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Is TV/ video/ film sound getting worse?

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Is TV/ video/ film sound getting worse?

Postby Tomás Mulcahy » Sat Nov 16, 2019 2:01 pm

It's becoming more common for me to experience muffled dialogue, dialogue that's too quiet, dialogue that's inconsistent, and music and atmos that's mixed too loud- to the detriment of the dialogue.

Is this just me? I kinda think it isn't, because there is still good stuff out there where the sound just works and you can get on with enjoying the story.

I just find it so distracting when the sound goes wrong.

I think most people don't specifically notice the sound, but I believe people switch off when there's too much subconscious effort to hear the actual dialogue.

It's hard to post examples since most of them are on Netflix or RTE (the Irish national broadcaster, they're often quite bad). BBC and Channel 4 are usually perfect, exemplary productions IME.

Here's one produced for A-ha https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Lho0_9-V-8 it's on their official YT channel. You'd think a music act would be on top of the sound, right? Wrong!

Great doc but music is too loud and dialogue is inconsistent. Nile Rodgers sounds like they ended up using camera sound. Someone felt compelled to put subtitles on the off-camera interviewer's question to Mags, even though it is perfectly audible All done with lavs which probably shows the problem- no sound crew on location!! And why couldn't they source un-mastered (i.e. not squashed to death) audio for the music track?? Then adjust dialogue to match, watch the LUFS meter, job done... that stuff can be automated.

Why the hell is sound so bad?!?!?!??
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Re: Is TV/ video/ film sound getting worse?

Postby MOF » Sat Nov 16, 2019 2:24 pm

In a word ‘budget’, there was a time when a sound recordist was a necessary member of the team but productions would rather have one/two cameramen handling the sound. Also editors do the sound now instead of a dubbing mixer, that’s why a lot of news material has a radio mic’ plus the camera mic’ faded up to give that flanging sound.
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Re: Is TV/ video/ film sound getting worse?

Postby fruitcake » Sat Nov 16, 2019 2:57 pm

Another reason is a shift in the way actors deliver lines. I work in film/tv. I’ve noticed many actors (well known, experienced ones, at that) speak very softly when cameras are rolling. Perhaps they feel it’s more dramatic. Speaking clearly is a lost art. That coupled with the fact that everyone on set has a script and knows what the words should be, don’t get that those without a script have no idea what’s being said.
Watch a movie from several decades ago, they tend to enunciate and project their words better. There’s also less foley and music at the same time as dialogue.
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Re: Is TV/ video/ film sound getting worse?

Postby Tomás Mulcahy » Sat Nov 16, 2019 5:32 pm

Hi MOF.

Good points! Ya, video editors doing sound is not good. That said, I'm training people to be able to do everything on a production- that's driven both by lower budgets and reduced cost of the tools/ tech. Good or bad? Debatable. But that's the way it's going... hence our problem with sound here!
MOF wrote: to give that flanging sound.
RTE do that on the Late Late Show, have done for years and years. Cardioid on (hard) desk plus lav on talent. "Sher dats de way we always dunnit" :protest:

fruitcake wrote:Another reason is a shift in the way actors deliver lines. I work in film/tv. I’ve noticed many actors (well known, experienced ones, at that) speak very softly when cameras are rolling. Perhaps they feel it’s more dramatic. Speaking clearly is a lost art. That coupled with the fact that everyone on set has a script and knows what the words should be, don’t get that those without a script have no idea what’s being said.
Watch a movie from several decades ago, they tend to enunciate and project their words better. There’s also less foley and music at the same time as dialogue.
Yes!! Very true.
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Re: Is TV/ video/ film sound getting worse?

Postby Ariosto » Sat Nov 16, 2019 7:06 pm

fruitcake wrote:Another reason is a shift in the way actors deliver lines. I work in film/tv. I’ve noticed many actors (well known, experienced ones, at that) speak very softly when cameras are rolling. Perhaps they feel it’s more dramatic. Speaking clearly is a lost art. That coupled with the fact that everyone on set has a script and knows what the words should be, don’t get that those without a script have no idea what’s being said.
Watch a movie from several decades ago, they tend to enunciate and project their words better. There’s also less foley and music at the same time as dialogue.

Absolutely right! The young actors, and I notice it particularly with female actors, obviously do not get trained properly these days, and add to that, directors who are pretty useless, and scriptwriters and plots that are ridiculously complicated, and you have a recipe for rubbish, and compelling reasons to use the "off" switch. All the channels including the once great BBC are guilty.

