known with lots of added harmonic content either.  I guess it sort of splits the difference between the two and maybe leans a little to the "clinical" side, sonically.

I can't say enough about how easy it is to use.  Same goes for their Renaissance Compressor, but I'lll get to that in another post.   I LOVE using dots instead of knobs as well (as turning knobs with a mouse is like some kind of sick joke that UI designers are playing on us), so this EQ is great for that. You can get the EQ in shape pretty easily and then tweak with the knobs below.

I wrote an email to the folks at Pro Tools Expert after they were talking about it on an episode of their great podcast and they ended up posting that email.  Check it out for more on my thoughts about UI with modeled plug ins in particular. 

The reason I wanted to make a change to a new, go to EQ was simple.  I began to notice a trend in what my audio for picture clients were asking for.  Several of them all at once wanted most of their pieces to be less rock and roll sounding and more "NPR" sounding - less high end and low end on the dialog.  Clean and proper and not banging vocals like everything is meant to sound a like a VO.  For some pieces, one would NEVER go for that sound anyway, but there seemed to be a push back on what had been very popular for a very long time for both TV commercials and corporate videos.  In cases where I needed to add a lot of high end to get any clarity at all due to bad mic placement and/or cheap sounding mics, I wanted something smoother as some of what I heard back from clients wasn't that there was too much high end, but that it was harsh sounding to them.  This complaint was coming from long standing clients that had used the same mics on the same kind of voices for years and I had more or less been doing the same thing.  What changed?  A trend was happening.  Smooth was replacing loud and I loved it.  That said, I needed to rethink my EQ and bus structure.  More on the bus structure another time.

So here's the challenge: I needed to be able to smooth out cheap mics that inherently had a LOT of high end and I needed to be able to bring up the high end in mics that didn't naturally have enough in a much smoother fashion than before.  I also wanted to stay away from EQ's that would force me to use virtual knobs with a mouse and instead find one similar to the Req6 that would have me moving dots at least to start the shaping process.

This wasn't an easy conclusion to come to and it severely limits my choices.  Sure, there are a lot of EQ's that use a dot-based GUI (and I'm either starting to be annoyed by typing DOTS or I'm beginning to really like it).  But, we're in the middle of what I and others are calling, "The clone wars", where just about every manufacturer of plug ins is making digital "copies" of hardware based, pro audio tools. Everything from mic pre modeling to EQ's, compressors, harmonic generators, etc - it goes on and on and on and on.

There's a new clone being released weekly and it's gotten way out of hand.  Are they getting better?  Sort of.  The earliest ones I remember were the McDSP plug ins that looked nothing like the old hardware, but they sure did sound like it.  Waves probably made the biggest splash and showed that there was a huge future in modeling hardware into the digital age with the SSL bundle that is now 10 years old and is still lauded.  I don't think they nail everything they've tried to clone, that's for sure, but that one is still a standout and I use it on every audio for picture mix I do and I have for as long as I've had the bundle (that also includes API and Neve cloned tools - a great package of tools).  That's close to 10 years and every single mix since I bought it.  With thousands of mixes behind me and hundreds of other options that I've tried out there, that's saying something - it still sounds great to me and has held up against piles and piles of other attempts by other companies to model it "better".  Recently, Slate Digital has done some great work in this area and I LOVE all of their plug ins, but I still use the Waves SSL over Slate's despite owning both.  This is more out of convenience than anything else though - I build templates and import them into my audio for picture projects like a madman.  I know the Waves stuff and if you're mixing as much as I am, you only have time to try new stuff once in a while.  Deadlines, deadlines and more deadlines.

I found that for extreme EQ work, adding or removing 8dB or more of certain areas, especially high frequency energy, the Req6 was a let down.  I had to reach for clone-modeled EQ's that sounded more like a Pultec - a passive EQ that's wonderful for adding high end or smoothing out high end.  These EQ's don't add a lot of harshness to the high end the way others do.  They're in fact designed to do this well, but that's about all they do.  There are very few knobs and very little flexibility on them.  I use these CONSTANTLY on music content, but on voices in audio for picture, they only work using very broad strokes, so I'd need to use another EQ inline to manage the rest of the EQ shaping.  I want to use ONE tool that gets it all done and move on.  The ones that model these passive EQ's also tend to model the noise floor of the original hardware as well, so I can't always use them on dialog.

Deadlines folks.  Deadlines.  I sometimes have 30 mins to mix and upload a 3 min piece with 3 voices and two music cues and often times, I have to de-noise the heck out of them before I can start.  Yup.  Happens all the time.  If I need to start piling EQ plug ins together to get a sound on nearly every voice in every piece, I won't make it, simple as that.  I needed an EQ that does it all.

