THE ENDLESS DEBATE OF MAC VS PC FOR AUDIO PRODUCTION

THE ENDLESS DEBATE OF MAC VS PC FOR AUDIO PRODUCTION

When I was in college studying all about everything in the audio world, there seemed to be an endless debate between everyone on whether Mac’s or PC’s were better for recording and mixing. Having used both extensively and having had the same debate over and over and over again, I think I’ve heard about every reason for siding with one over the other and below I’ll address some of those questions as well as tell you what my personal choices have been based off of.

Time-line

Probably the biggest component to this debate relates to technology over time. What I mean by that is who’s got the latest technology available and integrated? Is Mac ahead or is it PC? There is always a developing landscape of the new or the best and it’s always shifting back and forth. So just for the sake of argument and reference, I’m writing this article August of 2017 and so my information will be based on what is currently available.

Comparison Criteria

The comparisons I’ll be using are fairly simple. I really only have a few things that I look for.

  • Performance
  • Stability
  • Compatibility
  • Deliverable Options
  • Longevity/Upgradability
  • Cost

So let’s get into each one these and see how things stack up.

Performance

Performance is really one of those things that is entirely subjective and really depends on a whole host of issues including user configurations, hardware, drivers, operating systems, and any other variable out there. Without sitting down and doing a bunch of bench tests (which there are tons of videos on and you can look them up), I’m going to chock up performance to a single question: Does it work and does it get the job done?

  • Mac – Yep it works
  • PC – Yep it also works

We can also delve into this further with the time-line I mentioned earlier as well by asking a simple question: Who’s ahead on the technology front? Like I mentioned before this is something that is always in flux and if I had to hand out a winner over the last couple of years I would say PC was winning hands down. With CPU’s like the new Core i9 with 10 cores, the 20 core Xeon and AMD’s new Ryzen chip, massive jumps in RAM motherboard support from 16GB to 128GB, M.2 support, an increase in both smaller and larger case sizes, the release of the current Nvidia GTX 10 series, implementation of both USB 3.1 and Thunderbolt, water cooling and some other things, Mac has really only given us Thunderbolt in the same time period. That being said, I think Mac has realized their failings in both the professional and consumer markets and is scheduled to release the new iMac Pro that will be up to par with anything currently available in the PC market. The Mac Pro is also getting an overhaul which hasn’t been updated since it’s current release. Overall I think Mac has been trailing mostly due to PC’s ability to innovate change much faster over time and it will be interesting to see how Apple addresses things if they truly ant to compete.

Stability

Stability is one of those things that’s also subjective. Having used both Mac and Windows extensively, I don’t really think one is better than the other. Each of them has their quirks and it’s really more about knowing how to find a workaround or solution for each of the problems that each of them presents a user with. That being said, Mac is notorious for really strange problems where everything breaks when they have software updates and it’s a really sore subject with Mac fans. Remember when iTunes deleted everyone’s music libraries with one of their releases? The funny thing is that each of the Mac Fanboys will tell you that they don’t ever do an upgrade until at least six months after a release because of the huge probable risk of system failure being involved. This can happen with Windows too, but seems to happen much less frequently. As we’ve seen before, there are also strange things that occur with releases when Windows drops a new OS like the BSOD and bricking that seemed to afflict mostly HP Laptops.

Like I said earlier, I don’t think one is better than the other and it’s mostly a matter of personal preference. I’ve run Pro Tools and Pro Tools HD on each of them and I’m comfortable moving back and forth between each of them.

Compatibility

Compatibility may not seem like a huge issue, but as someone that moves between the two platforms on a regular basis, I’ve found that it’s important to be able to have all of my hardware (like external hard drives) work the same. Mac’s and PC’s both definitely have their own quirks, but overall I’m going to have to give this one to PC just due to the simple fact that PC adopts whatever works and implements it quickly. As an example of that, Mac gave us Thunderbolt, and PC has adopted it while also creating a version that is UBS backwards compatible in the form of USB 3.1 (a.k.a. Type C). On the flip side, Mac hardware is always proprietary and, aside from Thunderbolt, always seems to be based on technology that’s technically old in the world of PC (take Mac’s 1366 MHz.RAM that is still being used in the current Mac Pro as an example). Ultimately though, they both work, which in the end is all that matters.

Deliverable Options

Deliverables are a huge source of contention between Mac and PC users. In the spirit of saving space and getting to the point as quick as possible, there are two schools of thought that I’ve come across when it comes to things like files and formats. On the Mac side, there is limited support for anything in the world of audio outside of Mp3, WAV or AAC. This has both the benefit and the downside of forcing compatibility to one of these formats. On the plus side (as Mac Fanboys always remind me), everything just works. On the downside, I end up having to convert everything to one of these formats, and the sore point for PC Fanboys is that often there are formats that have better compression rates and take up way less space (like Windows Media Files for example), and the counter argument heard from the PC camp are that there are a serious lack of options, choice and tools when it comes to anything on a Mac. The conclusion? It’s up to the user and there are pros and cons to both sides. Personally though, I like options.

