Why Rent from an Owner/Operator?

Lately, I've been getting asked by production companies for me to use sound equipment that they own, in order for them to save money from renting from me. This has in every case been a huge compromise for both the production and myself and I'll explain why this is a strategy to avoid for production companies and sound mixers alike.

Many producers don't seem to know some of the audio arsenal and how important some of the items are, and I understand, producers have amazingly difficult jobs, always busy, overworked and need to take care of way too many completely different things at once. Just look at that email chain! When you hire a sound mixer, rent his/her gear. It will save you a ton of headache in preproduction, production and post-production, I promise! Your editors will thank you! If the rental rate sounds too high and you will only agree to a number someone else told you to budget for sound, do not simply say, "no" when your mixer is not willing to provide the gear and labor necessary for this job at THAT rate. Negotiation is not a competition, it is a task/goal where two sides work together upon to reach a mutual agreement that works for both sides. "No" means we both lose. Lets make this work; can you take that money from somewhere else? Do you really need a $200/day wireless focus on a sit down interview? That might be able to buy you lavs for all of your talent, or sync for all of your cameras, or IFBs for all of your clients.

I can understand a production company owning their own camera and taking care of that, although even with that, that specific camera is not always the right tool for every job. However, I cannot fully understand why a production company would try to save pennies while spending dollars on both purchasing sound gear and paying for post-production costs to deal with the issues it creates. Production companies, camera people and camera rental houses never know nearly enough about sound, sound gear, sound trends and current laws to buy, build, and maintain a proper sound kit over time. Even if they did, the tools they own are very unlikely to be the best tool for the job on some of the jobs. The last few years, I've been getting into mixing and engineering for live sound. On these jobs, the company almost always owns the equipment- mixing board, speakers, mics, and everything is already built in the space, routed and setup "for good." This makes sense. I do these jobs without renting my gear to them because it does not make sense to add my gear into a system like this. In these cases, they pay a pretty penny to have professional experts install all of the equipment the right way. But on a video shoot, productions have been asking to me use their nameless gear. It is a rarity for any of them to know the difference between a "transmitter" and a "receiver" or a 1/4" connector and an 1/8" connector, let alone the difference between a SD744 and an SD664, or what wireless frequencies are legal and which aren't today and tomorrow.

I've had countless bad experiences with equipment rented from either camera rental houses, camera people or given to me by the client or production company. In order to highlight the common areas of failure, I'll list examples below:

Wireless in Illegal Frequencies
C Band, E Band, Blocks 23, 27 and up are currently illegal in the US as they are reserved for TV stations and emergency responders. Not only are they illegal but in my experiences, all of the frequencies there are completely taken and you will not get usable sound from those units, especially larger markets like here in NYC. In addition, B Range or Blocks 24-26 will soon become illegal as well in July 2020, as T-Mobile is buying it out. However, as a sound professional who stays on top of these trends, I happen to know that 10 mHz in the top of block 25 / B Range will remain legal and likely safe even after 2020. That range is 653-663 mHz; you're welcome. Let's see if you remember that. It's tattooed on my back. Oh, but 10 mHz is small, so don't buy a ton of wireless in that range and expect it to work. If you own wireless equipment, please check your frequency ranges and if they are illegal, either sell them abroad or get rid of them, they are really no good here in the US. Here is some great information on the details of the new FCC laws and regulations regarding illegal frequency use.