Some of projects I was working on over that last year or so forced to me to use the dreaded lavaliere microphone, which is usually under their clothes and sounds like it has a pillow over it (that moves right against the mic capsule, which is yet again, another story for another post).  It's like you put an EQ shelf from 1K and above and nudged it down about 6dB.  When you start to add high end to bring it back, there's usually not much there, but it can be finessed to bring it out with the right tool and some patience.  Again, that really only works if the mic was super stable and didn't rub against their clothes.  It can work nicely for material where you want a more gentle approach as you don't hear the room and it makes for a very intimate sound.  More on that another time too.

The "mic rubbing against the clothes" sound used to happen constantly, but I can say that most of my regular clients are using better audio capture guys that know how to use a shotgun mic and can place a lav mic in a way that makes it usable if needed.  Again, more on that another time.

With all of this in mind, I started an elaborate search for a new EQ and honestly, it wasn't all that much fun.  

I started by first just looking at them online and sorted out the ones with knobs from the ones with dots.  I ended up trying about 10 EQ's, which was pretty much every one that I could find that has dots and had some reputation of being a good EQ.  Every plug in company has timed demo periods where you get at least 10 days to use the tools and most allow you to have full functionality.  Every EQ I tried allowed me to do this.

I won't get into which ones I liked somewhat or didn't like at all, but here's a short list of the highlights.  These are the ones that were very good sounding and almost won the battle.

- Fabfilter, Pro Q2.  Couldn't get my head around the controls.  Nice sounding EQ though.  I guess I should have given this more time, but wow, that thing was hard to use.

- Acon Digital, Equalize.  I really, really like this one and I own it already.  Close call for me.  Just about went for it with this as again, I already own it and it sounds great.  Using the mouse is a breeze with it as it's designed with that in mind in some really well thought out ways.  By the way, the guy that creates all of the Acon Digital products couldn't be a nicer guy too.  

- Waves, Hybrid EQ (HEQ) - This sounded quite good and I almost went with it.  My final choice was actually quite similar to this EQ.

- McDSP Filterbank - I really like this EQ a whole lot.  It's great.  Not as smooth as another I tried, but this is an EQ I'll probably get down the road.  It's very, very good sounding.  This is my close 2nd to what I bought.

- DMG Audio, Equilibrium.  Ahem.  It's last on the list for a reason - I absolutely loved this thing in about 10 seconds of using it.

Again, each of these sounded very good.  Some left me feeling like they were just a little better than the Req6, others blew it away but had other issues like being hard to use or were just a bit harder to use than I'd like.

The one that blew me away and had me salivating to use it on dialog with 10 seconds of trying it was the last one on the list, DMG Audio's, Equilibrium.  

This thing is insane.  I was adding 15dB of 6k on a male voice and it didn't flinch. The top stayed incredibly clean and didn't get gritty AT ALL like the REQ6 does.  In fact, every EQ move I made smooth and beautiful sounding.  The high pass filter stood toe to toe with the best one I ever heard, the TDR VOS Slick EQ (which is free btw:  I almost don't see any reason why I'd use VOS in combination with this EQ.  I can't imagine why I'd need to.  The HPF's in Equilibrium are incredibly smooth and there are multiple option per band, which makes things even better for really dialing in what I want without having to leave this one EQ.  It also has an analyzer built in that can be turned on and off with a single click.  Fantastic.

I was sold and in love.  It's by far the most stunningly beautiful EQ I've ever heard.  It's now my go-to on dialog and I'm sure I'll be using it on instruments and lots other things for a long, long time to come.

I've since started trying it on lots of stuff.  Snare drums and overhead mics, acoustic guitars, bass, electric guitars - you name it and it sounds killer.  It doesn't impart vibe at all, it's just SUPER clean.  If you want vibe, look elsewhere.  If you want clarity and zero phase shift, Equilibrium should be first on your list to check out.  I've been recording and mixing since the mid 90's.  I haven't tried everything there is to try, but I've used hundreds of both hardware and digital EQ's on thousands of recordings and mixes.  This thing is very, very special and shouldn't be overlooked.


SO - it's been a month or so since I wrote all that and the love affair continues.  I'm just now starting to work it into my mixing templates as I've found more and more good start up settings for different situations. It's a fantastic EQ and I expect to be using it on everything under the sun for many years.

I'd like to give a shout out and say thanks to my friend Tom Eaton, a brilliant artist, producer, engineer and mix engineer who recommended this EQ to me.  I don't think I ever would have found it without him.  Thanks Tom.  You were right again.

