A scenario was put to 32 audio drama listeners, and a question posed. “Supposing you have read and enjoyed a script that will now be recorded and produced into a fully completed audio drama, what would be more important to you in the finished piece? Actor/cast performance, or overall production sound quality?”
Field recorded sound test dramas have ranked higher in the performance sections of every listener test so far, does this confirm that going on location is definitely the best route to take? That would probably be a claim too far, and would ignore other factors that we’ve identified during this process (appropriateness for story, for example). However, we can certainly conclude that recording audio drama on location is now every bit as relevant, and as equal to its studio counterpart.
From the five voice actors who participated in this project, one answered the question “what method do you feel brought out your best performance” with ‘studio’ whilst the other four answered ‘location’.
Actor 4, who favoured the studio recording method, commented that, “recording on location can pave the way for some great interactive performances, but it can also cause distractions and unwanted interruptions. I prefer working in a studio environment because it gives me the ability to focus 100% on the script and delivery, without worrying about the scene being cut midway due to wind noise, a car horn, or an ice cream van driving past.”
But Actor 1 did not share this view, with the opinion that, “being on location allows you to breathe in the atmosphere, the surroundings, and the environment.” And that, “Whether you’re talking loudly to compete with the outdoor ambience, or you’re getting up off a chair to shake someone’s hand and lead them off down a corridor, you aren’t pretending anymore, you’re actually doing it. That’s why location recording sounds so real. It is real.”
Actor 3 shared this preference for the location method, referring to the studio as a “sterile environment” and claiming,“there’s no need to visualise a particular scene or location in your head when there’s actually a real one around you. Okay so it might not always be identical to the one you’re portraying in the story, but regardless, it’s a real life environment, and that makes for a more real life, honest, and genuine performance between the characters.”
Five audio dramas were created.
The first was just under fifteen minutes long with the first half being recorded in the studio, and the second half being recorded on location. The drama was titled ‘Time is Money’.
The second and third were two performances of the same story, with ‘Version A’ recorded in the studio, and ‘Version B’ recorded on location. Both ran between four and five minutes long. This story was titled ‘Captive Minds’.
The four and fifth were different short stories or one and two minute lengths, the former being recorded in the studio, and the latter on location. The studio drama was titled ‘The Discovery’, whilst the location drama was titled ‘The Accident’.
19 test listeners were gathered on the Audio Drama Production Podcast Facebook group. They were made up of audio drama producers and enthusiasts.
On the test sheet they were asked to “listen whilst sitting down with over-ear headphones and no other distractions (phone, TV, laptop, book, etc)”
The test listeners were asked to rate the dramas on ‘sound quality’ and ‘performance’ on a head to head basis, choosing the area they felt each excelled on.
Time is Money – Part One (studio) versus Part Two (location)
Captive Minds – Version A (studio) versus Version B (location)
The Discovery (studio) versus The Accident (location)
The five voice actors who participated in these dramas were then asked which method they felt led to their best performance.
Comments from Time is Money feedback, the first half of the show was recorded in the studio, the second, on location.
Excellent story. Kept me guessing. I thought the whole piece was very well done. On the studio side the only thing that I noticed was there was an echo to the dripping water but not much echo to the voices. In the second part you feel dropped in a real environment straight away, which works beautifully for the story, because we’re suddenly in our present (2015 if my math is correct). In the scenes following the initial location scene the voices further off mic seemed to have a bit of a tunnel effect which made them seem recorded rather than real time, but I actually liked the sound better than the studio because the environment felt authentic. BH
Nice voice treatments on the studio section. The phone-tree menu was especially well done.
The guard and his footsteps sound like they’re in the same room (that is, that they’re in a cell with bars rather than solid walls), but the door he bangs on sounds solid.
Not sure the crowd in the café scene quite blends — the actors sound like they’re in a house.
