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Old October 5th, 2005, 09:48 AM   #1
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How can we get that "Big Studio" sound?

We are a small, locally produced Outdoors show, cutting on FCP Studio and shooting with an XL-1 and XL-2. We are getting more and more frustrated as we continue to produce spots and segments with poor audio.
Most of the spots we make consist of a Voice Over audio track and a music track and our segments involve 2 Sennheiser G2 lavs connected directly to the XLR input in the XLs (all outdoors locations). We just can't seem to get that big, full dynamic range that we hear from the nationally produced spots we run on our show. Our field audio is muffeled and thin and our studio VOs are weak and lack any presence (We use a vocal stick mic plugged into a Mackie VLZ going directly to a DVCAM deck to record then into FCP and back to BetaSP for air).
What are we missing to get that big dynamic sound we hear on the big spots?
Is it the mic? The mixer? Do we need a compressor, other additional equipment? Is it a post-production problem, or a production problem?
I understand that people spend years aquiring all the information I just asked for, being a real audio pro is very difficult, I'd just like to be pointed in the right direction. What kind of basic set-up should we have or how can we better use our existing set-up to improve our audio?

Jeff
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Old October 5th, 2005, 09:56 AM   #2
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jeff Carrion
What are we missing to get that big dynamic sound we hear on the big spots?
Is it the mic? The mixer? Do we need a compressor, other additional equipment? Is it a post-production problem, or a production problem?
I understand that people spend years aquiring all the information I just asked for, being a real audio pro is very difficult, I'd just like to be pointed in the right direction. What kind of basic set-up should we have or how can we better use our existing set-up to improve our audio?

Jeff
It's mostly a post-issue if you're recording good levels on-set. There are many good books on the subject, I've got a 5 hour DVD on the subject, and there are lots of resources on the web.

Compression and EQ are how most of this is achieved, plus the recording environment and the recording itself. A good sound guy is as critical or more critical than a good camera guy. Be sure levels are hot and mic'd close if that's the sound you want. V/O is rarely done in the field, but if that's your goal, then you'll also consider carrying tubetraps or something similar to give you an on-site control over audio.
If your field audio is thin, first thing I'd be doing is looking at where the mics are. Get them as close to mouth as reasonably possible.
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Old October 5th, 2005, 10:12 AM   #3
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If everything is recorded cleanly, you can get the sound you want in post. When I work on spots or indie films, I take the audio stripes and import them into protools. Using eq, compression and some limiting on the individual tracks to make them sound the way you want. You can then take this new mix and drop it into your timeline.
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Old October 5th, 2005, 10:32 AM   #4
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We record our voice overs in the studio and our talent's audio is recorded in the field. We place the mic's just a few inches below thier shirt collars. Since our type of production (Outdoors television: Fishing, hunting, etc.) doesn't allow the use of 2 production people, ie a camera guy and audio guy, we shoot with 1 man crews. So that makes using a mixer in the field almost impossible. That's why we run the Sennheisers directly into the camera.

I just read through a big thread that you guys posted in talking about sound booths and mic placement for VO recording. It was very helpful. I've got a bunch of pick-n-pluck foam around the office from old Pelican Cases that I'm going to make a makeshift VO booth out of, hopefully this will help. Also, the VO mic we use is an old Shure vocal mic, ya know the mic, the one that every garage band the country uses for vocals! So I thought that maybe I should try using one of the Shotgun camera mic's that came with our old, busted, Betacam. Perhaps that will yeild better quality.

On the post side, I have Soundtrack Pro. If I send a finished sequence to STP and apply a compressor to the voice tracks, what kind of settings should I use? I've never used a compressor before. (We also have a Backtraxx library, should I be tweaking the music too, or do these libraries come stock with good sound quality?)

Thanks for the quick replys,
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Old October 5th, 2005, 10:42 AM   #5
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jeff Carrion
On the post side, I have Soundtrack Pro. If I send a finished sequence to STP and apply a compressor to the voice tracks, what kind of settings should I use? I've never used a compressor before. (We also have a Backtraxx library, should I be tweaking the music too, or do these libraries come stock with good sound quality?)
the stock sound libraries sound good, but there is no "one size fits all" and it may be that you'll find the music fighting with the voice, so you need to EQ the music to fit around the voice, you may find it's got too much or not enough bottom, you might find the highs dull or piercing. It all depends on what scene it's in, the voice and other elements, and the feel you're looking for.

