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Accepting gigs beyond your skill level


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It was a 'last minute' call to cover for another mixer (rang me at 2am, 7am call time on set). He had me pick up his equipment in the morning and proceed straight to set with very little information. I turned up and it was a shoot in a car, which is always difficult when you only have a small choice of kit (shotgun mic, no CUB for planting etc).

In this kind of case, if the client has no clue what specific kind of job it is and won't tell you the information, all bets are off. If you bring every bit of gear you own, and can handle anything -- multiple actors, multiple wires, plant mikes, indoors, exteriors, etc. -- you have a chance at being able to handle it. If you don't already own the gear, then that's definitely a stretch.

Read the past discussions of planting mikes in cars. Lots of good info there on how to improvise in different situations, what positions will and won't work, dealing with open windows, etc. If they're not towing the car (and I assume they weren't), this is an very challenging situation for anybody. I believe The Senator has a good line about producers with "unrealistic expectations," especially when the producers don't exactly know what they're doing.

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Interesting thread. A lot of new sound mixers (like myself) are afraid to ask for too much I think, but don't want to be stuck with minimal gear not suited for the job like a zoom recorder (mixing? what mixing?!) and a crappy mic. I'm getting to the point where I'll have to ask for more in order to get the gear upgrades I absolutely feel I need (better lavs/transmitters/receivers/ and maybe a smart slate), but I don't think there's any direct meaningful plot against the more experienced of the industry. Low/no budgets can't even afford much over a few hundred a day.

The truth is it's hard to become more experienced in this industry unless you 'make the leap.' I did a few free gigs here and there. equipment was mostly provided and random booming jobs, but I couldn't sit around and wait for an apprenticeship or something that will never exist. I have the foundation from school, my own years of recording random things, shit internships, and my own research. I felt the need to get my hands dirty and am learning everyday.

I agree though, undercutting big jobs isn't cool.

I won't argue with that. I will say, however, that knowing what gear a sound mixer should have on set, without having experienced it first hand either as an apprentice or just being observant, is damn near impossible once you get beyond the obvious (mixer, wireless lavs, boom and one or more mics to fly on it).

For instance, building a sound cart was something I hadn't even considered until I traipsed in here and saw photos of these gloriously organized (or disorganized) stacks of expensive gear. I was mostly in the ENG/if-it-don't-fit-in-the-sound-bag-it-isn't-used camp. But how does one arrive at the point where a sound cart is the logical next step? (I know this is thread-jacking, so don't answer it here)

Further examples abound: smart slates, timecode generators/readers, IFB, shark fins, SMQV versus SMV versus <insert Lectro part number>, 442, 552, 744T, 788T, FR-2, BDS, NP-1, yada yada and so on. Don't you freaking guys ever NOT use initializations and acronyms for your gear?

I am not so old that I can't learn a ton of stuff about the gear, what it does, how best to put it to use, and how many of each I need. But having a community of people who are able and willing to pass that knowledge along with no strings attached is more valuable to me than countless hours of sifting through Google results.

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I don't get this thread. This forum is a great resource for EVERYONE to learn how to do their job better. Because of this it will attract newbies, pros, and everyone in between. I don't think anyone should feel intimidated to ask basic questions about sound mixing nor should anyone working an H4N and a limited budget be put down. We all have to start from somewhere. Not everyone here can afford film school or be lucky enough to be trained by a master. I give a lot of credit to people who challenge themselves and take on jobs that offer some sort of challenge. Why?..because it shows that they have guts and are willing to do what others are too scared to do.

Is it really fair to criticize someone who is just trying to learn?

Do you really feel as though they are a direct threat if you consider your current skill level?

If the production doesn't know what good sound is then don't you think that says a lot about the production itself?

Chances are you probably won't want to work the same type of jobs they are getting so why give them a hard time. If anything be happy that you know more now then you did when you first started. Hopefully your current day rate will be a reminder of that.

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the words "i don't know" might be the most intelligent thing a person can say in almost any situation. if not, humbling at the very least.

when i got my first feature as a production sound mixer, i was pretty much straight out of the studio. i had location/set experience (as a freaking PA/grip) and had done ONE location sound project with no dialog. haha. however, i jumped at the opportunity and packed my bags and flew to India. There, I was introduced to a wealth of knowledge. Used the Zaxcom Deva for the first time, lectros, ifb, etc. My boom op had worked on several films before (including Slumdog Millionair) and taught me A LOT about booming and location sound in general. Since I'm a post guy and familiar with live sound I picked it up quickly and (according to the sound designer) was getting good tracks in no time. In the end, the only complaint from the dialog editor was that the tracks were about 4-6 db too low on average. Bad I guess, but not THAT bad for a first time set mixer. No other complaints!