Old Outdated Equipment
Lectrosonics um200c
Almost every time I am handed equipment from another source, the gear is either prosumer equipment (Sennheiser wireless, Zoom recorders, Azden microphones, etc) or if it's a good brand such as Sound Devices or Lectrosonics, it is old equipment from the 1980s or 90s. Yes, the Lectrosonics um200 must have been good decades ago, but the wireless spectrum has become a lot more crowded over the years which has forced wireless equipment to become better, and the newer models have. So using an old Lectrosonics wireless can even be worse than using a new Sony or Sennheiser wireless and that's pretty sad. Just because you "have a shotgun mic, a boom pole, a lav and a mixer" doesn't mean it's any good or that you should use it. I have a camera in my pocket, shall we use that to shoot your national TV spot? I have a lamp in my bedroom, lets light an episodic with it. Or my father has an Arri camera, lets use it! Oh great, Arri makes great stuff! Shows up to set and it's a 16mm Arri Bolex from the 1960s. Oh, I was expecting something else... Just because it's Sound Devices, doesn't mean it's the right tool for the job. For example, the 744 is a great recorder made by a great brand, however, it has a very limited number of inputs, (4, not 7) and a very limited number of outputs among many other flaws that have been improved upon in the current 600 series. Also, when a Sound Mixer provides a SD 744 or 788, they'll have the proper accessories and add-ons for it such as FADERS which are extremely important, an audio bag or cart, power, media. When I'm provided with a mixer from production, it's literally just a recorder with no convenient mixing capabilities, media, power or a vessel. That's like bringing in a great camera but with no lenses, tripod, media, or power. Ok, so your $70k camera is worthless then. A sound mixer will always have these things and are familiar with it all already with no prep days needed! I personally own a Sound Devices 664 which is a very versatile mixer with, how many outputs? 12, not 6. Yes, a 664 has three times the inputs as a 744, don't try to figure that one out, plus it has plenty of amazing outputs, features and faders built right in! Albeit, only 6 faders, a CL-6 is needed to conveniently mix more inputs, otherwise, but that's too much sound talk, your gear provider wouldn't know that.
Cheap Equipment 
If you're going to spend the money up front and buy gear, buy the right gear! Do not go cheap! When I'm given gear by production, they usually give me very cheap equipment that is not reliable or good sounding. Sennheiser wireless is not up to standards for talent to wear on a field shoot. The stock lavs are absolutely terrible. You're spending about $600 on an entire wireless channel with a free lav. Lectrosonics and Zaxcom are much more expensive but very worth it, any sound mixer will agree! No, they do not come with a stock lav mic, because they know their customers know they should get one made by a company that specializes in making quality lav mics, such as Sanken or DPA. These lav mics by themselves cost almost as much as the entire Sennheiser wireless kit, and they're worth every penny if they're going to be used! When you see our gear rental rates they are not for your $5-15k kit you priced out online. A professional Sound Mixer's gear should cost around $35-100k depending on the type of work it's for. You get what you pay for. Pay once, cry once. Like I said earlier, don't try to save pennies while you're spending dollars! Although you'll need to pay more than once because the world changes and technology needs to change with it. Fortunately, you should be making nice profits during that time from doing things right! So, don't just buy sound gear then not update it for 30 years. Microphones generally last a long time but certainly not wireless, field mixers, timecode solutions and accessories, which are always improving to work well with modern needs.

Wrong Equipment
I've been handed wireless receivers and transmitters in different frequency ranges... in case you don't know, this literally will not get sound. I've been given cables with the wrong connectors, wrong timecode cable connection, for example- this sounds like such a small thing but it meant all 5 cameras on a network reality show was out of sync all 2 weekend shoot days as the rental house is closed on weekends or is closed for Holiday and even if it were open, when can someone make a run to the rental house and come back? We just lost half the day. A sound mixer would almost never make this mistake with his/her own gear. I was recently given a lav mic that had the correct connector for the transmitter, but it was wired for an old um200 that did not require much gain, however, I was given a newer transmitter to use with it that did require more gain from the lavaliere, so even when I bumped the gain on the transmitter all the way maxed, it was still too quiet and noisy. I don't expect you to understand that, so just rent from the Sound Mixer; our gear works with itself.

Always rent the package kit from the Sound Mixer to make sure you have the right tools and all of sound gear is taken care of in every way. When the sound mixer does not own enough equipment for this job, ask him/her where to get the additional pieces from. Sometimes they will personally sub-rent from another mixer to get a hard to find item last minute or suggest a rental from one of the reputable local SOUND rental houses. They really do a much more reliable job of preparing the correct equipment for you than any camera/lighting rental house ever will, I promise. Just don't rent lights from them! Camera rental houses often carry some very basic and cheap audio equipment but it's for small one-man-band ENG crews, not for a fuller field shoot where an actual sound person will be operating the gear. There fore, most of these camera rental houses do not carry top of the line equipment or the right tools for us. In addition, they do not have the time, man-power or motivation to maintain the gear nearly as well as an owner/operator does. If you rent from a SOUND rental house, only sub-rent additional gear as needed and always run it through the sound mixer; we know what they're doing and it will save you time and headache. One more note is that not many professional Sound Mixers will work without their gear, so your hire roster is certainly limited unless you rent from the mixer him/herself.

