Not exactly a sound design question but pretty relevant all the same, so here goes...Yesterday I was at a wedding here in France and quite a few of the guests were working in the sound department for the film and television industry. I got chatting to most of them and there seemed to be a general consensus that our sector is suffering a lot in term s of budget. Many of them were working as boom ops, sound recordists, mixers and some in more editing / post prod roles. All of them seemed to be suffering from losing work due to budgets being cut. I heard over and over again people complaining that quality audio capture was being sacrificed in order to lower the money spent on a production. Everyone seemed to think that the demise of the boom op / mixer was becoming a severe problem and that on many smaller productions it is now the cameraman who is now also capturing audio.

Now I'm sure most of you will agree with me that to capture quality audio you need someone dedicated to do exactly that, someone who is skilled and knowledgeable in their field. I know that traditionally sound departments have somewhat struggled to play an important role when compared to the visual side of a production but with budgets being cut here there and everywhere, are we seeing a comeback of the darker days when sound was pushed to one side?

Many of you are working on big-budget features where, I'm sure these types of cutbacks have not really occurred, but I was wondering if any of you have noticed similar patterns where you work? Is this problem a localized one or are we seeing this across a broader context? I haven't been in France for that long and was thinking to start working as a sound recordist as well as editing / post prod but now I'm wondering if this side of the industry has much future?

I'd love to hear any thoughts you have.



6 Answers 6


Is there a future? Yes. Is it a pretty one? That's in the eye of the beholder.

I don't think the issue is localized. In the last 10 years or so we've had 4 or 5 major post-houses in the DC area go bankrupt. And I've seen quite a few auction announcements from post-houses all across the US. Their reasons for failure could be summed up as "budget cut related," but there are more money-related issues than just budget cuts. A few had expanded to accommodate business that was eventually pulled in-house. Some were unable to support skyrocketing building leases. Some prematurely invested in a technology that wasn't widely adopted. Basically, a lot of it was due to being unable to adapt to the changing market, which resulted in a negative cash flow.

Where I work I have certainly seen a reduction in budgets for some of the television that I'm working on. It ebbs and flows from series to series. Some are worth less to the network, some simply couldn't be finished with so little. But I don't think it's hitting just the audio department.

The worst effect that I'm seeing as a result of the underfunding is the lack of personal investment in making a good product by everyone involved. From the writer all they way through to the QC engineer, there's an attitude of "my hands are tied with this budget, just make it air-able." After many of these in a row you do get a little flustered.

For example, the last reality doc series I worked on I was told ahead of time to look out for the crap audio that was captured. It wasn't until I got the OMF that I realized that what they meant was look out for the crap audio that was digitized in the edit room. Interspersed throughout the show, about a third of the audio was perfectly acceptable lav audio, the other two-thirds? Camera mics. Off-axis, wide shot, camera mics. They simply didn't take the time to capture and sync the rest of the audio. Because nobody on the production team (which included zero sound recordists by the way) kept track of which camera had the lavs on which scene. By the time it got to me in audio post the shows were already going to color-correction and there was "nothing in the budget" to go back and pull the good audio. So with a 3-day budget to edit, sound design, and mix a 50-minute original I did what I could to make it air-able. Needless to say, that show won't make it on my reel.

But then they pull you back in with a show that has a budget that allows for some time, which provides the opportunity to experiment and polish it enough to make you proud to say "yeah, I work in television." It's frustrating, but the challenges at least keep it interesting.

  • I've had a similar problem during a live action kids series. The editor simple cut the dialogue whenever he made a picture, the result was awful. I made the best of a bad job and requested as many takes I could to be pulled from the records but time was against me so there's still a lot that I would like to change but simply can't. This wasn't a budget issue but the time between edit and delivery is too small for me to do a proper job so a compromise was made. Shame.
    – ianjpalmer
    Aug 8, 2010 at 19:29
  • Where do you live, Steve?...
    – Utopia
    Aug 8, 2010 at 21:45
  • @Ryan, I'm in Arlington, VA just outside of DC. Aug 8, 2010 at 23:19
  • @Steve Cool : )
    – Utopia
    May 1, 2011 at 21:28

I had to sit on this one for a while and collect my thoughts. I, like Steve, work on television programming. We do some in-house production, but that's been sparse over the last few years for budget reasons (seems to be turning around a bit at the moment, which is great). The majority of my work for the last few years has been either small projects for random corporate/government clients we pick up, or fixing programs that we've licensed for distribution (which we also do). I've seen some hairy things in the past; one of which I posted on my site after mentioning it in another thread. The biggest issue I see relates to education.

