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Wireless Audio

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Chuck PurnellWireless Audio
by on Sep 22, 2010 at 2:30:47 pm

I have an event coming up in November that I have just been offered the job of shooting. This will be my 4th time shooting in this arena. Every single time I shoot there, there is always issues with my audio! The client will be hiring an audio company whose job is to rig the stage with mics and speakers and provide music for the acts to be performing on stage. The location of the soundboard in relation to where my camera set up is to long of a distance to run XLR cables to. My only option is to go wireless. I have done so in the past and when I ingest my footage into the computer, I can hear my audio taking hits, sometimes it was distorted and then the last event I shot the sound guys forgot to pot my audio up at the top of the show! They were giving me my own mix out of their board.

Last year, I used my Zoom H4N audio recorder and checked levels and left it at the board. The problem I ran into with that is that we checked the levels before the show and everything checked out fine but once the show started he potted the audio levels up higher which basically made my audio distorted and I had no way of monitoring the levels because I was no where near the board.

With all that has been just said, what are my options if any? For this arena, I have no choice but to go wireless or use a recorder at the board that I will have to sync the audio in post. They told me they are under strict rules from the fire marshall (may be the school's policy) that they can't allow any cables to be strung or taped down on the floor.

The problem with dealing with this particular Audio company is that their main focus is rigging the stage for the show. My issues are of no real concern to them and it shows when I playback my work and I can hear all sorts of things that should be there. Sorta makes me look bad but the client keeps hiring me back which I am thankful for.

I have been told to hire my own Audio person but I am not sure if that is going to work. When working with wireless, I have been told to try and mount the receiver as high in the air as I can put it

Any suggestions, tips, or advice would be greatly appreciated. I was hoping that the arena had some drop boxes that I could easily plug into and get a feed from the board but they claim they don't have such a thing.

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Mark SuszkoRe: Wireless Audio
by on Sep 22, 2010 at 3:42:36 pm

That sounds like a pretty tough deal. I think you were on the right track with the back-up plan of putting a recorder by the sound board; you just neglected to hook it up and set it up to deal with the case of the wandering max levels. It could be that you were still set for mic level recording, when most PA board outputs are line level, and you set your peaks when they were not jamming at full blast. Another problem with board feeds is that they are mixed to give the best sound to the people in the sapce, but that balance is often not the same mix you would sue for recording to video. The live mixing guy is counting on the drums for instance to be heard a certain amount with or without amplification and mics on them. So a classic issue with taping bands playing by getting your mix from the board op is your drums are surprisingly weak and the reverb of the room is missing.

When I can't be sure of what's going to happen and can't always have my hands ready on a mixer, I set one track of the 2-track audio to a somewhat low level, and the second track to a higher than average one. The theory being, one track is likely to be "right" at any particular time, no matter what happens to the incoming level.

Another thing that could help is to add a mixer or at least an automatic gain control to that audio recording setup.

The wiring issue comes down to how much advance work you can do: ideally, your antenna is close as possible to the transmitting source, perhaps on an overhead beam, and you run the wire along the beam back to a spot on the wall where you shoot from.

As far as wireless, this is a place where more money definitely means better peformance. Rent some high quality diversity-antenna broadcast wireless sets. One reason for that is that the high-end gear works better, but the other is, the rented wireless sets have been set to channels that have been "cleared" and locally coordinated thru the vendor so as not to be on the same channels as others locally, and are known to work with the least interference.

I have heard of wireless stage audio done using infrared, but I don't think it is very common.

The last desperate backup, which works more often than you would imagine, is to mic a speaker cabinet with a dynamic cardioid mic and run that to one of your recorders. While you still get ambient audio, most of it is still off the speaker. Your risk there is to get one that buzzes or hums a lot.

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Chip ThomeRe: Wireless Audio
by on Sep 29, 2010 at 6:10:54 am

Chuck, start with what is your output of your work going to be. DVD, online and promo materials ??? If you were hired to do a DVD that is to be professional and salable and has pro quality audio, let whoever hired you know you need to hire your own sound company to provide that audio for you. You need everything mic'd up and mixed for your use, not the house's, and either fed to you or recorded.

If this is just some ol' promo material or for online viewing, close now counts, just like in horseshoes and hand grenades.

I have done a lot of bands and have run into varying mixes, and the sound guy always messes with it throughout the show. If you have a festival type mix where everything runs through the board, you are in good shape as you should get something from the house board that is exactly what you hear. If you get a club type of mix where guitars are scaled back and vocals, drums and keyboards are scaled up, because guitars have their own amps and speakers pumping out sound, what you get off that board is going to sound like crap.