Hope you enjoyed that rather long winded post.  More to come.  Hopefully, shorter ones.  ;)


The best way to learn how to be a better mixer is to mix, constantly.

Go Creative Show and the Smart Kids Video

Ya see, I told you I'd post more often.  Two days in a row.  Gotta be some kind of record.

About a year ago, Jeff Knowlton and I decided that we need to dig into doing a video for our band, Smart Kids.  We chose the song, "Good Citizen" from our first EP and started making calls. 

Nearly a full year later, it's done.   You can check it out by on Youtube here.  We're extremely proud of it.  

The team that worked on it did a round table discussion this week and it's on the podcast that I co-produce and mix, The Go Creative Show.  Check it out if you're into the video and you should check out the podcast if you're into video/film production anyway.  Proud to say it's a popular podcast that's done very well.  Ben Consoli does most of the work - I just try to make it sound good and through in my .02 worth now and again.

Ben directed the video and was surrounded by the team of people he works with on a regular basis.  Needless to say, we were thrilled to have Ben and company working on the video and we think they did a stellar job that exceeded all expectations.

Coming up in my next few posts...

- The mics I chose to use to record the podcast I mentioned above - what worked and what didn't work so well.

- My experience with the new McDSP SA2 Dialog Processor and 4030 Retro Compressor plug ins

- What was behind my decision to leave the Waves REQ's behind as my go-to dialog EQ's and what I found that's quickly become my new favorite EQ

And much more to follow.  

Oh uh, happy new year and all that kinda stuff.  Now get back to work.


And I begin again...

Hello visitor to my site.  I'm back writing here again and this time, I won't stop. I can't believe what an incredible year it's been, but that's probably why I wasn't ever writing here and had decided to take the blog off my site.  

If you come here often (and almost no one does right now), you'll notice the "Gear" page is gone.  It needs to be updated and frankly, it's stupid.  The tools are by no means what makes anyone want to work with me.  If I made it happen with a cup and string, would you care?  It might make for an interesting conversation piece, but if it sounds good, it just doesn't matter at all what I used to get there.

That all said, I plan to use this blog to do just that - tell you what I'm digging, how I made something happen and hopefully, play you some before and after examples via links I'll post here.


I've been inspired lately to get back at this.  My drive to Boston is now much longer as I moved out of the city, where both my studio and my favorite "other place", Q Divison, are more or less located.

That drive has me listening to podcasts as much as I listen to music.  I mix the Go Creative Show with my friend Ben Consoli at the helm, so there's no need to hear those again (I actually listen to them as I mix them - ahem), but there's Radiolab and the Pro Tools Expert podcast that are new and I'm really digging them.  I'm just about up to date with those two, so others will likely follow.  That drive can REALLY suck at times, so podcasts are helping.  A lot.

I think Ben and I are killing it with the GCS.  It's mostly focussed on the video side of production, but I sneak in some audio post stuff from time to time.  I felt like I needed a forum of my own to profess my audio thoughts and this will be it.  I'm going to hopefully keep my posts very short and to the point, which as anyone who knows me will tell you, is rather uncharacteristic of me.


I'm back writing again and will have at it as often as I damn well feel like writing about producing, engineering and mixing music as well as my whole other life as a sound designer and audio post mixer.  I plan to dig in and just go nuts with this.  No comments allowed for now, but feel free to reach me through the contact page or via Twitter.  Happy to chat, answer questions and all that.

Now then, get back to work.  I know I'm going to.



Listen list for 2013

Happy New Year.

I'll eventually get back to writing about audio for picture, but for today, I thought I'd share a list of records I spent a lot of time listening to in 2013 - and yes, I still call them records.  Some were not released in 2013, so this isn't a 'best of new releases' kind of thing.  This is far more about what I was enjoying and studying during the last 12 months.  

In no particular order, here goes...

- Nine Inch Nails, Hesitation Marks

- Mute Math, Armistice

- Foo Fighters, Wasting Light

- Glen Hansard, Rhythm and Repose

- The Damnwells, One Last Century

- How to Destroy Angels, Welcome_oblivion

- M83, Hurry Up We're Dreaming

- Silversun Pickups, Neck Of The Woods

- Smart Kids, Smart Kids EP (full disclosure - this is my band)

- The National, High Violet

- Wye Oak, Civilian

- Copeland, In Motion

- Copeland, You Are My Sunshine

- London Grammar, If You Wait

- Noisia, Split The Atom

Audio For Picture: Mics, Mic Placement, Wireless and Recorders

In the last post, I discussed things to consider when choosing your locations.  More or less, my advice was to do some audio tests in the space you're going to shoot in before you commit to shooting there.  If the client is pushing you to shoot in a space that looks great, but doesn't sound great, be sure to set their expectations correctly in terms of what it will actually sound like at the end.  Make them aware that while you may be able to do some work on the audio or perhaps hire an audio mixer, both for an added fee, not everything can just be 'fixed in the mix'.  

