Why Rent from an Owner/Operator?
Updated: Nov 5, 2018
Lately I've been getting asked by production companies for me to use sound equipment that they own, in order for them to save money from renting from me. This has in every case been a huge compromise for both the production and myself and I'll explain why this is a strategy to avoid for production companies and sound mixers alike.
Many producers don't seem to know some of the audio arsenal and how important some of the items are, and I understand, producers have amazingly difficult jobs, always busy, overworked and need to take care of way too many completely different things at once. Just look at that email chain! When you hire a sound mixer, rent his/her gear. It will save you a ton of headache in preproduction, production and post-production, I promise! Your editors will thank you! If the rental rate sounds too high and you will only agree to a number someone else told you to budget for sound, do not simply say, "no" when your mixer is not willing to provide the gear and labor necessary for this job at THAT rate. Negotiation is not a competition, it is a task/goal where two sides work together upon to reach a mutual agreement that works for both sides. "No" means we both lose. Lets make this work; can you take that money from somewhere else? Do you really need a $200/day wireless focus on a sit down interview? That might be able to buy you lavs for all of your talent, or sync for all of your cameras, or IFBs for all of your clients.
I cannot fully understand why a production company would try to save pennies while spending dollars on both purchasing sound gear and paying for post-production costs to deal with the issues it creates.
Production companies, camera people and camera rental houses never know nearly enough about sound, sound gear, sound trends and current laws to buy, build, and maintain a proper sound kit over time.
Even if they did, the tools they own are very unlikely to be the best tool for the job on some of the jobs. Camera rental houses will likely have some very basic and cheap audio equipment available for rent for the one-man-band ENG clientele, so their sound gear is for that, not for an actual sound professional to use as a full double-system sound kit.
The last few years, I've been getting into mixing and engineering for live sound. On these jobs, the company almost always owns the equipment- mixing board, speakers, mics, and everything is already built in the space, routed and setup "for good." This makes sense. I do these jobs without renting my gear to them because it does not make sense to add my gear into a system like this. In these cases, they pay a pretty penny to have professional experts install all of the equipment the right way. But on a video shoot, productions have been asking to me use their nameless gear. It is a rarity for any of them to know the difference between a "transmitter" and a "receiver" or a 1/4" connector and an 1/8" connector, let alone the difference between a SD744 and an SD664, or what wireless frequencies are legal and which aren't today and tomorrow.
I've had countless bad experiences with equipment rented from either camera rental houses, camera people or given to me by the client or production company. In order to highlight the common areas of failure, I'll list examples below:
Wireless in Illegal Frequencies
C Band, E Band, Blocks 23, 27 and up are currently illegal in the US as they are reserved for TV stations and emergency responders. Not only are they illegal but in my experiences, all of the frequencies there are completely taken and you will not get usable sound from those units, especially larger markets like here in NYC. In addition, B Range or Blocks 24-26 will soon become illegal as well in July 2020, as T-Mobile is buying it out. However, as a sound professional who stays on top of these trends, I happen to know that 10 mHz in the top of block 25 / B Range will remain legal and likely safe even after 2020. That range is 653-663 mHz; you're welcome. Let's see if you remember that. It's tattooed on my back. Oh, but 10 mHz is small, so don't buy a ton of wireless in that range and expect it to work. If you own wireless equipment, please check your frequency ranges and if they are illegal, either sell them abroad or get rid of them, they are really no good here in the US. Here is some great information on the details of the new FCC laws and regulations regarding illegal frequency use.