As far as vocal compression, 2:1-4:1 are pretty common levels, again dependent on the voice and what you've got on tape.
http://www.vasst.com/search.aspx?text=mixing might help you a little.
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Old October 5th, 2005, 11:07 AM   #6
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well without actually hearing what you're dealing with, here are some tips for compression and eq.

EQ- you want to use this to correct the balance of frequencies of the audio. In general you want to use eq before compression (there are reasons to use it after but I won't go into them). If for instance a vocal track is sounding a bit dull, there are two ways to approach eq. You can boost some of the higher frequencies to bring a bit more presence or you can cut some of the lower frequencies. If you are not quite sure what frequencies, using a parametric eq, boost the level and roll the frequency up and down until you find the area that works the best, adjust the gain to taste. You can use this to find problem frequencies too. if you are in a room that resonates a bit, boost the gain, roll the frequency up and down until you find the spot that makes it real bad, then cut the gain until it sounds better.

Compression- limits the dynamic range of the signal. You can apply compression to control the varying levels of track. if the vocal is going up and down in level, you can apply some compression to even it out and then raise the level to where you want it.

the settings on a compressor.

Attack- this controls how fast the compressor reacts to the signal when it reaches the threshold. faster attack reacts faster, slower reacts slower. on a vocal track, you can accentuate or reduce the consanants by adjusting the attack.

Threshold- this is level where the compressor will react. by adjusting the threshold, you are telling the compressor at what level of the signal you want it to start reacting. The higher theshold will start reacting at the loudest levels.

Ratio- this is how much it will reduce the level. A setting of 4:1 is for 4 db of gain over the threshold, 1 db of gain will come out. The higher the gain, the more reduction of the dymanic range.

release- this is how fast the compressor will release the reduction when the signal drops below the threshold. the slower the release, the longer the compressor will hold on to the gain reduction. too fast of a release, and it'll begin to have a pumping effect. to slow and the level of things coming after a loud sound may be too low.


All of these setting work together, so adjusting one may call for adjusting another.

placing an eq before the compressor can be a bit tricky. If you get the compressor settings to where you like them and then change any eq settings, it will affect how the compressor reacts as the eq is changing levels of frequencies and compressors react to level.
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Old October 5th, 2005, 11:17 AM   #7
 
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Originally Posted by Michael Fossenkemper

All of these setting work together, so adjusting one may call for adjusting another.

placing an eq before the compressor can be a bit tricky. If you get the compressor settings to where you like them and then change any eq settings, it will affect how the compressor reacts as the eq is changing levels of frequencies and compressors react to level.
To clarify, be sure you virtually always put EQ prior to compressor for this very reason.
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Old October 5th, 2005, 12:01 PM   #8
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Just to add to the excellent advice already given. Jeff, with Soundtrack Pro, you pretty much have everything you need to get that sound you're after. I know the mic you speak of, I have one of 58B mics I use with my band. But for voice over work, you can't beat a good quality, large diaphram condenser mic. It will put that warmth in your voice before you tweak anything in post. That's the one piece of gear I would advise you to consider purchasing.

I'll defer to DSE and others who have more extensive hands-on with various studio mics for advice on which one to get with whatever budget you have.

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Old October 5th, 2005, 12:29 PM   #9
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Thanks everyone, looks like I have a day full of STP compressor and EQ tweaking ahead of me.

One more thing with STP, would you recommend sending an entire sequence to STP as a multi-track project, or send individual clips to STP as audio-file projects? Seeing as how virtually all the dialogue clips in a sequence will likely need the same EQ and compression, which method will be the fastest? I also suppose creating an Apple Script could work too?
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Old October 5th, 2005, 04:23 PM   #10
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Jeff...

One more thing to consider is your monitoring equipment. Having the right speakers and using them in the right environment are essential if you're going to be the final judge of sound quality.

