Recording Audio at a Loud Music Festival

Recording Audio at a Loud Music Festival

So I’m recording sound for a behind-the-scenes documentary inside of the Rolling Loud hip-hop music festival in Miami. Shit’s loud, bro. What’s a humble sound guy like myself to do?

I don’t really know, tbh.

What I figured out was a simple little rig that seems to get the job done.

Lav mics, for the most part, are useless. The environment is chaotic, people are coming in & out too fast to keep track of — the primary host, included. Also, the frequencies emanating from the stadium equipment proved to be an interference on my little Sennheiser lav packs anyway. So I decided to skip lav’ing people.

I just boomed the whole thing. I do own the world’s greatest shotgun microphone.

The issue isn’t so much the ability to capture good sound, it’s fighting the particular challenge in this environment — the dynamic range.

There’s music blasting from the stadium, no matter what direction you point the mic at.

My little practical hack for you is this:

Capture audio with a recorder that has a dual stereo option, like the Zoom F8. That way you’re recording 2 tracks of audio at the same time: One at a regular decibel level, and the other at -15 db.

Why is the backup track at -15db?

Normally I record everything I do with a backup stereo-linked channel at -10db: in case somebody decides to scream or cry or whatever — then there’s a redundant track capturing that moment at a good level.

But at Rolling Loud, and presumably other music festivals, the sound blasting from the stadium already meant the ambient audio being captured was quite high.

My meter was hovering around -30 or -20 db simply because of the background music — that’s without recording any dialogue. Just the decibels of the ambient environment was loud. That’s the challenge.

If somebody tries to speak in an already loud environment, the levels don’t fluctuate that much, and therefore the person speaking gets buried in the noise.

Therefore, you want to get your shotgun microphone as close to the speaker as possible… And crunch down the overall gain so the background festival music is low, so the person’s voice punches through.

But since human psychology is such that people tend to naturally scream over music, or just talk louder in noisy environments, it’s common to have people all of a sudden shouting at the camera, or shouting when their favorite artist starts performing, or whatever.

The -15db backup audio channel should be perfect for these moments.

I found -10db to not give me enough headroom in a music festival environment, and often got too close to peaking. I believe it’s because of that extra ambient noise in the background, and how people react to that ambient noise in front of the camera. The sound dynamics are all around different.

In most every other context, I would suggest the backup track be at -10db. But at music festivals, if you’re recording wild documentary audio, try a backup track of -15db.

If you can record two stereo-linked channels that are wide apart in decibel range, and if you own (or have access to) a good shotgun microphone, that’s a good enough set-up to capture quality documentary audio in a loud music festival setting.

The music will definitely still be in the background (and really can’t be eliminated) but this way everybody’s voice will punch through and each moment can be effectively captured for documentary editing.

Believe it or not, this technique works at the front of the stage too …

Considering you can crank your decibels low enough where all of your meters aren’t peaking from the music. But if you can get it where you can crank the gain down and point the boom close enough to the subject, you can actually capture the crowd shouting & talking to the camera with a clarity that makes you feel as if you were there.

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