In all five pieces, the acoustics on location give a lot more cues as to the space the characters are in. It’s likely a tougher job maintaining constant levels, but the added depth more than makes up for it. EM
I’m guessing the second part of this has been recorded on location(s) with some form of stereo array mic(s). It does work, and both of them are of a very high quality, though I would say the dynamic qualities of the first one are better. You can also hear the benefit a studio scenario holds in terms of coherence between the different characters, in the first example. In case of performance, I feel they are both excellent, but the sound quality improves it further if this makes sense, so had to say the first. The same goes for immersion and sound effects. Synchronisation feels excellent on both. MS
I felt that the overall sound quality in part 1 was better than part 2 from a technical perspective, however I felt more immersed by the story and performance in part 2. JS
Some of the background music was a bit distracting in parts; some of the sound panning was a little jarring, just fine tuning required to prevent pulling the listener out of immersion. KK
As someone hard of hearing I favour the Studio version because the Location recordings screw up my hearing. KR
I could hear the difference in sound quality between the versions. The studio one was a lot more focused on the voice, and a bit clearer, however, I thought that the recording on location, especially the cafe(?), was really cool and helped with the immersion. The volume was a bit more consistent in the studio version I think the effects/synchronisation were a bit better. OP
Best part of pt 2 is when Robert arrives and approaches the mic. That was realistic and sounded like I was in the room. Part 2 had good marks in all categories, but Part 1 was more polished. The setting helped with that, being fantastical and created just for us. The reverb in the “past” was a bit heavy; don’t know if you added any or if it was just the nature of the recording space, but it was a bit too lively for my ears. Though that may just have been because we just left the lush soundscape and slightly confined feeling of the space station of Part 1. OM
The first part is the best one in my opinion, the dialogue is sounding good, well recorded, clean. The story is immersive, it make me feel in the drama and I can visualise and imagine the sound heard. The sound effects are really good too, good stereo image. There is some good transition between scenes, particularly the one at 13: 40, the build up with these strings fit perfectly, and give some tension to the listener before transiting to the part 2. The reverb on the vocal sound appropriate, not too dry not too wet, they fit the different scenes. Well done this is my preferred one, from all the drama piece from your project, this should be sent to the BBC!
The second part I don’t like the reverb on the dialogue, it sound like a radio, I would EQ the low end. Not too sure about the reverb on the vocal too, sometimes it make me feel almost uncomfortable. RM
This was the hardest to decide which part to vote for! It was close on Immersion, Sound Effects and Volume. SL
Background Historical video Recording 5:47- 7:25 – Over a minute and a half of low volume. I would suggest once it’s clear to the audience they’re hearing a recording to return the volume to normal levels due to it’s length. DM
I’m not sure what synchronisation means. The on location effects the voices more with the environment but it did not do it in a way that made me understand where we were more, or what was going on. I found it a little distracting, and just felt lower quality. Also, it sounds like different people are different distances away from the mics in the on location recording so it makes me not sure what/who the focus of the scene is on. Who’s prospective is the scene from. SS
Comments from the listener sound tests. This is two different recordings of the exact same story. It was not stated on the test sheet that one was a studio and one was a location recording.
Version A: Again, great story. Fantastic Open. Loved the effects on the voices. Footsteps at 1:20 seemed a little strange, maybe a bit treble and didn’t seem to go with the voices. Aside from that all the sound effects worked well. And speaking of SFX… Loved the Heartbeat going into the SFX and then the exterior when the headset goes on. The exterior, by the way, felt entirely real to me in the studio.
Version B: I thought both were excellent but the studio version worked a little better, possibly because the artificial environment lent itself to the story. There’s an edgier quality to the field record but if you’d said the exterior scene in V1 was real I would’ve believed you. I marginally prefer the performances in V1 as well. So I guess overall it worked a little better for me. BH
In a similar vein to “Time Is Money”, it would have been cool to cut from studio to location or vice versa when the characters enter the VR world! EM
Almost exactly the same critique as before, however I’d say the location seemed to have an effect on performance in this case. It definitely added to the ambience in this case, however there was a slight sacrifice in terms of sound quality. It is by no means bad however, so perhaps if you had the option to use a better mic setup, this would have been a slightly different result. MS
I feel like in the Studio recording the acting was somewhat more to “in character” and everyone seemed more friendly toward each other (especially in the beginning scene with the secretary) while the Location recording somehow had a more hostile “just gtfo and leave me alone” frequency in their voice. When Lance reveals to Dan that he can go down the road to chill for 3 more weeks, Dan seems more genuinely taken aback in the Studio recording, while on Location he appeared more “Are you f*cking shitting me?” – Sort of more aggressive maybe?
