I can work on your project.

Find me! Call DAP at 214.350.7678 or email rene@dallasaudiopost.com. Also check out echocollectivefx.com for custom sfx, and tonebenders.net for my podcast.

Monday, January 30

It Depends: how many channels?

In my previous post I set up the reasons and context for the It Depends series, and in this series I'll attempt to approach the decisions of recording in order.

I considered beginning with the question of "what should I record?" but then I figured that the answer to that would be way broader than the scope of this series of articles or even of this blog, so instead I'll assume that you've decided what you're going to record and are now on to the next step of the recording thought process:

"How many channels should I use?"

The answer here, as in all of the questions is "it depends," so let's look into exactly what it depends upon, and what factors will move us in one direction or another.

In any recording situation you're limited to the number of channels and mics that you have available, so if your only recorder is a zoom H4n then you're pretty much locked into a max of 4 channels and two of the mics are built into the thing.  If you have a larger project and any budget at all, you can start to get into gear rentals - which can broaden your recordings considerably.  The trick is to use your resources efficiently, and not to rent/use channels that won't serve a specific purpose in your recordings.

All of this is to say that you may have in your mind a reasonable number that is the max number of channels you can record this sound with.  If the answer to the question of how many channels isn't immediately "all of the channels that I have or could rent" then you have to approach this question with a little more thought.

  • Practical considerations: 

- time

Adding channels increases the amount of time that it takes to setup, troubleshoot, monitor, record, organize, sort, edit, master and catalog anything.  As such, the two most pressing time issues are subject availability and deadlines.

This means that the closer your deadline the more likely you should be to go with fewer channels, since time spent sorting and editing recordings that are only moderately useful or moderately different can be a detriment to the work you do on the other primary tracks.  Also, this means that the narrower your window of subject availability, the more likely you should be to go with fewer channels. 

An example where you'd be able to go nuts with all the mics and channels you have access to would be if you're recording your own vehicle and have an entire weekend to do it, and no pressing project deadline to hit.  An example where you'd probably only bring one or two channels of audio based purely on time considerations would be if you have a 30 minute window of availability with an exotic animal for use in a project due tomorrow.

- subject dynamic range

The vast majority of subjects to be recorded have dynamics that fall within the recording capabilities of  a wide variety of mics.  Things like human voices, dogs, acoustic guitars, business machines, gas powered portable generators and anything in between can be recorded beautifully with 3 or fewer channels.

There are certain subjects, though, whose dynamics may require as many channels as you can muster in order to fully express what they sound like in a recording.  Highly transient subjects like weapons, explosions, baseball bat hits and metal crashes can require a lot of channels to properly record all of the various elements of the noises that they make.  This is both because playback systems only have so much dynamic range with which to use and also because highly dynamic sounds tend to be defined by how they sound in the spaces in which they exist.  This means that that you'll often want mics up just to catch the reverberation in space in addition to the various parts of the sound that's causing them.

The rule of thumb is that the more dynamic (and loud) a subject is, the more channels you'll need to get the type of coverage that works.

- motion of the subject

All of sound is motion, but some subjects move while creating their noises more than others.  If a subject is sitting static in space you're more likely to get a good recording of it with fewer mics than if it's hurtling through space in front of you.

If something is zooming in front of me I tend to want both onboard and exterior stationary channels to cover the various perspectives of all of the noises being made.  Objects in motion can tend to double track counts.

- stealth

If you don't want to be seen recording, you're probably stuck in stereo or mono based on the fact that you'll need to hide both the mics and the recorder on your person.  

- setup and mobility logistics

Bringing more channels means bringing more of everything - mic stands, mic mounts, wind protection, cables, cases, etc.  All of this extra physical, mental and logistical baggage need pretty specific justification once you get past about 4 channels.  Big multichannel shoots also tend to require setup and staging areas.  If you lack a setup area having 12 channels of recording may be out of the question.

When I recorded a printing press recently, I ended up bringing more channels than I used due to setup constraints in the facility.  I just didn't have a safe staging area and had to leave a fair amount of gear unpacked both for that reason and for time considerations.  I also was faced with a vast warehouse of crazy noisemaking machines and I opted for breadth rather than depth of recordings.  This meant that I had to be mobile, and while repeatedly moving and setting up 3 mics is doable, any more than that and I would have missed the chance to record entire machines.

The more restrictive your recording environment is to big shoot logistics, the more likely you should be to roll with fewer channels.

- width of the subject's sound creating parts

Certain subjects are pretty big and can have different noises coming out of all different parts.  Things like industrial machinery and vehicles can require many channels to get all of their sounds, even when they're stationary. 

