Being a location sound recordist in Singapore

Here's what it takes to be the 'sound guy' in productions.

Kaisah Wasis

Published: 1 March 2018, 12:23 PM

The job of a location sound recordist is often overlooked on set. Visuals tend to be prioritised, and the limelight is often placed on the cameraman and talents.

Essentially known as “the sound man”, they work hard to ensure that the production’s sound effects and dialogues are recorded perfectly, so that we don’t end up watching a silent movie.

But the underrated job comes with its own unique challenges. You have to deal with unexpected noises on set, and loop microphone cables underneath the talents’ costumes.

We met up with Nuriskandar Hamzah, who has been in the entertainment industry for 14 years, to find out what it is like to be a location sound recordist.

Nuriskandar is known for being cheeky on set. PHOTO CREDIT: YOUTH.SG/KAISAH WASIS

Who: Nuriskandar Hamzah, 33
Occupation: Location sound recordist
Studied: Diploma in sound writing and music production at School of Music & the Arts (SOMA)

Tell us more about yourself!

After graduating from SOMA in 2004, I was a part-time music teacher and played sets at clubs at night. I have always wanted to be in the entertainment industry, and I am lucky that the people around me have been supportive of my career choices.

I love making music – I even released a single in 2015. Audio is where I feel most at home.

How did you become a location sound recordist? 

I started out as an assistant producer. While on the job, I became interested in camera work and eventually became a grip as well.

During one of my first shoots in 2009, my sound man could not make it at the last minute and I offered to replace him.

Everyone on set was shocked that I knew how to do sound, even after I reminded them that I had a diploma in music production! Since then, I have been doing sound for the past nine years.

What’s a typical day at work like for you?

When I get on set, I will wait for the cameras to be set up before coordinating with the director based on the scene that we are shooting. It lets me know the framing, and therefore the equipment I can and should use. After that, I will mic up the talents, sit back, and mix.

Sometimes, I will head out for work in the morning and only get back home the next morning.

Nuriskandar often has to transport his equipment by himself. PHOTO CREDIT: YOUTH.SG/KAISAH WASIS

What are some challenges you face on the job?

Wardrobe is always an issue. Some materials are rough and will rustle even with the slightest movement. Since the wardrobe can never change, we just have to work around it.

On one of my first shoots as a sound recordist, no matter how much I layered a talent’s mic, there was still too much rustling coming from her track.

I could not figure out what it was until she eventually said: “Oh, is it my bra? It has lace.”

All we had to do after that was change the set-up.

What is one memorable experience you’ve had as a location sound recordist?

In 2011, I was filming in Turkey for a collaboration drama between Singapore, Malaysia and Turkey, while the Kurdish protests were happening.

We were shooting in Konya and we could see bullet shells on the floor. We could also hear gun shots from stray bullets. It was serious enough for the mayor to give the crew our own bodyguards.

It was scary, but the people were nice and it was so much fun!

Sound recordists have to give their all in each take. PHOTO CREDIT: NURISKANDAR’S INSTAGRAM

How has the industry changed?

Advancements in technology have minimised the headaches we get on set. Now, it is easier to handle sound when it peaks and we can record more tracks in one take.

To be honest, everybody still goes for visuals first, and audio last. People think that sound recordists are relaxed on set, but we have to give the cleanest sound for each take.

Once the visuals are perfect, we will not get another chance to record our audio.

The list of equipment needed depends on the shoot’s requirements. Nuriskandar just hopes he can fit them all in the trunk of his car. PHOTO CREDIT: YOUTH.SG/KAISAH WASIS

What advice would you give to youths considering a similar career?

You cannot afford to slack off on the job and you have to be prepared to invest time and money. You will earn a lot, but you will also end up spending a lot on new equipment.

You just have to hope you do not get Gear Acquisition Syndrome [like materialism, but with equipment]. If you do…good luck!

Educational requirements: A background in sound mixing is preferable, whether from diploma or past shoots.

Qualities needed: You need to be patient, hardworking, and friendly.

Salary range: Rookie sound recordists can earn about $350 per shoot day, while more experienced sound recordists can earn up to $1,200 per shoot day.

Working hours: You can expect to work n average of 12 hours per shoot day.

Career prospects: You can advance as a foley artist, music composer, or a dubbing mixer.

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