By the way, our company also produces an outdoor show so I know how it goes when getting audio in the field. We just ran into a bunch of problems when fitting talent and guests with lav mics in Alaska, then having the mics totally buried when the weather got colder and jackets got zipped up to the throat!

Otherwise we're out in sunny Hawaii and try to keep lavs hidden on tank tops and t-shirts.
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Old October 5th, 2005, 05:37 PM   #11
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Dean,

I am off to Antarctica in a few weeks - will have the same problem with my lav mics. Just out of interest how did you solve the problem in Alaska - I will certainly have the same issues.

WIth reagrds to studio mics - I was in the same position - thin audio for VO. I have pruchased a Rode NT1000 and a hardware compressor and I now have a rich sounding VO that I am very happy with after some tweaks in Wavelab.

If you want a really warm studio mic the Rode NTK is great as are the Neumans - U87 and TLM series (but these are very expensive).
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Old October 5th, 2005, 05:57 PM   #12
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Graeme...

We had to make sure the mic was attached to the outermost layer of the clothing. In our case it was usually the rain pants bib as that stayed on throughout. We couldn't put it on the rain jackets as that got taken off whenever the sun came out or it got warmer. Had to be careful to make sure the mic stayed in the clear when the jacket got put back on -- not easy when there's so many other things going on.

I was thinking of mounting the mic under the bill of the baseball cap but sometimes the talent or guests would remove the cap and that would become a whole new problem. But if the baseball cap stays on it's an ideal location as the mic's position relative to the talent's mouth never changes.

I used a small felt pocket as a windscreen over the Countryman lav, and that seems to work better than the stock foam windscreen without too much attenuation of the highs. I have three different tones, one black, one white and one grey, to get a closer match to clothing. The white works nicely with chefs' coats whenever we do our cooking segments.

Using a boost cap on the Countryman is supposed help prevent losing the upper frequencies when the mic does get a little buried. I just picked up those items and hadn't had a chance to try them out yet.

For in-house VO I'm using an AKG C-3000. Pretty good sound. Had to create a makeshift audio booth by installing additional acoustic foam in a corner of what's left of my small editing room. Otherwise the show's VO's are recorded along with the segment standups in the field. The VO's carry through from the standups so it's not as bad as it could be.

And additional last-minute VO's are now recorded by the talent at his home studio and then sent over via FTP to save on tape, driving time and gas.

All my EQ and audio post is done within FCP. Results aren't too bad, actually. I'd do them in Soundtrack if I had more familiarity with the software but right now there's no time to do that.
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Old October 5th, 2005, 06:49 PM   #13
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Thanks Dean,

I am using Sony ECM 88's - these are nice lavs and have very little cable noise (have some sort of noise cancelling built in to reduce this). One advantage that I have is that it doesn't matter too much if the mic is visible in my work - so the standard black will be OK. I have made my own fur wind muffs - and I think that these will be essential in Antarctica - not to keep the mic warm (ha ha) - I am just expecting a lot of wind!!

Did you use wireless at all in the cold? This is another thing for me to ponder - how do I set up the transmitter? I have to stop it freezing - but don't know if it will be OK buried under coats.

I have done the same trick with my studio - foam on the walls - and I use DSE's trick of the on table VO booth at times as well - it works a treat!

All the best,
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Old October 5th, 2005, 06:54 PM   #14
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Graeme...

Antarctica should be an awesome trip!
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Old October 5th, 2005, 10:38 PM   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jeff Carrion
Thanks everyone, looks like I have a day full of STP compressor and EQ tweaking ahead of me.

One more thing with STP, would you recommend sending an entire sequence to STP as a multi-track project, or send individual clips to STP as audio-file projects? Seeing as how virtually all the dialogue clips in a sequence will likely need the same EQ and compression, which method will be the fastest? I also suppose creating an Apple Script could work too?
I would recommend sending the entire sequence to STP. It will give a uniformity to the sound and be much faster. The interface of the plugins with STP is not as intuitive as something like protools and certain things like automation are a bit more of a pain.
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