January 10, 2010

Sine Language – episode 122

Happy new year!
A quick mention of our holiday cruise (blog and pictures start here),
an e-mail from Steve Filmer regarding a couple of articles on NPR;
this one on the loudness wars, inluding this great pdf,
and this on one the average level of TV commercials,
a quick mention of James Cameron’s epic, Avatar,
and the final segment (I guess?) on vocal recording, including hung mics and signal structure. I know I’ve covered signal structure in the past, but am having issues finding which episode that was in. If anyone knows off the top of their head, drop me an e-mail, would ya, please? Cheers! :)


July 9, 2009

Recording interviews with field recorders

In the last 2 weeks, I’ve recorded several interviews at 2 different trade shows. Those interviews have ended up in episodes of both Shutters Inc and Sine Lanugage.
In the wake of this, I’ve had a couple of enquiries from listeners as to my technique for recording interviews on flash-based field recorders like the Zoom H2.
These listeners have commented that they never seem to achieve the same level of results as I have managed, and have asked for some insights.
So, I shall endeavour to outline the pitfalls as I understand them.

First off, tempting though it may be, do not record to mp3!
Remember, mp3 is a lossy format, and we don’t ever want to save production audio (clips which still need further work before release) in a lossy format.
And for that matter, don’t record at 16 bit wav either.
No, your preferred option is to record 24 bit wav.
Yes, it will chew up your memory cards quicker, but memory cards are really not that expensive these days, so carrying a couple of extras shouldn’t represent too much of a burden, either physically or financially.
If your recorder of choice does not offer 24 bit wav, then fall back to recording 16 bit wav instead.

Secondly, your recorder SHOULD offer a choice of microphone gain sensitivities.
The Zoom H2 offers low, medium and high.
Low will turn the sensitivity down (useful for really loud sources), medium is what it sounds like, and high turns the sensitivity up (for really quiet sound sources).
I have found that the medium setting usually works well for these trade show interviews, but obviously, judge each on a case by case basis.
Remember, we are recording at 24 bit, so we don’t NEED to peg the meters at zero!
Peaks of -20dB to -12dB are just fine!

Third, if your recorder of choice has a headphone output (I don’t imagine there’d be any which do not, but you never know), then absolutely have some form of monitoring with you when you are recording.
This may be a set of lightweight street headphones, or even a decent set of earbuds.
Me? I use my trusty old Sennheiser CX300′s, with just one earbud stuck in one ear.
The reason for that is that through that ear, I can hear what the microphone is picking up, and through my other ear, I’m hearing the world around me.

Now, because you are monitoring (via your earbud) what the microphone of the recorder is hearing, you are able to move the recorder around as necessary througout the interview to make sure the talent stays ‘on mic’.
Now, you might be thinking that people aren’t going to like having a flash recorder stuck in (and moving around in front of) their face.
I would contend that if they have agreed to do an interview, then they are probably going to be ok with it.
My technique is to hold the recorder at chest height between myself and the talent.
That way, you SHOULDN’T get any plosives (pops), but the mic should be able to hear the talent fairly well, while keeping the ambient noise reasonably under control.
If you talent is a very soft speaker, then you may have to move the recorder closer toward them, and that may feel a little uncomfortable at first.
If the talent keeps backing away from the mic, stop the interview, explain to them that you NEED the mic that close in order to hear what they are saying without being drowned by background noise, then recommence the interview.
Thing is, MOST of the time, the person you’ll be interviewing is from the marketing department or the sales team and they generally don’t speak that quietly!!

OK, so now you’re back at your desktop (or in your hotel room working on your laptop) and ready to edit and mix.
Drag the files into your DAW of choice.
DO NOT go and normalise the waveforms!
Remember, they’re 24 bit files, so it’s all good.
In your multitrack (which is also mixing at 24 bits or higher, right? RIGHT??), lay up your interviews where you want them.
Adjust the gain so you’ve got peaks around -20dBFS to -15dBFS off each channel. At this point, you should have NO processing on your master output.
Put in some per channel automation to keep each interview roughly in the bacllpark in terms of output level. You don’t have to get too finicky with it, just ‘in the ballpark’ will be good enough at this stage.
Now, if your final audio piece is going to feature other pieces of audio as well, I’d suggest setting up a submix (buss) for just the interviews to go through.
Then, slap a peak limiter across that buss with an output level set for -15dBFS, and the threshold set so that you’re getting about 4-6dB of gain reduction on that peak limiter.
Then, AFTER the peak limiter, put a compressor with a moderate attack (~20-30ms), moderate release (~100-150ms), a medium ratio (3:1-5:1) and again, enough threshold to give you another 3-6dB of gain reduction.
Your interview submix should now be exhibiting tightly controlled dynmaics, but not sounding squashed.
Go ahead and mix it in with all your other audio bits so that everything sounds roughly equal in apparent volume.
Slap a peak limiter across your master output, and you should be cookin’ with gas!
Have fun!