Even in my office, audio is voodoo to everyone outside of audio. It's this mysterious thing that everyone talks about, but no one really understands. Of course, they often think they do, until they get into my or my coworker's room that is. We've been doing everything we can to educate people over the years, both inside the office and out, to turn that around. We've been a little successful, but it's a very...VERY...slow process. This is the only way we're going to be able to protect our industry. The first thing people will cut back on are the things they don't understand. Unfortunately, we don't all have the luxury of picking who we work with. We're in this profession because we love it, but the fact is that we still have to pay the bills.

Of course, even if we increase awareness and investment in audio, budgets aren't increasing. If audio gets a larger share of the budget, then something else is going to lose out because of it. There's only so much money. It's a delicate balance, and it's completely out of our hands. If you want to survive, you have to adapt and be willing to make some compromises for the good of the project. Please note that I said compromises and not sacrifices.

Do your best to educate producers, directors, and anyone else in the chain in a constructive way; stay off the soapbox while you're at it. There are a few exceptions, but nearly any director/producer who has any respect for audio was taught to have it. It doesn't matter who did it, just that they learned. Educating others is the best way to protect our fragile little piece of the production pipeline for the future, and will probably help your chances at getting rehired next time.

And just because I can, here's a video my wife's friend found on the web. Applicable to this discussion I'd say (at least from the direction I took it...lol).


  • @Shaun Farley Firstly, nice video! Very appropriate! You've made some great points Shaun. I think that education really is what is causing these problems. The general ignorance towards audio is definitely down to a lack of understanding, and it's exactly that which frustrates and worries me. I just hope that this audio awareness that we kind of need from others grows and spreads. Thanks for your input! Aug 8, 2010 at 22:16
  • @Shaun Farley - LOL! I got that video the other day! Weirdly enough, the same day I got these: bit.ly/aXRXB3 & bit.ly/9JLwB5 Clearly we're not the only ones who feel a lesson in how media works is necessary. Aug 8, 2010 at 23:15
  • @Steve Urban - LOL, those are hilarious. I knew we weren't the only ones having issues. The former president of our company can be quoted as having said something along the lines of "Oh, we'll just put it on Digibeta. That will make it higher quality." Because, yes, digital is always better than analogue; even if it is dubbed from analogue. lol Aug 8, 2010 at 23:55

I believe there were several eras when the importance of sound was understood and given the resources required (think 1930s, 1970s). I'm not sure we're in one of those eras now, however. Speaking from a feature film standpoint, the budgets for post-production sound have been greatly reduced over the last decade, and this reduction has of course resulting not only in stagnating wages but also smaller crew sizes and shorter schedules.

One driving force behind this is the perpetuating philosophy that "digital makes things easier and faster" - which is true in many ways. But just because it can be done faster doesn't mean that it should. Sound is an art, just as much as writing, set design, and picture editorial. It should not be viewed (or budgeted) as a technical task to complete in the last stages of the film's schedule.

These budgets will continue to decrease and there's only so much "educating" that can be attempted before the producers and directors get tired of your complaints and take their business elsewhere. This is a business, after all, and so long as we keep delivering stellar soundtracks under less-than-desirable conditions, then what motivation do they really have to pay us more??

