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Equipment Costs to Start in the Business.


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Hello Folks, This is my first post on JW Sound.

 

Not using brand names, what essential equipment do you feel a beginner location sound person needs to own or rent for most jobs that pop up last minute?

 

-How many channels does your mixer/recorder need to accept most jobs?

-How many channels of wireless?

-How many shotgun mics or indoor mics do you keep on hand?

-How long is your first boom-pole? Do you start with two? Do you also keep stands?

-Timecode, Slates, IFB, Camera Hops, ENG Breakaway cables?

 

I know that many folks started with just a boom plugged into a handheld recorder and can rent additional gear when necessary, but it seems expectations have risen.

 

By my calculations, even a kit with 2-channels of UHF wireless and two wired mics can cost around $10K. A kit with 4-channels of UHF wireless, IFB, and camera hops can quickly reach $25K. Depending on the kit and your hustle, you could theoretically make up the purchase cost within a year. 

 

-So my last two questions are, how many of you feel it is necessary to take out a small loan to start in the business and is it worth it just to apply to those last minute jobs that require a "standard" inventory package?

 

Thanks,

~Ken

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If I was building a starter kit this is what I would do: 

$2000. Sound Devices 633 Used with bag 

$1400 LEctro SRB RX with bottom Plate 

(2) 1600-1800 for both  Lectro SMV or SMQV TX 

(2) $600 for both Sanken Cos 11 lav mics 

$800 Saken CSM-1 shotgun mic 

$400 Ktek boom poles and shockmount 

$200 Used BDS system with cables 

$200-$300 Used NP1 batteries and charger 

$1000 for Misc cables media headphones etc 

$8000-$8500 for a pro level basic kit 

If you can set your budget at 10K 

Then get some timecode boxes and make some used Comtek IFB 

Remember cry once buy once buy good quality stuff 

 

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Also look into lease purchase.  Start with what you really need, then add.  Look at older gear, still works saves a bit of dollars.  What is surprising is what you end up using day in.  Small mixer/recorder, boom, 1 or 2 wireless, has covered many jobs.  Start there, rent the extras if you need them.  Many of us have GAS, I am one of those persons.  If I were just starting out, simple would be the direction I would take.

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If I were starting out this very moment, and I had the same questions you have, I’d like to think I would be networking with my local mixers to find some reliable equipment rental sources and/or mentors.  Until you have a better idea of the equipment you want to work with, or a package that makes sense for the bulk of your work and are on the other side of a pandemic/ recession, I would strongly caution against barreling in to major debt right now. 

 

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When I first started out, I rented everything as needed, per job. This way I could get a feel for what I liked (or not) about different things and also got a feel for what would be most needed for the jobs I was getting - before buying anything, Your profile says you're in NYC, so you have a few good "usual suspects" there for rentals and also advice and purchases.

Once I saw that I kept getting called for jobs and started understanding rates and how to charge for gear rentals properly, I started buying gear, mostly used and one piece at a time. The only thing I bought new in the beginning was a 416 and K-Tek pole. Over the years, I have added several other mics and boom poles, but I still have both of those items in my inventory.

 

Sure, take out a loan for $25K and go for brand new shiny stuff, if you have a lot of jobs lined up.... but then again, if the current pandemic situation drags on for another year, and you will be mostly sitting around looking at it, twirling your thumbs... you know, then it may not be the best investment at this time...

 

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Learn to say the word "NO". Or I'm sorry but those needs are above my capabilities. Equipment of Mixer/recorder, two wireless lavs and a 9 ft boom with a good mic on the end with a "Beta" camera snake will cover most beginning jobs. As you get more jobs and make more money, then start the slow process of adding equipment. In my early days, I worked for a production company that did have equipment, so my first purchase was a boom pole followed by a mixer, then a good indoor mic. I think it took me almost 5 years to get to the small package above and then to where I'm now another 15 years going thru dats and then the first mixer/recorder. Don't think you need a full blown package to get started. Be willing to kick some jobs up the ladder and hopefully some will come down too.

 

Good luck.

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You can go to the very cheap side, with a Zoom F8 recorder (700€) with Zoom PCF-8n (80€) , a pair of Sennheiser EW 512P G4-MKE2 (1600€), a Rode NTG3 (475€) with a Supershield from Rycote (240€), and two tentacles (349€), HD25 headphones (100€) and a K-TEK KE-110 (170€) . For camera send a used G2 or G3 (300€). 

