Sony PCM-d50 for Marching Band?
I'm wondering how you think the sony pcm-d50 would perform for recording a marching band. I know that it has gotten good reviews, but how effective would it be at capturing audio across the entire football field, while hopefully rejecting noise from the crowd? I haven't seen anything in regards to it's polar pattern or noise rejection, so I'm not sure.
I was thinking of placing it on the track which serves as a border around the football field. Alternatively, I might try putting it on top of a high tripod next to my cameras in the stands.
Ideally, I would like to have 2 hypercardioids set up in an XY stereo pair connected to a recorder, but I don't have the budget for that, so I'm looking at the d50 as an alternative for now and then purchasing the hypers down the road. How would the d50 compare to an XY pair of hypers?
Thanks for your help!
Hello Glenn and welcome to the Cow Audio Forum,
Tough call. It's best to get some height (distance) on a marching band so you don't close-mic one section and miss the rest. I think elevated distance micing.
That's tough to do if they are covering the entire field. I'd want a lot of rehearsal time to figure out what to use and where to be.
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I've just started using the D50 for just this purpose. While it doesn't strain out ALL extraneous noise it certainly reduces it from what I was getting from other less-than-ideal approaches.
Let me say, though, that I am new to marching bands -- this is my daughter's 1st year in marching band and I've taken on doing video for them, and trying to work towards an acceptable practice that will not be TOO difficult or costly, as I do not have anyone among the band volunteers, at least yet, to operate any kind or complex recording setup. So when I say the D50 seems to work well, I mean it works well for something that I can set on a tripod in the middle of the running track, set a level, press record and walk up to my perch on the announcer's stand, or wherever I've managed to set up the camera.
I think for information gathering purposes I'll be posting at least an excerpt of the latest competition so people can judge for themselves (and hopefully I may get some tips for post-production where dealing with some fairly "hot" percussion is concerned when mixing audio is concerned.
I'll post a URL once the example is up publicly somewhere.
Here's the URL for one marching band video with the audio pulled entirely from a Sony PCM-D50 (unit set at about waist level, pointed at the rough center of mass for the marching band). 44.1khz/ 24 bit sampling. Post-processed in Vegas Pro 8.0. Post-processing details are listed in the video description.
Video had roughly 30 mins. left of transcoding on the server site side as I typed this, so there may be a slight delay before the video is available to view.
Link to video: Montgomery Marching Band, 4 Oct. 2008 @ Pennridge Spectrum of Sound.
I wasn't able to view your video (I think I got a 404 error) but I have been using the d50 enough to be able to dispense some advice!
I spent a good couple of weeks fiddling with the best placement for the d50 (or really the best placement for mics in general) and decided that the BEST place would be a few feet behind the drum major, set up on a very tall tripod or stand that would get the mic about as high as the press box. This would give the best audio since it would preserve the balance between the pit and the wind instruments behind them, and the location would help to eliminate any noise that people may make in the stands. Of course, this option isn't really feasable, at least for me, since it would take too much time to set up at every performance, and would also block the audience's view of the band (not to mention it would be very distracting).
So my second best option is to set up the d50 on a regular tripod (but extended as high as it can go) as high up in the stands as I can go. Sometimes that will mean on top of the press box, and sometimes that will mean right next to it (when they don't allow me in the press box...which they won't do at competitions). This is the option that I have been using for this season so far. It gets very good audio of the band, with a good balance between the pit and wind instruments (something I worry about since the pit of our band is very large and in turn, very loud!). The only problem with this method, is that if the audience is very noisy and talkative during their performance, then it can get hard to hear the band. At competitions, this isn't much of a concern since everyone there is interested in watching the bands, but at football games they just won't shutup! So to get around that, when I suspect there to be a loud audience, then I just hook up my Rode Videomic to the d50 and record the audio that way. Since it's a shotgun mic, it's better at eliminating some of the noise in the stands.
