I recently purchased Izotope RX and I am blown away by it's abilities to remove noise and hum and such from recordings. It really is as good as what people have claimed it to be!

However, I just finished shooting for three days on a TV drama in locations that were really the pits as far as sound environments for clean dialogue go. The previous soundie told me that had been the norm for the last 7 months of shooting he had been doing with the show and as far as he knew they used Izotope or a similar software to fix this in post. He told me he would end up doing nothing on set other than ensuring good levels and room tones and forget about the noise in the back ground (Highways with trucks, cars and motorbikes, air-conditioning systems, generators etc). This seemed rather obscene to me.

The question arose in my head: The fact that I know that the final mix chaps (chapettes) have the ability to clean up my recordings, would I still attempt to get as pristine dialogue recordings as I could, given the environment I was subjected to or would I simply sit back and be complacent and put my faith in the final mix noise removal systems? My conclusion: I would try my utmost and record as if there was no noise removal system in place, as I have recorded for the last three years.

Dont get me wrong, I believe that Izotope RX is a god send for those days where location is the pits, but most of the work I do involves my sound going to some other place (not my studio) for post work and my name goes with it and I don't know if they will be able to fix the faults that I know are there. It just seems to me that the technology advances have a spin off and the newer sound recordists emerging out there have a lot of crutches they depend on, instead of learning the means to obtain a good product that needs very little or no post production in order to sound good.


10 Answers 10


Interesting...I had this thought a while back as a production mixer came in with my client, handed off some material, gave me a sheet with channel assignments and notes and said, "It sounds pretty noisy now, but you have noise reduction stuff, right? I mean, that is your job anyway, right?"

While we can do a lot more at a quicker pace in post than we used to, there are times where even Izotope RX will not save you. Besides budgets in post are being cut and time booked to complete a project is shorter and shorter, limiting my ability to address every issue on every project. Furthermore, extra money spent fixing audio issues to raise the audibility of sound is often subtracted from sound design and mix, making the end project less effective and sophisticated.

If I was asked about the quality of production audio by a client, which I often am, and I felt the quality was poor and the production sound guy's attitude was that we can fix anything in post verses a situation where he was doing the best he could in a bad situation, I would advise the client ( and I have once or twice....) to use someone with a higher standard of quality next time.

I do what I do in order to make an engaging project. I would never advise against someone who communicated that he tried all he could and the situation was just very poor for recording, but to do a lesser job because you think slack can be picked up somewhere else in another department is not fair to the client or the project. This may sound harsh, but, I would expect someone to do the same to me if I did my job without giving a full effort and applying all possible resources to making my stage in the process as pristine as possible.

  • Well put @MixingManiac. May 1, 2011 at 12:53
  • Indeed, well put and I share your sentiments, thanks for commenting May 2, 2011 at 7:24
  • Exactly my thoughts. Good post
    – Ryanhdd
    May 2, 2011 at 13:27

"Fix it in post"

"Can't you handle it later?"

I liken it to the musician who doesn't learn the song and basically plays the notes of the melody but ASSUMES the Pro Tools operator can nudge the notes perfectly in time. That's what digital recording has done to the musician. Back in the old days, the Beatles would do their albums in pretty much one take on 4 tracks. Insane huh? Now, if the musician screws up, instead of immediately saying "Oops, let me take that again so it's perfect", he says "WHY CAN'T YOU JUST NUDGE IT INTO TIME?!?!" as if you're doing something wrong or didn't do a good job, when he's the one who screwed up.

EDIT: One thing I wanted to add when I just re-read the question is that:

Most audio "tricks" and "miracles" only occur when the original recording was horrible to begin with. Capturing the audio on set in as high quality as possible is the key to having a great mix. It doesn't matter how much fancy restoration software and hardware you have to reconstruct bad recordings with, they will never sound as good as a proper recording done under ideal conditions on a set. This is said IMHO from years of experience with poor field recording audio that has had to undergo miracles to make anything of it. (for example, a singing trio where the mic was placed backwards, lapel mics placed under the person's chin to collect all the wind from Ss and Ts, and waterfalls, generators, ocean wash, etc. etc. etc.)