In the end, sound gear is really not that expensive when you compare it to other departments, yet it's half of the project or more. Don't compromise here, and if you must, ask the sound mixer where is best to first compromise? I often say IFBs, then the rest depends on the type of job but it may also be the smart slate. Although, do not compromise too much, if the job is being done, it better be done right.

Escape for Soundscapes: Stereo Field Recording

A few months ago I took a trip to a far away place where you can be in snow-capped mountains, then drive down the road and you're in the desert, drive a bit further, you're in a tropical rainforest, and a bit further and you're on a Volcano. I traveled to the island of Hawai'i, The Big Island which consists of 11 of Earth's 13 different climates on a small island about the size of Connecticut. This made finding completely different sounds and ambiences very easy.

Of course, there were no volcanic eruptions during my time there and many of the animals known to Hawai'i are either quiet or silent (Sea Turtles aren't known to sing). Hawai'i is amazing for photos but I'm the 1% who says we don't need more of those, rather we need more sound recordings. I like to record ambiences and sound effects because the sound transports you more than a photo can. Photos hold information as sound holds emotion. There is so much more personality and character in the sound than in a photo of something. If you listen to an ambience with your eyes closed, your imagination can easily fill in the visual blanks and likely create something more pleasing than a photo will provide you, see War of the Worlds Radio Broadcast. So, with this, I packed up my sound gear and hopped on a plane to The Big Island of Hawai'i.
Brett Ainslie recording ambient sound on the coast of Hawai'i

There were a few ambiences I wanted to make sure I got; Ocean / Beach, Rainforest, Luau (not sure how I'd use that), and any bubbling lava if possible (no, it wasn't, but one can dream). The most interesting one to me was the rainforest. The south and east sides of the island are filled with rainforest and they are stunning. I've never been in an actual rainforest in my life, so my imagination had presumed certain sounds I'd hear. After some research, some of the sounds I envisioned would come from animals that either are not native to Hawaii, such as monkeys, or these types of animals do not live in the rainforest in Hawai'i, but do in other parts of the world; Peafowl are indeed native in Hawai'i but the Peafowl in Hawai'i do not live in the rainforests, but do in other parts of the world. So, I created a few ambiences here; one is a natural recording of the rainforest in Hawai'i, another is a more jacked up one with some added sounds I recorded separately, either on this trip or another. All sounds were recorded by myself.

How I Did It:


I could have recorded stereo, surround, binaural (360 stationary), ambisonic (360 VR), XY, Mid-Side, AB, or many other combinations. I went with a stereo recording with two microphones for simplicity, both pointed left and right of the source (180 degrees apart) to get a balanced recording. Then, I often recorded another track for a few minutes with one of the microphones directed towards the source for a cleaner, more natural on axis recording of the particular sound, whether it be waves, a bird, etc. My next step was panning it accordingly in post or mixing it with the other recording to complete a version of a M-S setup. The downside of this setup with the two microphones facing complete opposite directions is there is that small gap in the middle that they don't naturally cover. This is why I needed to record most ambiences in different positions, especially since these microphones are particularly direct. I'd rather use two cardioids and angle them 80-110 degrees apart or build a true M-S setup with a third mic. If portability and safety from rain and wind weren't as much of a concern, I'd use this setup, but after my tests, this basic stereo setup worked satisfactorily for my purposes. Most of the atmospheres I was looking for were stationary constant sources such as beach waves, not a specific moving animal such as a tiger, so I was able to get away with needing to record the source for a few additional minutes with intentions of combining in post. Even if the two recordings didn't match, I was able to make them sound natural and in sync by panning slightly to make them spread into each direction, the Left channel, right channel and even in the center.


