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sound channels

Contributed By Fred Ginsburg

During the pre-production stage, it will become necessary to think and deal in terms of basic equipment packages. When defining equipment and budgeting in terms of these packages, bear in mind that these are simply terms of convenience. The specific contents of each package type will vary from studio to studio, rental house to rental house, and even mixer to mixer.

Members of the industry use these terms for generality only. When it becomes time to actually order equipment, forget the terms and get down to specifics: one of these, two of those, this adapter, etc.

Note that the use of the term "channel" is synonymous with "equipment package".

One-Mic Channel
The One-Mic Channel is the most basic of the generic sound recording packages (channels). It consists of a Nagra 4.2 sync recorder, headphones, one condenser "shotgun" microphone (usually either a Sennheiser MKH416 or MKH816), a short mic cable, and a short fishpole.

The One-Mic Channel is the typical one-man band type of set- up. Picture one person with a Nagra strapped over the shoulder and a shotgun mic in hand. Applications would include sound effects gathering, wild lines, and documentary.

For documentary production, the sound mixer might want to add a couple of lavaliers for interviews.

Daily rental is approximately $75 to $100 per day.

ENG Mic Channel
This is the video equivalent of the (film) one-mic channel. Since audio in video is recorded on the VTR instead of a Nagra, the package does not include a recorder. However, since most VTR’s do not offer adequate mic mixing (input control) and the fact that camcorders are carried by the cameraman—a small mixing panel is absolutely necessary.

Contents of a typical ENG Mic Channel would include a mini mixer (such as the Shure FP-31 or FP-32, or the Audio-Technica AT4462); headphones; one shotgun mic; cable; short fishpole; and 2 lavaliers.

Video folk seem to be enamored with the use of electret condenser shotgun microphones, such as the Sennheiser K3U/ME80 and the Audio-Technica AT835. Many video rental houses will supply these automatically, in lieu of the higher quality condensers such as the Sennheiser MKH416 or MKH816.

Daily rental is approximately $75 per day.

Stage Channel

The Stage Channel is a complete sound recording package for theatrical style filmmaking(such as feature films, commercials, and episodic television series.

Contents typically include: one Nagra 4.2; a production mixing panel; soundcart; fishpole; three condenser mics; duplex mic cable to the boomman; a few hundred feet of assorted single mic cables; and a few lavaliers. Sometimes more in the way of equipment, sometimes less. Again, remember that exact contents will vary from user to user.

Note also that two types of items are generally not included: headphones and wireless mics. As for headphones, it is normally assumed that the Mixer and Boom own their own. Wireless mics are a separate and expensive item, contracted for over and above the basic equipment package.

The term Stage Channel originated from the concept of filming on the soundstage or backlot of a major studio complex. All of the basic sound recording tools are present; but replacement equipment and specialty items are not included. In the event of equipment malfunction or special needs, it was only necessary to send the "third man" (Utility Sound Technician) a few hundred yards over to the studio "Sound Shop" for additional gear.

Stage Channels, although they may vary somewhat in the number of fishpoles and microphones, basically all share the concept of including only one (expensive) Nagra recorder.

Daily rental is approximately $150 to $200 per day.

Location Channel
What if the Nagra was to break? Do we cancel the shoot and all go home? Or do we just sit around for hours while someone drives back to the rental house for another?

In either case, it is not a good scenario. Therefore, the idea behind the Location Channel is that we have TWO Nagras, as well as a very full complement of microphones and other needed equipment. The magic word is redundancy. Location Channels are beefed up Stage Channels, and feature two Nagras and plenty of equipment for major set-ups and contingencies. Radio mics are still extra, though.

A good rule of thumb is: If a replacement Nagra is more than thirty minutes away (or you are shooting on weekends, holidays, or nights when rental houses are closed)... then go out with a Location Channel! If the shoot is big budget and every minute lost can cost big bucks, then definitely equip yourself with back-up gear.

The difference in cost between a Stage Channel and a Location Channel is only $75 to $100 per day. That’s a small price to pay for "insurance".

If the production company balks at the added expense, ask them to sign a waiver leaving you blameless for delay in the rare event of the recorder malfunctioning. They almost certainly won’t sign such a document, but they will give in and let you rent a back-up machine.

Daily rental is approximately $200 to $275 per day.

Video Mic Channel The Video Mic Channel is merely a Stage Channel complete except that there is no Nagra recorder. It is for film-style video production, and includes a soundcart, mixing panel, fishpole, condenser mics, etc.

Daily rental is approximately $125 to $150 per day.

Sound Design and Effects
The role of the sound designer, different types of effects and their usage in the effects track.
music as a sound track element is discussed, differences between extraneous and practical music, canned and original score, needle drop and blanket rights.
Boom Techniques
Another great article by Dr. Fred Ginsburg, CAS that covers the practical and technical details on boom mic techniques for movie production sound tracks.
Production Mixing
Dr. Fred Ginsburg, CAS sketches an overview of production mixing; mixing panels, dB levels, VU meters, headphone monitoring, signal recording and recording priorities.
narration use as a story device as part of a film sound track, definitions of "sync to picture" and "wild" narration from a script as well as voice of god and wild line narration.