  • You sound bitter. Everything ok pumpkin?
    – g.a.harry
    May 1, 2011 at 20:18
  • @g.a.harry Everything is peachy! :) I sound bitter because I recorded an album recently where practically every single musician in the band could not carry the tune on their own and actually required LOTS of pitch correction and timing correction - even the drummer. We even had to bring in a studio drummer to overdub the parts the drummer couldn't play. It's not like the old days anymore, and I miss how some bands had the rule of "If we can't play it live, it doesn't go on the album". Sometimes, the mixer I work with tells me NOT to reveal how much leeway we have in Pro Tools and how much we
    – Utopia
    May 1, 2011 at 21:17
  • are able to fix later because then they won't use it as such a crutch during recording. In that case, they have no choice but to re-do it. I also have 2-inch machines we sometimes whip out to make it sound a certain way and in that case we definitely need good musicians!
    – Utopia
    May 1, 2011 at 21:18
  • Ooooh, the pitch correction. I despise that F$ck!%g thing. You should just run them all through a vocoder and be done with it. Although, it occurs to me that you could have quite a bit of fun writing bass counterpoint into the kickdrum line. Actually, I think I'm going to try that.
    – g.a.harry
    May 2, 2011 at 10:25
  • @g.a.harry Yeah. We had to melodyne a lot of stuff. It was tedious and unnecessary but I guess that's what happens when the technology like that gets more and more advanced and people rely on it more and more.
    – Utopia
    May 2, 2011 at 16:39

I've slagged off a lot of recordists to directors and producers in the last year, but I also do sound recording and realise how hard it can be. Sometimes this noise is unavoidable, especially if it's not a high budget production where you can close off streets, demand things to be switched off, build a set in a studio or be fighting against time to get things shot.

Noise reduction software has really closed the gap between top end films and short/low budge productions.

  • As the production sound mixer of The King's Speech said in his Soundworks interview, sometimes it's better NOT to block off the streets because people might make MORE noise than if the street was open with honking and being angry that the street is blocked off to their use for just a movie. :-)
    – Utopia
    May 1, 2011 at 21:21

Fantastic question.

To be honest, I'm torn. I can't speak for location recordists and hardly dare speak about them (after all, they carry very long metal sticks), but I do have a very little experience working as a boom op with a few different mixers. It's actually a fascinating gig, especially if you're working with a different mixer every shoot like I was, you get to hear the whole spectrum of opinion.

I agree to a large degree with @Shaun. However, I will add one thing that I noticed during my short tenure as a boomie. There is a gaping communication death void that stands between the production and post-production sound crews. I have never met or even spoken to a single one of the people who have had to mix my work. I have no idea what the recordings actually sound like outside of my headphones. I've heard final mixes (two producers actually sent me a free copy of the DVD. Weird, huh?), but that's definitely not the same thing.

What I'm getting at is that I found that situation extremely frustrating and demoralizing. It was emotionally difficult, not really having time to properly check takes and always having that horrible feeling of burning film for the sake of tape. And then there's day 15 of an outdoor shoot in the middle of Canadian February, where it's impossible not to say "fuck it, they can take that car out in post, I don't give a shit anymore."

I hope all of the location guys here don't take this the wrong way, but a lot of the guys I worked with didn't actually know what is and isn't possible in post. Add to that, as @Shaun said, that a lot of Ps and Ds make it sound like everything can be fixed later (as if they know) or that they don't care either way. In the face of that I can totally understand why some guys might come around to feeling like microphone monkeys whose job is redundant and could be done to an equal standard by a fostex shotgun mounted on a mic stand facing the wrong direcrion.