For this post, I'm going to help you make some mic choices, wireless mic options and discuss some recorder options.

I'm going to spend a little time talking about technical things, but I hope to not do it in a mind-numbing way.  Those that want those technical details will have to look elsewhere and for some of this, you'll just have to trust me.

Let talk about mics.

Most often, when audio is recorded on set and delivered to me in a mix, I see a lavalier mic track and shotgun mic track for each subject, especially when they're alone on camera.  This is pretty standard, but it isn't always the case.  Sometimes both are recorded, but the better sounding of the two is what ends up in the files (AAF or OMF, more on those another time) for me to mix.  I like getting both delivered to me very much and here are the ups and downs for each. 

With lav mics, I get a more present sound - one that's generally a little closer to the speaker's mouth and therefore, the room and background noises are minimized more so than with a shotgun mic.  That said, a good, well placed shotgun mic often sounds better as the mics are (generally speaking) of higher quality and have a much larger diaphragm, which can help in this case.  Without a doubt, shotguns will pick up more of the room and background sounds, but sometimes, that can actually help.

"Well placed", what does that mean? Lavs come in a variety of pick up patterns, with omnis being the most popular on production sets.  For live sound, I see more cardioids and tighter patterns than omnis.  You more or less want to get the mic either dead-center on a tie in about the middle of the subjects breastbone or on their lapel (hence the name, "lapel mic").  Move the mic too high and the high frequencies literally get cut off by their chin and moving it too low means you're more than likely going to hear more room and clothing than their voices (decreasing the signal to noise ratio).  An omni mic is wonderful because it doesn't suffer from proximity effect like a pattern mic will.   Sometimes, I like using proximity effect, but not often in this case.  Either way, feel free to pin up an omni upside down to minimize plosives from the speakers nose and mouth.  Plosives are when a burst of air hits the mic capsule and you hear what sounds like a "boom".  Putting the mic upside down keeps the open area of the capsule pointed away and won't change the sound much - an omni mic is picks up sound from all sides fairly equally.

A couple of big pitfalls you can run with a lav mics are pretty obvious.  You hear their voices a little better than a shotgun, but you also hear their clothing - esp if they're moving around a lot simply due to the mic being attached to the person.  Another is the look of the lav.  Some people don't like seeing the mic as it takes away from the piece - you're watching a video rather than having an experience.  Some lav mics come with clips and other tools that can help you hide them, but more often than not, these don't work out so well.  Some, like my favorite, the Sanken COS11 lav, come with a very useful set of tools that actually do work. It's important to note that if you do choose to hide the lavs, you really have to pay even closer attention to the sound.  If it sounds dark and muddy, that's not good.  Compare it to the subject wearing it on the outside by trying the outside first, record a little, then move the mic to where you can't see it and press record again.  Have them answer the same question twice, roughly the same way and then listen back.  If it's significantly different, it may not work out in your mix.

I talked in the previous post about having someone actually monitor the audio, just as you monitor the video while you're shooting.  More on this later, but for now, you're going to want someone who is PICKY AS HELL about this do the listening.  If the suit jacket moves against the mic, right on their words, you're in big trouble if you want to use that line.  Ask them to say it again.  More on that later.

With a shotgun mic, you don't see it in the shot (if you're careful) and you get a sound that puts the viewer in the room. You get a sense of the space when you watch the piece by the sound of it.   This is something that can't be overlooked and can contribute a whole lot to delivering an experience, not a video.  More often than not, lavs just don't help you in this regard. 

Again, a well placed lav is sometimes really critical to keeping the sound of the room and background noise to a minimum.  They can also be the only option if you plan to shoot from a distance with a wide shot that makes booming impossible.

There is far more territory to cover there.  I could go on and on about lavs vs. shotguns and pitfalls.  I'm going to move on for now.  Feel free to send questions along if you'd like more info.

My favorite lavalieres on set or otherwise are without a doubt the Sanken COS11 mics.  They're amazing.  Nothing else I've heard even come close, but I haven't heard everything out there.  

For shotguns, I've heard a few over the years that I really, really like.  The first is an old standby that never lets me down - the Sennheiser 416, which is killer sounding mic.  Always puts a smile on my face when I hear one and I can pick those out easily in a mix.  The next one is the Schoeps CMIT-5U.  Incredible mic for not a lot of money.  I love these mics equally.  I've heard that DPA shotguns are also amazing, but I haven't used one yet. 