 

4014€
 

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If you are starting out, i urge you to stay away from loans for equipment at least until you have successfully established enough relationships with clients that keep calling you back for work. You are in nyc? reach out to mixers in your area to rent from them, even if that means to pass on the entire rental fee or even paying a little on top. You‘ll get a chance to establish relationships with your fellow mixers and likely they‘ll consider you to pass gigs on to in the future. As mentioned before this will also allow you to try different brands and see what you like most. It‘s also money well spent to rent some equipment over the weekend and play around with it just to gain confidence in its use. For the very last minute gigs say your not available and pass it on to another mixer. Once you have some Cash put aside start piece by piece with the basics; boom, mic, batteries and distro, used recorder or mixer, solder cables - even for stuff you don’t own. wireless last. By that time you’ll know what works best for your needs.
Give it time and enjoy the small but steady progress and be happy your not sitting on 25k worth of gear that you have to pay off while waiting for the calls to come in. Because sometimes it can be a looong wait.

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1 hour ago, RomanH said:

If you are starting out, i urge you to stay away from loans for equipment at least until you have successfully established enough relationships with clients that keep calling you back for work.

 

Gigs before gear, always.

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Thanks All,

 

I’m not worried right now about jumping overboard by purchasing tons of gear (especially with the pandemic and income losses). I already own a small bag recorder and wired mics and I definitely plan on asking to shadow local mixers (when safe) before making any significant purchases or career change.

 

But I don’t understand what the industry labels the “standard” or “basic” kit. Which, depending on who you ask or what old job posting I have read online, is one of two options. And they cost very very different.

 

It seems that the standard package is either:

(A) - a 4-channel mixer/recorder, one boom mic, 2 Wireless, and Timecode (maybe w/Slate)

(B) - a 6-channel mixer/recorder, two boom mics, 2-4 wireless, 4x IFBs, and TimeCode w/ Slate.

 

Now, I’m new here, but am I missing something? Obviously the sound mixer will charge the client very differently for each kit version, but the difference in value between the two kits is a lot of money. And for someone who is a beginner, or early career, or burdened with other debt, even $7K is a big figure to look at, let alone, $10K or $25K.

 

So on average, what are the sort of low-level jobs that pop up last minute and what gear do those folks actually need? Is it something closer to kit “A” or kit “B” ?

 

Thanks for your replies,

~Ken

7 hours ago, drpro said:

Many of us have GAS, I am one of those persons.


@drpro, could you explain what GAS is? I'm assuming you aren't talking about fuel for your car. Is it a specific type of lease?

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Don’t get into Dept. Do market research in your area. Talk to local mixers. Don’t under cut them. You are entering an industry that has rules and rates. Learn those before you worry about gear. Rent from other mixers in the beginning, you’ll make better friends and connections, and you’ll get to know the different pieces of equipment. And don’t be afraid to say no to low ball jobs or jobs that may be dangerous, or above your skillset. 

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46 minutes ago, Ken Goodwin said:

Thanks All,


@drpro, could you explain what GAS is? I'm assuming you aren't talking about fuel for your car. Is it a specific type of lease?

 

Not @drpro but I've suffered from G.A.S. (gear acquisition syndrome) too for many years 😜

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I rented for 5 years. Tried all kinds of gear out. Either I would get a kit from a rental house here in SLC, or the production had gear and wanted me to operate it.

 

Eventually, I got sick of going through kits the night before. Making trips to pickup kit. Finding out broken things, or missing things. Or just the fact that there was a lot of tools out there that made my job easier but didn’t come with the rental kit.

 

Would I take it back? No. I believe I was able to gain knowledge of the industry and tools before I made a significant investment such as this.
 

So I decided after 5 years or so I was going to make the investment and get myself something personalized.

 

i took out a small loan and got most everything that I thought would make me money. I also had the mind set that I would rent out my investment when I didn’t have booked gigs. Turns out I don’t like lending or rent to people and like to keep my gear to myself. It’s always how I left it and the money I was getting for renting vs the headaches wasn’t worth it to me. I’ll sometime lend or rent something that doesn’t really compromise what I do too much but this is rare and mostly to friends I trust.

 

You have to do the math. What kind of gear fee do you collect a day? How many days a week are you booking? How long will it take for that gear to pay for its self? How long will the gear last you before it’s obsolete.

 

The answers are hard to nail down sometimes and you have to trust your gut. My advice is to rent for a while, build up a clientele, figure out what gear works for the type of work you want to do and the type of work that has money and is paying. At the end of the day, at least for me; I have kids to take care of.

