Studio Unknown/PopMark Media's Confessions of a Small Working Studio—Secrets of Audio Post Survival

Jan 11, 2011 6:12 PM, By Lisa Horan and Kevin Hill

Tips from the Pros

There you are: relaxing in that nice, ergonomically correct chair that’s perfectly situated front and center of your console, completely protected from the harsh conditions of the world outside. When you stop and think about technical field crews—those poor camera guys and recordists who have to bear the cold, the wind, the stormy seas of demanding location shoots—you’ve got to feel bad for them.

Then you fire up your system and check out the raw audio you'll have to mix, and without leaving your seat, you've been thrust right along side of them—into the inhospitable realities of the field and the sounds that accompany it. But the truth is, it works out pretty well for you, considering that audio in need of help equals clients in your studio. On the other hand, there are some fixes that seem to require a little more than even your miraculous powers can handle.

What's a sound designer/mixer to do? This month, we highlight the strategies and tricks that two veteran audio post engineers use to survive.

photo of Dallas Taylor

Audio post engineer Dallas Taylor of Defacto Sound

Survival Tip #1: Expect Hindrances. . . No Matter What
You know as well as anyone that crews on some shoots are better than others, and budgets on some projects are bigger than others. Both make a marked difference in the quality of audio that results. However, even if you're fortunate enough to land a project with a budget that afforded a location audio guy, inevitably, there is going to be something to clean up in audio post. "I'm really lucky to be able to work with some very talented and experienced location crews, but even though a good portion of what I receive may sound fine, I still have to process it and make some adjustments," says audio post engineer Dallas Taylor of Defacto Sound. "Rarely is there not a need for noise reduction or some type of treatment," says Taylor, who works on a cross-section of projects, including programs appearing on NBC, Fox, the Discovery Channel, A&E, the History Channel, and many more.

Although the most common issue Taylor must contend with in most of his projects is excessive broadband noise, many documentaries require more extensive treatment, especially given the physical environments in which they are being shot. Take, for instance, the Discovery Channel hit show Deadliest Catch. "The situation with Catch is pretty unique in that space is limited, the lodging areas are very small, and there are obviously a number of safety issues that are involved with shooting, so there can be no audio techs on board," explains Emmy-winning re-recording mixer and sound designer Bob Bronow, who has been working on the show since its inception. "Imagine a sound guy trying to hold a boom pole on a deck covered with six inches of ice. That's not going to work, so camera operators and producers are the ones responsible for obtaining audio," adds Bronow, who splits his time between his work at Max Post and his independent company, Audio Cocktail.

The audio captured on Deadliest Catch is done so mainly through camera mics, as well as some lavaliers that have been placed on willing fishermen. Another great example of a program that required significant noise reduction is the former reality show Monster Garage, which featured participants using copious amounts of power tools to fabricate "monster" machines. “With the steady grinding of power tools and constant whirring of engines all within the confines of a large concrete box, the show was my first foray into hostile recording environments,” recalls Bronow, who now works on such programs as Spike TV's 1,000 Ways to Die, the History Channel's Ax Men, and films such as The Wrecking Crew. "A camera guy would be asking one of the stars on Monster a question, when all of a sudden he’d fire up a power tool as he was answering.” What resulted was an "interesting" collection of audio that required some serious magic to fix.

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