If you need to use a boom, choose one without a cable in the middle!!  I'll never understand how someone uses one with a cable in it.  The cable inevitably makes noises as you move it and it's connected to your microphone.  Instant noise generation is guaranteed and no, the isolation device you rented won't help you there.  Use a straight XLR cable, outside the boom and get ready for a day of keeping your hands over your head.  If you have the option to rent a c-stand clamp for your boom pole, do it. 

The next thing to cover is how you get the signal from the mic into your recording device.  

When possible, always use a wire.  There is no reason whatsoever to use wireless in a sit down interview unless you plan on going very fast and moving from location to location.  Even so, you should have time to add an XLR cable to the end of the lav or shotgun mic.  If you're booming, a plug on transmitter can be very helpful, but can also introduce levels of complexity that most don't consider.  One is that the mic pre in that case is IN the transmitter.  You can't easily tweak it while recording when it's out over the subject's head.  The other is that it adds weight and size, both of which you might regret on long shooting days with ceiling heights that are not helping you.

So, let's talk about wired vs. wireless .  With a wired mic, it's pretty easy to guess what you're going to get.  I like Canare Star-Quad cable for on set, production audio capture.  It's reasonably good sounding and does a fantastic job of eliminating RF from the signal that can come from power and signal cables that are often everywhere on a set.  That's the goal of an XLR cable in the first place - to eliminate RF from penetrating the long antenna you just put down on the floor.  

Once the signal is getting to your recording devices, you're pretty much there.  It's of course critically important that you print good levels and listen to what you're recording, but we'll get into more of that soon.

With wireless mics, you have several layers of potential problems layered into the chain.  The very first is the quality of the wireless system that you've carried to the set.  The most popular ones I see are the Sennheiser Evolution "G" series.  They have small, portable transmitters and receivers and you can get a system with a lav mic for roughly $650.  I can hear these units almost immediately when I open a session that was recorded with one and that's not a good thing.  

Sorry to pan these so hard, but I can't stand the sound of inexpensive wireless systems and you should do your best to avoid using them.  If you can't afford one of these, rent better ones until you can.  Seriously, the sound of mics on cheap wireless systems has the life choked out of them and I'm not kidding.   If you can't hear it, you'll have to trust me, it's awful and it definitely impacts your the final product.  There are circumstances where I understand why you had to use something of this sort, but the rampant use of them on productions that have the budget to use a real wireless system is just plain nuts to me.  If you have to use something inexpensive, consider the Shure FP series as an alternative to the Senny's.  You'll spend about the same and you'll be happier and so will I if I end up mixing your piece.

For me, I think portable systems begin with units like the Lectrosonics 100 series.  The lav mics these ship with should be used as back ups only, but the wireless systems are not a little better than G series mentioned above, they're miles and miles better.  They're roughly twice the cost though depending on which one you chose and again, that lav that ships with those systems shouldn't taken seriously, so you'll need to buy a lav as well.  

Another new system that I've used a lot recently is the Shure UR5 receiver with UR1 bodypack transmitter.  When used properly, these units sound like a wire with incredible clarity, punch and they're dead quiet to boot.  The tiny glass screens can be a bit scary for portable use, but the easy to navigate menus, the frequency scanning (to search for an open channel) and infrared syncing to the bodypack make this combo a winner.  Something like this would set you back about $2k.  Again, not cheap, but it sounds like a cable.  The Shure lav mics I've used are best for live sound and are not my favorites.  A bonus with buying a Shure wireless system is that everyone makes and adapter for their transmitters - Shure is the largest manufacturer of mic and wireless mic systems in the world by a long shot.  They sell more 57's and 58's than nearly every other companies products combined.

Lectrosonics also makes some high end systems if you're looking into getting something in the price range of the UR5 system.  These are the most commonly used portable wireless systems used by pro's.  They're extremely durable and they sound fantastic.  I kind of like the Shure's better, but you won't see nearly as many of those in the field and you would be able to rent comparable Lectro systems at most broadcast houses - something you may want to consider for back ups or to add more channels.  They'll play well together.  The Lectro's are tougher to use for the most part, but they can be thrown down a flight of stairs (something I don't recommend doing on purpose) and they'll keep transmitting. 

If you do use wireless systems, It's always important to know what frequencies are a good starting place.  You can always ask your local broadcast rental house for advice.  In fact, I highly recommend that as they'll know what you'll be up against.  Digital television is your first big concern when using UHF mics and you can easily search for this info online.  In the very first search I did, I found that Shure has an online search tool here that can be helpful for using their systems.  I'm sure with more digging, you can find more resources.

I'm going to move on to recording units and levels for a moment and circle back to wireless in a few. 