Longevity and Upgradability

In case you’re wondering, the answer is always, It Depends. When it comes to things like longevity and upgradability, There are pros and cons to each side of the isle and it sort of depends on what you want. Do you want a machine that’s going to be the same for a while until it’s out of date in which case you replace it with a new machine; or do you want a machine that is upgradable and can keep up with the latest technology? Either one is fine and it’s really a matter of personal choice. Personally, as I sated in the paragraph above, I like options and so it shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that I like PC’s much more. I use my computer for way more than just audio production. A lot of my friends are programmers and are avid gamers. I’m not a huge gamer, but I do enjoy going to LAN parties and kicking it with a bunch of dudes that are screaming at each other across the room as they pummel each other into submission. So when the new Nvidia GTX 10 series GPU’s came out it was no big deal to swap out my old GTX 640 that couldn’t handle anything anymore and get something much better to keep up with my fiends. I also like to tinker with things too. On the flip side, there is also something to be said for having a no maintenance machine that just does it’s thing and when it’s done gets replaced. There is a significant dollar amount attached to each way of thinking and realistically, you’re going to pay for it either way. I think the question is do you want to pay for it all at once or in increments?

Cost

When it comes to Mac vs PC, this is really the main event and it’s a real grudge match. So in order to do a fair comparison, we’ll compare my computer (and what I paid for it) vs a comparable Mac Pro. My computer is a few years old and so is the Mac Pro so it should be a fairly straight comparison. So onto the specs.

Mac

CPU: Xeon E5 6 Core @ 3.5 GHz

RAM: 64GB 1866MHz DDR3 ECC

SSD: 512GB PCI-e SSD

MB: Apple Proprietary

PS: Apple Proprietary

CASE: Apple Proprietary

GPU: Dual AMD FirePro D700 GPUs with 6GB of GDDR5 VRAM each

STORAGE: N/A

COOLING: Air Cooled

DISP: LG UltraFine 4K Display 21.4 Inch (Mac Store Sug,)

OS: OS X El Capitan

TOTAL: $5,298

Scott’s PC

CPU:   Core i7 6 Core @ 3.4 GHz

RAM: G.SKILL Ripjaws Z Series 64GB DDR3 SDRAM DDR3 2400

SSD: Mushkin Enhanced ECO2 2.5″ 512GB SATA III Internal Solid State Drive (SSD)

MB: MSI X79A-GD45 Plus LGA 2011 Intel X79 SATA 6Gb/s USB 3.0 ATX Intel Motherboard 

PS: EVGA SuperNOVA 1000 G1 120-G1-1000-VR 80+ GOLD 1000W Fully Modular

CASE: Fractal Design Define R5 Blackout Silent ATX Mid Tower Computer Case

GPU: Gigabyte GeForce GTX 1060 Mini ITX OC 6GB GDDR5 Graphics Card

STORAGE: WD Black 1TB Performance Desktop Hard Disk Drive – 7200 RPM x2

COOLING: Intel BXTS13X Water/Liquid Cooling

DISP: Dell E2414H 24-Inch Widescreen Backlit TN LED Monitor 1920x1080P x2

OS: Windows 10

TOTAL: $2,827      

As you can plainly see, there is a huge disparity between what my computer cost and what a Mac Pro goes for today. Straight across the CPU, the RAM and the SSD are about the same. But that’s really where things start to change. I’ve got more storage and water cooling (which is quiet), and even if I added 16TB of storage today (no expansion chassis required) it would only add about $500 to my total. My computer is up to date, the Mac Pro is still using parts from 2013 and they were outdated then. Even though the Mac Pro has dual GPU’s, my single GTX 1060 beats the crap out of both those cards at everything. Now let’s keep in mind that when I bought my computer the Mac Pro was closer to $6,800 without a display. Now granted I built my own computer and if I had to go out and buy a pre-built one it would probably be $1,000 more but it still comes in way under what the Mac Pro cost. Now I’m sure there are those of you out there that are saying, “What about the new iMac Pro? I bet it would wail on your computer!”. Yeah that’s probably true. But based on Apple’s record with the Mac Pro, a fully loaded iMac Pro with an 18 core Xeon, 4 TB SSD and 128GB of RAM is probably going to cost a kidney or your firstborn child. If we use the current Mac Pro fully maxed out (which is half the machine by the way) as a guide, it’s going to cost at least $7,000. That’s an insane amount of money. And the funny thing is that my computer might still be able to compete with this new behemoth solely because I’ll still have more storage, more expandability, an awesome GPU and the option to upgrade my computer at a fraction of the cost. Even if I dropped in a new motherboard and 128 GB of RAM (which would put me right back on par with the iMac Pro) it would only add about $1,500 to my $2,827 total. That’s still $971 under what the current Mac Pro costs and it’s probably way less that what the iMac Pro will cost. Sorry Mac Fanboys, when it comes to cost, PC wins hands down.