Sometimes you just have to get out there and try. My gripe is when someone who doesn't understand the basics or fundamentals thinks they know everything. There is a guy here in my town who has a production company and is one of those "I do it all" kind of guys. He's a good producer but likes to think of himself as an editor first. Since him and I met (I sound designed his 2nd indy feature) he's been more curious about sound. Together, we built a production sound kit (bag) and I would use it for gigs whenever I got a call. Win win because we both made money, his gear/my labor. Long story short, little did I realize he was just using me to learn sound (I taught him a little Pro Tools too-geez) and now is out trying to be a sound guy himself. He has since snaked quite a few gigs from me including a boom op possition on a feature being shot here. I'm surprised he's lasted to be honest, I'd never hire him for sound. The dude doesn't even understand signal flow or basic physics. Ugh, I'm going off on a tangent but it looks like his karma caught up to him because he just lost a contract with a local ad agency (that pays very well) all because he wants to be the "I do it all" kind of guy and do sound all of a sudden. Kind of silly to throw away a yearly contract for a boom op possition but eh, that's what he gets for trying to be a soundie and not being respectful to the art by passing the gig on to someone who knows what they are doing.

It only bothers me when "non-soundies" steal our work. If I loose work to a sound guy more experienced than me I'm fine with it. If I loose a gig to a guy who quoted less, well, it depends on how low I was willing to go in the first place. Usually I don't care. Loosing gigs to a guy who isn't even a sound guy and doesn't know his shit is so much worse.

What was the thread about again? :P

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I agree that this was not personally aimed at any particular individual, but rather discussing a trend that could damage our profession.

A professional working their way up and stretching beyond their comfort zone is different than someone who buys a kit and declares he/she is a "sound mixer." There is a vast amount of knowledge, skill, and experience that goes into being an established professional in this industry. Any implication that all it takes to be a sound mixer is some basic gear and a declaration of purpose, is a slap in the face to those who have dedicated years to learning and practicing the nuances and depth of this profession.

At what point can one legitimately claim to be a "sound mixer?" After 6 shorts and a regional commercial (not a local one)? Only after having 12 postings on RAMPS that don't get flamed? Only after successfully defining s/n ratio?

An appliance repair guy can hang a shingle and start working as a professional appliance repair guy on day one. But his continued success depends on the his reputation.

Maybe the defining moment comes when you don't call yourself a sound mixer but when someone else does.

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"It only bothers me when "non-soundies" steal our work. If I loose work to a sound guy more experienced than me I'm fine with it. If I loose a gig to a guy who quoted less, well, it depends on how low I was willing to go in the first place. Usually I don't care. Loosing gigs to a guy who isn't even a sound guy and doesn't know his shit is so much worse."

As much as it bothers you think about the people who hired the no talent mixer and the results they got in their race to the bottom. Then again all concerned may not know enough to know they don't know enough.

Eric

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the words "i don't know" might be the most intelligent thing a person can say in almost any situation. if not, humbling at the very least.

+1

Always asking questions and trying new things is how we learn.

Just a small point of clarification: my original post was much more about people over reaching and biting off more than they can chew.

We all start somewhere and we ALL mess up along the way. We all make mistakes early on we will all make mistakes in the future.

www.matthewfreed.com

Production Sound Mixing for TV, Films, and Commercials

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Matthew, biting off more than you can chew is a lot like asking how do you eat an elephant. :)

I think what's useful is that this thread teased out some bullet lists that the trade believes are important basic things to know. Someone should put that list somewhere useful so that those who come along later to this vocation all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed can flatten their learning curve a bit.

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I've also learned a long time ago that the only thing worse than asking questions that might seem amateur is showing up and not knowing what you're doing.

Ask away, I say, and let the naysayers rant. You'll need a thick skin anyway to survive in this business!