Some cameras have built-in XLR inputs and for a number of reasons, this often a good choice to go with.  The big one is syncing things up later and often be difficult if you use an external recorder.  That said, you'd have to monitor the sound off the camera and most of the time, both the mic pre's and headphone jacks are pretty cheap in cameras - they're far more concerned about making great optics, sensors and viewfinders.  If you have an experienced audio guy with you, he'll often carry his own mics, boom, wireless and a mixer that all fit into a bag he can carry around on set.  For bigger productions, guys use "audio carts", but let's stick with the 4 mics or less plan and an audio guy (or not) for now.

Modern portable mixers, such as units made by Sound Devices, have the ability to listen back to what's being printed on the camera (and see the meters, provided they took the time to set it up properly) through the use of a break away cable that includes a return from the camera's headphone jack.  These modern, portable mixers have a special input that allows a user to toggle over to that return from the camera and see the level and hear the signal from that headphone jack.  This can be a lifesaver and really is the only way to go.

What these mixers also have are fantastic sounding mic pre's and they're dead quiet.  I was fortunate enough to demo one of the very first production units made by Sound Devices when I worked in a broadcast equipment sales and rentals house, roughly 15 years ago and was blown away by the construction and sound quality of this little, one-channel, portable mixer.  They've come a long way since then and offer multitrack recording right in the mixers themselves and more.  There are many reasons why the pro's reach for these and these are just a few.  

As I started to allude to, another option is to have the audio person carry a portable recorder and use the on-camera mic as a reference to sync to later.  You may be able to sync between the recorder and camera on set and there are tools that automate a manual sync in NLE's, but be sure you know what you're doing by testing it all out before you attempt this.  The last thing you want to be doing is syncing it all up by hand later.  I know one thing, I won't be doing it for you.  :)

If you use an external recorder, one of the popular ones I can hear right away are the Zoom H4 recorders.  I won't even post a link to this thing because again, I can hear it because of the absolutely horrible quality.  These recorders are by far the most popular ones used on shoots I end up mixing the audio for and I can't stand the sound of them.  Sorry, they stink on every level - the pre's are bad, the converters are bad and the clocking is the worst I've ever seen, which leads to things falling out of sync.  

The Tascam line of recorders are a far better choice in my opinion.  The units are budget conscience without being cheap and they offer a bunch of models.  Today, I wouldn't but something that doesn't have XLR inputs and 24 bit recording.  The built in mics can be handy for the listening tests I talked about in the previous post, but are not essential.  From there, you could look into the Zoom H6, which I've been told is a much-improved unit, but if I've mixed something recorded on it, I'm unaware.  I like asking, but I often only ask when I hear problems and when I have asked, it's usually an H4 - which is how I know what they sound like.  

The Sound Devices recorders are once again my clear choice.  I can always tell when one was used - they sound stellar.  For many, these are a rental option only, but I can't say enough good things about them.

So much to go into there, but for now, I'll go into recording levels.  

When I'm recording people talking, I like to print the level high enough to get over the noise floor of the set up, but leave a lot of room for when people get excited and laugh or shout.  I find printing with peaks no louder than -12dB can work really well.  You're above the noise floor and leaving a good amount of room for "overs" - clipping and distortion.  Go ahead and ask the talent to clap their hands and see what happens.  If you go into the red, back down the level a bit and try again.  Some like printing audio around -18dB or even lower. 

If the unit has a limiter, try it and see what happens.  Make sure it's one that doesn't add any compression other than for peak limiting.  If you find yourself leaning on that limiter, you're probably recording too loudly.

One thing I want to be sure to mention is that it's SUPER HELPFUL to get a minute of room tone for each location and for those files to be clearly marked and organized into a folder that gets zipped up along with the OMF/AAF.  Also, if you hear a distracting sound when someone is being interviewed that's momentary, but is definitely there (and perhaps right on their words), ask them to immediately repeat their answer.  Most people can do this on command with very little coaching.  They're in such a self-aware state, they can often hear their words clearly as they're saying them and they'll parrot them right back if asked.

And yes, someone has to be watching the levels and actually listening to the audio being recorded at all times.  Did I say that enough times?  Well either way, you're going to see that over and over here.

Back to wireless for a second to wrap things up…

Something to consider with wireless mics is that the preamp for the mic, is in the transmitter.  It has to be, right?  How else would phantom power be delivered to the capsule?  

With that in mind, you have to get the level of the mic set correctly within the transmitter prior to sending over radio waves.  What's the right level?  This isn't much different than setting the level of the recorder.  You want to get above the noise floor of the transmission, but not too loud that it distorts.  I personally like to hit the transmitters pretty hard with level.  If you don't do this, you may hear mild to severe amounts of white noise "wash" on the subject's voice.  I just went through this with a mix recently and it was impossible to remove all of it. I ended up having to duck a lot of high end to minimize the noise, something I wouldn't have done as a choice for the piece I was mixing. 