And yes, the use of overly loud sound effects and music also muck up the sound balance.
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Re: Is TV/ video/ film sound getting worse?

Postby Hugh Robjohns » Sat Nov 16, 2019 7:48 pm

I think there a lots of factors in this... The terrible sound quality of the built-in (and usually rear-facing) speakers of most flat-screen tellies certainly doesn't help.

And neither does the fact that most young TV directors seem to think they're aspiring Hollywood directors and approach their film-making with the wrong mindset completely.

And its made worse by the very nature of independent programme making, which often means post-production in film-style dubbing theatres with big screens and surround sound.

And then there's the training... Back in my day, the BBC effectively trained the entire UK industry. It doesn't anymore and hasn't for a long time. It's entirely reliant on universities and specialist colleges, and while a couple are good, I perceive a bias in expectations towards the film industry rather than TV.
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Re: Is TV/ video/ film sound getting worse?

Postby CS70 » Sat Nov 16, 2019 7:57 pm

I think Hugh may have a point about the TV speakers..

I just listened to the YT video on Ah-ah at my studio and didn't find anything really objectionable with the sound (of course I'm used to the Norwegian way of speaking English.. you should try my Italian accent :D ).

It may be that it doesn't translate well tough, I'll give a try on the flat screen when the little one's finished watching Wanda and the Alien..
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Re: Is TV/ video/ film sound getting worse?

Postby Dan LB » Sat Nov 16, 2019 8:30 pm

Tomás Mulcahy wrote:
MOF wrote: to give that flanging sound.
RTE do that on the Late Late Show, have done for years and years. Cardioid on (hard) desk plus lav on talent. "Sher dats de way we always dunnit" :protest:

Disclaimer: I work on the Late Late Show, not as Sound Supervisor but as PA and monitor engineer in the studio so have a split feed of all the mics that are used on air (except the audience mics). I don't work on it every week but I do the show quite regularly.

The Late Late Show is done with Sennheiser MKE2 lavs on SK6212 digital transmitters, picked up by EM6000 receivers. The presenter and all guests wear these.
This current system has been installed for about a year now.

The previous system was again, high-end Sennheiser but analogue (5000 series using MKE2s).
That system was around 10 to 12 years old when it got replaced.

The presenter's desk mic used to be a Sennheiser MKH8050 (hypercardioid) and was only ever there to use in the event of a failure as the show is broadcast live - I don't think that mic was ever used on air. The desk has been removed for this season so the 'standby' mic is now a Senneiser ME36 miniature shotgun. The guest 'standby' mics are also Sennheiser ME36s and again these are only used if a radio mic dies or becomes unusable due to clothing rustle or what have you. I personally hate the look of these mics on set and don't feel the need for them.

I'm not sure what the 'flanging sound' is that you refer to.
It most certainly is not a desk mic and a lav mic open at the same time on talent. Like I said I don't do the broadcast mix but of the people that do, some are better than others.

I agree in general though about the need for an improvement in the sound mix for many TV and film productions.

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Re: Is TV/ video/ film sound getting worse?

Postby MOF » Sat Nov 16, 2019 8:55 pm

I'm not sure what the 'flanging sound' is that you refer to.

That’s when it’s at its worst i.e. when the talent keeps moving towards the camera you can hear the constantly changing delay between the two mic’s.
The rest of the time it makes outdoor pieces to camera sound like they’re in some kind of acoustic environment because you’re perceiving an early reflection.
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Re: Is TV/ video/ film sound getting worse?

Postby MOF » Sat Nov 16, 2019 9:29 pm

I'm training people to be able to do everything on a production- that's driven both by lower budgets and reduced cost of the tools/ tech.

I don’t have anything against multi-tasking so long as there is sufficient training and time to do each task well plus a willingness to be trained.
The ‘jack of all trades, master of none’ is a potential problem. If you’re reluctant to do other jobs you won’t learn the roles you’re not interested in or at least go the extra mile to apply that knowledge.
Some jobs can’t be done properly e.g. sound recording while doing complicated camera work.
A locked-off talking head shot is doable, but focus pulling, constant reframing while monitoring (really listening) and adjusting sound levels at the same time is not.
This isn’t helped by most cameramen using earbuds or low profile open backed headphones, one side is often pushed out of the way so they can get their eye into the rubber eye cup.
Some of the best video editors where I used to work (with industry awards to prove it) started out in the sound department, so it is possible to excel at several roles, time permitting.
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Re: Is TV/ video/ film sound getting worse?