The more spread out the physical soundmaking elements of the subject are, the more likely you should be to roll more channels.

- redundancy

Rolling more channels reduces the risk of failure if one of the channels doesn't get what you need.  This is not to say that you should roll multiple channels of the same perspective for the purpose of redundancy, but rather to say that if you roll a lot of different perspectives, having one or two channels give you nothing is not a tragedy.  Getting zero useful stuff from a channel happens all the time in complex vehicle and weapon shoots.

  • Artistic considerations:
- context within a project

If you're out recording a vehicle for use in a film, then a lot of the context will be defined by the cut of the picture you're working with.  Video games are a little more open ended, but they're still pretty well defined.

This means that if you're only ever going to see that aston martin in a few wide shots cruising down the street then you probably don't need to bring a hundred mics to the shoot.  Focus on what you need to get for the project, and then get any extra goodies afterward.

- reality vs hyper reality

The more you're looking to get a realistic image of a subject, the more likely you're going to be to use a small number of mics to do the job.  Again referring to context, this is because the specific reality you're looking to capture is already likely to be very well defined, and you're not looking for a lot of contingency perspectives.

The more hyper-real your aesthetic takes you, the more like you are to need many more channels of audio, because the process of creating hyper real sonic images involves isolating and accentuating the individual elements of a given sound, meaning that you'll need as much distinct isolated coverage as you can get.


The process of deciding just how many channels to bring to a shoot can be a complex and interesting one, as is every decision one makes when deciding to record something.  Thoughtfully planning out this step of the process is an important part of getting great recordings.

Monday, January 23

It Depends: Preview

In keeping with my resolution to blog at least once a week this year I figured I'd introduce a little structure into some of the things I blog about.

What I decided upon was the thoughtful decision making process that goes into recording something.

The recording process involves dozens of decisions, some of which can be have answers that are fairly obvious and some of which can be downright baffling.  Half of the process is pragmatic and the other half is artistic.   Too often, people earnestly seeking perspective from more experienced recordists receive the answer "it depends" with no further illumination. 

My purpose in this series of posts will be to explore the answers to "It depends on what!? And then once I've defined what it depends on how do I execute it?" in as much detail as I can to as many aspects of recording as I can. This will include things like how many channels to record, which mics to choose, where to place those mics, what devices to record to, what other gear to bring and use, and of course what to record in the first place.

One caveat to all of this is that if you perfectly execute a set of recordings towards a flawed goal then you'll still fail.  Along those lines, developing an appropriate recording goal requires two things: a well defined personal aesthetic and a clear context in which the work will exist.

So with that in mind, this first post will be about developing aesthetic, because so much of the answer to the above question is also the answer to "what do I like?"

Over on SSD Shaun Farley asked a question about what you do to develop your aesthetic.  My answer was generally to both do art in other disciplines and to observe fully realized works within your own.  I stand by that as a foundation, but I'd like to expand on that here.

First off, I do strongly believe that working art in other disciplines does wonders for sharpening one's aesthetic.   The main reason is because all art requires creativity and technique and the process of learning and executing new technique can be very revealing as to one's personal aesthetic because you find out very quickly what is and what is not worth learning new skills and techniques to execute.

As an illustration, I've personally found that I thoroughly enjoy shooting both timelapses and super slow mo video in the photographic realm.  I've spend a relatively thick amount of hours learning and experimenting with both, and what that's revealed to me in my audio work is that (like with visuals) I have a deep appreciation for the ability to drastically manipulate time in all of these mediums. 

Secondly, as I stated in the SSD thread, I think its very important to both observe and discuss the works of others with trusted and knowledgeable people.  The reason is because these type of discussion force a person to articulate a position and then to defend that position, the result of which is a more consciously defined sense of what goes into the thing that a person likes vs what that person doesn't like.  If you can't articulate to me what you like about that show you love then you've done yourself no favors with regards to creating your own work.


The process of shaping and developing one's aesthetic is a personal and ongoing one.  It must be actively pursued and nurtured throughout the time that one intends on creating and appreciating art.

Having a well defined personal aesthetic is an important context in which to make any thoughtful recording decision.

Saturday, January 14

recordings of a CD press and a Printing Press

A few weeks ago I was talking to a longtime client of mine at a local industry meetup, and she mentioned that they had a huge printing operation.  I had no idea that this existed at their place and immediately asked for permission to go record it.  She laughed at my nerdiness and did whatever it was that she needed to do to get me in.

I scheduled the record for a day that was relatively light at the office, but having never seen a large scale printing press in person I wasn't exactly sure what kind of rig to bring. I figured that the machines would be loud, would have noises coming from all over, and would be in a relatively noisy environment.

