Hey Im about to start with the sound for a reality show in a few months. There are 12 contestants one location, a house, and sometimes other locations like a gym or shopping centre. Im one person in the sound department. I need to record each of the contestants separately. Any suggestions how i get the best recordings with the least amount of money? Any suggestions of sound setups for a reality show? I have thought of maybe upgrading my imac to 8 gb ram, purchasing a Digi 003R and getting a Mackie 16ch mixer and using 12 Lapel mics and recording them individually into pro tools Le, but would that work and solve the problem?
Perhaps someone like Colin Hart can comment on this thread with more production audio experience than I, but it seems from the reading I've done that if people are taking that many feeds, they use Boom Recorder or Metacorder on a laptop, which is usually deemed more stable than ProTools. And yes, more expensive, but using a laptop you're more mobile than with an iMac...but with the size of your cart, who knows, that may not matter.
One immediate question is how the show is staged - how often will all 12 participants be together at once?
Are you truly a sound department of one? You'll be rigging every single castmember, and mixing? That means no booming will be possible. Rigging the talent and onset plant mics will definitely impact the daily shoot schedule if done by one person, a fact definitely worth mentioning to the producer(s). Hiring a boom operator will accelerate things greatly and give you a lot more mixing options, especially since rigging lavs so they don't rub is quite an art form (I'm getting better, but it can be really challenging!).
Research rental costs on all this stuff - it's not cheap, albeit cheaper than buying (a decent Lectro pair of Rx/Tx will run US$2K-3K). Be sure to do tech rehearsals in the actual location to test for the right wireless blocks/freqs with all the units on at once, especially when talent gets close to one another. Plant mics are a great idea, but heck, based on rentals, maybe multiple boom ops could cover most scenes if not all 12 talent are in the same room at once...and be cheaper? You're gonna need to get creative!
What you're describing will be tough to do low-budget - don't let that discourage you, just give the producers a reality check of the plusses and minuses, and be very smart about the limitations you'll face. Compromises will need to be made, and everyone needs to sign off on those compromises in order for there to be no ill will.
Multi track recording is probably the best but I worry about what the contestants get up to as reality shows are not controlled and using radio's could lead to damage if the contestants get involved in some silly things. Carefully placed mics in different locations of the house might be a solution where they are set up above the contestants and are cardioid in pick up pattern with a good reach. Is this a pre-taped reality show or live to broadcast?
The fact that you're looking into a Pro Tools LE rig with a 16 channel mixer says to me that budget is at least a bit of an issue. That being the case, you're going to have to invest some serious cash (even in just rentals) to get 12 wireless packs that are frequency agile over a wide range of bandwidths to prevent interference and cross-talk. And that's just from each other, not counting local radio interference sources. You may want to look closely at the idea of plant mics, and a boom or two, in addition to some lavs.
Reality production sound is a lot of work and often difficult to control, much like documentary sound (especially with a 1 man sound crew). You'll definitely need wireless lavs for the contestants, which like NoiseJockey said will not be cheap. The Sennheiser G3 systems run around $650 or so, but definitely don't perform on the same level as the Lectro 400 series wireless.
I would definitely recommend checking out Jeff Wexler's excellent production sound forum and reviewing past posts, especially the section about recording straight into computer. Boom Reorder might be a good option instead of ProTools, since it's streamlined for production sound computer recording.