From what I read in your post, it sounds like you put the microphone right near the pit. I would advise against doing that since it seems to me like it would mess up the balance. The pit would be much louder than the rest of the band. (One time at a competition there wasn't enough room for me to set up the mic in the stands, so just for kicks I set it up under our drum major's podium. I ended up making a CD with that audio and giving it to the pit instructor since that was all that you could hear!).
Also, I tend to keep the mics in the 90 degree position since that actually covers the whole field from the top of the stands, where I generally set it up.
I hope that helped you out a little bit! Send some links to the videos that you've done so far, I would be very interested in seeing them! You can see my band's videos at http://brhsmarchingband.com, but this year our band director feels that he has to approve everything before it goes online, so I haven't posted any video yet of this season's show. Hopefully I'll get around to doing that this weekend!
You said you were with the Montgomery Marching Band (I'm with the Bridgewater-Raritan High School Marching Band, by the way), which sounds very familiar! Were you at the Yamaha Cup in Giant's Stadium last year? Our band will be going there this Saturday, so if you'll be there it would be interesting to meet up and talk about video! (And criticize how bad the video is that's done at Giant's Stadium! If they just white balance it would be 70% better!!).
- Glenn Fisher
As for links to the other videos, at this point I've only put up one other, and the audio for that one came off my camera, as I did not anticipate enough time (at an away game) to get the D50 set up, it was brand new to me at that time as well, I'd literally had it in hand for 2 days at most? -- I handed it off to another band parent, but he could not deduce that somehow (probably my younger daughter) the built-in mics had been switched off, so no audio was captured separately at that event, just what came to the stock mic for the XL H1, which seems to have some directionality, but is not an ideal mic for recording at that distance (as the video demonstrates).
The best present render of that video is also at vimeo.
The balance is better, but as you point out, I am shooting over the fans there. Also, as one of our first games of the season, the program was only partially rehearsed and presentable, so a lot of it is missing still. Even on the Pennridge video there is still one sequence that the band had not yet added to the routine.
As with your band, there's some pressure not to make video generally available at this point, in part due to the fact, I suppose, that the band parents association uses an end-of-season video as a fundraiser, so it probably wouldn't be the best plan to make all the best stuff widely available? My thought is that putting up one or two good examples might encourage other parents to spring for the video in the end. I haven't felt particular pressures from the band director to hold back, though.
Yeah, I know what you mean about the show being very lacking. But I've found that one of the most interesting things is to record as much of the season as possible–starting with my band's first "preview performance" that is only for friends and parents, which they do at the end of band camp–and then looking back at one of the first videos after just having finished editing the last one.
Last year I had that experience after editing the band's state championship video. I looked back on their very first performance at a football game and realized just how much they had improved! It's really quite amazing!
I'm not sure if this would work for you, but I've personally been able to get around my band director's pressure by posting a "Band Members Only" page to the band website. It's password protected, so our director doesn't have any gripes about me posting videos for our band only. Although the audience for the fundraiser in your case would most likely be the band members and band parents, all of whom would have access to that page. So it might not work as well in your case (unless you say that you're going to take any password-protected videos offline at the end of the season!).
Even though I put up all of my video online, I've still made money off of selling DVDs with the entire season's performances. A DVD is much more convenient and (sometimes) higher quality than what you can find online. Online videos are not guaranteed to stay online, so I've found that parents and band kids will purchase a DVD so that they know they always have access to the videos. You might be able to convince the band parents association to let up on some of the pressure since your videos shouldn't really interfere with their DVD (from my personal experience).
Or, you could go way over the top, like I originally planned to do this year and make a full featured documentary following the band from their very first rehearsal to the end of the season, with interviews of directors, staff, and students, and have the band parents association sell that on DVD. :P
I must say, Brett, that I've been having a lot of fun talking to you about these marching band videos! I haven't met anybody who had done so before, so it's really exciting to get to watch another person's video and learn about how they film!
Ah, I found the problem with the link. For some reason it had a ' at the end of it which was causing a "File Not Found" error over at Vimeo. I deleted the ' and was able to see your video! So here are some of my comments:
1. I really like how clean the audio is. I liked the fact that you didn't pick up ambient noise (or at least, not any ambient noise that was noticeable to me! :P).