Conclusion

Ultimately it doesn’t really matter what you prefer when it comes to Mac or PC. They both have strengths and they both have shortcomings and honestly I don’t really prefer one over the other to work. The two things that really shift me away from Apple and toward PC are the cost and the ability to keep my hardware current. The sad thing is that for the most part, they use the same parts, so the question for me has always been why should I spend $5,298 on something when I can get something that has similar or better specs at almost half the cost? It doesn’t add up and for my money, I’ll stick with PC The money I save can go to other things like pre amps or mics or guitars.

HELPFUL TIPS AND INFORMATION FOR YOUTUBERS FROM AN AUDIO ENGINEER

I had a conversation the other day with Devin, my brother in law. He happens to work in social media marketing and we ended up having an interesting conversation about possible reasons that people watch certain videos, skip over some or turn off others all together. There were lots of things that were possible contributors but interestingly enough, the one thing that we readily agreed upon was that if a video had poor audio, people were much more likely to stop watching and move on. As an Audio Engineer I’ve known this for a long time. We can see this in everyday life. If you’re at home watching a clip of something that has poor video quality but the sound is good, chances are you’ll finish watching it. If there is a clip that is in crystal clear 4K resolution and has horrible audio, people will turn it off or flip the channel. Anyways the point is that there really is no excuse nowadays to have poor quality audio and so in the spirit of the pursuit of excellence, Devin suggested that I create an article to help show YouTubers how an Audio Engineer could be a valuable asset to their productions and, in essence, get them more clicks. So I’ve put together a list of some areas that I think I can help people get much better sounding results than what they are used to getting. I’ve broken them down into the following categories: Consultations, Pre-production, Production and Post Production. I’ve also included all of the jobs that are traditionally done by 20-30 people for film, but these jobs can be done on a much smaller scale with just 1 or 2 people. I’ve included the traditional way just as a matter of reference.

COSULTATIONS

I realize that a lot of YouTubers aren’t made of money and essentially start their channels from scratch. There is a lot of DIY that happens and I think that part is great. To me it’s just a representation of the American Spirit and the hard work and dedication it takes to build and maintain our country. Now in the spirit of the do-it-yourselfers, sometimes it pays to consult with someone that has first hand knowledge and experience to help you get the most bang for your buck. In this case consulting with (and paying) an Audio Engineer can help you buy the right products, teach you how to use them properly and to get the best possible sound out of whatever project you’re working on. So here are some things that you might want to ask an Audio Engineer about.

          1. Room Acoustics/Acoustic Treatment – Out of all the things to ask an Engineer about, this is probably the most important thing that gets skipped over the most. Without going into a ton of science, what you really need to know about what ever room or space you’re planning on recording in, is that they all have their own individual tone and characteristics. Audio Engineers use certain tools to help eliminate the undesirable parts of a room and to keep the good parts. We use tools like oscilloscopes, frequency spectrum analyzers that run white and pink noise, reference microphones, tone generators, mirrors and a bunch of other fun tools to identify problem areas in a room where we can use things like acoustic treatment, sound diffusers and bass traps to eliminate problems like standing waves, bass buildup, and reverberate reflections. It also leaves us with a desirable recording space that still sounds natural and has a good ambiance. This is what is known as “tuning a room”. If you are planning on doing anything in a dedicated space I highly recommend you have these things checked out.
          2. Gear Choices – One of the biggest questions that I see from a lot of YouTubers are related to what gear to buy. There are tons of videos out there about what people are using; but honestly, why not consult with someone that uses these things on a daily basis and knows what each of them sounds like? There is way more to gear selection than just things like price and quality. There are things like application, project type, and even things like the individual human voice that can change what the best gear for the situation is. For example, I would use a much different microphone for recording vocals on a song than I would for doing something like a voice over or dialogue replacement. I’ve even had situations where I choose to use a much different mic based on whether I’m recording a man or a woman because in general, men and women’s voices vary greatly in the timbre that they produce. I’m fond of saying that there are certain mics that love your voice, and there are certain ones that hate your voice, and knowing what one to use is 90% of the battle. Anyways an Engineer can help you get set up with the right gear for your situation, regardless of budget. I’ve used gear that costs $5 and I’ve used gear that costs $500,000. There is great gear at every price point and on the flip side, there is a lot of overpriced junk out there too. I’m actually fairly certain that most people would be surprised at just how little the things that I prefer to use cost. The point is it might be worth your while to talk with someone who knows the difference.
          3. Gear Use – So this kind of goes with the one above. Just because you have the right gear, doesn’t mean you know how to use it properly. So why not get some training from someone that can help you personally optimize your gear to your project specifications? These can be things like project settings and specs to general use of things. For example: On most audio equipment that uses a microphone, there is often a gain knob that goes along with it; say on a field recorder, pre-amp or audio interface. It is a common preconception that this knob controls the volume of the microphone signal. What it’s actually doing is controlling the magnetic field created by your microphone based on the pickup pattern. The more the gain is cranked, the larger the magnetic field. You can actually have a person stand directly in front of a mic, and if you increase the magnetic field enough, you actually end up recording what is behind a person instead of what is coming out of their mouth. This is just one of many things that that happens on a regular basis and it can have a huge impact on your sound.

