* I didn’t write this, though I wish I had. I do know it was written for ReelGrok some time ago and deserves to be part of the site. When the real author stands up, I’d love to add his or her name to this marvelous piece of information.
Myth #1. Sound is less important than your picture.
Most people new to the production biz 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 EQd 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 lavaliere 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 misrepresentation 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.