I placed two Sennheiser microphones, a Sennheiser MKH 416 supercardioid and a Sennheiser MKH 50 hypercardioid into a blimp for wind protection spaced 180 degrees apart. These are both small single diaphragm microphones which are great because they reproduce a wide frequency range and are less likely to be subject to phasing issues than microphones with multiple diaphragms. The 416 was my left track, and the 50 was my right track going into a Zoom H4N. Both Sennheiser microphones, especially the 416 are also great in poor weather conditions, humidity, extreme heat, wind, sand, etc which made me feel confident bringing them into a tropical rainforest, to the desert, on a volcano and to snowy mountains all in the same week. Although next time, I'd like to use a matching pair of microphones, likely cardioid or possibly omnis for longer distance recordings of low frequencies. Or, a more interesting venture would be to dig into a 360 degree system for virtual reality or a surround sound recording system such as the DPA 5100. This is a small, easy plug-and-play high quality surround sound microphone system that is really built for recording atmospheres like this, sports broadcasts and more.
(Left) Sennheiser MKH 416, (Right) Sennheiser MKH 50


I went with the Zoom H4N on this trip over my Sound Devices 664 for portability, safety and recording specs. The Zoom actually records at a higher sampling rate than the 664 (96kHz on Zoom, 48kHz on 664) which is barely noticeable on some recordings but useful in sound effects and ambient recordings to get the finer details of higher frequencies more accurately recorded. I also did not need the quieter preamps from the Sound Devices on this trip or most of its additional features. Although, a SD 633, Mix-Pre 3 or Mix-Pre 6 from Sound Devices would have been nice options as they're smaller than a 664 and record 48, 96 and 192kHz; this would have been helpful when recording bats in Texas and some birds on any of my expeditions. The 664 is really strictly built for dialogue recording.

In the Field

My setup was very portable and well concealed. I was able to carry it in a backpack when not in use, quickly take it out, power it up and hit record when needed. However, in the future, I'd like to be in scenarios where I feel more comfortable bringing a stand, setting it up in a hidden area in my space and walk away. This would be by far the best way to record moving subjects such as animals as they wont want to come near humans; I'd be able to possibly get natural sounds of large wild animals from up close and not get mauled. A parobolic microphone would be a nice tool for these situations as well, capturing animals or sounds at higher frequencies from a distance and making them sound up close. The problem with this is they don't capture low frequencies well at all in regards to gain or accuracy and also require much precision in aiming which can be difficult if you do not see what you are trying to capture. A parabolic microphone isn't for atmospheric recording at all, rather for capturing a specific sound source such as a bird, a private conversation, a lion, or sports sounds.

What's Next

Since working in live sound and music the last few years as a sound engineer, I've been learning how to create clarity between sound sources by equalizing the frequencies. In a film, for example, we would not want a background "room tone" to interfere with the dialogue. We would want the sounds to stay below the frequency range of dialogue in order to maintain clarity. If this is our goal, omni directional microphones or wide cardioids would be a great microphone choice to ensure we are getting those low frequencies very naturally and with good signal to noise ratio at greater recording distances.

I love experimenting with these techniques and every time I do so, I think to myself, "What will this be used for?". Is it meant to be a stand alone piece of art like music or a photo? Is it meant to be used in film or television as a background atmosphere to tell the audience where we are, what is around us and to blend cuts together? Will this be Surround Sound or 360 or just stereo or even mono? Knowing this before recording is important. I'm not yet sure what my next adventure will be but more will go into the planning and preparation when the time comes. Be sure to check back here and on my SoundCloud as I have more there than have been documented here!

Boots and Cats: An Alternative Approach to Beat Box Miking

If there's one thing I've learned in my years working in production sound it's always leave an extra boot for your cat. Despite, possibly being good advice, that is actually not what this is about. Sorry, cat enthusiasts! Actually, I recently worked on a TV commercial that had an interesting concept / request from me (no, no cats yet). This commercial was going to air all over Europe in many countries that speak different languages, so they didn't want spoken word in the commercial in order to keep it universal and without subtitles. So, fast forward through some creative process and they landed on the idea of doing a commercial with 8 beat boxers with on-screen microphones. So, they came to me to strategize the best gear and techniques to achieve this.

Normally, beat boxers perform into an affordable dynamic microphone you'd commonly see on stage such as a Shure SM58; it's not the most clear broadcast sound out there, especially compared to a standard professional boom microphone or a studio microphone but the way it handles plosives is pleasing for many beat boxers. You get the plosives but it reproduces it in a very low frequency that doesn't quite sound like a plosive, rather, just flat bass. These microphones can also handle the abusive way beat boxers hold them and project into them. There are also other microphones specifically designed for types of beat boxing that wraps around the neck and throat, called a "throat microphone".