PRE-PRODUCTION

This section builds a lot on the Consultation section of this article but takes things a step further. Firstly; in the above section I broadly assume that consultations would be done on a strictly limited basis; whereas this and the following sections assume that you have hired an Audio Engineer to work as either an Engineer, Producer, Post Production Supervisor, Mixer, or as the Head of the Sound Department for the length of a project, or on a series of projects. Pre-production is an interesting stage of the game nowadays. It is something that is repeatedly overlooked but can drastically change the outcome of a project. There are really only two things worth mentioning in this section. They are similar to how consultations work and basically involve planning and budgeting.

          1. Planning – Having an Audio Engineer around at this stage may not seem like something that a lot of people would do, but in both film and music, it isn’t uncommon to have an Engineer act as Producer or a Consultant. They can often provide vital information on things like equipment, time, best practices, and all kind of things that have a direct bearing on the budget or the outcome of the budget over the life of a project. This is also the point that all of the prep work for a product should be done. In music this can include things like songwriting, demos and gear choices. In film, it can include things like script writing, story boarding, screen tests, casting and a whole host of other things. Anyways having an Engineer involved from the beginning of a project can help you plan properly for things and possibly save you money based on their experience and expertise.
          2. Budget – I think it’s fairly obvious to most people that sticking to the budget for a project and keeping things moving on time is really important, but most people don’t realize that because sound is the last element to be added and finalized on films or videos, it’s also the same area that is negatively impacted the most. If a project goes over time and over budget there are two things that can happen. The first is that there is often much less time than is needed to accomplish the work that needs to be done; which in turn, runs your project into massive amounts of overtime and debt. The second thing that can happen is that your project runs out of money and comes to a screeching halt. I really don’t like having the conversation in the middle of the film where I get to tell the Director that he is over budget and it’s going to cost twice what he had planned for because he didn’t take the time to consult with an Engineer on how much things actually cost.

PRODUCTION

In the production process an Engineer often moves over into 1 of 3 roles. I’ve worked as all of these things and each one requires a ton of skill and discipline to work well.

          1. Sound Mixer – So if you are doing anything with dialog you want one of these guys. They are responsible for capturing and marking all of the takes in something like a film. They often communicate constantly with the script supervisor on things like print takes and what are known as wild tracks. Wild tracks are sometimes just the scene done up close with all of the actors standing in a circle where they do their lines as just audio, or things that might help the sound designers later in post production. Depending on how good these guys are, they can make or break your post production budget.
          2. Boom Operator – A lot of people I’ve met think its a simple matter to be a boom operator and that anyone standing around can do it. That will do in a pinch, but in reality Boom Operators can save you a ton of time in post production by getting good usable audio on set. This means that there is less time in post production doing dialog replacement.
          3. Audio Engineer – The other aspect of production would be to do something like a podcast or a video or a radio spot where you are in a studio and are properly mic’ed up. Most people think that these guys just push record and walk away, but if they are good, they will be constantly riding the volume fader and eliminate tons of editing time in post. This is just something that you just have to see to understand. It’s also becoming less and less common to do because it requires a lot more skill than just pushing record and walking away.

POST PRODUCTION

By way of information, in the Film and Music industries there are tons of people involved in the post production process. In film there can be somewhere in the neighborhood of 30 people working on a project and in music there can be 3-5. To see the full extent of how Engineers are involved in the film and music processes, see my articles in the Engineer’s Corner. For the sake of simplicity, we can realistically break down post production into 2 categories: Editing and Mixing.

          1. Editing – Editing can be a very important process and there is a lot more to it than most people think. Without getting into the semantics of exactly what audio editing entails, I’ll just say that the goal during editing is to take out everything you don’t want to hear, and to leave everything else good behind. These can often include addressing issues like pops, clicks, hums, background noise reduction and plosives while simultaneously adding things like proper fades or volume automation.
          2. Mixing – Mixing is the last stage that gets applied to a project in both film and music. It essentially is combining and regulating all of the elements in a project to play nicely with one another. There can also be different levels or degrees of mixing and each is an art unto itself. They differ in the film and music industries, but ultimately the goal is to deliver a good final product at the right specifications for the intended market. What that means for YouTubers is that you want someone mixing your material who is going to take into account the changes that YouTube makes to your final product. Like I stated earlier, mixing is an art and there are tons of tools and techniques that go along with mixing. Ultimately what you want to look for in a mixer is someone that has an uncompromising view on quality. I say this because if you choose to put your name on a product like a video, film or song, it should be something that you should be proud of and be the best work that you can deliver.

