Location Sound & Video Services

“He knows what good sound is and knows how to get it.”
-- Chip Curry (Director of Photography)

Some background on sound for film & video

  Production sound mixing is the complex craft of recording live dialogue and sound effects on the set during principal photography of a motion picture or videotape. Charged with the responsibility of capturing crisp dialog, evocative ambiences and pure performances for every take and retake, our work is often overshadowed by the more glamorous contributions of the post community, but we are the first critical link in the film/video sound chain. At best, our work is utterly transparent (more on this later), not calling attention to itself. At worst, well, if you have to struggle and strain to understand what the characters are saying, or noisy backgrounds overwhelm the dialog, or the finished film is overloaded with badly done ADR, chances are that the location sound mixer had a rough outing. And it probably wasn’t their fault.

  Audio conveys almost all of the emotional impact in the visual medium. It’s a fact. If you watch your favorite scene from any film or TV show with the sound off, you soon discover that moving images on their own are typically not very emotionally involving. Of course, silent films could be scary, sad, happy, dramatic or interesting, only and precisely because they were conceived without sound from the beginning. In fact, to help overcome this handicap, most silent films were viewed with either live or pre-recorded music accompaniment. Obviously, most filmmakers want to produce works that will emotionally involve their audience. For most of us, video has become the single most common collective vocabulary in our lives. If done well, the combination of picture and effective sound is excellent for communicating almost any message to almost any audience.

It’s just audio... right?

  Video professionals typically find sound one of the most challenging aspects of production. There is an explanation for this. Great quality sound is much harder to get right on set, than the picture is, because there are so many invisible variables constantly working against you. It’s very tempting to come up with multiple reasons to say “It’s just audio!”, especially where production budgets are concerned. We are very used to spending time, effort and money on better cameras, lenses and bigger & better lighting in order to see an immediate payoff when our images are viewed. It’s instantly recognizable if a scene is lit effectively or if a visual effect is done well. We feel justified in shooting in a higher quality, more expensive format or with a bigger crew because most of us can immediately recognize the end result on-screen. Therein lies the trap.

  One of the toughest concepts for many filmmakers & videographers to grasp is that the better job you do with your project’s sound, the less it will be noticed. The soundtrack has a deeper effect on the apparent quality of a production than most people consciously realize. A good soundtrack can evoke emotions, clarify the action and shift the mood. It can make the difference between an average production and an outstanding one. This important aspect of film & video art is relatively simple yet too often underestimated. I feel that this is one of the main reasons why projects which don’t budget realistically for an experienced production sound professional, don’t end up emotionally involving their audiences as much as they could have.

  If we consciously notice a soundtrack problem, it is usually because the audio was acquired or mixed incorrectly, unless of course the ‘problem’ was specifically intended. This is the central concept of transparent sound. The better job that is done initially acquiring your production sound, the less the audience will notice it. Great sound works on a subconscious level with the viewer, drawing them into what they are viewing. Put another way, great sound supports and enhances the stories you are trying to tell and you should always take time to consider what sound your video will have.

  Four points to remember about sound for picture:
  1. The principles (and difficulties) of getting good location sound are the same everywhere whether you are shooting your tenth independent film or your first video project.
  2. Pictures convey your story’s information... The sound conveys your story’s emotion and impact.
  3. No matter who the audience is, at the very least, they expect “transparent” sound.
  4. The higher quality your soundtrack, the more intelligible it will be and the less it will be consciously noticed.

What are a sound mixer’s responsibilities?

  No matter what the size of the production budget, the location sound mixer provides many duties. For the largest budgets, he/she may command a crew consisting of one or more boom operators, a cable wrangler and sometimes an equipment technician. The sound mixer will determine what microphones are used for every scene, operate the sound recorder, maintain the sound report, notify the director (or AD) of any sound problems, keep sound levels consistent, avoid distortion from too high levels, watch for boom shadows, determine sound perspective after discussion with the director, record “room tone” and of course most important, provide a soundtrack with clean, intelligible, first-rate audio quality.

  As mentioned previously, achieving clear, crisp dialogue and sound effects on the set during principal photography of a film or video production is no easy task. Production sound mixing is a craft that requires a blend of years of technical expertise and the proper specialized tools. The equipment must be of the highest quality and battery powered for portability, but equipment is only a part of the equation. The production sound mixer must have a deep understanding of sound propagation, polar patterns of various microphone types, interfacing levels of various analog and digital equipment, mastery of wireless RF in an increasingly congested broadcast frequency spectrum and of course a great set of ears.