However, since the microphone would be on-screen, the creative team didn't like the look of either, a throat mic or handheld mic, rather, they wanted 8 beautiful brand new looking Neumann U87s on stands with no pop filters... plus 4 backups. I stand there wide-eyed. Not only was this almost impossible to find, but this extremely nice, beautiful and expensive microphone is not right for this kind of use. Despite loving this microphone very much for studio work, VOs, ADR, and music recording, it does not handle plosives well AT ALL; it is very clear and natural sounding, so wind and pops sound like wind and pops. I considered looking for U87 shells and placing an SM58 or similar inside, but the shells alone were much more difficult to find than actual working microphones.

We ended up getting the microphones, and plenty of backups. I hardwired these into my SD 664 and tested them out on the day. Once talent arrived, I, the Director, AD and the two beat boxing coaches discussed techniques with the talent. In the creative, the beat boxers are not meant to appear as professional beat boxers, nor were they in real life, which may have made them more coachable or flexible on what we were trying to achieve aurally. We kept the talent's mouths above and a certain distance from the microphone elements in order to not get unpleasant plosives; this also helped the visual because this way it was easier to see their faces. I still had some concerns until testing this out. They sounded surprisingly good in terms of response to the beat boxing the performers were performing that day. The beat boxing was not particularly aggressive; rather much humming and singing without lyrics. We had some more traditional beat boxing, but nothing too crazy for the U87s.  I did ride the low cut filters liberally, however, and having 8 microphones / "instruments" made mixing easier in case some sounds were, in fact, too much for the U87.

It was interesting working on something like this and to understand that the voices I am recording are not standard voices, rather they're an instrument and should / can be miked very differently from vocals, especially speech. You just need to get out of the mindset that this is not talking and it's its own instrument, along with being flexible and communicative with the creative side on what can we do or at least experiment with. The final product came out great both visually and aurally.

Live Sound: Now We're Mixing!

For over 7 years, I've been field sound mixing, booming and occasionally working as a sound utility for sound for video in Theatrical Film, TV, web, etc. In addition, for more than the past year, I've had the opportunity of working as an A1, A2, rigger and general A/V technician in live sound and audio/visual work on a regular basis and figured it would be a good experience in perhaps more ways than I could imagine. Sure, I've learned some technical things in live sound and A/V work, but what was more interesting was the difference in workflow, priorities, work venues, expectations of me as a team member and people's respect towards the sound department. It's not good to get too comfortable for too long, so stepping out of my element has humbled myself and got my brain to open to learning new ideas. The challenges as a Sound Engineer in both industries are definitely different and working in the same field in another industry has been an eye and ear opening venture as a Location Sound Mixer.

Live Sound Challenges: 

Problem solving during a live show while staying invisible and professional: Working in high end corporate A/V has stressed this a lot. The client may not care as much about sound quality as others but the attitude, and appearance or lack thereof is critical. How did the show go
Having a good mix in a technical AND artistic sense
If it's music, know how the instruments and songs/music should sound: Rock, R&B, Hip Hop, classical, it's not all the same. Certain instruments are bigger players in certain music and certain audiences like a certain mix. Some just gotta feel that bass and kick whereas some prefer the clarity of a guitar or violin. I've learned that if you become an audience member, your instincts will often lead you in the right direction. This has been making me think more about how not every client, audience or platform are the same, especially nowadays, not everyone is watching videos on a big screen or TV; I'm looking at you mobile devices and your varying dynamically narrow speakers!
It's LIVE. There's no "We'll fix it in post": This is it. What you hear is what you get. If something goes wrong, keeping it smooth is part of the job. I have a lot of respect for live sound engineers. Multitasking, tuning people out and making it all seem intentional becomes 2nd nature.
Mixing a lot more tracks: Also having a much larger backend. The Routing can get pretty crazy. Thank you for CAT5 and Duggan automix. But honestly, not sure it competes with mixing 6+ tracks in the field while booming and no line of sight of some talent.
Deal with speakers and feedback: Very unique challenge and frustrates me when I have to compromise sound quality for it. Again, different priorities. This is sound REINFORCEMENT really. Not only does the audience need to hear but so does the band who's holding microphones... right in front of monitor speakers... just feet away pointed right at them...
Equalization / make bad sound sound good: Watch this 1 minute video below, you'll see what I mean, and maybe laugh a bit

Sound for Video Challenges:

