For whatever reason three is a magic number in creative work. In art there are three primary colors. In music it takes three notes to form a chord. In copywriting a list of three examples is almost always better than four. (See if I had put one more example here you would have said “dude that’s too much”).
In this “mixing tips” tutorial I will give you an example of how you can make a crowd of thousands with just three people when creating sound design for a concert crowd scene! Plus, how the same technique can create a maniacal chanting horde of evil underworld dwellers in your next epic trailer music track.
“Two’s company, three’s a crowd!”
The chanting concert crowd scenario…
As a sound designer, this is a situation I have run across many times in a variety of media formats (sound for film, radio ads, etc). For this demonstration let’s say I am working on a film and this is one of the sound spotting notes from the director…
01:12:22 (Stadium Crowd Scene) MOS* – Add crowd chanting “Mud Dogs” rhythmically in anticipation until band steps on stage.
Plenty of sound effects available to make crowd noise, but none where they are chanting something as esoteric as “Mud Dogs”. I certainly don’t have the budget to hire a large crowd of actors to come into my studio. Plus, I am pretty sure 10,000 people won’t fit into my recording booth. To tackle this frequent issue, I have come up with an effective way to pull this off with just three people.
A) First the recording of the voices.
- Find three people. Find at least one man and one woman, you can even use yourself as one of the three voices if necessary. Your spouse. Receptionist. UPS man. Random stranger off the street. Whoever is available.
- Placement of your actors. Place the three actors relatively close to the microphone in a semi circle in a way that you achieve an even mix of the three.
- Record pass one. Record them chanting “Mud Dogs Mud Dogs” 10 to 15 times. Direct them at the tempo you desire and make sure they are locked fairly tight in unison. They should be yelling as if at a very loud concert.
- Rotate their positions. Now have them rotate their positions around the microphone and higher or lower their voice register a bit. Record another set of 10 to 15 chants.
- Back off microphone. Now have them rotate again – but also step further off the microphone and yell even louder. They should change their inflections slightly. Rotate and repeat until you have a variety of takes to use. Don’t worry as much about a tight sync with these last few sets of takes.
You should now have a good selection of files to use in your mix. Release your actors and get ready to assembly the mix. (If you happen to have more than 3 people available that will work even better as long as you get a relatively even mix of males and females.)
B) Now the Mixing.
Lay down a sound bed. First lay in a nice roaring crowd sound effect that matches the amount of people in your scene. Turn down pretty low for now.
- Group 1. Add your tightest, clearest take up the center of the mix establishing a clear rhythm. (fig.1.)
- Group 2 & 3. Take your next couple set of takes (from section A4 above) and pan them half way left and right and blend with Group 1. Line them up using Group 1 as a rhythm guide, but keep them offset a tiny bit to widen out the crowd.
- Group 4 & 5. Take your next couple set of takes (from section A5 above) and pan them far left and right and blend them with group 1, 2 & 3.
- Further blending. Work on balancing the tracks until you get a good full sound. Bring up group 1’s volume for clarity if needed, but remember a crowd in real life is usually quite loose and not always easy to understand. Adjust alignment to get the sound you want.
- Reverb. Add reverb to your crowd sending different amounts to each group. Adjust the reverb mix to your taste and size of the venue.
- Bump the SFX* bed. Now take your generic roaring crowd sound effect and ride the automation fader up and down in time with the chanting. It should add mass to your crowd. Adjust the sum volume until you get a good realistic sounding crowd.
- Add color layers. Finally, throw in some random shouts and whistles for texture. Place them in various locations around the time line and sound field to add depth and realism to your crowd. Season to taste.
If the scene is a long one then I like to loop each track in a different location so that no pattern ever forms. If you mix the surge of the crowd bed and your chanting just right it can be quite realistic! There are a large number of scenarios where this method of crowd design can help a scene come alive including concert crowds, sporting events, public speeches, company meetings, church settings, etc. And don’t forget to layer in the extra special SFX to match the situation. Add an off mic “hallejuh” in the church scene, clapping at the speech, foot stomping and air horns at the sporting event and so on.
Music and the evil horde scenario…
I have also used this technique numerous times as a composer. For example, you can follow the steps above to make a large group of people clapping in time to a gospel song. However, loving trailer music the way I do, the epic chanting horde is how I use this effect the most often.
Get three guys to chant a string of guttural sounds like “hwa-hu-err-huh” in time to a guide track. Mix them in the same way you did in the steps above but instead of a crowd bed, use a low sustained men’s choir as the bed. With careful mixing you can achieve the effect of hundreds of evil minions marching to war. It can be quite a convincing effect and adds an interesting non-static organic rhythmic track to your epic orchestral piece.
Experiment with panning, reverbs, EQs, microphone proximity, and you will find new and interesting uses in your sound design and music for this group layering technique. Not only will you stay in budget but your clients will marvel at your ingenuity. Check back for more mixing tips in future posts. Stay creative!
*MOS is a filmmaker’s term used in production notes to indicate that no audio was recorded for a particular scene. “motor only sync” or “motor only shot”.
*SFX is standard short hand for sound effects.
(Crowd graphic courtesy of Salvatore Vuono/ freedigitalphotos.net)
(Photograph courtesy of Renee Roth)