2. The whole video seemed to be quiet..but maybe I just had my volume down too low.
3. The balance was off. I think that this is probably my most important comment for you. When I listened to this video, I could tell that your microphones were not placed in line with the 50 yard line (I could REALLY tell after I read so in your description :P). This meant that the "balance" between instruments closest to the mic and those far away was off. The instruments closer to the mic would be louder than those farther away. A good example of when this got in the way was when the drum line approached the mic. That part of the show was not meant to emphasize the drum line, but since they were closer to the microphone, my attention was drawn to them, since they were louder, and it distracted me from the wind instruments, where the real meat and potatoes of the show is. And the balance wasn't just off in regards to how loud the instruments are, but since the d50 records in stereo, your left and right mixes did not correspond with the video (which seems like a minor issue, but to me it was very noticeable).
There is no ideal solution, but I have decided that it's more important to get the balance correct, and introduce some noise and whatnot by bringing the d50 into the stands, than having the balance wrong. It's something to try the next time you take some video of them!
I definitely recognized your uniforms! We must have been at a competition that you guys were also at last year! I'm thinking Yamaha Cup, but I'm not sure. I would be interested in knowing if you remember Bridgewater-Raritan's marching band, and whether or not you guys will be at Yamaha Cup again this year!
Much regards and good luck,
Thank you so much, Glenn, for the detailed (and spot on) critique. I think I was finally beginning to realize that much of the "hot" percussion showed up most of all when the drum line moved right in front of the recorder. But it's good to hear that confirmed. I kind of dread moving the recorder that much further back, and sincerely wish it were possible to do what you suggest by placing the recorder high up above the band on the 50 yard line -- as you suggest, that would be ideal.
I don't suppose it would be an improvement to place the recorder behind the band, would it? ;) (Even if it provided a better balance I don't relish the idea of getting across the field to recover the recorder after performance).
For the dailies I've given to the band director so far, I have been trying to create a mix between my onboard recording with the stock mic from the Canon XL H1 -- but it definitely picks up a lot of crowd noise and whatever the jokers in the stands or the booth or (at MHS) the roof of the booth, might happen to be saying. It would be nice, but probably beyond my current budget, to add a great directional shotgun mic to my kit bag. That item goes to the top of my equipment wishlist here and now -- though if I use it with the D50 would I also need a preamp for phantom power? Actually, since I have (in theory) 4 audio tracks available for the camera's audio section, it might be good to run a cable to the camera and record that way -- though this is something I'd want to test out beforehand, as I've barely used the audio features of the camera itself, other than the stock on-board mic.
I think I may look for a spot on the ground that does not feature the drum line quite so prominently, or perhaps even try a placement behind the drum major, perhaps somewhere in the stands, but in front of the crowd?
Anyway, thanks for the input. I love what I've managed to see so far of the BRHS website. For some reason I'm having trouble locating our schedule of performances other than those at scheduled games, but there does not appear to be a competition we're attending this weekend. We probably did perform in the Yamaha Cup last year, but my daughter is a freshman member, so I was not involved with the Marching Band at that point... part of the reason I'm on a steep learning curve in figuring out the best way to capture audio now. ;)
Again, thanks for the detailed and very helpful reply.
Great to hear that I could help! :)
If you discover a better position for the d50, let me know! I would be very curious!
You're idea of putting the d50 on the other side of the field sounds interesting as well. Once you get it on the computer it seems like you should be able to swap the left and right audio channels to get back the "proper" left and right stereo mix from the camera's perspective. My only question is if the d50 would pick up any perspective of distance. Anyway, that would be very interesting to try! If I have time this weekend, I might stop by one of my school's rehearsals and set up the d50 that way and just see what kind of results I get. If I can get around to it, I'll post it online and let you know!
About the shotgun microphone, I know what you mean by not having the funds. It seems like that's the real limiting factor in video production. If your school has a television studio or some sort of video classes though, it might be worth talking to them to see if they well let you borrow equipment. I know that my school has a very well funded television program, and I've been able to borrow a Sennheiser ME-66 over some weekends to record the band.