Postby James Perrett » Sat Nov 16, 2019 11:01 pm

Dan LB wrote:I'm not sure what the 'flanging sound' is that you refer to.
It most certainly is not a desk mic and a lav mic open at the same time on talent. Like I said I don't do the broadcast mix but of the people that do, some are better than others.

I had a quick listen to last night's show to see what the fuss was about - so far I'm just on the first interview and the flanging is slightly noticeable on the host's voice from about 3 minutes onwards. I'm guessing that the host knows how to project on stage so is talking fairly loudly while the young girl he is interviewing has a much quieter voice so her mic is picking up his voice as well. Edited to add: I also notice that the host has two lav mics - could this be the reason for the problem as, now I've reached the Harry Connick Jr section, the problem appears worse on the hosts mic?

I would add that I'm being very picky here - there are plenty of UK TV programmes that have similar issues if you listen to them through a decent sound system as improving this would probably require constantly riding faders with the chance that you would miss something important.
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Re: Is TV/ video/ film sound getting worse?

Postby Stratman57 » Sat Nov 16, 2019 11:58 pm

The Director/Writer who I work with as a stage manager has said in the past that a lot of the acting schools now seem to be focussing on TV type acting, so they do all seem to speak very quietly, as if they are close mic'd rather than projecting for a live audience. She does a great warm up routine with both professional actors and the kids we do drama projects with, which consists of what she calls different levels, the first is as if you were talking to someone next to you, the next is addressing a small room, the next is a large hall and finally an open air space.

The result is that nobody needs mic'ing up for the spaces our performances take place in.

Regards, Simon.
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Re: Is TV/ video/ film sound getting worse?

Postby Hugh Robjohns » Sun Nov 17, 2019 12:32 am

Stratman57 wrote:The Director/Writer who I work with as a stage manager has said in the past that a lot of the acting schools now seem to be focussing on TV type acting, so they do all seem to speak very quietly, as if they are close mic'd rather than projecting for a live audience.

Actually, I thinks it's a film-type acting. Actors can mumble and work with low voices to maximise the required mood during the takes, safe in the knowledge that the dialogue will be replaced in post anyway. The sync sound gathered on set is often only ever a guide track.

They then carry that same style over into TV work, not least because the directors like to play at being a big Hollywood directors and think that's the way to do it..., but the budget may well not be sufficient to allow lots of ADR in post, so it all becomes a nightmare recovery job for the sound team.

The point made earlier is also very valid -- all the production staff are intimately familiar with the script, so they 'hear' the right dialogue regardless or whether the actors say it audibly or not.

And I've lost count of the number of times location sound recordists have told me they've raised an issue on set about inaudible dialogue and been overruled. And in a freelance industry there's a limit to how far you can push the point if you want to work tomorrow...
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Re: Is TV/ video/ film sound getting worse?

Postby Stratman57 » Sun Nov 17, 2019 12:53 am

I agree completely Hugh, it's very easy to believe the dialogue is audible when I have the prompt copy in front of me, so I know what I'm expecting to hear, and of course I do.

But I do notice what the OP said in some circumstances, even though I have our TV connected via digital optical out to an AV amp and speakers, so no rubbish TV speakers involved. (Running into front left, centre, right with two rear speakers. My subwoofer didn't like being in storage and the driver surround rotted away). Even with no dynamic range compression to limit the final output level.

Regards, Simon.
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Re: Is TV/ video/ film sound getting worse?

Postby MOF » Sun Nov 17, 2019 2:22 am

I also notice that the host has two lav mics - could this be the reason for the problem as, now I've reached the Harry Connick Jr section, the problem appears worse on the hosts mic?

If they’re both on the same clip then one mic’s there as a spare. If there’s one on each side of a jacket it’s to allow for head turning (personally I prefer to get the mic’s centrally positioned) this is a situation where in theory you could get time domain issues, but since they’re equal distance from the mouth it might not be a problem, I’ve never tried it.
It’s when there’s a large difference in distance between the mic’s and the sound source that you get the comb filtering/flanging effect.
A lot of news reports are done outside and it’s that apparent interior acoustic that I find so annoying. Either just the lapel mic’ should be used or if that sounds too close and un-natural then a loop of ‘clean’ camera mic’ atmos’ should be added, but not the (atmos’) track recorded at the same time as the radio mic’ track.
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Re: Is TV/ video/ film sound getting worse?

Postby Dan LB » Sun Nov 17, 2019 3:39 am

James Perrett wrote: I also notice that the host has two lav mics - could this be the reason for the problem as, now I've reached the Harry Connick Jr section, the problem appears worse on the hosts mic?