For that I favour the Studio Recording. KR
I think the studio recording was the better of the two here in terms of sound quality. With the performance, it seemed like the interviewer was a lot darker throughout in the location recording, and I preferred it when he was a lot more enthusiastic until the very end when unveiling the true meaning of working in Captive Minds. The sound effects of the gaming company at work were a bit more effective in the location recording because they were a bit louder, but I felt more immersed in the studio recording as I believed it more, if that makes sense. OP
I enjoyed both versions equally, for different reasons. The Sound quality, volume, and synchronisation were a bit more polished and clean in the studio version. The location recording sounded a bit “roomy” (similar to Part 2 of “Time is Money”). Perhaps a bit more sound dampening would help that? I think it was only really noticeable since I came out of listening to the studio version first–I’ll listen in reverse order to The Accident. The immersion was great in the location version, complete with wind and traffic that was more realistic than the studio version. The performace was a toss-up, but I selected the location recording because it was more natural and less polished. Breaths, hesitations, chair squeaking all made the acting more conversational. Though the actor in version A played it a bit more “nerdy” and truly blown away by the honor of being chosen (which was a little more fun). OM
The first one sound best, well use of sound effect, dialogue is sounding good well recorded, clean, but missing some reverb that is in the second one a bit too dry I would say. The second one has reverb on the vocal but a bit too much as well too wet and there is too much bass on the vocal, it sounds like almost from a radio but that’s not a radio story, even it’s a radio drama so I would EQ a bit that low end. RM
The studio version grabbed me more than the one ‘on location’. Although I do have to say that the Virtual Reality portion of the show worked better in the ‘on location’ version due to the natural reverb and the feeling that we were ‘outside’. Overall – after listening to all of them – the ‘on location’ samples worked best when outside. RCO
- The phone effect in ‘A’ (around 0:30) added extra immersion that was missing from ‘B’
- When the virtual reality chair is revealed, I preferred no noise in ‘B’ to the ‘whoosh’ type effect in ‘A’
- The ‘live’ sound in ‘B’ is good, could be augmented by ‘artificial’ sounds as in ‘A’, e.g. the phone as mentioned above.
- I didn’t think it was as obvious in ‘B’ that the noises at the start were on the TV – the background voice stays quiet while the shouts and gunfire get louder, it’s almost as if it’s happening in the reception?
- The performances in ‘B’ are much better, and the transition to being ‘outside’ works really well.
- Love the idea for the story! SL
The Discovery was a studio recorded piece of just over 2 minutes in length. The Accident was a field recorded piece of just over 1 minute in length. These details were not made available on the test sheet.
I’m consistently impressed by your handle on story. The first piece grabbed me a little more, the sound effects were very well integrated. The sound of the car passing in the 2nd piece put me right there in the scene, as well as the Doppler on the horn in the oncoming car. The crash seemed a little tinny, and maybe didn’t mesh as well with the environment. I think it could’ve been louder as well, to top everything that came before and put a more definitive exclamation point on the scene. These are minor quibbles, though, because I thoroughly enjoyed listening to all of the pieces. Thanks very much for letting me take part and I hope some of my comments are useful. BH
Really nicely blended sound effects on “The Accident”. EM
This one was harder to put my finger on. I think overall I just prefer the control that the studio environment obviously gives. You get a much stronger impression of environmental change when you can control the ambience tightly. The performance again feels better in the live scenario and I think blending in sound bank sounds really brought it alive, although I preferred them in the first. MS
I felt that the overall sound quality and experience was better in version B. JS
The Discovery: No physical effort during implied digging and movement
The Accident: A bit of car movement when Lee goes to find the phone maybe? KK
This isn’t to say I didn’t like the field recording, it’s just that I enjoyed the setting of another planet a lot more and the ambience and sound effects did the story a real justice. The field recording in ‘The Accident’ was really nice, and did sound like we were in the car, although perhaps there could have been a bit more engine noise to sound like the car was speeding as opposed to just going. OP
My preferences seem to be for studio recordings for their polish. That said, I love the 3D and immersion that location recording brings to the production. For example, the most realistic and immersive moment in The Accident is when the driver reaches for his wallet: really brings the listener into the car. Post production is probably tougher and more time consuming with studio recordings, but the fine-tuning pays off. Location recordings rely more on external conditions, but the realism works better and those moments really shine. As with “Time is Money”, the setting plays a part in this comparison as well: a car is more realistic and familiar to listeners, so it plays well as a location recording. The otherworldly setting of “The Discovery” is more effects-heavy, so it was a perfect example of a soundscape built from scratch. OM
I prefer much the first recording (Discovery) because the sound quality is clearer, the atmosphere with the sound effect sounds amazing, good stereo image, really immersive, the volume is good overall, however, There is two think in that first recording I would double check, like these impacts sound effect,(about 0:38 and 1:40) I would check them with a PPM meter to make sure they are not exceeded the volume required for BBC as I think they are slightly a bit too loud, but it may be just me.