I hope that this article has helped some of you in some small way to either seek out and get help to capturing better sound, or at least opens up the possibility to the idea that better sound is possible with the right kind of knowledge and expertise.

 

-S. F. Shields

© 2017 Media Smoothie, L.L.C.

QUALITY AND COST IN SOUND AND AUDIO

 

I’ve thought a long time about exactly how to tackle this topic. Honestly it’s one of those things that comes up pretty frequently; but seems to always leave a sour taste in my mouth when I have to talk to people about these things. In today’s market where you can buy things cheaply and learn how to get some decent results by watching YouTube tutorials, the question I’ve had to repeatedly answer and overcome is this: “Why should I pay you a lot of money to do something that I can get my nephew to do in his parent’s basement for free?” The answer that I give to that question every time is: “Quality, Quality, Quality.” along with something snarky like “Well, if you want your nephew to do it in his parent’s basement for free, it’s going to sound like it was done in a basement for free.”. I personally want to give everyone I work with the best possible work that I can, but it does come at a price. I’ve put together a list of some things here to help people understand why there is a correlation between cost and quality. I’ve also included some ways for you to be able to talk with people and find out if their quality is worth what they are charging.

          1. Audio Engineering is my livelihood, not a hobby – This may come as a bit of a shock to most people (especially in Utah), but I do what I do as a professional; not an amateur and not as a hobbyist. That means that I don’t work for free, I don’t work for food, for drugs or for crappy gear that you have laying around that you want to get rid of. I work for money, just like everyone else does. It also means that I work for myself where there is no insurance, no paid time off, no 401K and no holiday pay. Asking someone to work for pennies or to work for free is just plain insulting. I don’t do it to people that I do business with, and I expect the same courtesy in return. If I go have my car worked on, I expect to pay for the parts and services that I am getting. It’s no different with Audio.
          2. My education and my gear is expensive – There are only a handful of schools that have degrees in what I specialize in. That means that I have a very specialized skill set and I have the education and the know-how to use better practices than most of my competition, which in turn gets me much better results. If you’re using someone who was just standing around or has gotten all of their education on YouTube; chances are there are going to be massive holes in their education, which can translate to problems in their audio. The sad thing is that most of the time these people don’t even know that they are missing things.
          3. I don’t compromise on quality – If you really think that someone you know can do as good of a job as I can and they’re willing to do it for free, lets face it. You’re probably being straight up being lied to and ripped off. I stand by the quality of the practices I use and oftentimes, I’m willing to do a sample of something for free to prove it.
          4. I use best practices – Part of my education and the experience that I have is that I know the difference between good, better and best practices when it comes to audio. I also know the limitations and weaknesses of the practices that are out there and I spend a lot of time making sure that I play to the strengths of the practices I use.
          5. Best practices aren’t cheap, so be prepared to pay for it – This should be fairly obvious to anyone that has two brain cells to rub together; but honestly I can’t believe the amount of people that can’t wrap their heads around it. It’s a simple concept. Do you want the best quality that you can possibly afford? Or are you interesting in doing things as cheaply as possible? If you said yes to the first section, chances are there is going to be an associated price tag that goes along with it. If you said yes to the second, chances are your quality is going to drop significantly.
          6. Chances are, the best practices that cost a bit more will probably save you money in the long run – I really hate to sit here and harp on the money to quality thing but the reality of the situation is that if you choose to do things as cheaply as possible and step over the quality of good audio, chances are you’re going to pay for it later on down the road. In music not getting good sound at the source can mean having to re-record something and start over again from scratch. It could also mean that you’re going to pay tons of money to “fix it in the mix”(this is a horrible practice by the way). The same goes for film. The better audio you can get on set means you spend way less time in the studio doing things like Dialogue Replacement or in the worst case, having to re-shoot the entire scene.
          7. I’m not trying to rip you off, I’m just trying to educate you about the sticker shock you’re in – Most of the time I end up talking to people about quality and price, people have a preconceived notion of what they think my services are worth. Unfortunately most people have no reference for how much things actually cost; nor the investments I’ve made in things like education and the equipment I have. It’s kind of like walking into a Ferrari Dealership and having the expectation that all cars cost $20,000 because your last car (The Ford Fiesta) cost that much. Then having the harsh realization that you’ve just been slapped in the face with the real price tag of $300,000. Your card gets declined, everyone is looking at you funny and all it does is make you look stupid as well as wastes my time. I’ve never had a project that I wasn’t able to be fully transparent about exactly where the money is going, but for the sake of everyone involved, don’t expect Grade A quality at bare minimum pricing.

For those that are still skeptical about the relationship between quality and cost, here are some ways to check that you’re truly getting what you pay for. Just by way of information, if you are looking into hiring an artist of any kind, you should be treating the questions you ask just like you were a company interviewing for a new position. A lot of what I’ve put down here may seem like things that should be asked just as a matter of course, but you’d be surprised by the amount of people that don’t do these things.

