Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Graduation Recording

Back in June, myself and my wife made a trip to sunny Las Vegas, a routine we have found ourselves in since by some coincidence both of our families moved to the area a few years ago. This time was a little more special in occasion as my little sister Crystal was graduating from high school.

As always these days, as I reached for the family camera to record the event I also grabbed the trusty Sony PCM-D50 to capture the days audio. (I must add that my Sony recorder costs 3x what our little camera costs. Priorities, you know!) The biggest intention I had for audio that day was to record my sisters name as it was being called out over the rental PA that you usually see at both high school and college graduations. To my surprise though, due to the extreme Las Vegas heat the graduation was indoors! The graduation took place in the comfort of the very large and climate controlled Orleans Casino Music Auditorium. The opportunity for recording a graduation was never higher with near perfect conditions and a decent sounding room.

This is where I must remind my fellow sound designers of my first blog post,  Seven Steps to Being a Better Photographer, I mean Sound Designer, where rule number 1 states: Always have a camera in your hand or your pocket or your purse or your car or all of the above. Always. No exceptions. The rule paid off in strides as I left the event with almost 20 minutes of material from different perspectives in the room.

So for you listening AND downloading pleasure as a 16bit, 44.1khz file, a Las Vegas graduation recording.

Graduation Crowd 1 by nickmeade

And for my little sister from a proud brother, here is a small audio clip of the entire family yelling and screaming as Crystal received her diploma.

Crystal with Family Cheering.L by nickmeade

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Creating Custom Cables for Field Recording

One of the lessons I have learned in my career is that good gear is hard to find. Great purchases always require a decent amount of research and even then you may not always find what you are looking for, especially in the specialized world of sound effects recording. For example, I was recently in the market for a 2-channel cable for my stereo MKH-30/MKH-60 combo rig. As there were no commercially available solutions that I was particularly fond of, I decided to build a cable from scratch with the exact materials I would like to see in a quality stereo mic cable.

My goal in this tutorial is to show the basics in custom cable construction, not specifically give instruction in soldering. For specifics in the art of soldering check out YouTube and enter a search criteria such as "How to Solder," where I was easily able to find approximately 5600 videos on the subject.

The first requirement in making good customs cables is good tools. Below you will see a picture of the basic tools I use when creating cables: Soldering Gun, Wire Strippers, Multi-Meter, Gator Clip Stand, and of course a small torch for heat shrink. (My favorite tool!)

Next we need the actual supplies for the cable itself. It is very important to buy quality components when building cables. For this build I am using Mogami W2739 4-core cable with Neutrik Black and Gold XLR's. One of the goals of this build was to create a stereo cable that was ultra light for field recording but also possessed enough quality to stand the rigors of the field. The W2739 cable is close to 1/4 the size of a standard mic cable, but is still rigid enough for field use. I am also using .125", .1875" and .25" shrink tubing to protect all exposed wire strands in the cable.

A close up of the shrink tube I am using. The clear shrink tube is for the ground lead, while the black is for the W2739. I will explain the use for both.

To start, clip the end of your cable so that you have a nice clean pice of wire to begin with.

This particular cable (W2739) has 4 conductors and a shield.

The shield will be used as the ground for the cable. Carefully take the shield strands and wind them into one single strand as shown below.

Next, take the 4 individual conductors and group them into 2-pairs. The grouping of the pairs does not matter as long as they are consistent throughout the project. I grouped the colored strands into one pair and the shaded strands into another.

It is now time to install the shrink tube on the exposed ground lead. This will prevent the possibility of any shorts in the future. I am also taking the time to apply solder to the tips of the leads to prevent any unraveling of the strands during the installation.

Soldering irons come in many shapes and price points. I use this $50 Weller workstation and have literally completed hundreds of projects with it. It also collapses nicely to fit into my toolbox. I have the iron set to approximately 80% power for this project.

After the cable is prepped, slide the back of the XLR connector onto the cable as well as the piece of shrink tube for the cable itself.

Now I will add a little solder to the XLR connector itself. I like to prep as much as I can before I actually solder the cable to the connector as it provides for a much cleaner joint.