As far as our schedule goes, one of our directors posts the schedule onto his Homework Hero website, so he didn't want me to post it onto the website that I set up for the band since then he would have to change it in two places. You can get to the schedule though by going here. Let me know if we'll be at any of the same competitions! If you show me your XH-A1 (I've just been using a Sony HDR-HC1 and a Canon HV20) I'll show you my microphone! :P
My concern about the other side of the field would be that for most of the program the brass especially will be facing away from the mics -- they turn their backs on the drum major for a pianissimo passage early in the routine -- it definitely has an effect on the sound, and moreso in some stadiums, as buildings around the field act to reflect the soundwaves all over the place, depending on where the buildings are, of course. This was very clear at Sommerville, when we played Immaculata. ;) Still, it would be interesting to hear how that works if you decide to try it. Tonight is an away game, so I'll be pushing it just to get set up this time and see if moving a bit further back, and perhaps into the stands a bit gives any better result.
Also, since at this point I have a number of tracks that have been recorded from 2 positions, I guess I'll keep messing about with some of the noise gate filters, as those seem to have given the best results in post for cutting down slightly on the percussive effects, without dreadfully altering the rest of the performance. If I come across a filter or VST plug-in that shows more promise, I'll try to mention it here in follow-up.
As for distance perspective, I think that's instinctively why I've been blending the D50 audio with what I'm getting from the camera's boom mic (cutting out nearly all of the camera track, leaving just enough to reinforce the sense of space) -- though sometimes I think adding synthetic reverb fairly subtly might do just as much, except for adding in some of the actual crowd noise.
It would be interesting to see what sort of support we might get from the school's AV program, as I know they themselves have some very good cameras, and probably also have some good mics. It would be nice to try something other than the stock mic feeding to the XL H1, assuming I could get the time and perhaps someone from the school interested in being audio crew, as this is just as much a time problem as an equipment problem.
I finally located the weekly announcement that tells which competitions we will be going to -- sadly, all those that have been announced are in Pa., for some reason. Wm. Tennant in Warminster (Oct. 18), and Neshaminy HS, in Langhorne (Oct. 24). I'm not really sure why we are going to these except that they are a shorter drive for us than Giants Stadium and other competitions within NJ.
We also bagged a parade in Philly that we had gone to in past years when we found that the other band that generally played there had been getting a hefty honorarium. Our band director offered to come again if the honorarium matched, but apparently the parade organizers passed on our offer.
Got some slight improvement by moving the D50 back to the fence in front of the stands and more centered this time (last Friday's game). Though I still found myself mixing in the on-cam sound to give more sense of space. I did pick up bits of some nearby conversation, though only briefly... but this was one of the reasons I had the recorder midway onto the running track, I think, in a location where few spectators would be likely to casually plant themselves. It's a big risk putting the recorder anywhere close to the stands, I think, at least if the goal of the closer recording is to minimize crowd noise.
One test recording I did at one of our early games (recording the host team's halftime show, so I could play with location and levels) seemed to invite two or three teens to camp as close to the recorder as they could, to discuss their sex lives.
I'd considered placing it at the front of the stands, on the raised platform itself, when I was looking for a spot this last time, but I decided against it mostly because I didn't want to incite someone in the stands to move something that was "blocking" their view or whatever. (Not that the D50 could block anyone's view, but I could just anticipate the convo with some thicknecked fan of the home team and me in my visitor's team band chaperone windbreaker).
Anyway, I spent minimal time processing the two tracks (this was also my first time using the D50's windscreen, though the night was still very calm and there wasn't enough wind to be a problem anyhow.
I would love to see that mic. But the camera I'd be showing is the XL H1, which sparked a convo on top of the announcer's stand, where I met the head of Monroe HS's TV/vid program, who mentioned that Comcast (or another local cable provider) was giving them money for equipment to set up a local access station, and he wanted my comments on using the XL H1, which was on their shortlist. If the XH A1 had been available when I decided to buy the XL H1, though, I might well have gone with that camera, since it is much more affordable, and probably does 98% or better of what I need most of the time. If I were younger, and gas were cheaper, I'd probably be looking to find a stringer gig with area news channels. ;)
I apologize for not keeping up with my side of this conversation. I would make some excuse, but the truth is that things just got very busy and I forgot about the CreativeCOW forums for a while.