In either of those situations, I have taken what the board gave and also took a feed from my Rode Stereo Videomic, to add the missing sound and also the ambient from the room. In post I mixed just enough to get it to sound decent and feel "live". IMO, if you can see crowd and they are doing something that should have sound associated with it, clapping etc, you oughta be hearing them too.

As far as taking audio from a show, clipped audio equals ruined audio. So, I have attenuated right into the basement, and then boosted gain in post to where it should be. This is not the preferred method of recording, but again, what are you doing with it ??? Those viewing online are not expecting to pull out their headphones so they can critique the audio on Youtube. They just want to hear a decent recording of the song to accent the video they are watching. Same with promo material.

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Chuck PurnellRe: Wireless Audio
by on Sep 29, 2010 at 10:52:46 pm


This will be output to DVD and they may want me to edit a small promo from the main video to be uploaded to their website. The event is not a concert. Its more of a dance performance competition. The problem I ran into last year is that some of the groups competing used music with lots of bass which was fed to me at an over modulated state. It sounded good in the arena but that's the issue. The sound guys were mixing the sound for the house and not worry about what I was receiving.

I thought about hiring my own sound guy at a previous event but that would mean they would have to mic the stage as well. When I met with the audio company they claimed that would be a waste of time (hiring my own sound guy) since he [the main audio company] would be able to provide me my own mix. He was also concerned with having a bunch of mics up on stage.

The problem with that is what you and I just stated. He wan't hired to provide me a mix conducive to outputting to DVD. He was hired to mic the stage and provide audio for the "house".

Another problem I ran into with this company was that after every act left the stage, they turned my mix off. So I had to constantly switch my channels on the camera to get room noise of the crowd cheering. There were times when they forgot to pot my audio up when a new group got on stage too! For issues like this is a GOOD reason why i need to have my own sound person dedicated to getting me audio for video.

Now the thing that is crazy is that I work for a TV station as my main job. There are many times I have been sent to go shoot a concert of a mainstream artist or band down at the arena or ampitheater. Their sound guys allow me to plug right into their board and they send me my own mix to my camera after I switch my camera over to LINE level and everything is perfect. The audio is perfect to air on TV and not over modulated!

I have no idea what this other company is doing for the work I do on the side but I am getting annoyed with the end results.

Cre8tive Minds Entertainment, LLC

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Chip ThomeRe: Wireless Audio
by on Sep 30, 2010 at 6:20:28 am

Chuck..... it's so nice to be chatting with another video guy who has "been there, done that" with regards to dealing with crappy audio guys !!! :-)

Two gigs ago we were to shoot an hour and half of a friends band for their promo DVD to be sent out to bars etc. We got there, set up, shot it all, although it didn't sound that "great". But, critiquing the audio wasn't my concern at that point, getting the gig shot was. Because this was to be used to send out to bars to try and generate more biz for the band, I didn't worry too much, as I said earlier, we just wanted decent.

When I got back and into viewing and listening to what we had, it was garbage. Our board feed was all drums with just about everything else buried in the background. My Rode was too far back to get real good audio, so that was out for an option too. End result, I ended up dumping about 80 gig of footage into the recycle bin as it was worthless.

I am sure you can relay similar horror stories too. It has been my experience that audio guys that are CONCERNED about what they give to the video guy, are few and far between. I have found that almost always, I am treated as an after thought.

Another buddy's girlfriend does a solo act with a karaoke computer. The karaoke is fed into a smaller mixer and out to a pair of speakers. The ABSOLUTE best feed I have ever gotten from anyone, has been off that small mixer, but..... I plugged into the headphone jack to get it.

For what you describe, you probably don't need a huge audio affair to get some decent audio. Possibly mic up the speakers, maybe the stage a bit, and some ambient from the room. If I were you and this gig was more than a donation of your skills, I think I'd look at getting someone to come in and do your own audio. I ended up eating that ruined shoot of a friend's band even though it wasn't our fault. You hate to tell your client "well I got 4 hours of garbage because of your audio guy! Where's my check and do you want to do this all again another time???" Yet that is exactly what they should hear.

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Terry MikkelsenRe: Wireless Audio
by on Sep 30, 2010 at 1:00:39 pm

As a better than average "sound guy", may I add a couple of suggestions.