One mistake I often see is people make when making cables is fill the cups of the XLR connector with solder. Try to use enough solder to get the job done; not so much as to fill the cups and make de-soldering a nightmare, but enough solder so that the cable does not fail due to cracked joints caused by rough handling.

Neutrik conveniently labels their connector terminals with numbers to make sure you get the cable in the right place every time. Just remember what XLR stands for when soldering XLR cables: X=1 for Ground, L=2 for Live, R=3 for Return. Below I have attached the ground to terminal 1. I will attach the colored wires to Terminal 2 (L=Live) and the Shades to Terminal 3. (R=Return)

Here is what the finished soldering job looks like. Clean and polished, with enough solder to retain a good, stable connection but not so much that if I needed to remove the cable from the terminal it would be an issue to de-solder. The only issue with the picture below is that the place where the cable sleeve ends has exposed shield material, which I will now cover with the shrink tube we slid onto the cable before soldering began.

With the cable sealed up with multiple layers of shrink tube we are now in business for a long lasting, hard-working cable that will stand up to years of field recording abuse.

To finish this end of the XLR simply slide the protective plastic sleeve and cover on and screw it together with the back piece you installed earlier. If you forgot to install the back before you soldered the cable, you will now have to de-solder the cable, install the back piece, and re-solder the cable back together again.

Since I need a stereo cable, I am repeating the steps I performed above to solder an XLR to a second cable and will use several pieces of shrink tube to link the two cables together. There is tubing available for purchase that can cover the entire cable, but in turn creates a more rigid cable than I want for field applications.

Difficult to see but here is the entire 15' cable linked together with multiple 1.5" pieces of shrink tube.

Now that I have the cables linked together, I will solder on the opposing connectors to the cable and create a finished product. A pic of the completed cable.

I like to check all of my new cables with a continuity tester before I go into the field.

If you have never used a Multi-Meter before I recommend checking one out. The meter I use checks everything from resistance to amperage to voltage. The setting you see below is used for checking continuity, which is simply a test to make sure path 1 connects to path 1, not path 2, or path 3, and so on...

Simply insert one end of the test node into the female XLR. Then test the matching terminal on the male side of the cable. A terminal with continuity will make the Multi-Meter beep or output some sort of signal. (Depending on your make and model) For example, Ground to Ground should have continuity, not Ground to Live. Also take the time to check for shorted connections. If pin 1 has continuity with pin 2 for example, you have a short and need to evaluate your cable before proceeding.

I always label my cables. In this case I am labeling them LT and RT.

I do not have time to worry about which cable is which while in the field. Always label your multi-channel cables!

And there you have it! A good looking and very flexible cable for field recording.

Here is a look at one of the other options in 2-channel cables. My cable is much lighter and way more flexible then this Mogami 2-pair AES/Analog cable.

Another comparison view of the cables.

For the last touch I always like to add a Bongo Tie to keep the cable neat while in storage.

Let me know of any feedback you may have and happy soldering!

Nick Meade
Audio Enthusiast

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Fun with Plug-Ins

I have to say I love great plug-ins that get the job done in a hurry. Below you will find a list of plug-ins I compiled from a recent conversation on Gear Sluts. I know there are are many great plug-ins still missing so please feel free to comment below and let me know what you have to contribute. I will maintain this list on my website as new plug-ins are added. Now go make some Noise!!!

Great Utilities:
Dropbox - 2gb of free online storage. Best app for getting files to clients
Simplenote - A must have app to get notes between your iPhone or Blackberry and your computer
Find Any File - In my opinion the best Spotlight replacement for finding files on your Mac

Friday, April 16, 2010

Seven Steps to Being a Better Photographer, I mean Sound Designer

Welcome to The Educated Sound Designer

As a sound designer, re-recording mixer and all-around audio enthusiast, it is my goal to inform others of my experiences in the field and encourage other sound designers to do the same. You can expect software and hardware reviews, tips and techniques, and tutorials. My current blog schedule contains the following:
  • A review of the recent acquisition of Euphonix by AVID
  • A series dedicated to the discussion of how some of our favorite sound effects work, such as chorus, flangers, and convolution-based plug-ins
  • Testing and gear reviews (I already have an onmi lav mic shootout lined up for later this month that I plan on using for an upcoming car recording and a children's birthday party)
These are just a few of the topics I plan to post and discuss. If there is a particular topic you would like to understand in further detail, or if you have a great idea for a future posting, please feel free to send me a message at nick@nickmeade.com or through my Contacts page on this site.

