29 June 2013

All Up In Yo Bizness (Software)

Too often in our relentless pursuit of quiet backgrounds and running refrigerators, we sometimes forget that as much as sound mixing is a technical art, it is also a business.

Since a good portion of a freelance mixer's work will likely be non-timecard, invoices are necessary. If you're as averse to the benumbing slog of paperwork as I am, you'll appreciate a simple, intuitive invoicing program, one that offers flexible analysis and tracking as well as a humdinger of a professional looking result.

I had used ProfitTrain for the past five years or so. I needed something for OS X that would offer a personalized invoice template and overdue payment tracking at an affordable price, and it met all of those criteria. However, it is an app that runs on a desktop, and thus requires me to always use a particular computer. While my primary hardware is a laptop (and thus portable) , it's still heavier than a tablet, or even a phone. What I needed was something cloud-based, accessible from anywhere, but also low cost.

Eventually I found Invoicable. It's web based, which means I can sign in from a browser on anything with Internet access, regardless of platform. While it's more comfortable to type on a full-sized keyboard, I've been able to invoice a client from set before I'd even loaded the kit into my car, all from my phone.

You have the option to email invoices as HTML, as well as receive payments online. I haven't used these features, as I typically email a PDF to the client and wait for a check. It offers a freemium model, with an unlimited free version that only places a discreet, single-line ad for the service itself at the bottom of the invoice. I honestly didn't mind the ad, but chose to purchase the full license anyway because I want to support the company. (I am not affiliated with Invoicable in any manner, nor am I receiving any compensation for this post. I'm just impressed with the product.)


17 June 2013

Wireless Go Boom!

Earlier this year, Glenn Trew wrote about his experience with the Zaxcom 742 plug-on transmitter:

So, the Zaxcom 742 plug-on pure digital transmitter is nicely made, lightweight, usually has plenty of range, and accepts mono, stereo, and digital microphones, has a built-in recorder, can be controlled remotely, and has 137dB of dynamic range.
As you might expect all of these premium features come at a bit of a premium price: US$1995 for the transmitter and one cone (additional cones $200). But is it worth it? I’m sure that many will say “yes”, and put their money where their ears are. As purists often do.

Glenn goes into finer detail about the TX's inner workings, so be sure to click on through.

(Yeah, it's not exactly current, but neither is your mom. BURN.)


16 June 2013

Bits and Bobs and Bytes

Today's tidbit is only tangentially related to sound-for-picture. Usually, production sound mixers do not find themselves caught up in esoteric debates about sampling rates and bit depths, or steadfast proclamations of the superiority of analog formats over digital.

Aside from certain specialized SFX gathering, we live and breathe at one set of data specs: 48 kHz sampling rate and a 24 bit depth. (Yes, once upon a time there were off-speed sampling rates to deal with pull-up/down for 35mm film, but these have mostly been superseded by modern DAWs' capability to re-sample cleanly on-the-fly).

Me mixing on set. (Ha ha, no. I don't have that haircut anymore).

In the music world, it's a different story. Numerous articles and reviews extolling the "air" of higher sampling rates, or the flat-out accusation of inferior playback have been levied at the venerable redbook CD format, and its cousin visiting from out of town, the MP3.

Don't even mention vinyl. We'll be here for hours.

Do I have a personal attachment to either? Nope. But I do have a certain bemused schadenfreude when an engineer can systematically demonstrate what others vehemently rail against, as in the case with the following video from the wonderfully nerdy folks over at Xiph.org (and this is good viewing for anyone who wants a clear, concise explanation of how digital audio works).

To reiterate: there are specific reasons why we on the pro side of things need 48 kHz and 24 bit: 48 mathematically agrees with digital video formats better, and we need 24 bits of headroom for the processing that will inevitably occur with production audio tracks (which are handled in most DAWs with an internal precision of 32 bit floating point). But for the folks at home? Rewind your CDs and give them another spin. Assuming better mastering of latter-day discs, they'll sound just fine.

