Program Director of Audio for Visual Media at the Ontario Institute of Audio Recording Technology (OIART) Mark Vogelsang discusses the challenges of teaching production sound and why he chose Sound Devices recorders for his program.
When choosing the equipment for your program, why did you pick Sound Devices? What features are you and your students using the most?
1) SD products are industry-standard – I did a survey of graduates on who is using what in production sound, all are currently or have used Sound Devices products as a main recorder/mixer plus multiple SD units for backup. We want our graduates to be ready to go out on their own as well as assisting professionals who have been in the industry for some time, they all use SD products, therefore our graduates have to be comfortable with what the industry uses. They can easily adapt to other recorders if they’ve learned on a Sound Devices unit.
2) Robustness – the hardware we use, no matter what course, needs to be able to function in a hostile environment with zero downtime = student learning. We don’t have an option for downtime during labs, therefore Sound Devices products were our #1 choice for that reason. The MixPre units were chosen as an entry point for students to learn gain structure, signal flow, and general menu options in field recorders, with the ability to utilize simple time code functions in double-system scenarios.
Features used the most:
By far it is routing/signal flow. It’s not complicated to gain structure and get a channel up and running. When productions require multiple feeds – IFBs, camera mixes, etc…that’s another story for students that are learning. It is paramount that students understand the signal flow of each unit and what the limitations are of each. We use real-world scenarios in classes/labs that instructors and alumni have come across on productions – they need to problem-solve these industry scenarios with SD units, specifically signal flow options. Knowing the limitations of signal flow in each unit is often the make-or-break outcome for students put into real-world scenarios.
What piece of Sound Devices gear is the favorite among the students?
They love the MixPre series at the beginning, but then they fall in love with the options of the SD633 when they get into more complex scenarios that require IFBS, time code, hops, etc. You have to remember, this is the first time they’ve ever thought about these functions – it’s a powerful feeling to be confident with that technology and know it’s the reason they’ll be able to keep up with a production.
What are the challenges of teaching location sound?
The biggest hurdle for me is teaching them about the different personalities they’ll experience on set – the set protocol, equipment and techniques are objective to a certain extent. The personalities and how to deal with human beings is a whole different problem to solve. When I started location sound in the late 90s, I learned that I had to befriend the AD team, lighting/electric and construction crews. I would win and lose some battles due to the mood some people were in that day and that was that. It’s a tough pill to swallow at times but you had to move on and figure out ways to get what you needed in order to provide post with the best possible recordings. I couldn’t possibly teach them how to negotiate with all the personalities on set, but I try. It’s also difficult to teach them how to dress a lav and then explain that this may not work next time you dress/wire this exact same garment on another talent – they often look for blueprint explanations as they’re new and don’t have a lot of experience to draw upon.
Any advice for the location sound students out there?
I have one key piece of advice = learn the post-production process in order to become a great production sound recordist. I remind you when the director yells cut and the AD team (hopefully) asks if sound is good as they heard a potential sound issue, you’re often making the decision of answering yes or no based on how those recordings will work piecing together multiple takes for the scene in post, not necessarily how it sounded on its own at the time of recording. You’d only be able to answer confidently if you understand the process that comes next = post. It’s all about respecting the recipient of your recordings – learn the art of naming conventions, talk to a dialogue editor and see how they lay out tracks for each character and what makes their process more efficient. Learn the limitations of noise reduction software – these are all post-production concepts, and they will be the ultimate reason you are successful or not, in addition to your technical production sound knowledge.
It’s like learning an instrument, put in the time and you’ll eventually become a professional that provides great recordings.
For more information on the OIART, visit their website.