 

I will say that I’ve jumped brands a few times now and my tastes have changed. My work type has changed. The people that want me to do their sound work have changed.

 

When I buy gear it’s for 3 reasons.

 

1 Does this take stress and worry away from my job. In a sense does this make my job easier?

 

2 Does the client like this? Some clients need to be impressed. Some like one sound mixer over the other for the type of experience they give.

 

3. Does it get more weight off my body. Look I’m 34. I’m still young to a lot of other people, I have no business complaining except that I am thinking about myself in the future. The less physically demanding on your body the better it is for you and the easier it’s going to be to do your job. I’m a big believer in small and light.


In my experience, most jobs need 3 wires or so and a boom. I have 8 wireless talent Tx, Two boom mics (one for interior and one for exterior, but both can play nicely in both environments) , and 3 boom poles.

 

One long internal cable-less light weight expensive pole for narrative wireless boom work.

 

One super compact, but not too short pole to bring on the plane with me. 
 

And one coiled internal cable middle ground for run and gun reality/doc. 
 

I have one C stand and Shot bag. Gonna buy one more of each.

 

i use a wireless TC system and can plant boxes on 3 cameras and jam additional ones.

 

I have a wireless TC smart slate.
 

My hops and IFB can be one or the other and I have 9 of those.

 

I have one ENG breakaway cable.
 

 

Cheers,

Chris

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Equipment Costs to Start in the Business:
 

 
 

But to answer a little bit more seriously:
 

12 hours ago, Ken Goodwin said:

-How many channels does your mixer/recorder need to accept most jobs?

Six channels is plenty for most OMB/ENG jobs. 
And all professional recorders these days have at least six channels anyway, so it isn't like you'll be buying anything with less. (with only rare exceptions, like the very old 744T or the prosume MixPre3)
 

Quote

-How many channels of wireless?

2x is the absolute bare minimum, as that is what is in a basic ENG sound package. Having a spare third one at hand is handy/important.
 

Quote

-How many shotgun mics or indoor mics do you keep on hand?

Me personally? Zillions!
But if starting out I'd say get: 1x *good* shotgun + 1x hyper + 1x spare/backup/scratch shotgun
 

Quote

-How long is your first boom-pole? Do you start with two? Do you also keep stands?

3m and 5m are two standard lengths to start with. 
(and I'm always a believer in having spares, or anything and everything. Thus your 3m pole can act as the spare to your 5m, and vice versa)
 

Quote

-Timecode, Slates, IFB, Camera Hops, ENG Breakaway cables?

Yes, all good to have. Wouldn't get them immediately though. 
Depends on what type of stuff you end up doing, but I'd probably get them in this order: TC Boxes, camera breakaway snake, camera hops, IFBs/Comteks, smart slate. 
 

 

12 hours ago, Ken Goodwin said:

just a boom plugged into a handheld recorder

For the love of god and all that is holy, do not buy a handheld recorder as your first field recorder!
In 2020 not even amateur hobbyists / student filmmakers buying a recorder for short films should get a Zoom H6/H8/whatever. As we're spoiled with better options! And have been for years now, be it a Zoom F8 or a Tascam DR60D or anything in between. They're all miles better than using a handheld recorder. 
 

 

12 hours ago, Ken Goodwin said:

-So my last two questions are, how many of you feel it is necessary to take out a small loan to start in the business and is it worth it just to apply to those last minute jobs that require a "standard" inventory package?

 


Getting a loan is a very very very very bad idea. Especially in this extremely uncertain economic/political environment we are in right now!

Personally I wouldn't get a loan unless:

a) I have a contract confirmed and signed that I've got a large steady block of work ahead that I'd be borrowing money to get the gear for. As it is easy to fall into the trap of buying gear for a gig you "think you you have", only for that particular job to fall through. Have fallen into that trap a couple of times myself. At least I never borrowed money beforehand! Was just using money I already had in the bank, and was relatively small purchases, but imagine how much worse it would be if I'd got into substantial debt. 