I think it really needs to be communicated that while we're ecstatic about being able to use RX to get rid of everything but dialogue, we'd rather not. We'd be overjoyed to receive an entire shoot's worth of dialogue that we can drop, chop, and not have to worry about. Or, at least, I would.

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    @g.a.harry Thanks for the comments. I mixed for about two years on my Sound Devices 302 and never had the opportunity of meeting the final mix people either. The only time I would hear my sound was on the final product being aired. Since I have had my 552 after a days work and whilst I type up my sound reports (which I don't think anyone refers to) I listen to my recordings and learn from them, so that when I walk onto a noisy set I can make an informed decision and convey it to the P and D involved. What they want to do there after is however, beyond my control. Ce La Vie! :) May 2, 2011 at 7:40
  • Good point. In my experience, doing a lot of production sound mixing taught me how to be a great dialogue editor (learning to listen). And doing a lot of dialogue editing taught me how to be a good production mixer (knowing what material I need to capture for later and how best to capture it, including wild) Sep 22, 2011 at 10:18

This reminds me of another joke:

This one courtesy UK Production Sound Mixer, Malcolm Davies, A.m.p.s. http://www.winstonsound.com/norespect.html

A man in a hot air balloon realized he was lost. He reduced altitude and spotted a guy below.

He descended a bit more and shouted, "Excuse me, can you help me? I promised a friend I would meet him an hour ago, but I don't know where I am."

The guy below replied, "You are in a hot air balloon hovering approximately 30 feet above the ground. You are between 40 and 41 degrees North latitude and between 59 and 60 degrees West longitude."

"You must be a Production Sound Mixer." said the balloonist.

"I am." replied the guy, "How did you know?"

"Well," answered the balloonist, "everything you told me is technically correct, but I have no idea what to make of your information, and the fact is, I am still lost. Frankly, you've not been much help so far."

The guy below responded, "Then you must be a Producer.

"I am," replied the balloonist, "But how did you know?"

"Well," said the chap, "You don't know where you are or where you are going. You have risen to where you are due to a large quantity of hot air. You made a promise which you have no idea how to keep, and you expect me to solve your problem. The fact is you are in exactly the same position you were in before we met, but now, somehow, it's my fault!"

  • Ah hahahahaha, awesome, thanks for the good laugh! :) Sep 22, 2011 at 14:44
  • The other jokes on that link are hilarious, too! Thanks for sharing.
    – Utopia
    Sep 24, 2011 at 2:21

I think the larger problem has, and always will be, with the producer/director. I'm not laying all the blame on them, because there are lazy recordists out there. There can also be other considerations at work regarding performance/delivery, budget and overall importance. It's their job to look at the big picture, and there may be a cost benefit to ignoring a particular issue and moving on as scheduled.

That being said, there are ones who have a better view than others. Most location recordists will set up a system to notify someone if there are troublesome noise levels, background ambience, etc. Some will try to explain the cost benefits of addressing it there in that moment, over fixing it in post. As MixingManiac pointed out, the costs can be aesthetic in nature as well. Ultimately, it's the producer/director who makes the final call on set.

You've may have had different experiences than I have, Andre...I do mainly post, but some location recording as well...but it's been my experience that most P/D's are infintely more patient with the camera operator than the recordist. I've also, on occassion, been told flat out, "I don't care," after pointing out a sound issue after a particular take. For the most part on set, image is king. You politely mention an issue once, then politely go on about your business after you've been ignored. The assumption that it can be remedied in post usually gets made by someone other than the recordist.

Basically, I agree with you. Keep doing the best you can in a given situation, but maybe that previous soundie had just been completely demoralized after 7 months of being ignored.