  1. Ask for samples – This may seem fairly obvious but most people don’t do this at all. It would make things a lot easier if people did. You can tell a lot about someone’s work by the portfolio of work they provide. They can give you insightful information about their practices and procedures which all relate to the quality of the end product.
  2. Ask for references – I may be the greatest Engineer on Earth but if I put off everyone I’ve ever worked with, I may have problems in other areas that aren’t evident in a first impression.
  3. Ask for a quote or a sample budget for a similar project – You can learn a lot of things about a person by what sort of things they put in a quote. I have a tendency to pad things quite a bit so it gives me some room to work if something goes wrong. I also let people know that that’s how I do things. I learned a long time ago to plan for the worst, but to rely on hard work and experience instead of hope to have things turn out for the best.
  4. Show me where the money is going – This one is related to the one above. Realistically in this day and age transparency is the best policy. I believe in being honest and forthright with my fellow man about the way that I do business. I have no problem showing you exactly where the money is going on any given project.
  5. Ask for their qualifications – This can tell you a lot of things about a person. Where did they study? Did they finish school or not? How far did they go in school? These are important questions that can have a direct bearing on the quality of their work.

Anyways I hope that some of these ideas have helped answer some questions that they have, and to help people learn how to collaborate and work on projects in a manner that is forthright and honest with their fellow man.

-S. F. Shields

© 2017 Media Smoothie, L.L.C.

ROLES OF AUDIO PROFESSIONALS IN FILM

In writing up my article relating to Audio Engineers and YouTubers, I ended up going into tons of detail about some of the various roles of Audio professionals across the film process. After sleeping on it I realized there was way too much information for my intended audience and I ended up cutting most of it out. I’ve decided that most of the information can still be useful so I decided to create an article talking about it on it’s own. So the film process uses the same basic sub categories that music does in that we have Pre-production, Production and Post Production. I’ll address each of these and hopefully people can take some information away from this and use it to their advantage.

PRE-PRODUCTION

Pre-production may not seem like a likely place to find audio professionals in film, but having them around can help alleviate and minimize all sorts of production and logistical issues before they become a problem.

          1. Producer – There are different kinds of jobs within music and film. Acting as a pre-production producer to help lay out possibilities on things like costs and time frames can help save tons of money on a given project.
          2. Consultant – This is something that I’ve repeatedly seen done as an afterthought in things like film and TV. Often times the sound department isn’t consulted until a project is already underway and the budget is set. I really don’t like having the conversation in the middle of the film where I get to tell the Director that he is over budget and it’s going to cost twice what he had planned for. The other aspect of a project that I always plan for is in regard to my equipment. If I draw up a budget I always add all of my equipment as if I had to go out and buy it new. There are a couple of reasons I do that. The first is it provides for the length and life of my equipment. Audio gear is hella expensive and when it breaks on a shoot, I either need to have a backup handy or the ability to replace it really fast. The second part of it is that it is a quality thing. I want to have the best audio available and so I want to use new stuff as often as I can. It limits discrepancies and odd variables that can happen with electronics over time.

PRODUCTION

So at this point I’m going to assume that if you decided to bite the bullet and hire an Engineer for their expertise. That’s great. There are really only two or three jobs in production that are really worth mentioning. I’ve worked as all three and they have very different aspects in regard to what your end result is.

          1. Sound Mixer – So if you are doing anything with dialog you want one of these guys. They are responsible for capturing and marking all of the takes in something like a film. The communicate constantly with the script supervisor on things like print takes and what are known as wild tracks. Wild tracks are sometimes just the scene done up close with all of the actors standing in a circle where they do their lines as just audio, or things that might help the sound designers later in post production. Depending on how good these guys are, they can make or break your post production budget.
          2. Boom Operator – A lot of people I’ve met think its a simple matter to be a boom operator and that anyone standing around can do it. That will do in a pinch, but in reality Boom Operators can save you a ton of time in post production by getting good usable audio on set. This means that there is less time in post production doing dialog replacement.
          3. Audio Engineer – The other aspect of production would be to do with something like a podcast or a video or a radio spot where you are in a studio and are properly mic’ed up. Most people think that these guys just push record and walk away, but if they are good, they will be constantly riding the volume fader and eliminate tons of editing time in post. This is just something that you just have to see to understand. It’s also becoming less and less common to do because it requires a lot more skill than just pushing record and walking away.

POST PRODUCTION

The last part where an Audio Engineer might be handy to have around is in Post Production. This is where all of the fun elements come together after something like a video or film is fully edited and cut. It’s also where all of your hard work can come together or blow up in your face. It’s also the most important part of Audio in videos and film. If you decide to spend money in just one area of audio to improve your quality, it should be here. So there are several processes here that are we use that I’m going to base the rest of this on. In the big leagues there can be up to 5 separate divisions working on the sound at the same time. It may be overkill for what you may need done but at least you’ll have some different options available.

