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Tool time

Ande Schurr with his new Sound Device 633.
Ande Schurr geeks out on a new sound recording tool, and gives some freelancer tips to help cement your reputation in the new year.

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Ande Schurr geeks out on a new sound recording tool, and gives some freelancer tips to help cement your reputation in the new year.

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The tools of the modern sound recordist for film and TV shoots are small, lightweight and relatively inexpensive considering the return on investment. $30,000 could set you up nicely with hard-drive/mixer, four radio mics, boom and relevant cables and you could earn a healthy return per year with 5+ solid years of experience behind you.

Anyone could be one. Although it’s very demanding on big shoots it’s not particularly laborious on the smaller ones. Because it’s a skill that is relatively passable, on very small jobs at least, to anyone who owns a boom ‘shotgun’ microphone, mixer and headphones we have to find a way to be exceptional and offer value far beyond what is expected of someone in this position, of recording sound on location.

A storm is brewing behind us all the time. It is made up of exceptional film school graduates and up and coming sound recordists who want your work, your clients.

Let them come. Help them if they ask for help. Do everything you can to extend the same kindness that people extended to you in your early days.

Business suicide? No, it’s actually a life-line in disguise. This storm behind you will cause you to relentless go forward in the pursuit of excellence of your craft. How can you refine your techniques, your workflow, be more helpful and more indispensable if you don’t feel the push of those behind you breathing down your neck.

The real suicide is resting on your laurels. You may have gained fame for the movies you recorded sound on, or perhaps you have a 20+ year industry experience record but right now you are in danger of becoming a thing of the past; a forgotten technician who spends his or her time moaning about the loss of jobs and the painfully quiet industry rather than seeing the truth that the only ‘quiet’ industry is your own personal one.

Guard against your own human tendency to take it easy. Watch that ‘she’ll be right mate’ attitude; so endearing to us Kiwis on the one hand yet so repugnant on the other because it derives us of our hunger to succeed.

Yes, there is a battle going on whether you like it or not so you need to sharpen up on two fronts. Firstly, your gear has to be light, reliable and adaptable for any job with up to 5-6 actors let’s say no matter what terrain, be it mountains chasing Bear Gryll’s, up an active volcano on Tanna Island, Vanuatu or in the studio recording on a drama re-enacting the story about a pirate radio station.

This is where the new Sound Devices 633 comes into the fore. It’s the smallest and smartest little mixer/recorder ever built by these guys. It allows 6 inputs and records 10 tracks to both CF card and SD card producing 16/24 bit WAV files or Wav on one card and the option of MP3 on the other if you want to give the producer some small files to transcribe after the day’s shooting.

It has multiple powering options. Either 6 AA batteries giving it 2-3 hours of continuous multitrack recording, labour intensive use, 2 Sony L-styled batteries on the back, and an external power supply not to mention timecode, and 6 outputs, all programmable.
I’ve ordered the Solidtek Super Mini 4×9? USB Keyboard and soon I’ll be able to punch in comments without lugging around a full-sized keyboard or spending hours after each shoot typing up notes.

Enough said. It’s a powerhouse of a mixer and recorder and forms the basis of a very stable and able system that gives me confidence in whatever environment I’m filming in.

Secondly, you have to become an indispensable part of your crew by lending your awareness in ways that benefit the production. Start with a detailed sound log, keep a track of all relevant sound issues that the editor would appreciate knowing. Keep abreast of what is on the mind of the 1st AD, the director, the producer, know what they are thinking and care about and then you can aid them in that.

A feature film is very demanding and really quite different from the luxury land of TV commercials so it’s a good idea to build up to the films but there’s nothing wrong with specialising in corporate videos either, both need very attentive people.

That’s it. Let’s fight mediocrity (our own) and become indispensable to whatever production we work on, replacing our fear of those seeking to take our work with confidence that if we keep improving our capacity to be useful then we are untouchable.

The moment we stop, we risk being beaten by the brewing storm of time, youth, change and innovation.

Written by

Ande Schurr

14 Jan 2014

Corporate video producer and production sound recordist now based in Singapore after a 15-year career in New Zealand. Video clients incl. universities, tech startups, medical clinics and business consulting agencies. Sound clients incl. Netflix, Discovery, BBC, National Geo.