Matthew, biting off more than you can chew is a lot like asking how do you eat an elephant. :) I think what's useful is that this thread teased out some bullet lists that the trade believes are important basic things to know. Someone should put that list somewhere useful so that those who come along later to this vocation all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed can flatten their learning curve a bit.

+1

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" But how does one arrive at the point where a sound cart is the logical next step? "

of course, It depends, but typically, you know it. Generally, it has to do with the project, and its requirements, and of course staffing, too (for typical/traditional cart work, a separate boomer is part of the deal)

" He has since snaked quite a few gigs from me including a boom op possition on a feature being shot here. I'm surprised he's lasted to be honest, I'd never hire him for sound. The dude doesn't even understand signal flow or basic physics. "

this is something a bit different than this topic, but exactly how did this person "snake" these gigs ??

Passing on our "wisdom" is part of the way things work, but there are, to many, the downsides, like teaching your tricks to your "competitors" for gigs. Younger folks coming up are a part of the system, as is their trying out different jobs while looking for their personal careers, is also part of it.

being competitive is too, and just like in so many other things, there are all sorts of options for the customers to select from amongst.

and how and why the customers make their choices may be anything from simple, logical and fair, up to downright cheap! >:(

that's just the way things are...

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Re giving info to "competitors" etc--folks, I just don't figure that I know anything at all that an intelligent person couldn't figure out with a quick web search or a call to LSCTREWETC. I'd rather be on a friendly footing with the other soundies around here--who knows when YOU might need help. As to why someone who seems under qualified gets hired as an assistant or boomista, that has a lot to do with the personality of the mixer (and possibly the producer and director as well) about who they feel is the best fit with themselves and everyone else they've already got. There are lots of great location soundies who have limited technical knowledge but do a great job by staying in their lane, being conscientious, polite, considerate and an easy hang. This is particularly true for 2nds and 3rds (in all depts).

phil p

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Matthew, biting off more than you can chew is a lot like asking how do you eat an elephant. :)

I think what's useful is that this thread teased out some bullet lists that the trade believes are important basic things to know. Someone should put that list somewhere useful so that those who come along later to this vocation all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed can flatten their learning curve a bit.

Great idea!

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This is very interesting MFA

Here are just a paltry few of the things a professional sound mixer should know:

* What post needs and why

* Boom microphones (which, when, where, and how)

* Mic rigs

* Lavs (which, when, where, and how)

* Lav rigs

* Signal flow

* Level matching

* Impedance (matching and bridging)

* Decibel relationships

* Ohms Law and all its variations

* Masking effect

* Phase relationships

* Phase cancellation

* Comb filtering

* Standing waves

* Room nodes

* Average signals

* Peak signals

* Connectors

* Adapters

* Headroom

* Filtering

* Compression

* Limiting

* Time code (and all its variations)

* Camera variations and options

* Set protocol

* Craft services location

Then, there's the experience to know how to apply all the above and so much more.

All of these things I understand...but when it comes to your theory based questions...I'm slowly overtime being able to quickly identify most especially phase cancellation...and you can almost know that you will have a standing waves problem when you walk into a room...is there anywhere online where someone goes through each example and lets you hear the problem and then goes into the room and fix the solution...You can do an apprenticeship but that doesn't mean you will pick up what masking, comb filtering and other things in the perspective of what they actually sound like.

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...

You can do an apprenticeship but that doesn't mean you will pick up what masking, comb filtering and other things in the perspective of what they actually sound like.

My reaction:

Firstly, quit expecting someone to do the work for you. One of the biggest challenges of learning is to learn how to find out what you need to know as opposed to having someone else show you.

Secondly, let me get you started on that road:

Spend several hours with a boom pole in your hands, listening on headphones, following someone as they walk and talk, near a wall... into the room... move around... sit down at a desk... walk to a sink... etc., etc. Now, do the same thing with two people who both move apart and together at random times during the session.

Wanna learn a little about comb filtering and also microphone patterns in the real world? That's your assignment. The most important part of the assignment is to LISTEN! Identify how the sound changes as the person moves around and the sound bounces off various surfaces and mixes with the direct sound.

Don't just listen in general. On different passes, listen for different things such as sibilance, tonality shifts, clarity, and frequency balances. What do the low frequencies sound like at different points in the room? What do the highs sound like? How do the various room surfaces change each band of frequencites during the movement?