          1. Lock Your Picture – When a film or a video comes to audio in post, there are a couple of things that should have happened already. If you use an editor or you are you’re own editor, make sure your picture is locked. You can read more about that and thing like project specs in my article in the Engineer’s Corner.
          2. Spotting Script Session – After a film comes to me and is locked into place, it is common practice for an Engineer to sit down with the Director and the Script Supervisor and do a spotting session. This is where we go through an entire film line by line and decide which lines need to be replaced in a process called Automatic Dialog Replacement. It also lets us pencil in specific times for things like voice overs or anything else that needs to be recorded. In the end we create a new script with the lines that need replacing as well as the exact time code placement start time for each line to be recorded. We use this later on when the Actors come in to speedily jump from one line to the next and it can save you hours in studio time. It is also a good idea to send all of the files to your engineer a few days before so that he can check for any problems. This step is really designed to save you tons of time. I’ve seen ADR sessions start 2 hours late because this step didn’t happen and we had to wait for files to transfer.
          3. Dialog Mix – After all of the lines are replaced the next step is to send it off to a dialog cutter/mixer. This guy can make or break your film. When they cut dialog, they should be making the dialog play all the way through with no breaks. You should be able to have just the dialog track and nothing else play and have most of the movie intact. It’s way harder than it sounds and is an art all by itself. It is also way easier if the project had a good Boom Operator and Sound Mixer in production.
          4. Foley – Foley is where we fill in the gaps of human movement or anything that needs to be performed to the picture. So things like footsteps or walking, running or a bunch of other movement would be covered here.
          5. Sound FX – Sound FX are usually everything that isn’t covered by foley. These sounds are often taken from pre-recorded sound libraries and are often warped and fit into place by a sound designer.
          6. Music – This one should be fairly evident but just for clarification, this would be any music that has to be recorded and locked to the picture, as in a Film Score.
          7. Re-recording Mix – So the re-recording mix is where all of the other sound elements get uploaded into a single session file and the Re-recording mixer does the final mix of the film. In the old days this used to be re-recorded to tape but now it comes out as as either a stereo file, 5.1 or 7.1 surround sound.

 

-S. F. Shields

© 2017 Media Smoothie, L.L.C.

VOCALS (A GUIDE TO SINGING IN THE STUDIO)

I’ve spent a lot of time recording vocals in the studio and over time I started to realize that there are some simple but effective things that good singers do to get the most out of their singing. I’ve compiled this list here to help singers of all ranges and skill levels to get the most out of their studio experience.

          1. Sit or stand up straight- Good posture is essential to singing. It helps support the diaphragm and allows you to breathe freely.
          2. Breathe deeply- This may sound overly simple but its something that people often forget about or overlook. Take deep breaths and fully fill your lungs with air before you start singing. This is important for a couple of reasons. The first is that people give better performances overall when their lungs are filled properly; they also have a tendency to stay in tune better simply because their diaphragms are supported properly.
          3. Do something physical- Most people don’t realize that there are a lot of muscles involved in singing and by doing some basic exercises it helps those muscles perform to their fullest potential. Doing something simple like a set of push ups or a set of jumping jacks only takes up a few minutes but it can seriously increase the blood flow in the body. This does wonders for waking up the body and the mind. I’ve seen vocal performances increase 200% simply by doing this simple step.
          4. Warm up- Your voice uses a tons of muscles and they need to warm up before you can start getting good takes.
          5. Differentiate notes- When writing or singing songs, sit down and write out the melodies in standard notation. If you play an instrument sit down and learn to play your melodies while singing along. Start slowly and gradually work up to speed. I suggest this for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it helps train your ears to be able to differentiate between right and wrong notes. Secondly, slowing down a melody and referencing notes against another instrument will help cement the right notes for a melody into your mind so that you can sing the right notes every time. In the end this is a very simple step that can have a huge impact on being able to stay in tune while you sing.
          6. Learn to count- This may sound a bit silly but being able to count is an essential part of music. For some reason this skill sometimes gets bypassed with singers more than with other musicians. But being able to count every beat in a song including the rests is something that is crucially important in music. This can really come into play when you have multiple vocal parts sung by a single person. Getting each vocal take to match is harder than it sounds and being able to hold notes out for their full count as well as matching a previous vocal delivery will take your vocals from alright to professional in a hurry.
          7. Don’t smoke- Smoking constricts and tightens the muscles used in singing and as such can drastically alter the overall sound of your voice. This is especially true for women. If you smoke I highly recommend that you take a break from smoking while recording and invest in some nicotine patches.

-S. F. Shields

© 2017 Media Smoothie, L.L.C.

STUDIO ETIQUETTE

Studios are small spaces and often have a lot of people crammed into them. I’ve put together a list here of things that I consider to be important in maintaining an air of professionalism when in the studio. These things may seem to be simple and self explanatory but they go along way.