The second one (Accident), the vocal make me feel uncomfortable, it sounds like almost phasing like I don’t know it seem like they were recording stereo, not mono so It kind of strange. However the sound effect are sounding good, but again I think the crash at the end is a bit too loud. RM
In ‘The Discovery’ the volume of the insects around the actors was a little distracting. The sound quality was much clearer in ‘The Discovery’. RCO
It was interesting to listen and to try and decide between field and studio recordings. There is no doubt that the field recordings really benefitted in performance and ambience (e.g. Captive Minds B), but, and this may be a personal thing for me, I quite like some ‘studio’ effects (vocal effects, phones, doors etc) over ‘live’ versions, although they are harder to mix. I’m torn! SL
I think that the mix on “The Accident” was a better but I don’t know if that has to do with the recording style or the editing. SS
Monday the 2nd March was the final location recording session to create part two of Time is Money.
We faced a few challenges here for 2 main reasons.
1. I needed to get my 3 actors together at a time that suited everyone.
2. I then needed optimal recording conditions in and around my house.
Arranging a suitable day and time with the actors worked out fine though, and I set up all the equipment in advance. I planned out each scene in terms of logistics, character placing, and microphone placing. The kit was as simple and basic as two Zoom H2 recorders, two microphone stands, and two small table stands. Both recorders were used as individual actor microphones in most scenes, aside from one where a Zoom was sat on the table whilst the scene was acted around it, and another in the car, where the Zoom was positioned between the driver and passenger seats.
Zoom H2 on mic stand indoors
Two things that I was conscious of, having read Ric Viers Location Sound Bible, have a brand new packet of batteries (don’t rely on old batteries, even if they’ve just been used briefly before), and clear the memory cards on the recorders previous to starting the session. You can actually plug the Zooms in to the mains but I find this increases the hiss level in them.
Zoom H2 on homemade boom pole with windjammer for outdoor use
In terms of outdoor interference, we had experienced problems with an ice cream van during the test recordings, but as this was a Monday afternoon, that didn’t repeat itself. A lot of work has been taking place in a house nearby, much of which is done outside (hammering, drilling etc) but fortunately it seemed to be completed a few days before our recording date. During the car scene another car arrived in the street and idled for a period, but fortunately the driver was kind enough (though confused) to switch it off when I asked.
Zoom H2 on table stand for indoor scene
Wind was always going to be the most daunting obstacle. As good as the Zoom recorders are, and even with a windjammer over them, they are very sensitive to wind. The outdoors scene was a very short one, recorded in a sheltered area of my garden. Even though it was not extremely windy it still took about seven takes to get a fully clean recording, free of distortion.
I wanted a clean take from start to finish here because I’m hesitant to edit outdoor scenes, where sounds of traffic and outdoor ambience can make it impossible to clip dialogue and unwanted takes.
We did four or five takes of every scene so I knew I had everything I needed and more going into the post-production phase. Retakes wouldn’t really be an option so this was vital. Overall I was very happy with the session and got to work that evening to finish the piece and upload it.