You are experiencing some of the effects of comb filtering in action, as reflected sound mixes with the direct sound and as those sound waves combine, various frequencies reinforce or cancel portions of the sound, changing its character. The more you listen and the more you can identify all the myriad things that make up even a simple dialog track, the more you will learn.

Your next assignment is to do the same thing as above, while keeping the sound consistent the entire time by how you work the boom mic.

Self Test: Is your result consistent enough that any portion could edit seamlessly with any other portion?

Go forth and learn!

Learn to listen. This goes for both listening to shared knowledge (that sometimes comes disguised) and listening to what comes through the microphone and how everything (and I do mean, everything) affects that sound.

And, good luck -- and have fun!

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My reaction:

Secondly, let me get you started on that road:

Nice! A lot of my opportunities for sound just multiplied as I can boss my kids around and talk to me while I figure out how to make the boom sound consistent from anywhere in a given room.

Does anyone else use the notion of visualizing the sound waves while they're working: where the waves emanate from, bounce off of, and how they land on the mic diaphragm(s), or is that perhaps overthinking things a bit?

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Does anyone else use the notion of visualizing the sound waves while they're working: where the waves emanate from, bounce off of, and how they land on the mic diaphragm(s), or is that perhaps overthinking things a bit?

Not at all, if you study and understand basic physics, you can easily visualize the pickup pattern of the microphone, the sound waves as they propagate around the room... I do lots of things like that on set all the time.

As far as John's comb filtering assignments, I think that is good to know what it sounds like so you can identify the problems and where they are coming from, but in a large amount of the gigs I have worked, when I am being nitpicky about something and listening to it on set in the recorder... The rest of the team is following the "if it sounds good it is good" method, which is probably why they keep telling me that my recordings are the best they have ever heard.

I am my own worst critic, and every once in a while I just have to sit back and listen as if I was a member of the 80% of the audience that has no idea how sound works... And yes, it sounds good, so it is good. By constantly striving to get perfect recordings and never compromising your sound willingly... you will easily surpass most everyone's standards of acceptable, even if your own standards make you think your recording blew chunks.

If it sounds good, it is good.

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the words "i don't know" might be the most intelligent thing a person can say in almost any situation. if not, humbling at the very least.

Yes, I agree 100%. I learned very on in my career when somebody asked me a question that I didn't know, I'd say, "I don't know, but let's find out right now." Or I'd make one phone call and get the answer as soon as possible. It's all about answering their question with a solution.

The other good one in post is: "hey, is this gonna work?" And if I don't know, I just say, "hey, let's try it and see what happens." No harm in that as long as explosives, illegal drugs, or nuclear radiation is involved. The beauty of post is, we can always undo. Not so easy in production.

The rest of the team is following the "if it sounds good it is good" method, which is probably why they keep telling me that my recordings are the best they have ever heard. I am my own worst critic, and every once in a while I just have to sit back and listen as if I was a member of the 80% of the audience that has no idea how sound works... And yes, it sounds good, so it is good.

I believe it was the great Duke Ellington who said that famous line.

The other day, I had a shoot where the director and DP gathered around a laptop to listen to our tracks on a larger speaker, and said, "wow, that sounds great." I sometimes take compliments very poorly and (without thinking) immediately said, "sadly, it really doesn't sound good. There's a lot of room problems that are still in there, but we minimized them and can get rid of more through some processing in the final mix." I had been struggling for two days with building HVAC that couldn't be shut down, traffic rumble, reflective walls, you name it. They seemed a little disappointed by my honesty, but I did at least follow it up with an email offering to assist them with post.

Next time, I'll probably just say, "thanks! I think it'll work great for this project." Live and learn. I think the hardest lessons to learn in this job are people problems, not technical.

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Indeed Matthew,

How do I know Ive over-reached without the metric of experience?

A wise Senatorial human once said "Good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment". Therefore, if I take a gig Im not qualified for, Im one step closer to good judment.

And lets not forget, in direct relation to your OP, and another post about apprenticeship, that this thread is full of apprentices saying "Ill take a mentor!", and not a single mentor saying, "Ill take an apprentice!".

Thats because, as another wise Crew-ist has stated, the way we hopeful sound peeps find our mentors is..."somehow".

So you might forgive the ardent desire that fosters the bad judgment that leads to gigs that will provide the experience that will give us the good judment that you yourself "somehow" marshalled?

Best,

Steven

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