RF Coordination at NBA Draft event was critical
Hiding mics and all thought of sound: My head would get chopped off if a hidden lavaliere was bulging from under an actor's shirt. Being able to clip on a mic to a tie or give someone a handheld mic in live sound feels like I'm cheating in life. But miking high end corporates for an everyday speech reminds me we're all humans. I'm still convinced there's a few robots out there though, not letting my guard down yet : |
Getting broadcast quality sound: Mic placement is the most important part of my job. Clean reliable sound is critical and the best equipment is necessary. In live sound, some people love DISTORTED!!! sound, whereas we expect technically perfect sound when watching a TV show or movie. But EQing in live sound has made me understand the quality of sound and voice a lot better from a scientific perspective.
Working around the visuals: "Boom's in the shot!" Boy, do I not miss hearing that. Or, "Can we shut off the loud generator that's powering the lights, fog machine, and noisy camera? My mics are picking it up" "No! Figure it out! Get perfect sound and don't bother me!" Being a sound mixer for video, sound is seen as one of the last pieces of the machine, almost an afterthought, despite being arguably the most important part.
Having a smaller team / no team: Depending on the job, I usually work alone in sound department. I've never worked alone in live sound or A/V and the sound team and visuals team are really all the same team in A/V and are expected to do both jobs. It was a bit of a culture shock at first.
Being mobile with a boom pole: I can't exactly wear a suit and tie or be out of shape. 12 hour days wearing 20+ lbs of gear and carrying 50-70 lbs through mud requires MERELLS! Buy Merrell boots and let's get outside. Crush your limits ; ) www.merrell.com
Working in a different uncontrollable location every day: Unwanted sounds such as neighbors, traffic, construction, poor acoustics, thin walls, A/C, plumbing, etc. are a major issue along with competing wireless frequencies and I'm not given a tech scout on hardly any jobs. It's not my "house" and here in NYC an FCC license won't actually do anything useful. In sound for video, I am always in different locations every day and have no control over the location or surrounding location's wireless field. Therefore, I must learn and use every possible trick to getting a clean wireless signal, whether it's using the best gear, or using science to my advantage.

Coordinating 14+ wireless mics is
living on the edge
A live sound engineer is not exactly comparable to simply the "on-location sound mixer" for video, but also the post sound team combined. I've been learning how to EQ, mix 20 or so tracks at a time (up to about 100 microphones), deal with speakers, avoid feedback, compensate for how slow sound travels in a large venue, set different priorities than I would when recording sound for video, fix problems on the fly in a professional and invisible manner during a live show, understand different clients and different audiences when it comes to live music and high end corporate events with VIPs and how to handle myself differently in these different jobs along with having the "just make it happen" attitude instead of waiting for an AD to tell me what to do "Mike this person! Roll sound! Cut! Moving on!" It's funny, how on a video shoot, my title is "Sound Mixer" but in reality, mixing is just a minor part of my job unlike a live sound engineer; really, microphone placement is the most important task I do but now I can more confidently call myself a "Sound Mixer."

Soundscape Album Part 4: I'm Going to Miami!

A few months ago I took a quick trip down to Miami and Fort Lauderdale, Florida for a little Arr and Arr! as pirates would say. I think of pirates when I think of South Florida, so whether or not you found that funny, I'm pretty sure there's some history to it, either true or at least in its tourism history. Anyways, this is a sound blog, so on to that!

Downtown Miami
The past 6 months or so I've been traveling without a camera (lie #2), in order to focus my "vacation album" on a more powerful medium: sound. Images give information as sound conveys emotion. The feeling we get when hearing sound is much more powerful than our experience when seeing an image. It's not just the words or what it is that is making the sound, rather, expression of how the words are said and the personality of the sound, the room, how the sound interacts with its environment. A ship's blow horn gives a very different feel when it just dies out in an open ocean as it does when you hear it bounce off the walls of an industrial alley way right at the dock. So as simple as some of these soundscapes may seem at first, envision yourself there (it shouldn't be hard) and tell me you don't feel more there than you feel when looking at the photos I am supplying here; granted, I'm no photographer. 

