Field Audio and Multi Track Recording… it CAN be done on a budget.

Working in sound production means you have opportunities to work in many different forms of media. I have been blessed with opportunities in music, TV, radio, and live events. Even though they all encompass the need for sound design, I have learned over the years that each industry goes about its process differently. Usually, this is because the venue for work changes. You couldn’t treat sound design for music the same as you would for TV or radio. The tools, mics, and even software are different. Different industries have different standards and the challenge is to always surpass the standard of an industry and produce the highest quality product possible.

Recently, I have been privy to partake in a number of different video productions. In the Field Audio realm, the ENG Technician will run their boom mic and lav mics into a field mixer such as an Shure FP-33 then you would use a “breakaway” cable to direct your audio to the cameras input and capture audio via the camera. This has worked for a very long time and is a pretty typical way of working.

There are some blinding limitations to this process. For example, you only have two channels to send audio for capture. This means that the best you can do is pan your boom to the 1 channel and try to get a good mix of your lavs on the 2 channel. So far that has been acceptable in many cases. Personally, I don’t mind producing field audio this way, if need be, but I think there is a better solution that allows for a more accurate and professional product.

I started working with the concept of multi track field audio recording when DSLR cameras (such as the Canon 5D MKII) began to pop up in video production. Now, DSLR cameras are becoming more common place in lower budget HD shoots than video cameras. They provide great picture and amazing creative flexibility… but they sound AWEFUL!

The Zoom H4N hand recorder soon became an industry staple for capturing professional audio when using a DSLR camera on a remote shoot. It provides fantastic quality sound and allows for both XLR and 1/4 inch inputs. I have one and I think they are a great solution, not to mention cost effective. However, that is still only 2 inputs (just like using a video camera), what if you have more than 2 audio sources and you want to keep them separated?

Our solution is pretty simple and combines music industry gear with the field audio production. Simply bus all of the inputs into a small 8 I/O interface and firewire it to a laptop for multi-track capturing. Since we still have 8 outputs for each channel, we continue our set up like you normally would in field audio, except we use the audio interface as our feed source. This allows for the same audio feed to go into the cameras but also gives the multi track audio of each individual source as a safety net. Also, a major benefit is that you can record directly into your editing software (such as soundtrack pro or logic 9) and your session is ready for XML exporting to Final Cut or Premier!

If you are on a real “remote” set (battery power only) some interfaces are USB powered and can function for some time with the laptops charge. I, however, prefer to stay with the H4N recorder in this scenario just for the portability factor. Every ENG technician is going to have their own opinion on this, but I personally like to have as many safety back ups as I can, and having each source available is a major plus when your work goes to post production.

-Lee Kebler

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