  • @birdhousesound I think you're right about the "digital makes things easier and faster" opinion. I think many people assume the efficiencies that technological advances have given us means a product will be delivered faster and by using less manpower. Not really a good lead to follow in my opinion but that's the way it is... Aug 9, 2010 at 12:39
  • @birdhousesound what might have been present in the eras that you mention when sound was understood that is missing today? Also, I agree completely, complaining to the client about their own ignorance of our jobs will solve this problem quickly. Just not in the way we may hope. Aug 9, 2010 at 14:00
  • @Steve, directors and producers knew the value of production sound in the 1930s because that was the only way to capture sound back then. If they didn't get it on the shoot, then they didn't have anything. (attn. historians: I'm ballparking the 1930s era, could have been slightly earlier or later). And the 1970s were a great time of artistic expression on all fronts, with directors encouraging and embracing sound design. Aug 9, 2010 at 16:27

The future holds the same it held for the previous generations that asked this very question. I am guessing hardly any surprises.

Budgets and timeframes for the same tasks diminish, and the same craft and quality today is less appreciated than it was yesterday. And even though technology is supposed to allow us to do more things and do them better, new necessities will always crop up. It's up to us to adapt, and I'm guessing it is down to our own choice - the high end will always be conservative and exclusive to a few. The new, exciting, bleeding edge, will be full of insecurity..

Tomorrow, today's kids will ask the same question. I am guessing the answer will be the same.

  • Well put georgi.m Aug 9, 2010 at 1:01

I was going to add another comment on Ryan's post but it's too much for that.

I've 2 comments:

  1. I think this thread could split into 3; Film, High end TV drama and TV.

It's unfair to compare a TV show with film, unless it's something like Band of Brothers which in my opinion was a very long film split into 10 parts. I agree that budgets are shrinking, however this has been true for years.

  1. Another big difference between film and tv is one of time. What I would give to be given a few months to work on something 2 hours long. I normally only get 4 hours to mix a 10 minute episode, that works out to be 24 hours work for 1 hour of screen time. Is it any wonder that TV doesn't sound as good as film. There's only so much you can do to keep your standards high in this environment. It's a bad compromise between time, money and quality.

I personally disagree with the compromise but to keep my career and marriage it's one I have to make. This is no dig at anyone but there is a fair amount of idealism out there which can never stand up to cold hard reality even if one agrees 100% with its arguments.

Damn, I never thought I'd ever be so cynical when I hit 30. Clearly I need to find some digs in a commune and grow my hair long again.

  • Disclaimer - I did type 2. for my second point but it insists it's a 1.
    – ianjpalmer
    Aug 8, 2010 at 22:06
  • 3 days for an hour of TV screen time is unusually tight for me. On average I'm given 3 days to sound design & edit, 3 days to mix a 50 minute original. Keep in mind I'm working on TV here, mostly reality-based documentary series or historical docs, not high end TV drama. If there's a heavy amount of 3d animation I could be fortunate enough to get an additional bump of 2-3 days of sound design. But the additional 3d GFX aren't frequent and the time is something I usually have to ask for. I agree that it's insane. I also disagree with the compromise, but I am still well fed by it. Aug 8, 2010 at 23:06
  • @ianjpalmer I'm with you man, I say we form the Sound Design Commune! Off the grid with solar and wind-turbine powered gear! LOL! Aug 8, 2010 at 23:09
  • Gotcha @Ryan, yeah I'm not working for VH1...yet. Aug 8, 2010 at 23:11
  • @Ryan, hey at least I'm at home right now! :D Of course, that's after a month of weekends... :| Aug 8, 2010 at 23:21

Thanks for all the responses! I think Ian's point is a fair one. It's very difficult to compare the TV and film industry and it may have been easier to separate the thread, but I was more interested to pull together everyone's opinions from their different fields and backgrounds. It seems that the Social Sound Design community is a very rich mix of sound people who work in all kinds of different industries. I am curious to discover and compare our different experiences as we are all working in the same field yet we all work in many, many different ways, in industries that operate differently and under many different budgets.

From the responses so far it seems that this issue spans all across our workplaces, no matter whether you are working on high-end productions and big-budget movies or lower budget, independent work. I'm curious to see what others have to say...


  • what's with the -1 vote?? Aug 9, 2010 at 7:22
  • What -1 vote??? Aug 9, 2010 at 12:32

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.