          1. Be clean- This should be fairly obvious but for some reason musicians have a hard time with this one. Make sure that you not only bathe on a daily basis but wear clothes that are clean and freshly laundered. Cleanliness goes a long way in the professional world. And if your goal is to someday make music your business this is probably the single most important thing that you can do to elevate your status as a professional. To put it simply, no one is going to want to work with you if they can’t stand to sit next to you.
          2. Go easy on the cologne/perfume- This isn’t quite as obvious as being clean but most people don’t realize that a small amount of cologne or perfume goes a long way. This is especially true in small spaces like the studio. It gets even worse when everyone in a studio is wearing a different brand.
          3. Be Professional- I’ve met a lot of different people in the studio from all walks of life but the single greatest compliment I can give an artist/band is that they handled themselves as professionals while in my studio. This seems like it should go without saying but as an artist/band you never know who is watching. The music industry is exceptionally small and the professionals that work in it on a regular basis talk to each other. ESPECIALLY ENGINEERS. To put it simply, be on your best behavior and show up ready to dig in and get things done because you never know who might recommend you for something down the road.
          4. Be punctual- Being on time is an important thing that musicians often overlook. Quite simply put, not being able to show up on time is just throwing money out the window. If a band/artist has scheduled five days of studio time and shows up an hour late each day, you’re going to go over budget in a hurry. And as cost seems to be the biggest concern for most bands/artists I’ve worked with it gets really irritating when a band/artist doesn’t show up on time and then complains about how much making a record is costing them. Its extremely unprofessional.
          5. Be direct/decisive/communicate effectively- Being direct and giving yes or no answers to questions doesn’t seem like it should be a huge issue in the studio but I’ve seen bands waste hours on decisions that should realistically only take a few minutes. To put it simply, if a problem arises please tell us about it directly. I can’t count how many times I’ve seen sessions go sour because someone decides to take a passive aggressive approach to a problem and ends up sulking in the corner for the remainder of the night. It’s entirely unprofessional and needs to be left at home.
          6. Leave your significant other/children at home- To put it simply, there often isn’t room in a studio for everyone to bring their significant other. The other reason I ask that people leave their S. O. home is that they are enerally not objective and are often counterproductive to the recording process. Bands/artists also have their own internal relationships and in the studio the priority is the band/artist. This relationship can be unnerving for a S. O. and I’ve seen more than one session get canceled because a band member was given an ultimatum by their S. O. to choose between them and the band. Children should also be left at home. My studio is filled with expensive gear and the last thing I want to do is bill you for a $5,000 preamp that your child just spilled his drink on.
          7. Try it- Don’t be afraid to try something new in the studio. Some of the greatest moments on a record are simply the product of having the attitude to be open to trying something new.
          8. Drugs- Illegal drugs and narcotics are never allowed. As a law abiding citizen I will call the cops if I suspect that you are bringing anything illegal into my studio.
          9. Alcohol/Smoking/Vaping- Each studio I’ve been to has a different policy on alcohol and smoking. In my studio I only allow bottled water in the booths and the control room. I do permit beer or wine during meals though. I’ve though long and hard about what to write about smoking and vaping. The simple truth is if you smoke, you stink. On top of that cigarette smoke destroys electronics. From my point of view sitting next to someone who has just smoked isn’t only bad for my health, but bad for my microphones and all of my studio gear which has the potential to cost me tons of money in repairs. If at all possible I urge you to leave smoking and vaping at home. If you can’t do that, be respectful of those of us who don’t smoke and have no desire to and smoke in designated smoking areas (25 feet away from any doors). I’d like to also note that if you are a heavy smoker and need a smoke break every hour you should take what ever your budget is and double it.
          10. Food/drinks- Studios are expensive and as such the only thing I allow in my booths or the control room are drinks that have a screw on cap. I don’t allow food at all unless it is in a designated eating area. And please at the end of the night throw your trash in the trash cans. This may seem really simple but will go a long way with whatever studio you decide to record at.

 

-S. F. Shields

© 2017 Media Smoothie, L.L.C.

MAKING A RECORD FROM START TO FINISH

MUSIC

The Process– There are three major steps in creating a record from start to finish in the music world: Pre-production, Production and Post Production. Each has a significant dollar amount attached and often bands I’ve seen that skip part of this process end up with albums and EP’s that are disappointing. I highly recommend that each project follow a form of this process as they produce the best possible results at the lowest costs. Traditionally the oversight of this process is handled by a Producer. The breakdown of each stage is as follows:

Pre-production- Pre-production includes everything before a band/act goes into the studio. These include things like budgeting, songwriting, song revisions, band practice, demos and studio prep.On larger scales it can include things like travel and living expenses, transportation and even things like scheduling equipment rentals before going into the studio. As an Audio Engineer and Producer, I want to help you make the best record possible. Unfortunately the best albums produced nowadays cost thousands of dollars and tons of time and effort are often put in before a band ever steps into the studio. What I hope to address here are some skills and methods I advise all of my clients to do before ever considering booking studio time that will potentially save them thousands of dollars in time and wasted effort that are all part of the pre- production process. Some of these things are really simple but I guarantee these things will not only save you money, but help you get the best possible results