Link to video.

14 June 2013

Han Duo

Han Solo wasn’t. Not technically. While his last name may have been a super-obvious indicator of his initial world view, he was always accompanied by Chewie, his trusty, hairy cohort. No matter how good a pilot, no matter how savvy a smuggler, he didn’t go it alone.

And neither should sound.

The most badass room tone ever.

There’s been a recent spate of projects that have demanded that a single person wire, boom, mix and record. Is it technically possible for one person to do all of this? Of course; it’s de rigeur in documentary and reality television production. Which is where it should remain.

“Multitasking” has been debunked as a myth. Having a single person doing multiple tasks means that that person is doing each task less well. In certain applications, this will produce acceptable results. In the aforementioned arenas, the audience has a lower expectation of quality, and a higher tolerance for the compromises innate in such productions. We don’t expect House Hunters to sound as clean and dramatic as a movie, and that’s perfectly fine, for House Hunters. A feature film, “indie” or otherwise, deserves better.

A single person department will be pulled in multiple directions at once. A single person won’t be able to wire that one picky actor in advance so that production won’t have to wait. A single person booming properly won’t be able to look down into the audio bag to keep an eye on levels, or be able to keep two hands free to adjust said levels should there be an issue. A boom operator strapped into a twenty- or thirty-pound bag won’t be as nimble or precise when booming a complex dialog scene, dodging lights, staying out of frame, keeping talent on-mic, all while occasionally walking backwards without falling over grip gear.

For a quick indicator of how to adequately book your crew, look no further than behind the camera and take a head count. Is there one person acting as DP, operator, 1st AC and 2nd AC? On reality TV and documentaries, yes, and that’s perfectly fine for those genres. But if your film isn’t the kind of production where there’s a single person camera department, then it also isn’t the kind of production that should have a single person sound department. Sure, your DP can do it all solo, but the quality will be compromised, and your feature will look like The Real Housewives of The Jersey Shore Who Are Also Pawn Stars:

So many shudders.

Occasionally, production will trot out the ol’ “But the last person could do it” justification, to which I say: if the last person could give you what you need in the way that you need it, then that person is worth his/her weight in pyrite. If that mixer actually exists, then why are you talking to me? Either that person wised up and said “no thank you” this time around, or they’re booked on something that pays better and you’re not willing to meet their rate. While I know that there are some mixers who operate this way, the majority of the time this gets said, production is using the “mythical mixer” as a negotiating tactic. I don’t begrudge trying to save money; business is business. But don't compromise your project out of the gate. Whatever pennies you think you're saving now you will end up spending in the form of dollars to fix sound in post. ADR and high-quality clean-up filters are still expensive, even today.

Belts are being tightened across the board. The fact that this is even requested is merely a symptom of contracting budgets. But the fact that it actually happens on set is our fault as mixers. When we say yes to this, we’re not being “team players”, or whatever euphemism production is using when they try to convince us to do this. We’re racing each other to the bottom, where we can’t earn a living or afford to maintain gear, because we’ve shown that we’re willing to do the work of at least two people for less than the price of one.

This guy doesn't count.

Sold American!

Via Reuters:
"The FCC is now working on rules for the biggest-ever auction of commercially used airwaves, in which TV stations would give up and wireless providers would buy highly attractive spectrum. The auction is expected to take place in late 2014 or later...
Friday's directive also 'strongly encourages' the FCC to develop a program that would spur the creation and sale of radio receivers that would ensure that if spectrum is shared, different users do not interfere with each other." [emphasis mine]
So, we're going to be seeing as actual auction come to fruition, finally. There was no mention in the original article of any particular frequency band being considered. Again, it's reasonable to assume the newly-freed spectrum will go to wireless network providers, i.e. telcos, as they have the most to gain by building out their networks, as well as the cash to bid. Perhaps there's an app to convert a mobile phone into a wireless mic?

"But I still don't understand why I have to tape it to my chest..."