1. Hiring a sound guy would be a good idea. You don't need an entire production company to double mic everything. Use the direct outs from the board to feed a second board for YOUR audio guy. (If no direct outs, use mults or splitters etc....) With the restrictions on cable runs, your audio guy will probably need to be next to the house system. This will be difficult for your audio guy to give you a perfect mix, since he will be influenced by ambient sound, however, an experienced pro will give you excellent results with minimal tweeking in post.

2. If the budget won't allow for more crew, use two recorders and your camera mic. One recorder near the mix position, but with its own mics getting a room feed. One recorder like you had getting a board feed. Finally use you camera mic as a backup. I say backup because you are likely to move around which will affect your audio and disorient the viewer.

In defense of the house sound guy:
You are right in that he is hired to provide the best quality sound for the event. He is most susceptible to scrutiny during the event, because everyone hears exactly what he is (or is not) doing. There is more pressure from the TD/producer/event coordinator who can easily give "the evil eye" from across the room or be leaning over the shoulder second guessing every move.
Also, for recitals/competitions/etc... most of the audio is provided from MANY different sources. Some crap scrapped from YouTube, some mp3s, some CD rips, etc.... Even if all the songs are recorded to one CD, the level and EQ of each track is grossly different. Having to adjust for this on the fly just plain sucks and there isn't much hope to get it any better.

However, there are some extreme no-no's going on with your event.
1. "audio tests" should be done at full level. There is usually about 6dB increase when the house is full, but you should know that and the audio guys should have also told you that. Hence after peak check, you should have lowered your levels about 10dB for unattended recording.
2. Your audio feed should never be muted! Tell the production company what happened last year and that it cannot be repeated this year.

Finally, if you venture into the wireless transmission, the previous post was correct. Rent pro gear. Get an external directional antenna. Yes, it needs to be up high, but nothing crazy. It is line of site transmission. So as long as antenna and receiver can "see" each other without obstruction (columns, people, speaker stacks, etc....) you should be good (for transmission).
What is not good, is a venue that you have only been to a few times with a unknown audio setup (til the production company gets there). To coordinate frequencies with so many unknowns will be quite difficult. Your rental equipment may come with a "seek" function of some sort which could make things much easier. Once ALL of the equipment to be used that day is up AND running AND transmitting, you use the "seek" function in which it will locate a frequency which (at the time you perform the function) has the least interference. Some gotchas to that are venue systems which get turned on at the last minute (after you have already performed your search), which include hearing impaired wireless systems, house sound "MC/introduction" wireless mics, paging systems, etc...
If you are in a small venue, in a small town, without much technology (in the venue or surrounding area) this becomes SO much easier. But large downtown cities can be a real nightmare.

Tech-T Productions

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Chuck PurnellRe: Wireless Audio
by on Oct 5, 2010 at 2:45:15 pm


I am going to print your post and take it to my pre production meeting and explain to those guys exactly what I need to make this work! Thank you sharing your advice and suggestions!!

Cre8tive Minds Entertainment, LLC

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Terry MikkelsenRe: Wireless Audio
by on Oct 5, 2010 at 2:59:10 pm

No problem. Give me a call to check my schedule if you want me to be your "sound guy".

513.549.PRO1 (7761)

Tech-T Productions

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Thax ClaveRe: Wireless Audio
by on Oct 5, 2010 at 2:19:13 pm

[Chuck Purnell] "The location of the soundboard in relation to where my camera set up is to long of a distance to run XLR cables to."

Then, I would get some longer cables. (No, I'm not kidding.)

The hard cable WILL work... and cost less than renting high-end wireless (which may, make noise, or distort, or even fail during "live" conditions.)

If you want it to WORK... use a wire.

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Chuck PurnellRe: Wireless Audio
by on Oct 5, 2010 at 2:33:34 pm


I totally agree with you but here is another problem that I have with this particular arena. They will NOT allow me to put any cables on the floor. Even when I went through the hassle of taping them down last time, they made me pull them up. They gave me some excuse that the school has a policy that no cables can be on the ground. I think its silly considering I had them taped down but I didn't argue with them. I had to then resort to using wireless...thankfully I had it with me. We are talking a big college arena where the basketball team plays.

The problem with wireless in places like that is interference. I have been told something like someone's cell phone can possible cause interference with my audio or other wireless devices in that arena can be a factor too. I was also told to try and mount my receiver as high in the air as I can. Now the camera will be set up at the top of the last row of seats which is pretty high up.

This will be my 4th time shooting in this arena and I cannot seem to get the audio issue down yet! Its quite frustrating.

Cre8tive Minds Entertainment, LLC

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