I would add that I'm being very picky here - there are plenty of UK TV programmes that have similar issues if you listen to them through a decent sound system as improving this would probably require constantly riding faders with the chance that you would miss something important.

Ah sorry, now I understand what you're talking about, yes, it would appear that both the presenter's lav mics were open on the broadcast mix. In studio I tend to ride the faders between those two mics depending on what section of the show we're in and what direction the presenter is facing. A single mic on the presenter's tie would work so much better I feel.

On listening back to some of last night's show on headphones, it appears that the PA was a little on the hot side too which ends up colouring the broadcast mix - my bad :oops: It's a fine balance as the production team like the PA to be fairly punchy. The studio audience was configured differently yesterday too to accommodate the full NSO.
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Re: Is TV/ video/ film sound getting worse?

Postby Tomás Mulcahy » Sun Nov 17, 2019 10:35 am

Dan LB wrote:
James Perrett wrote:
On listening back to some of last night's show on headphones, it appears that the PA was a little on the hot side too which ends up colouring the broadcast mix - my bad :oops: It's a fine balance as the production team like the PA to be fairly punchy. The studio audience was configured differently yesterday too to accommodate the full NSO.
Hi Dan, great to hear from someone on the production! And I'm relieved to hear that I'm not the only one hearing it. And super relieved to see that it's been taken seriously. I know a live broadcast can't be perfect, but I strongly believe that adding phasing or reverb to dialogue makes the audience (subconsciusly) switch off because the brain has to work harder to extract the signal.

Phasing from the PA has been there for years as well, particularly when audience is faded up at the end of a musical performance. What are the audience mics? The BBC way is to use fig 8s overhead with the PA in the null. Works really well, as you'd expect from the Beeb. Maybe the PA is getting on open lavs?

My favourite example of great live TV dialogue/ sound is University Challenge. Teams are on super-cardioid desk mics, desk is acoustically treated and the 3:1 rule is (almost) always adhered to. Presenter has a lav where the bas tilt is deployed to add to the gravitas. Defo fig 8s on audience as well. I think that format is about 50 years old?
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Re: Is TV/ video/ film sound getting worse?

Postby The Bunk » Sun Nov 17, 2019 12:16 pm

Back to the whole "actor" issue, I've recently been watching a lot of old Black and White / B Movie films on the "retro" channels such as Talking Pictures and TCM. In many of them you'll see some legendary actors (Peter Sellers and Richard Attenborough in one film in particular immediately spring to mind) at the start of their careers. In most cases there is no soundtrack, no music or sound effects, certainly no CGI or trickery etc; so the whole film is made by, and depends on, the acting alone. And to me that makes for a much better film than any amount of gumph thrown into the mix. I was watching "Independence Day" last night (I really had nothing else to do!) and it was just so overblown and badly done I couldn't watch any more..
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Re: Is TV/ video/ film sound getting worse?

Postby Brian M Rose » Sun Nov 17, 2019 1:54 pm

Hugh Robjohns wrote:And I've lost count of the number of times location sound recordists have told me they've raised an issue on set about inaudible dialogue and been overruled. And in a freelance industry there's a limit to how far you can push the point if you want to work tomorrow...

Quite! Time was when it was not only valid, but a requirement of BBC Film Dept to put "SUP" (Shot Under Protest) on the clapper board. Even as a freelance cameraman working for the Beeb I was expected to do this. But back then, the very idea of not having a proper sound crew was unthinkable.
At least working in radio (even if it's local hospital/community radio) you have to get the sound absolutely right.
And yes, those very expensive flat screen televisions. The built-in sound is often indeed quite useless - just bought a Panasonic sound bar to prove the point....
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Re: Is TV/ video/ film sound getting worse?

Postby Tomás Mulcahy » Sun Nov 17, 2019 2:49 pm

CS70 wrote:I just listened to the YT video on Ah-ah at my studio and didn't find anything really objectionable with the sound (of course I'm used to the Norwegian way of speaking English.. you should try my Italian accent :D ).
LOL. It was the overly-loud music that was the most objectionable. I'm not using the horrific built in speakers on the TV. Instead I have an original pair of JPW mini monitors with a cheap but good class D amp driving them. Not studio monitors, but they're usually nice and clear with an engaging sound. So maybe it is just me/ my setup.

MOF wrote:I don’t have anything against multi-tasking so long as there is sufficient training and time to do each task well plus a willingness to be trained.
Agreed. We've a few graduates who are top notch and guess what, they get the gigs. So we must be doing something right LOL.
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