Location Sound… My Obsession

Ian Kragen

Why do I love location sound so much? I never planned to do this in the first place but here I am, obsessed.

On “Stubbs & Romero” set

For those of you who don’t know, location sound is the guy or girl who is on set to record the audio either through miking up the talent or by an overhead boom mic or both. I had never given it much thought until I was kind of thrown into the fray.

I was just about to complete a year program for audio engineering at the Los Angeles Recording School (LARS) in Hollywood. I worked full time and was a part time student. The course theory and lab classes in large console recording, various digital recording and editing classes, live sound reinforcement and mastering just to name off a few. Before completion of the program each student was required to complete a sixty-hour internship in any facet of the audio industry.

While most of my classmates hunted around town for internships at post houses, recording studios, A&R/Publishing offices, even gear rental shops, my girlfriend was putting together two thirty-second and two two-minute spec commercials to submit in GoDaddy’s national commercial contest (she had won the national prize the year before with her “Go Mama” spot) It was the perfect opportunity to knock out the internship and see what it’s like being on a set.

Perhaps the past year of 8:00 PM to 12:00 AM classes three days a week and all day weekend lab classes will pay off. I was about to step into the world of location sound and learn how to do something new or my girlfriend would kill. Seriously, she hates bad sound.

I knew nothing about location sound engineering: How it was recorded, what kind of mics and all the other equipment these guys used. Unfortunately during my attendance at the LARS, location sound recording was very minimally covered in their curriculum. I did take a microphone theory class and live mic placement lab, several mixing labs, and most of all I knew my signal flow.

The project took two days of shooting with a different audio op each day. The first day the audio guy was gracious enough to let me boom for him. I used what I learned at the LARS as well as learned other techniques that pertain to gathering location sound.

The audio op on the second day was not so helpful. He turned down the help of having a boom op and what I found out later the use of sound treatment in a very reflective room they were shooting in. My girlfriend, the producer and director, was quite pissed. Since I wasn’t being used, I spent the day taking care of other business that happens on set and soaking up everything in that world.

You have to be creative with where you hide your mics… uh

I was also in most of the editing sessions, and got to see how the location sound is mixed with the video. As we got to the files from the second day my girlfriend blurts out, “This audio guy sucks! I told him the sound reflection in the great room sucks. Next time I’m putting down furni-pads, I don’t care what the audio guy says. That guy sucks donkey ass, Boo.” She looks at me, “You’re running audio on the next project we do.”

“Oh man,” I thought. I was not I was ready for that. I held the boom mic that one time that one day. I hit the Internet hard, doing research, asking question of location sound engineers on message boards, and reaching out to the first audio op used on the previous project, he offered to give me some tips. I was going to rent the Sound Devices 442 recorder and the SD 522 mixer. The mic was the Sennheiser 416 shotgun mic, and the lavaliers were the Sennheiser G2.

The day of our next shoot I spent all morning on the phone with rental house tech getting the basic lowdown on the how the Sound Devices recorder and mixer work (reading about the machines on the internet was not enough, I had to be able to turn knobs and hold it to understand them).

Staying out of the shot

The audio was usable, a tad bit low because I was afraid of over modulating but given the fact I had never done this before, it was okay. My girlfriend was very happy with it and she’s a tough ass on sound as I mentioned.

I learned something even more valuable that day than how to set up a new sound recording rig. I realized this is what I want to do. At the LARS I was very skeptical about being in a studio, or working at a post house. Working on location took me outside, out of the office and away from a desk and computer.

I am glad I went to the LARS, spent those nights grinding my way through traffic from the Westside up to Hollywood three nights a week. Some would say I took a round about way, or could have taken a cheaper route. I don’t know, maybe so but this one was meant for me.