Ft. Lauderdale
Fort Lauderdale and Miami are very similar places for very different people. Take a photo, they may look the same in 8/10. Great beach and aquatic cultures. However, in case you don't know, Fort Lauderdale and Miami feel extremely different and you'll notice that in these sounds. Miami is much more lively, young, musical, dangerous, sporty, celebrity and flamboyant. Fort Lauderdale is more family, yachters, relaxing, corporation franchise owner. In fact, South Beach in Miami also has a different feel than Downtown Miami as well. As I'd say South Beach was more of the beach culture of course, the flamboyancy, high end club, which Lambourghini is yours, and Downtown Miami was more populated, plenty of events, concerts, street performers, police activity and creepy streets. But don't take my word(s) for it, listen and think about what you feel.

Getting Real

This entire topic is relevant to what is happening in current day Film, TV and Media. Decades ago, shows on TV and films in theaters, etc, used to have mediocre to good cinematography, but still pretty good stories, and production value all around. Nowadays, you see so much crap on TV, on "produced" internet, and even in the cinema or streaming services that have weak stories, bad sound, etc, but amazing cinematography. Working on these types of projects, I have certainly noticed how much attention, care and what seems to be budget is for the image, the camera, the cinematography and not other things that arguably matter more; story, performance, sound, production design, etc. This is partially due to how affordable cameras have become over the past 10 or more years and now everyone, including Directors get excited about creating beautiful pictures for cheap, and they forget about everything else.

I've done jobs where I'm asked to record a voiceover; sound only. It needs to be the best sound I can get, without hearing a room. Yet, often, they decide to put a camera in there because they spent fortunes on it already, and not only that, but the camera guy tells me to move my boom out of his shot so that he can get a pretty picture. If they have officially decided to fully shoot this for both picture and sound (I'm imagining an interview setup), for every 10 minutes of sound being used, only about 3 minutes of that video will be used, and sometimes this is a multi camera shoot, so you do the math. I wish I could find that reference but I swear, I read it in a film studies book in college film class. Everyone seems to have forgotten that the picture has already been shot and all we need is the sound and we need it to be a certain way. This is something to think about in the future, how to prioritize needs. That sound puts emotion into the listener, emotion that cannot be given to by any image. Sound and image compliment each other as neither can do what the other does.

Went on Vacation and Forgot a Camera... Again

Part 3

Of course I didn't forget a camera, I just decided recording audio ambiences / soundscapes can be more effective than a photo, der! I look at a photo and I see what that place looks like. They say one photo can say a million words. But if that photo were not taken, rather, the sound of that moment was recorded, I hear it and I FEEL the moment; it seems so much more real and intimate. The information is in the visuals but the EMOTIONS are in the sound.

The past 5 months I've been doing some traveling and posting some of my ambiences in previous posts. Before I found time to put together my Fort Worth and Dallas Soundscapes, I took an impromptu quick trip to North Carolina to hike the Appalachian Trail. We drove out to Tennessee to Roan Mountain, pitched our tent and woke up in freezing January weather 5,400 feet above sea level. We then went out for an all day hike to the top of the mountain where I recorded a few ambiences on the way. The sound was so silent with the exception of some water dripping from the tall tree branches, and a stream running down the river. There was such little low frequency rumble our ears are so used to down closer to sea level in civilization. There was almost zero wildlife up there as well, although twice I heard a crow, but unfortunately I was never able to capture their sound. The hike took us from Tennessee, to High Knob Creek, North Carolina (6,394 feet high on the border), back to Tennessee, then drove down to Asheville, NC for some food, drinks and rest. That city was not as I expected, but in a good way. We had met a hiker by our camping area who suggested we visited Asheville. From the sounds of it, I thought it'd be like Pittsburgh, but it was actually like a southern Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Very hipster and a bit touristy but very catered to serious hikers from the Appalachian Trail. I recorded some ambiences that night and the next day before heading out. They are pretty similar to my Texas soundscapes but it was difficult to avoid the street performers and live music bars in both states.

The following month in February, I decided to take another impromptu trip up to Lake Placid, NY to enjoy the final weeks of Winter. I've never gone skiing or snowboarding but figured, when in Rome. So I took a gondola ride up to the tallest mountain in New York and recorded some ambiences. This was about 1,500 feet lower than Roan Mountain in Tennessee, looking and sounding very different; snow capped mountain with plenty of skiers and tons of strong strong wind. It was very difficult for me to find a way to get away and block the wind without having any kind of wind protection for my microphones, so next time, I'll create a mini windshield from Bumblebee fur to place over my small microphones from my phone. I usually use pieces of this fur for lavaliere mics.

