A constant source of debate when taking a job is wether to use my own equipment or a provided kit. Most productions do not provide a kit, and will rent yours, which is the purpose for owning a kit; for the rental. However, some productions will want you to use their sound kit, and sometimes it is for a legit reason, other times it’s because they want to save money. But a production providing a kit doesn’t always save them money, and in this article I’m going to go over reasons why to use a provided kit, or to say no and try to get them to rent yours.
Why to Use a Provided Kit
On some occasions, the production will have used a particular setup for the duration of the show, and will want any pickups being done after principal photography to use the same equipment. Fair enough. This is especially relevant for shows that have specific equipment needs.
As an example, I worked on a show that was a big obstacle course type of show with commentators on the sidelines. After principal photography, they needed to shoot additional commentators for other languages, and wanted the audio specs and visual aspects of the equipment to be the same. In this case, specific handheld mics and in-ear feeds that were visible to the audience. It wouldn’t make sense to watch a program and have nine out of ten commentators using the same setup, and one with something totally different.
Another occasion would be when you have a big reality show with multiple cameras and ENG mixers running around simultaneously. In this instance, continuity is important, and there will usually be an Audio Supervisor providing identical kits to each sound team.
The overall theme in these instances in continuity, and it makes sense that these sorts of shows would want that. Productions used to bring Sound Mixers along with them on the road for continuity, and the simple fact that not that long ago, they couldn’t count on finding someone local with decent equipment or any amount of experience. Things have changed, and there are more people out there to accommodate. That is bad news to any of us who would like the job of doing the shows run, but this way production can save on lodging and per diem. Not always, but this is certainly more common than it was. I still think it is a poor idea, and productions will still run the risk of getting someone who has a different level of experience, or has an entirely different approach to how they do their job. Not to mention the fact that the new guy on set may not know how the show is being run.
As a side note, those hiring rarely have all the facts and generally do a pretty poor job of describing what the needs of the show are, so a local hire may not know to bring out extra bits and bobs to make everything flow well. But that is my argument for having the same crew for the duration of a show. An extra side note is that those doing the hiring often have no technical knowledge of any kind, and may hire the wrong kind of “sound person” for their shoot. I have received frantic calls early in the morning on many occasions from productions who are ready to shoot, but hired a FOH (Front of House) or Live Sound technician, or some other kind of specialized audio personnel, that were located a couple of hours outside of town and wanted to save on mileage or accommodations. So even though it is the job of the person hiring you to make sure that you are qualified for the task, they may not know any better or have too much on their plate to do any vetting of their own.
Why Insist on Using MY Kit?
As a Sound Mixer, part of the job is spending a lot of your hard earned cash on equipment. It’s a double edged sward because depending upon the jobs that you do, you may make good revenue off of your kit rentals, or you may be spending everything you bring in on gear just to keep up. Either way, it is an investment on your part, and it should be earning you money, not just getting you the job.
Some rental houses of ill repute will throw in a sound package when you rent your camera package from them. Productions that go for this type of thing are notoriously cheap, and other red flags will certainly pop up. If they don’t care enough to ensure that their sound is going to be good, they’ve probably cut corners in other places. I for one have never worked with a provided kit (other than big productions seeking continuity as stated above) that was 100% operational, had all the pieces needed, or wasn’t a bunch of cheap junk pieced together. Everything from broken shock mounts and boom poles, missing cables, wireless that desperately needed servicing, CF cards not compatible with the recorder, batteries that won’t charge, broken connectors lodged in various ports of the recorder, or even missing faders, are all things that I have seen and had to either subsidize with my own equipment (with no compensation for it) or get blamed for the inevitable outcome of bad or unusable sound. In some cases, the inability to perform your job.
These are reasons to fight for using your own equipment. Not to mention the fact that you own it, so you know it, you maintain it, and you have all the extra bits and backups that you may need depending upon what production throws at you. Clients renting your kit is insurance for their production, so shaving off a few bucks for the days costs really is not in their best interest. Unfortunately, most people making those calls do not see their show through post, and get called onto the next project for coming in under budget for the day. The longterm cost however, is that the audio may potentially be unusable if you have to use their kit, and the actual cost of the day is much higher, especially if they have to scrap or re shoot the entire day. But who do you think will get the blame when Post Production gets your tracks? You will. No one will say “the audio is bad because someone up the totem pole made poor decisions”… they will say “the audio is bad, your sound guy sucked”, and then you will never hear from that production company, or anyone associated with it ever again. This will hurt your reputation.
So my conclusion is this: If a production wants you to use their kit for no reason other than to save a buck, walk away. That production will have other problems, and in my experience, problems stem from up top and trickle down to you, where you will enjoy being tossed under the bus, care of poor foresight on someone else’s end. So you need to think about your investment, as well as your reputation when you say yes to those types of calls.