  • @Shaun Farley Thanks Shaun, I have had similar cases where image is king all too often, but I have also had the luck of being on documentaries (my favorite medium) where sound is more important than image, due to the information being gleaned. I have and will most likely many times mentioned concerns to producers / directors and most often the case has been, sorry, nothing we can do about the location! Somehow, they manage to get by with the sound I give them, which I hope is a reflection of what I have done and I hope that the final mix chaps didn't have a nightmarish time fixing things. May 2, 2011 at 7:32
  • As to the chap being ignored for 7 months, I feel for him on that level, but I still feel his behavior and attitude it is obscene and it saddens me to see that. Thanks for teh commentary! :) May 2, 2011 at 7:33
  • @Andre - I agree with you on the previous sound recordist. Your work is always a reflection on yourself, especially when it's from less optimal conditions. ;) I definitely prefer the P/D's who give the, "nothing we can do...," line over the, "I don't care line." Even if they respond immediately, it still shows they've at least considered the sound issues of the location. I work on a lot of docs too, and they can get away with more background noise than other forms. Some P/D's actually like having some in that scenario...within reason of course. lol May 2, 2011 at 12:02
  • @Shaun Ture, sometimes the background lends a certain ambience to the shots and thats cool...but as you say, within reason! May 6, 2011 at 17:51

It's a very important issue, but I think that location recorders are not really at fault here. Certainly the location recorders that I know are extremely professional, and proud of their work - they all go out of their way to capture the cleanest, highest quality audio. If a recordist is serious about his/her profession, they will generally be very aware that their reputation is on the line and reputations go a very long way in our line of work.

However, as others have previously discussed, the issue of "fix it in post" is still very common. Although not always the case, I think one of the problems is when budgets are cut, standards often drop, and the sound department is one area that is often affected. It is not uncommon for a "low-budget" production to completely overlook a boom op and use the camera's on-board mics only. This obviously leads to poor quality audio being captured by someone who doesn't really understand how to properly capture audio. See this post for similar a discussion.

Sadly, many people in the production process have become aware of tools such as iZotope RX and many have wrongly come to rely on them.

  • 1
    @Colin Thanks for the commentary, I still have faith in the adage: You're only as good as your last job. May 2, 2011 at 7:41

This discussion reminds me of a joke that a production sound mixer told me once:

A movie crew sets up for a few days in a small town, and encourages the locals to come down to set to be backround extras. Three young ladies from the town see this as an opportunity to find their knights in shining armor to take them from the small town to Hollywood.

After being on set for a few hours, the girls talk to each other to see which of the crew they want to get to "know better". The first of the three says "I think I want to have the director be my guy. He'll put me in the movie and give me some great lines and I'll be a star!" The second girl pipes up and says "I'm going after the DoP. When I'm in a scene he'll go out of his way to make sure that I'm lit correctly and make me look better then the lead actress!" The third girl looks at the other two and says "You two are crazy, I'm going with the sound guy!" Now the other two girls look perplexed and after a few moments the ask her in unison, "Why the sound guy????" The third girl replies, "Haven't you two been paying attention all today? It doesn't matter what is going on, all everyone keeps yelling is 'SCREW SOUND!"


  • @Bill Hehehe, yup thats a classic! :) May 6, 2011 at 17:51

I only glanced at the rest of the replies, so it may have already been said, but I think that's a problem with the digital mediums in general (not that I'll ever move away from them); it's made us lazy. We can fix incredibly horrendous things in post that wouldn't have been feasible even ten years ago.

The way I feel is that if you, as a production recordist, provide the cleanest possible recordings for the people doing post, you will gain a reputation for being a good recordist and as someone that they will want to work with again. That means they'll recommend you, and that means more work.

Also, if you provide the cleanest possible recordings, it means that the audio won't be awful when they do a last minute edit and the audio team has almost no time to make it work.

In closing, do it right so you only have to do it once. Never fix something "next time," because you can't always guarantee there will be a next time.


There is one major advantage to all of this.

As production sound becomes worse our skills are needed more. And while we might have to spend more time on cleaning up poor sound, it makes it more necessary for skilled practitioners to work in post production.


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