Yes, I used a phone on this trip because in my experiences it has been recording much better quality and much more reliable sound than the Zoom recorder and it was not practical or worth to bring my Sound Devices 664 and/or Sennheiser microphones. I use a free app for my Samsung S7 called "Audio Recorder" which after trying many audio recording apps this seemed to be the best to use in terms of usability, design and quality recordings; albeit still not in the league of using professional gear. I mostly used the Zoom recorder on my Texas and North Carolina trips as you can see above, but I left it at home for the Lake Placid trip to save me trouble. Many of my previous Zoom recordings were useless. I have since tested the effectiveness of the fur vs no fur and it does make a big difference; I'll just have to test it out in the field next to see if it stop the big gusts of wind I'm trying to record.

While in Lake Placid, I considered recording sounds of the Olympic Village but I honestly thought it lacked personality. It did not sound different than any other town center of its size, probably because it was so touristy. I decided to keep my ambiences to the mountains and the Log Cabin in which I was staying. When in Lake Placid, we had to experience the mountain town right by booking a classic log cabin in the middle of the woods in the boondocks off of AirBnB. We got the fire going, made some drinks, played some music and games; it was a perfect getaway from the city. And of course the sound of this cabin was highlighted by the snap crackle and pop of the fire from the fireplace. I hope it doesn't come off as cliche but it really describes Lake Placid as a ski town; very relaxing, calm but alive; it's warm when you're cold.

These ambiences will continue as I continue impromptu trips like these and in the meantime, hopefully I'll find the time to put together my sounds for Dallas, Fort Worth and Sao Paolo, Brazil.

Can You Hear Me Now? Headphone Isolation Battle

Give Verizon money. The end. Actually, as sound professionals, we often put so much care and attention into best miking techniques, wireless solutions, etc, in order to get the best sound possible, and we make these decisions primarily based on what we hear. But what we often overlook is the integrity of what we actually hear and what we're NOT hearing.

Sony MDR 7506
This isn't a full on debate on which pair of cans is best, I'll try to keep this one simple. However, an industry standard pair of headphones or "cans" are the Sony MDR 7506's due to their accurate reproduction of sound, comfort, portability and cost. I've been using these for years but every month or so I'll have at least 1 job where I am recording sound in a very loud environment. I know I have great microphones that are placed very well but with the Sony's, I sometimes find it difficult to tell if what I'm hearing in my ears is actually coming in from the headphones / microphone or if it's just bleed coming THROUGH the headphones, rather than actually being picked up by the microphone. In other words, it's sometimes difficult to know whether or not I should worry about a certain ambient or other background sound. The Sony's have never been known for their isolation and I was recently able to get my hands on a pair of Audio Technica M70x headphones courtesy of Headliner Magazine. The ATH M50 and M70 series headphones from Audio Technica are known for their great isolation, so I did a side by side comparison between the Sony MDR 7506 and the ATH M70x purely to compare their isolation effectiveness.

Audio Technica M70x
I recorded my voice in a quiet room with a DPA 4061. I then placed a DPA 4061 in the earphones of a Sony MDR7506 and another in an Audio Technica M70x as well and closed the headphones on a bicycle seat to simulate my head (Yes, I figured my head is basically the same as a bicycle seat, or at least a few kids in 6th grade thought it was the same). I then started blasting some music right next to the 2 pairs of miked headphones while playing back the clean voice recording from earlier through a computer and into the headphones. So in this test, the microphone recording the voice is picking up 0% of the music, however, we still hear the music bleeding through our headphones. When you listen to this recording below, you will find a clear winner between the two in terms of isolation. Whether the winner is good enough for you in the setting of a live concert for example, is up to you. I wish I could compare more cans, but for now, this is it.

If you don't feel like listening for 1 minute, the winner was clearly the ATH M70x in the right ear. I've heard it's not the most comfortable pair of headphones to wear all day, as opposed to the Sonys, but wearing them for about 15 minutes (for what it's worth), they felt more comfortable than the Sony MDR 7506s and they also reproduce a wider frequency response (5Hz-40kHz) as opposed to the Sony MDR 7506s (20Hz-20kHz) which will help me use my low cut filters more effectively. With cans that give me better isolation, I'll be able to more confidently tell a Director or AD, "Nope, we're fine! I don't hear it, lets move on!" Our ears are our brains, our eyes, our frontline. Lets not compromise on what's telling us what to do.