Mixing for Reality TV - Audio Post on the Run
Racing the clock to meet reality TV’s fast moving post-production deadlines means time is a luxury that audio pros can’t waste. As mixer for the top-rated A&E Network hit, The First 48, Keith Hodne has only a few days to turn around each 1-hour episode. That’s why he relies on Sonnox Restore to clean up his tracks and get the show out the door. We caught up with him in the spacious mix room at Mega Playground in the West Village of New York City.
How did you get into mixing audio for television?
Well, I’ve been an audio guy since my late teens. I started out DJ’ing and working on electronic music – so there was a natural progression to move into post-production. I recognized early on that if I wanted to be busy and successful, I should head into post. I started off at Pomann Sound in New York, and did a lot of recording and editing, on Disney shows and other TV projects. It was a good way to cut my teeth. I was working with some powerful people in the industry and acquiring solid hands-on experience. From there, I moved deeper into editing and sound design with Disney shows like Jojo Circus, Little Einsteins and Kim Possible.
Then I went right into reality TV. So my background was filled with a nice variety of assignments which got me to the point where I’m doing shows for A&E, Biography Channel, History Channel, indie films and the occasional commercial. I do a ton of mixing and particularly with reality TV, I often encounter audio that may not be the best quality.
What are some of the problems you face with The First 48?
A lot of it is recorded through Lav (lavaliere) mics that are up close and tight, and aren’t always positioned correctly on the detective they’re following. Lots of clicks and pops result from moving either on parts of their jackets or the artillery they’re packing or sometimes even the badge around their neck. I have to mix it down and dirty, which is mainly just paying attention to making it sound good. But considering our time restraints, we have to do this quickly. I’ve worked with a lot of different plug-ins over the years, but have just discovered the Sonnox Restore Suite.
How do you use them?
There are three plug-ins: DeClicker, DeNoiser and DeBuzzer. You can pull them up quickly and have the presets ready to go. To be honest, you’re not messing around too much and you don’t have time to waste experimenting to get the results you need. The great thing about Restore is it’s easy to navigate and gets the job done fast. If this were a feature film project with a massive budget, and I had a lot of time, I could tweak more, but essentially it’s three days in and out – and the show is on TV. I’ve mixed a lot of TV over the past few years and cranked out over 400 hours of programming. Sometimes, it’s 1-2 shows a week, and with only three days for a show, there’s not a lot of time. Plug-ins are a tremendous help, and Restore is especially effective. For example, I can pull up DeClicker, hit a button, and I’m good to go. With my preset and a few minor tweaks, I get the results that I want.
How about a specific example?
I worked on a segment where a nervous rookie cop is chewing gum. Gum clicking is one of those weird sounds that’s really tough to eliminate quickly either with automation or by using the pencil tool. I originally mixed the sequence before I had the Sonnox plug-ins, and I really wasn’t satisfied with the result. So, when I started working with the Oxford DeClicker I took my automation and dropped it in every spot where the guy was chewing. It was amazing to see how it easily removed that clicking/popping sound with just a few mouse clicks. Just using one of the DeClicker presets, worked great. But then I pulled the sensitivity down a bit and processed it. It’s pretty crazy. You can still hear a little of the gum if you focus in on it, but the obvious chew clicking is essentially gone.
I had the clients here, and after mixing a 140+ episodes of The First 48 for them, they’re hard to impress. When you can pull something like this out of your bag of tricks, its pretty remarkable. They picked up on the difference immediately and told me it’s the best plug-in I’ve pulled up for them.
What else do you rely on in the Restore Suite?
DeNoiser is terrific. I primarily use it as a simple soft dialogue shave-off. It helps get a little bit of that harshness out. In some instances, I’ll actually use it on clips that don’t have that much noise on them, but in a backwards way, it helps me eliminate some of the ‘jagged’ sound you get from low quality mics.
We sometimes work on sequences where on-camera subjects are running through bushes or underbrush. You’ll never be able to remove all that stuff, but you can pull some of the harshness off it. I’ll also bring up the Warmth control on the output, which helps make the sound more satisfying and accessible. The clips I’m de-noising often tend to be brittle, so the Warmth smoothes it out a touch. It helps it sit better in the mix. That’s key to what I do. Once I get a good sound, I’m off and running to the next clip.
Occasionally I’ll encounter a combination of Lav and Boom mics, but you have to work with what you have. These tools are a good way for me to get through the show within the time I’ve got to work with. Deadlines are unforgiving. The Restore plug-ins allow me to focus on sweetening the scene, instead of spending 15 minutes taking the noise out.
This is reality TV - viewers should feel like they’re right in there. In most cases, all the ambience is tied into the dialogue. That’s what you have to work with. Unless you’re going to spend time sound-designing these sections, which I do when I can, but generally you’re locked into three days to get the show done. Within that window, six hours are devoted to working directly with the client, including the layback. So it’s really just two days to get the show done. The Sonnox Restore suite saves me time. These plug-ins have very quickly become indispensable to my job as a reality TV mixer.
Interview and editorial provided by Rich Tozzoli