March 15, 2009

Sine Language – episode 108

This week, I discuss a couple of e-mails traded back and forth between myself and Karl Cooper, who asked about all the usual suspects…. tracking levels, compression, signal chains etc.
Which of course led me to talking (again) about this thread at prosoundweb.com :)
Next up, in an effort to get further through the backlog of Christmas/New Year e-mails, I cover another message from My Man in Hollywood, this time responding to some of Jim Addie’s comments from a previous episode (is this getting convoluted, or what?) on theatre speaker systems.
MMiH provided this link to show us all what serious theatre speaker systems look like! Thanks mate.
Then, something a little off the usual beaten path… Tommie Kelly wrote to tell me about his daily web-based comic strip Road Crew.
Well worth a look!
And to wrap it all up, a couple of e-mails from Jim Weishorn enquiring about dither, an oft-neglected piece of audio-nija trickery.


November 9, 2008

Sine Language – episode 100

Yes folks.
Believe it or not, we’re finally here!
The building of this video has been an absolute labour of love…. I’d estimate that it’s taken me about 20 hours of work to complete!
Maybe, that’s partly my inexperience at producing video podcasts, but hopefully, when you watch it, you’ll see where those hours went.
In an effort to ease the load on my hosting company’s servers, I will be setting up a torrent feed later tonight.
Check back here later for a link to the torrent file.
There’s also a copy of the file at YouSendIt, plus the copy here at audio2u.com.

To download manually from audio2u:
sl100.mp4 280MB

From YouSendIt here:
sl100.mp4 280MB

If you want to download a copy of the final mix of the song (featuring a couple of extra tweaks I did later), grab that here:
Fear of Holding On – 320 kbit joint stereo (13MB)

Towards the end of the podcast (or is that vidcast?), I mentioned that I would make the individual instrument tracks available to anyone who wanted to have a crack at mixing the song for themselves.
Drop me an e-mail and I’ll send you the link to download the files.
Just be warned… that’s an even bigger download than the mp4!!
The tracks are 32bit mono and total about 1.1GB!
The download will be in .rar format, so you’ll need an archive utility like WinRAR (or similar) which is capable of unzipping a .rar file.


October 14, 2007

Sine Language – episode 074

This week, I read an absolutely amazing thread on prosoundweb about digital levels.
Some of the ideas fly a little bit in the face of some of the things I’ve suggested in the past (particularly with regard to tracking as hot as possible).
Having now finished reading it (I was still half way through it at the time I recorded this episode), the main gist of what was being discussed (and there were some pretty big industry heavyweights in there) was that if you are tracking in 24 bit, there is no need to aim for the hottest possible level to disc. These guys were advocating tracking with average levels around -20dBFS (and peaks around -12dBFS)! Now, if anyone had tried to sell me on that idea a week ago, I probably would have held on to my existing position and disagreed.
But no, the theory makes a whole lot of sense.
In a nutshell, the idea is this:
At 24 bit resolution, we’ve got 144dB of S/N ratio to play with (or you could refer to it as dynamic range if you wanted to).
NOTHING (Shall I repeat that? NOTHING) that you are going to record into your DAW has that kind of dynamic range.
Nothin’, zip, nada, nil.
For podcasters, the widest dynamic you’re likely to deal with will be your own voice, and even if you’re REALLY inconsistent with levels (and don’t own an outboard compressor), the most you’ll have to contend with might be in the vicinity of 50dB (from the quietest passage to the loudest passage)…. but even that is unlikely.
So, if you track with peaks at -12dB, AND you happen to have a soft passage 50dB below that (-62dBFS), you’ve still got 82dB of S/N below ya!
But why would you need to track that low?
Well, the theory (and according to these heavyweights who are tracking and mixing this way, the practise) suggests that if you track too close to full scale, you might introduce clipping when you start running plugins (EQ, compressors, peak limiters, whatever) that don’t operate at higher bitrates.

Look, it’s not a thread for the faint hearted, but if you have an interest in getting the best possible quality out of your digital audio setup, it’s worth the time and effort.
It took me 4 days to get through it because I kept on re-reading lines and paragraphs to make sure I understood it.
Also, the real meat starts about 7 pages in when Paul Frindle weighs in on the discussion.

OK, enough of that.

This week in the podcast, part 4 in the series on constructing your own promo: some tips on track laying.


September 9, 2007

Sine Language – episode 071

Filed under: !Podcasts,Analogue,Gain structure,Mastering,Sine Language,Soundbooth — Bruce Williams @ 21:45

This week, a quick mention of the fact that I’ll be doing a couple of e-seminars (just short 1 hour jobs) for Adobe Asia-Pacific over the next couple of months.
Specifically, October 19 and December 7.
For those who are interested, they will be about “Cleaning up audio with Soundbooth CS3.
Remember also that if you are interested in Soundbooth CS3, I have recorded a video training title for Lynda.com which you can check out here.
And if you’re interested in purchasing the CD-ROM, I’ll have copies available soon!

Also, I revisit the old “mastering to -1dBFS” argument again.

Plus, I do my best to answer a query from Bill Burns (at the Security Hype podcast) about calibrating input and otput leves between an analogue mixer and your PC’s (or Mac’s) soundcard and DAW software.

Conversion table for dBu and dBm

August 12, 2007

Sine Language – episode 070

Filed under: !Podcasts,Ear,Gain structure,Hearing damage,Sine Language,Volume — Bruce Williams @ 22:10

This week, Tokyo Dan asked about the war story pertaining to Cheap Trick and the Angels, so we quickly revisit that one.
Peet Sneakes asked about enhanced podcasts.
And we touch again on the volume/gain discussion from last week.


June 18, 2006

Sine Language – episode 015

This week, Bruce answers a heap of listener e-mail, and discusses gain structure.