For this first post at The Educated Sound Designer I am going to reference an article originally intended for photographers that is completely relevant for sound designers as well, Scott Bourne's Seven Things You Can Do If You REALLY Want To Become A Better Photographer.

I have been following Scott Bourne, a well-known professional photographer and lecturer, for about 2 years now. I first heard of him through the Macbreak Weekly podcast hosted by Leo Laporte. Scott was the first to bend my ear on the Drobo, which I now own (and love) for my sound effects storage needs, and has shared numerous thoughts and insights that I found valuable and incorporated into my own professional life. Scott has a very focused and organized approach to the way he conducts his business and, for the most part, the same approach can be used in the audio world. Check Scott out on his website, photofocus.com, and on Twitter at @ScottBourne.

The reason the article Seven Things You Can Do If You REALLY Want To Become A Better Photographer caught my eye is that, as much as we discuss sound design in our forums and discussion groups, we rarely (if ever) talk about the discipline it takes to be a great sound designer. Many of the greats that we commonly refer to in our sound design discussions got their start without the luxury of the time-saving tools we have access to today.

Our hand-held PCM recorders and digital sequencers are the replacements for their heavy Nagra tape recorders and large-format Moviolas. Today we can easily highlight a region in Pro Tools, run the audio through hundreds of Audiosuite-based plug-ins and create an unlimited variety of sounds, but before digital sequencers, they used 1/4” tape and a rack full of gear to get each sound they were looking to create. Serious time and commitment were required to master the art of using these tools, but in this day and age of “we needed it yesterday” and Lynda.com, we sometimes forget that the greatest element in creating a truly amazing sound designer is his discipline.

Here are the "Seven Things" from Scott's article:
  1. Always have a camera in your hand or your pocket or your purse or your car or all of the above. Always. No exceptions.
  2. Read your manual – please. 90% of the camera questions I receive on Photofocus can be answered by reading a camera manual. In fact, when I am asked questions about cameras I don’t own, I simply go download a PDF of the manual, search for and read the answer. You can do that too :)
  3. Photograph SOMETHING every single day. No exceptions. No excuses. Photograph as much as you can every single day. Don’t just take a snapshot, make a picture. Think about what you’re doing. Focus. Pun intended.
  4. Look at LOTS and LOTS and LOTS of photographs every day. Look at published photographs in books, magazines, on billboards, in advertisements and on the web. Ask yourself – “Why did they light it like that?” or “Why did she put the subject on that side of the photo?” or “What made the editor select this shot over another?” Asking serious questions of yourself about the photos you look at will make you think.
  5. Experiment. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Try different angles. Shoot during different times of day. Get outside your comfort zone.
  6. Read. Read something about photography every single day – no excuses. Take five, 10 or even 15 minutes and study the articles found on this site and others. Buy a book by Scott Kelby. Go to the library and ask for photography books. Read, study, learn, apply.
  7. Share. Show your work to others. Ask them how it stacks up to the work they see in newspapers, books and magazines. Be willing to experience some criticism and see if you can use that information to get better.
There’s no magic camera that “takes good pictures.” Photographers do that. The camera just waits to be told what to do. Try practicing these seven steps regularly and you’ll become a better boss of your camera.

I've left the application of these points as they relate to sound design to your own creative minds, and I'm interested to hear what you've come up with. One of the site pillars I want to establish with this first blog is open discussion and feedback, so please share your thoughts and comments below.

Until next time,
Nick Meade

-The excerpt above was used with permission. Click HERE for the original article in it’s entirety.