Additionally, there are often usually better options than borrowing money. One good strategy for instance is to get a portion (or all!) of your payment in advance. In one of Matt Price's videos he talked about how for his very first feature film he got paid it all in advance, and he just used 100% of that to buy gear to do the feature film itself. 

b) or the other scenario when borrowing money makes sense, is if you can look back at an extended period of time with a consistent track record of renting a particular piece of gear then you could easily do the math calculations to see how long it would take to claw back the rental income if you owned it yourself instead. For instance if you're a camera op and you're needing to rent a FS7 every month, then you could easily see that it makes sense to buy an FS7 as you'll get your money back after a couple of years. Or in your case, if you find yourself needing to rent a 4th & 5th wireless every second week, then you should look into running the math to see if makes sense to buy an extra set of wireless. Although I personally, would rather recommend you just save up hard first rather than borrowing to buy money. 
 

 

10 hours ago, ProSound said:

If I was building a starter kit this is what I would do: 

$2000. Sound Devices 633 Used with bag 

$1400 LEctro SRB RX with bottom Plate 

(2) 1600-1800 for both  Lectro SMV or SMQV TX 

(2) $600 for both Sanken Cos 11 lav mics 

$800 Saken CSM-1 shotgun mic 

$400 Ktek boom poles and shockmount 

$200 Used BDS system with cables 

$200-$300 Used NP1 batteries and charger 

$1000 for Misc cables media headphones etc 

$8000-$8500 for a pro level basic kit 

If you can set your budget at 10K 

Then get some timecode boxes and make some used Comtek IFB 

Remember cry once buy once buy good quality stuff 

 


This list is a very good recommendation. 

Some additional suggestions I'd suggest are:
Zaxcom Nomad can be found for the same price as a 633, if you want to trade off the extra weight in exchange for extra inputs, then that is worth considering. 
Personally I'd strongly consider spending the extra for a new 833, as the latest 833 offers so much more over the 633. (but then again, the 633 is a workhorse which has been used on thousands of productions, so definitely the 633 is still plenty overkill for anybody starting out with)
However, if you wish to save a few pennies, then a cheaper LMa is worth considering instead of the SMV/SMQV.
It's worth adding in a hypercardioid to that list as well, plus having a spare/backup/scratch shotgun such as the Deity S Mic 2.
Also worth considering spending the extra for new eSMART batteries over secondhand NP1 batteries. 
No wind protection was mentioned, definitely need this!

 

 

8 hours ago, Johnny Karlsson said:

Sure, take out a loan for $25K and go for brand new shiny stuff, if you have a lot of jobs lined up.... but then again, if the current pandemic situation drags on for another year, and you will be mostly sitting around looking at it, twirling your thumbs... you know, then it may not be the best investment at this time...


Exactly. Borrowing money for gear (without a concrete plan) is a bad idea at the best of times, but right now it is terrible timing!

 

 

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9 hours ago, Ken Goodwin said:

@drpro, could you explain what GAS is? I'm assuming you aren't talking about fuel for your car. Is it a specific type of lease?

Gear Acquisition Syndrome we never stop buying gear as sound mixers 

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If you are considering new gear you should consider Nova by Zaxcom. To keep costs down you can go with used QRX212 receivers inside the Nova. Also you can go with any number of used Zaxcom recording transmitters that will be very cost effective. By starting with Nova you will put together the smallest, lightest sound bag that is set for the future. With Zaxnet remote control you can offer your services without the need to get near talent to make changes to the packs and you will offer a guarantee of a transmitter recording to back up transmission. The Nova cost at $5500 is competitive on its own but will be offset by included antenna distribution, IFB transmitter and mp3 recording. With digital wireless you will have superior audio quality to any analog wireless system. And who does not love a 5 pound sound bag.

 

Feel free to call me if I can help you get started.

 

Glenn Sanders

President Zaxcom Inc.

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633 still handles most small jobs well and is now relatively affordable S/H

2 hours ago, glenn said:

If you are considering new gear you should consider Nova by Zaxcom. To keep costs down you can go with used QRX212 receivers inside the Nova. Also you can go with any number of used Zaxcom recording transmitters that will be very cost effective. By starting with Nova you will put together the smallest, lightest sound bag that is set for the future. With Zaxnet remote control you can offer your services without the need to get near talent to make changes to the packs and you will offer a guarantee of a transmitter recording to back up transmission. The Nova cost at $5500 is competitive on its own but will be offset by included antenna distribution, IFB transmitter and mp3 recording. With digital wireless you will have superior audio quality to any analog wireless system. And who does not love a 5 pound sound bag.

 

Feel free to call me if I can help you get started.

 

Glenn Sanders

President Zaxcom Inc.