I decided on my CM3s for XY, a schoeps CMC6.mk41 for hypercardioid, and I brought my electrostatic and contact mics as well.

Once I arrived at the plant and was introduced to the person in charge, I looked around and assessed the situation.  What was in front of me was not only a large printing press, but a full scale CD and DVD production factory as well.

Everything was running in basically the same room, so it was noisy as hell.  After some quick inspection I decided that I didn't want to risk messing anything up with the contact mics, and I really just wanted to get as much general coverage as I could in the short window of time that I had available to me.  As such, I ditched the crazy mics and just rolled the CM3s, the CMC6.MK41, and the D50.

I generally just used the D50 for generic ambiances, but when my time crunched in the end I used the D50 to catch one printer while simultaneously rolling on the other.

Everything was basically running on a 24/7 schedule, so I wasn't able to get much with regards to starts and stops, and as noted the ambient noise was pretty intense so while this stuff is usable as design elements, it's not particularly comprehensive or documentary.

Here's what I came up with:

Wednesday, January 11

On abandoning work

I was listening to the Let's Make Mistakes podcast today, and Katie said something interesting that I felt like I wanted to weigh in on.

They were discussing point number one on this article

1. Choose better problems to solve

Designers are, by definition, problem-solvers. And the world has never been so blessedly full of  problems. Our infrastructure is rotting, the economy is crap, Wall Street is awash with criminals and millions of people can’t get basic medical care, food and water. We don’t need another app to rate your sandwich. We don’t need to know when we go to sleep and get up. We do not need digital farms. We need real ones. We need fresh water. We need solutions for the apocalypse.

Now, that's pretty high minded for an audio application, but during the discussion (around 23 minutes in) Katie said something along the lines of "its about stop trying to save bad work - like trying to salvage something you've been working hard on.  You'd be amazed how much time people waste on that"

I think that this can be applied to audio work as well.  Its important when managing one's work assets to recognize what is busywork vs what is genuinely useful.  It's also important to recognize which projects don't ever really have a chance of working out as well as we want them to.

I used to struggle with this.  I'd spend weeks pruning and cleaning and tagging and cataloguing and organizing the most useless and trivial of sounds.  I'd document and mark and save every synth setting I used even though I never found myself coming back to those settings in the context of other projects, and instead building new ones for new projects.

Gradually I learned how to evaluate the usefulness of what I had in front of me and was able to stop polishing and finishing out the sounds that I'd never find useful in a project.

One of the points of growth that I have had as a professional is to develop my own aesthetic.  This means that I've learned what I like vs what I don't.  And over time I've been able to learn to stop acquiring and editing and cataloguing and taking up brain space with things I don't like or can't use (for the purposes of gaining experience), so that I have more brain space to do those things to sounds I DO like.  This was a big step for me.

The same sentiment can be applied broadly to side projects, since each ends up taking a ton of brainspace, time and effort.  Time spent really evaluating and critiquing a project on the front end can lead to a surprising number of concept rejections, which is a good thing because it keeps you focused on the truly interesting and beautiful things that should command your effort and attention. 

In the end remember:  Just because you worked very hard on something doesn't mean that it's any good.  Learn to continuously and brutally evaluate things you're working on and then learn to get out of projects that aren't or aren't going to be any good, regardless of how much work you've put into them. 

Sunday, January 8

new year's resolution - to blog at least once a week

After reading matt gemell's recent post revealing some research he did of his own blog, as well as reflecting on my addiction to the daring fireball blog, which often puts up very short but very highly curated links and posts, I've decided that I really don't blog enough. 

So starting with this post I'm resolving to at least put up one post as week for all of 2012.

this won't be as easy as that sounds for a couple of reasons:

1)I'm verbose.  when I get started I tend to roll on for a while, and I edit my posts iteratively after I've written them, which takes a minute.

2)2012 will probably be the most insanely busy year of my life.  Our company, Dallas Audio Post, is currently in the process of constructing, outfitting and moving into a new building - which is getting thick right now and will stay thick for the next few months.  I'm currently building a new Dallas Audio Post website and migrating webservers.  echo | collective is up and running and will have new projects running all year.  Also 2012 is a big election year and a lot of the work we do at Dallas Audio Post is political advertising.  Also I'm married and my wife likes to see me every so often.  I also enjoy participating in TSCC.

so with all of that in play, why not try to up the blog content without watering it down?  should be pretty simple right?

All of this is to say that I'm going to be putting up at least a short blog post every week from here on out.  I promise never to post something up as fluff or filler - though I may put a couple of DF style link/short commentary posts up on occasion.  I'll also still have some deeper multi part things that get into to tl;dr territory and hopefully a couple more shootouts as well.

Happy new year!