Old Outdated Equipment
Almost every time I am handed equipment from another source, the gear is either prosumer equipment (Sennheiser wireless, Zoom recorders, Azden microphones, etc) or if it's a good brand such as Sound Devices or Lectrosonics, it is old equipment from the 1980s or 90s. Yes, the Lectrosonics um200 must have been good 20-30 years ago, but the wireless spectrum has become a lot more crowded over the years which has forced wireless equipment to become better, and the newer models have. So using an old Lectrosonics wireless can even be worse than using a new Sony or Sennheiser wireless and that's pretty sad. Just because you "have a shotgun mic, a boom pole, a lav and a mixer" doesn't mean it's any good or that you should use it. I have a camera in my pocket, shall we use that to shoot your national TV spot? I have a lamp in my bedroom, lets light an episodic with it. Or my father has an Arri camera, lets use it! Oh great, Arri makes great stuff! Shows up to set and it's a 16mm Arri Bolex from the 1960s. Oh, I was expecting something else... Just because it's Sound Devices, doesn't mean it's the right tool for the job. For example, the 744 is a great recorder made by a great brand, however, it has a very limited number of inputs, (4, not 7) and a very limited number of outputs among many other flaws that have been improved upon in the current 600 series. Also, when a Sound Mixer provides a SD 744 or 788, they'll have the proper accessories and add-ons for it such as FADERS which are extremely important, an audio bag or cart, power, media. When I'm provided with a mixer from production, it's literally just a recorder with no convenient mixing capabilities, media, power or a vessel. That's like bringing in a great camera but with no lenses, tripod, media, or power. Ok, so your $70k camera is worthless then. A sound mixer will always have these things and are familiar with it all already with no prep days needed! I personally own a Sound Devices 664 which is a very versatile mixer with, how many outputs? 12, not 6. Yes, a 664 has three times the inputs as a 744, don't try to figure that one out, plus it has plenty of amazing outputs, features and faders built right in! Albeit, only 6 faders, a CL-6 is needed to conveniently mix more inputs, otherwise, but that's too much sound talk, your gear provider wouldn't know that.
If you're going to spend the money up front and buy gear, buy the right gear! Do not go cheap! When I'm given gear by production, they usually give me very cheap equipment that is not reliable or good sounding. Sennheiser wireless is not up to standards for talent to wear on a field shoot. The stock lavs are absolutely terrible. You're spending about $600 on an entire wireless channel with a free lav. Lectrosonics and Zaxcom are much more expensive but very worth it, any sound mixer will agree! No, they do not come with a stock lav mic, because they know their customers know they should get one made by a company that specializes in making quality lav mics, such as Sanken or DPA. These lav mics by themselves cost almost as much as the entire Sennheiser wireless kit, and they're worth every penny if they're going to be used! When you see our gear rental rates they are not for your $5-15k kit you priced out online. A professional Sound Mixer's gear should cost around $35-100k depending on the type of work it's for. You get what you pay for. Pay once, cry once. Like I said earlier, don't try to save pennies while you're spending dollars! Although you'll need to pay more than once because the world changes and technology needs to change with it. Fortunately, you should be making nice profits during that time from doing things right! So, don't just buy sound gear then not update it for 30 years. Microphones generally last a long time but certainly not wireless, field mixers, timecode solutions and accessories, which are always improving to work well with modern needs.
I've been handed wireless receivers and transmitters in different frequency ranges... in case you don't know, this literally will not get sound. I've been given cables with the wrong connectors, wrong timecode cable connection, for example- this sounds like such a small thing but it meant all 5 cameras on a network reality show was out of sync all 2 weekend shoot days as the rental house is closed on weekends or is closed for Holiday and even if it were open, when can someone make a run to the rental house and come back? We just lost half the day. A sound mixer would almost never make this mistake with his/her own gear. I was recently given a lav mic that had the correct connector for the transmitter, but it was wired for an old um200 that did not require much gain, however, I was given a newer transmitter to use with it that did require more gain from the lavaliere, so even when I bumped the gain on the transmitter all the way maxed, it was still too quiet and noisy. I don't expect you to understand that, so just rent from the Sound Mixer; our gear works with itself.
Always rent the package kit from the Sound Mixer to make sure you have the right tools and all of sound gear is taken care of in every way. When the sound mixer does not own enough equipment for this job, ask him/her where to get the additional pieces from. Sometimes they will personally sub-rent from another mixer to get a hard to find item last minute or suggest a rental from one of the reputable local SOUND rental houses. They really do a much more reliable job of preparing the correct equipment for you than any camera/lighting rental house ever will, I promise. Just don't rent lights from them! Due to their clientele and the cost, camera rental houses often do not carry top of the line audio equipment or the right tools for sound department. In addition, they do not have the time, man-power or motivation to maintain the gear nearly as well as an owner/operator does and the way their gear gets mishandled on jobs by crew who wont see it again after a few days, the gear is often physically and technically out of shape. If you rent from a SOUND rental house, only sub-rent additional gear as needed and always run it through the sound mixer; we know what they're doing and it will save you time and headache. One more note is that not many professional Sound Mixers will work without their gear, so your hire roster is certainly limited unless you rent from the mixer him/herself.
In the end, sound gear is really not that expensive when you compare it to other departments, yet it's half of the project or more. Don't compromise here, and if you must, ask the sound mixer where is best to first compromise? I often say IFBs, then the rest depends on the type of job but it may also be the smart slate. Although, do not compromise too much, if the job is being done, it better be done right.