Anyway, I hope that this post might be useful for you in recording the next marching band season.
As far as the d50 goes for marching band audio, I'm planning to pick up a Manfrotto 004BAC light stand from B&H. It's a collapsible 13' stand that comes with a screw on adapter to convert the top thread to a 3/8" mount, allowing me to mount the d50 on top. I'm also ordering the casters to go along with it, so I'll keep the d50 set up (and maybe even recording) for the entire football game, and I can simply wheel it around where I need it to go. I think that this will be a great solution for me at football games since it allows me to get a much higher location for the d50 while I'm recording my marching band's "pep music" in the stands, and then I can simply wheel it on the track over to the 50 yard line (I already talked to the band director and he has no problem with me positioning the stand directly behind the drum major during football games) for their half-time performance. I'm hoping that this solution will give me much better audio, and I'll let you know how it turns out whenever I try it!
As a side note, I've gotten into recording many of my school district's concerts (orchestra, band, and choir) for broadcast over a local television station. The high school choral director actually hired a professional sound recording guy to come in for his concert, and talking to him (and especially hearing the audio that he got compared to the d50) convinced me that I should look into expanding my audio recording kit. I already have a mixer, so I'm looking into purchasing a stereo pair of Oktava MC012 microphones. I mostly plan to use them for indoor recording, but I'm sure that I will set them up at least once during next summer's band camp in order to see "what I'm missing" by using only the d50. I don't think I can use the Oktavas to record football games, since I'm already running two cameras, and can't manage a mixer at the same time. Not to mention the fact that I don't really have a proper field mixer and would have to either rely on my laptop and a usb audio interface, or have to purchase another expensive piece of kit. Anyway, I plan to try it, so I'll be sure to upload some samples once I do!
Best Of Luck To You In The New Year,
Thanks for getting back to this. I know what you mean about busy, my free time since November was mostly tied up in shooting, capturing or editing band footage, first for my weekly DVDs for the band director, and then assembling the "Season Highlights" DVD for the Band Parents Association. It was a great learning experience, but rather exhausting.
In the end I think my best audio, at least from the D50, came in the end from setting up (usually) very near to where I was shooting from, ideally on top of the announcers' booth, when I could get there. From that vantage point there might have been a little more "air" and crowd noise than ideal, but at least I could monitor and adjust recording levels from there -- which goes to your point about a mixer and quality mics, items that are all on my wish list -- and I did get some moderate quality mics along the way, including studio-type mics too delicate (and with pickup patterns inappropriate) for the demands of this particular task.
You mentioned before the quiet levels on my first shot at the Pennridge performance. With experience and some outside reading I came to realize that I was applying some filters (especially compression) in a completely counterproductive way. My more recent versions should be a bit more listenable, preserving enough dynamic range but not taking it to extremes that render much of the track as very quiet -- the new mix resembles closely the quality I generally managed to attain for the DVD release, which was pressed through (and delivered) just before the Holiday break.
Since it was already online I decided to repair or replace, where possible, the track you heard. Something about the first try was so bad, apparently, that it may have affected the video frame rate of the original video that remains in place on YouTube -- a change that seems to have coincided with their first attempt to present HD video on the site, starting in mid-December. I've left the bad track up in part because so many people have been passing it around locally that more and more of the hits on that video have been coming, it seems from family and friends who got the link via email, IMs or whatnot. I decided to link the improved render/mix since YouTube doesn't allow video replacement, and hope that some people will notice the links and click through to the decent version. ;)
You might be interested to take a glance at or comment on the comparison video I did, taking my on-camera audio and comparing it to both a fairly raw mix of the original D50 PCM track, and a mildly processed and compressed rendition made solely from that track.
Let's see if this links.
Just in case the link fails again, here's the raw URL: