4 Biggest Production Sound Myths

      These are the four biggest myths about Location Sound, Sound Gear and Sound Operators.

  1. Myth: Sound is less important than your picture.
      Most people new to the production biz always think this is the case. Actually, the exact opposite has been proven by several focus group studies conducted by major studios and smaller acoustic societies. With the dawn of YouTube and similar outlets, the public has been conditioned to accept shaky cameras, grungy looks, and bad lighting as shooting style. This is good news for a beginning shooter with little experience. However, audiences will subconsciously (or consciously) lose interest in the material, change they’re viewing, or completely stop viewing within 30 seconds of being subject to bad sound. What makes up bad sound? Bad sound includes poorly equalized voices, a noisy soundtrack, and inconsistent sound quality not to mention the editing problems it causes later in audio post-production.

  2. Myth: The camera costs more than the sound gear.
      When comparing the price of a good camera and a good tripod, (the basic essential gear for a shooter), vs. the gear for just an adequately equipped sound person, the cost of sound gear easily surpasses the cost of a camera combo. With the advent of lower-cost digital video cameras it's a solid fact. Here is an example of a basic sound package provided by a typical location sound person:

    • Battery operated 3 or 4-channel field mixer ($1,500-$3,500)
    • Boom pole + head + zeppelin + windmuff (for outdoor use) ($800-$2,000)
    • Boom mic ($600-$3,000)
    • Shotgun mic ($700-$3,500)
    • Lavalier transmitter/receiver combo ($600-$2,800 per combo)
    • Lavalier mic ($150-$400 per mic)
    • Battery operated 2 or 4-track recorder ($900-$4,500)
    • XLR cables/spares/connectors ($300-$600)
      This pretty much covers a basic sound package, ranging from low-end gear, to accepted and more desirable industry standard gear. Bargain low-quality gear costs roughly $5,500 - about equal to many of the cameras used in the low-budget indie scene today. However, when you have access to the gear that anyone that's been in the industry for more than 2-3 years will own, the gear costs in the neighborhood of $12,000 to $18,000 and up - usually double or triple the cost of the camera combo used for the shoot. (Cart-based sound packages are even higher). Rental of a very basic low-end gear package, from any indie-friendly rental house in the U.S., starts at $250-$350/day. In addition, with the multiple components and connectors of a complete sound system comes additional upkeep, repair, and replacement costs of about double the rate of camera gear - easily $1,000-$2,000/year. A lens or tripod can last for 20 years, a lavalier mic or transmitter might break in 3 months.

  3. Myth: Anyone can do sound.
      I have witnessed several productions more than willing to train a PA on the spot to do sound with the most dismal results, just to save a few dollars. Typical problems include: booms in the shot, boom shadows on actor’s faces, too high volume levels from the mixer to the recorder, too low volume levels from the mixer to the recorder, no concept of mic pickup patterns, mics not facing the subject or being too far away to be usable, heavy-handling of the boom pole causing rumble in the sound, clothing noise from poor lavalier placement, RF noise and/or dropouts on the wireless radio mic channels, and continued shooting through sirens and plane noise.

      Productions typically waste hours trying to accommodate the consequences of such shortsighted thinking, usually exposing the fact that a shoot is an amateur production. Result: even more surprises and problems in post-production. I am aware of one entire feature having to be ADR’d due to an inexperienced sound team using “borrowed” gear with no clue how to use it. The producer found out the hard way that it saves money in the long run to just pay professionals up front. Any producer with more than one feature under their belt, has either learned the hard way, or the easy smart way. Don’t forget to budget realistically for sound!

  4. Myth: Sound operators need your material for their reel.
      Have you ever listened to a sound person’s reel? No? Probably because no one, (except other sound people), really know what good sound is and what to listen for. Anyone can submit the quietest scene they have ever recorded. Sound reels are misleading and in the end - meaningless. What you pay for is not the equipment but the experience of the sound person and what they can truly bring to the table on set.

  These “four biggest myths of production sound” seem to run rampant on “crewing websites” such as Craigslist and the like, and get perpetuated by people new to the film business that read ad after ad of “no pay”, “copy, credit, and food”, over and over. Many film study education courses also proliferate these attitudes, so please consider this a friendly chunk of knowledge to help you along your way.

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