  Needless to say, trying to concentrate on audio production while juggling all the other aspects of filmmaking, storytelling and cinematography is impossible. There are only two types of sound that a crew without a sound specialist can be expected to successfully achieve:
  • Ambience
  • Talking head

Why hire me?

  In short, if you want great audio, you need to budget for a location sound specialist like myself. Working with a professional mixer will save you money, time and headache during production and most importantly, the audio post-production stage (To see my Audio Post-Production page) [click here].

  Cheap isn’t the best way to go either, especially for audio. There are plenty of inexperienced sound guys/gals who may be cheaper, but ask yourself a simple question: Is a cheap day rate worth unusable audio? As an experienced, Grammy-nominated audio engineer, I can give you my pledge to get you the best sound possible for your production. While assumed by seasoned pros, here are some points and some sound assurance:
  • I can read producers, clients and DP’s needs (in fact, I’m an occasional DP too) and can adjust accordingly.
  • I have used most all the major brands of sound equipment and all types of audio gear specialized for particular tasks: Sound Devices, Lectrosonics, Sennheiser, Neumann, Sanken, Shure, Sony, Schoeps, Mackie, Tascam, etc.
  • I’m an expert in digital and analog audio techniques and standards. Also, I can choose the equipment, mixing techniques and delivery format according to your audio needs. I can set proper reference levels for all types of SD and HD video including, AVCHD, HDV, DVCAM, DVC Pro, BetaCam SP, DAT and analog audio devices. I don’t require baby sitting for proper audio level modulation and I take my job as your on-set sound authority just as seriously as a producer or DP with his/her reputation on the line.
  • I have used many other studios, facilities and DP’s audio bags and equipment.
  • I can location scout for the best sound and acoustics.
  • I have years of experience adapting and overcoming sound challenges.
  • I can hide a microphone and rig mics to be invisible to the camera.
  • I know mic placement and how to get you the cleanest, richest sound.

What equipment do you bring to the table?

  While the experience of the “equipment” between the headphone earpieces is what matters most, it also goes without saying that the right tools are a necessity for doing a great job. To see a list of the company I keep in my audio bag of tricks, [click here].


On the set of the recent production “Christian & Chloe”

On the set of the production “Jackson Arms”

On the set of the production “The Cannonball Express”

On the set of the production “Escape”

   Following are some raw dialogue location soundtrack examples and some corporate excerpts I have permission to audition here. The files have been kept large in order to preserve the soundtrack’s audio quality in order to provide a useful audible reference. These clips, therefore, should be auditioned through full range speakers (or a good set of headphones.) You will need a fast internet connection in order for them to load in a reasonable time so be patient.

(Click the play button to view or listen to any audio/video clip)

(Film) “Christian & Chloe” Raw Production Sound Example

(Cable TV) “Going Pro” Raw Production Sound Example

(Corporate) “Silicon Valley Open Studios” Production Sound Example

(Corporate) “AAHD Symposium” Raw Production Sound Example

(Web Series) “EXIT Stage Left” [episode 1.7] Production Sound Example

What is involved in live performance on location recording?

  Live performance on location recording is extremely difficult to pull off well. I have extensive experience in recording everything from musical groups to corporate events in any live situation. In fact, I started my audio career by recording live bands on location... certainly a trial by ordeal! Whether audio & video using multiple cameras or multitrack audio only for album release, I have the equipment and the know how to do it right the first time which, typically, is the only chance you get when recording a one time event.

  Alfred Hitchcock abhorred filming on-location because of his lack of total control over all production elements, a pertinent testimonial to Murphy’s Law. Unlike typical studio recording, on location requires that all recording equipment be transported and setup at a live venue where most acquisition decisions must be made on the spot. While this is a daunting thought, there are many ways of minimizing the consequences of Murphy’s Law in these situations. With an audio engineering Grammy nomination & Ampex Golden Reel award under my belt, I have over thirty years of experience in both classical and popular music multitrack recording and providing sound for video/film shoots. Give me a call if you want to find out more about how I can capture the excitement of your next live event.

  Following is an example of a 3-camera, multitrack location recording shoot I produced, mastered and edited. As before, the files have been kept large in order to preserve the soundtrack’s audio quality and nuance in order to provide a useful audible reference. This clip, therefore, should be auditioned through full range speakers (or a good set of headphones.) You will need a fast internet connection in order for it to load in a reasonable time so be patient.

  Enjoy this 3.5 minute performance excerpt!

“Matt Venuti & The Venusians” 3-Camera Location Recording Example

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