Enough for now.  Send along your questions and comments and follow me on twitter for updates to the blog which will be coming soon.   Also be sure to check out the Go Creative Show, which I mix every week. 



Audio For Picture: Where to Start

The Blog is up, finally. 

over the next few weeks, i'm going to start blogging about audio for picture and see where it takes me.  i do have some grand plans in my head for all of this, but who knows.  for now, i'd like to just start yapping here about it and see what happens.

before i start, i have to take a second here and say that i answered a whole ton of questions about this stuff when i was interviewed for what is now called 'the go creative show', a podcast that i now mix every week that i also wrote and performed all the new music and bumpers for.  it has my friend ben consoli at the helm and he's a beast of producer and interviewer.  he also happens to be one of the most knowledgeable and skilled producer/shooter/editors i've had the good fortune of working with a whole lot over the last couple of years.  those who know ben, know what i'm talking about.  we've decided to re-cut that interview for a variety of reasons i won't go into here, but i'll definitely by posting a link to it on this blog as well as on twitter.  also check out ben's work here.  his site is brand new and it's nice to see many pieces on his reel that i mixed.  he's a great guy that does great work. 

so, you want your audio on your video and film projects to sound a whole lot better, eh?  i can help you.  i know you'd like me to start right at the post production moment when you open things up take a listen and oof, you realize there's a lot to do to make the audio acceptable, let alone 'finished' and pro sounding.  

the first thing to note is that if you're using a lot of production audio, that is, audio that was captured on set, you're gonna need to do some things to make it work that are probably foreign to you.  even if you've done your share with soundsoap or other freebie/cheap noise reduction tools, there's probably a whole world of tools and techniques out there that you know exist, but you've never had the time to really dig into them.  more on that later.

if the plan is to capture audio on set and then do a whole ton of ADR (automated dialog replacement) in a studio, that's a whole other discussion.  for this post, i'm going to focus on the planned use of production audio, recorded on set.

the truth is, i'd like to learn to edit video.  i probably never will.  why?  it's hard and time consuming and i have enough hard and time consuming things in my life just with audio!  for many of you, audio is this 'other thing' that you know you need to learn more about, but it's SO foreign to you, it's hard to know where to start. 

that's where i hope to help you and do so by breaking things down into pieces in an easy to understand way.  i work with so many video people, i know how you think, i know how you work and even knowing all of that, i swear, i can help you.  i'm kidding.  kind of.

one thing i will say right off that bat is that no matter what you know or what you'll learn here, if you're an editor, it's probably not a stretch to say you're busy as hell and if you want something mixed right and you want it mixed right now, you should call someone that can do that for you.  you won't be able to come here to this blog and learn that "one thing that makes your mixes work".  mixing is just like editing - a good edit is the result of a thousand choices and lots of experience that help you make those individual choices.  mixing audio is no different and the only way you make better choices is to do this an awful lot and make an awful lot of bad ones for a long, long time.   think back to your first year of actual editing.  that's more than likely where you are with audio, no?

sorry to go on and on, but it's important to note that i began working on audio for picture more than ten years ago, but had been a musician that had been in studios playing, producing, engineering and mixing for nearly 10 years prior to that.  i knew the tools, i just had to re-think everything and i was fine.  again, i'm kidding.  sort of.

so to actually begin, you should be capturing better.  that's right, you need record it well in order for it to work well in a mix.  what a shock, i know.

let's begin.  finally.

before you go out and shoot your next piece, consider taking a hand held recorder like the tascam DR-05 or a zoom H6 to your next sight survey - something with a pair of built-in condenser mics and bring your trusty sony 7506 headphones with you.  be sure to be there on the future set at a similar time of day that you would shoot - not only for lighting purposes, but also to note the activity that may be going on around the space that the client isn't considering at all - the noise.

walk around the area where you think you'll be shooting and take a listen with the headphones on with the unit recording.  gain it up a lot and see what happens.  talk.  see what happens.  do you hear a lot of HVAC noise (low rumble or otherwise)?  do you hear people talking in adjacent rooms?  do you hear doors opening and closing, elevators, traffic outside, phones, printers, airplanes above (i'm serious), birds chirping (even more serious), dogs barking or anything else that's loud and distracting?    ask someone some questions right where they'll be standing/sitting in the interview and get the mic reasonably close - like a lav and like shotgun.  keep recording and plan on listening to this recording when you get to your edit suite.  you'll have a whole new perspective on what the room sounds like when you're not in it and not thinking about the picture.