Brilliant products with unique and innovative workflow - especially if you're ready to totally commit to such ecosystem and have c.12k for Nova + QRX212 + 2x ZMT3(?). Bang for buck, the 4 channel Wisycom RX is going to be hard to beat though, as they can be paired with so many brands of TX and have such a wide switching BW - running 1 of these (or even a 2 channel model MPR52 / MCR42) with some modest G3/4 TX at the beginning and hire or invest in better TX as you need or find, going along.  Ergonomically my 633 is better than a MixPre ii series but these now have (1 channel of ) Noise Assist which the 633 will never get ,'( so i  think 1 of these (6/10) would be my first stepping stone now if the 8 series or Nova were a step too far in these unpredictable times. Of course it's very generous of Glenn to reach out to you and I'm sure a conversation with him will be beneficial to you whatever you decide to do.

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If I were starting out today, I'd run as fast as I could in the opposite direction.  :)

 

6 hours ago, glenn said:

 

 

Glenn Sanders

President Zaxcom Inc.

 

Aren't advertisements supposed to go in Manufacturers and Dealers?

 

D.

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18 minutes ago, tourtelot said:

If I were starting out today, I'd run as fast as I could in the opposite direction.  :)

 

 

Aren't advertisements supposed to go in Manufacturers and Dealers?

 

D.

But what is that opposite direction? What is the opposite of recording speech for picture?🤔

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10 hours ago, daniel said:

633 still handles most small jobs well and is now relatively affordable S/H

Brilliant products with unique and innovative workflow - especially if you're ready to totally commit to such ecosystem and have c.12k for Nova + QRX212 + 2x ZMT3(?). Bang for buck, the 4 channel Wisycom RX is going to be hard to beat though, as they can be paired with so many brands of TX and have such a wide switching BW - running 1 of these (or even a 2 channel model MPR52 / MCR42) with some modest G3/4 TX at the beginning and hire or invest in better TX as you need or find, going along.  Ergonomically my 633 is better than a MixPre ii series but these now have (1 channel of ) Noise Assist which the 633 will never get ,'( so i  think 1 of these (6/10) would be my first stepping stone now if the 8 series or Nova were a step too far in these unpredictable times. Of course it's very generous of Glenn to reach out to you and I'm sure a conversation with him will be beneficial to you whatever you decide to do.

$12K ish for a Nova and two channels of wireless is only barely the start however!

Mics, poles, bag, power, a 3rd wireless channel, accessories, timecode, headphones, etc etc

I like what Zaxcom is doing with the Nova, and their firmware updates since launched has helped make it even better, but let's not understate what the full cost of a sound package based around Nova would cost. 
 

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On 7/21/2020 at 7:22 PM, Ken Goodwin said:

Hello Folks, This is my first post on JW Sound.

 

Not using brand names, what essential equipment do you feel a beginner location sound person needs to own or rent for most jobs that pop up last minute?

 

-How many channels does your mixer/recorder need to accept most jobs?

-How many channels of wireless?

-How many shotgun mics or indoor mics do you keep on hand?

-How long is your first boom-pole? Do you start with two? Do you also keep stands?

-Timecode, Slates, IFB, Camera Hops, ENG Breakaway cables?

 

I know that many folks started with just a boom plugged into a handheld recorder and can rent additional gear when necessary, but it seems expectations have risen.

 

By my calculations, even a kit with 2-channels of UHF wireless and two wired mics can cost around $10K. A kit with 4-channels of UHF wireless, IFB, and camera hops can quickly reach $25K. Depending on the kit and your hustle, you could theoretically make up the purchase cost within a year. 

 

-So my last two questions are, how many of you feel it is necessary to take out a small loan to start in the business and is it worth it just to apply to those last minute jobs that require a "standard" inventory package?

 

Thanks,

~Ken

 

Hi Ken,

 

1. When I was started, four channels was ok. Eight channels was expensive thing. Now, eight channels is something pretty standard for recorder.

 

2. Four wireless is ok, if you want more you can rent.

 

3. Mostly two shotguns. That's a big discussion which brand (lol).

 

4. I am using Ambient QS boompole, 5.2m, but I am doing mostly scripted work.

 

5. Timecode, IFB, camera hop is necessary.

 

====

 

It's not a good idea to start with a loan, especially that time. You buy only when you needed something or when you have the money in your pocket - playing safe business risk here. I know, US market is different from mine, but others can guide you better from me for that market.

 

====

 

If you want to discuss further which type of brands, please let me know.

 

Thanks,
V

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