now then, you're in your edit suite and listening back to the recording.  how do the voices sound?  do you hear reflections from the hard surfaces all around you?  how about a resonant sound that has a tight echo from the tiny conference room with a lot of glass that will, "look so great" and sound so terrible (i'm not bitter or jaded, i swear!)?  how about a long reverb from the gymnasium-sized room that you're shooting in?   many rooms that are indeed small end up sounding huge with mics on - you've heard this and you know what i mean.  sometimes, they just sound wrong and you don't know why, so don't shoot there!  

admittedly, this isn't the best test.  you won't be recording using those mics.  that said, those mics give you a sense of the worst case scenario.  a well placed lav, which puts the sound source (their mouth) much closer to the mic will obviously cut down on the room sound as you're getting more signal than noise.  a shotgun might not, depending on the shots you're going for (which will change how close you can get the mic to their head).

get creative and find another space if you have to.  if you noticed the sun shining through the windows and creating moving reflections from cars outside across the subjects faces while shooting an easy going, corporate piece that caused the talent to squint every time a car passed outside, would you stay there?  if you couldn't make it stop, of course not.  why would you shoot where at best, you're going to have an awful time making what they say AUDIBLE?   isn't the point of THE WHOLE THING THAT THE VIEWERS HEAR WHAT IS BEING SAID?

ahem.  not bitter.  ok, sort of not bitter.  we move on...

if you're outside, your problems only grow.  i swear i've heard it all in productions and my clients (you, the video guy, not the end-clients) are often VERY surprised what comes out when you use a condenser mic and add a smidge of compression, just trying to mellow the dynamics of someone talking (and to help get them above the music track, but that's another topic).  outdoor recording can be extremely challenging.  listen carefully because although being outside often means you're in the most sound absorbing environment there is, what's often just under the surface is traffic in the distance, birds chirping and dogs barking, lawnmowers and other things you don't even notice - you name, i've been asked to fix it and i can't remove everything without ruining the sound of the voices.

really listen.  be picky, because if you hear any of those things, there's a really good chance you'll hear them in your final deliverable no matter what you learn here.  when a loud noise happens RIGHT on someone's words, it often can't be fixed and the wizard of production that was hidden behind the curtain is immediately revealed - the viewer is now watching a video, not having an experience.  non-production people notice if the sound is good or not, much like a performance of the national anthem - they might not know when it was truly great, but they sure do know when it's bad or worse.

all of the above mentioned sounds have appeared in pieces i've mixed and sometimes, all of them happen on a single piece.  i can never get over it and probably never will.  you'll never just 'fix it in the mix' even with the best tools.  there are some amazing tools out there (see the cedar tools here - wowing, but so is the price and so is the cost of the operator).  my new favorite, izotope RX3, is stunningly good and i'll get into that in an upcoming post.  that all said, nothing beats getting it right on the way in.  the vast majority the 'big name' pro's we all admire capture it right and there is no 'fixing it later'.  they don't have to.

so, now it's time to capture.  you plan on using the production audio from the set and you have to make some choices on what mics to use, where to put them, what recorder to use and who's going to actually listen on set and to make sure you don't record crap.  
i get asked all the time to go on set and capture audio.  i rarely do that anymore.  it's just not my thing - i like post production with regards to picture projects specifically and that's where i spend most of my time.  that said, i just left a set this very morning where i was asked to just make sure that things were connected correctly and that the wireless mics were dialed in and functioning properly.  i was about to leave and i asked who would be monitoring the audio during the shoot and i was told no one is.  i asked how they would know if they starting getting RF hits, if there was a sudden and awful ground hum that kicked in, etc, etc?  not one of them on set had a pair of headphones other than in-ear iPhone style ones.  seriously.  i couldn't leave the ones i had carried in with me as i was off to do other things (not just write this post - actual audio work).  they were dismayed, but i couldn't help them.  this is not the first time i've seen this happen and i'm sure it won't be the last.

i've heard so many people tell me, right to my face, that the reason they need to hire me to fix things is this simple - no one was monitoring the audio recording on set.  i bet you've seen this happen too.  
i can't imagine you didn't look at the camera's image while shooting so, why wouldn't you...

yup, i really do know you guys.  we'll cover a whole lot of that next time.

anyway,  this first tip is summed up this way...not only should you do a 'site survey', but you should also take a 'listening survey' while you're at it.  

on the next post, which will be up shortly, i'll get into mics, recorders and techniques without all the set up discussion at the top of the post.  follow me on twitter and feel free to make suggestions on things you'd like covered in future posts.

thanks for reading,