Before I started Track Time Audio, I had shot a handful of emails to people in the car audio industry, looking for a few career tips and pointers. One of those people was Max Lachmann. Unfortunately, my email got lost in the spam and important messages, and I never heard from him. So it took me quite by surprise when Max contacted me through the site here, asking me about who I am and what I do. It didn’t take much to convince him to do an interview with me after that!
TTA: First off, all of the people I’ve interviewed thus far have all told me that it’s a pipe dream to make a living off just recording cars, but yet you’ve made a decently successful business out of Pole Position doing exclusively that. How’s business?
Business is ok, but we all do other things too. Bernard is a very well known sound engineer recording and mixing music, I work full time as an sound designer specialized in recording and implementing vehicles, and Mats makes music for games as well.
TTA: I know Pole acts mostly as a contracted, or outsourced, recording company. How many titles has your work appeared in?
Since Pole Position Production sell the sounds online at www.pole.se I can’t really tell. We do not ask customers what titles they intend to use our sounds in when they purchase them online. But we can tell from the requests we are getting that the word is spreading rapidly, so the number of titles has more than trippled the last year only. I would guess it is about 15-20 now, not all of them released yet.
TTA: What has been the biggest creative challenge you’ve had to overcome with Pole?
I think we are still fighting that challenge, and it is to keep improving the techniques for both recording, post-processing and implementing the sounds in game. In my oppinion, there is still no game doing the job all the way soundwise. Things can get better, and that is the biggest challenge.
TTA: When I think of countries that would help gain access to rare and cool cars, Sweden isn’t exactly the top of my list. Why did you choose to locate there? Has your location proven challenging for car and/or track access?
We didn’t really actively chose Sweden. This is simply where we were born and grew up. And likewise, getting into the gaming industry was also something that just happened. It was all circumstances that led us into it. And once in, the phone kept ringing. But yes, there are issues with living in a country like Sweden doing what we do. The recording season for most cars is very short, since people only drive their nice cars during the four summer months. So we get quite busy spring and summer time, and has to chose wisely what to record. It is also hard to find some vehicles in Sweden, but it isn’t actually not that expensive for us to fly out in Europe if necessary. There are also some noise and safety regulations that makes life harder recording in Sweden. On the upside though, since Sweden is quite small, most car freaks know each other some way, so we have a huge contact base to work from. But we were in LA and Las Vegas recording a few months ago, and it sure would be easier doing what we do there in many ways. So I think in the future, we might go there for a few weeks recording all kinds of stuff, probably during winter time, when we can’t record anything but snow mobiles in Sweden.
TTA: Do you tend to set up a single day and record as many cars as possible, or do you tackle recordings one at a time?
This really depends on what our customer asks for, and what kind of vehicle it is. A week ago we recorded five muscle cars the same day, both on an airfield and on a Rototest. Similar, we recorded four WWII planes on the same day in California, since they were all there and it was possible. But, when we recorded the Lamborghini Murceliago R-SV from the GT1 series, that was all we did for two days. We went to Austria for one of their tests, and just recorded as much as we could get during their session.
TTA: I notice in both of your recent videos on youtube that you’ve been experimenting with contact mics. I don’t think I’ve seen anyone else using them in car recordings. Have you had any accidentally awesome takes from them? Any tips on finding good placement with them?
I would not say contact microphones are great on their own, you need to blend them with something. For instance, you can get some really nice and clear piston sound placing them on the engine block, that blends nicely with the other microphones from the engine. On the Lamborghini recording we wanted to catch the transmission whine, but there were no way in to reach the gearbox. So we simply tried to stick the microphone on the roll cage of the car, hoping the vibrations would expand in that. The result is interesting, with some transmission whine and some really low bass as can be heard in that video. Useful? Depends on who you ask I guess.
TTA: I really appreciate your Sound Shop on Pole’s site, as it’s great to reference different techniques and tones. Do all of your cars eventually end up on the Sound Shop?
More or less, yes. On some very rare occasions we have done exclusive recordings, and they will of course not end up on the site. And some of our early stuff just wasn’t good or interesting enough. But we try to make it all available. Sometimes it just takes some time before we have the time to edit the tracks for a soundpack. We don’t do any post-processing though, we just try to get rid of all the talking in the car, the recordist giving the driver instructions.
TTA: In your recent video with the P-51 Mustang, I notice you had a GoPro HD in the comparison. While the GoPro is, aurally anyway, not the greatest, the size and mounting options make it super awesome for capturing video from vehicles. Can we expect GoPro footage in upcoming videos?
Yes, we use it all the time nowadays. And as you say, the sound is not very useful. That is why we also always use my very old videocamera, that has a great sound in it. But filming is low priority, catching good sound is no 1.
TTA: Have you ever came across a car that was exceptionally difficult to record well? Exceptionally easy?
Any new muffled vehicle is a pain to record, and even more so if they have turbos. It all becomes just wind out the exhausts. No fun. So we always try to find race versions of cars, or cars with modded exhausts. To be honest, you never really know what you will get and what will work on a certain vehicle. A setup that was brilliant on one vehicle can be useless on the next one. So you have to use tons of gear and hope for the best. Another thing that is of importance is who drives the vehicle. If they understand your instructions and drive well, that makes it very easy. We recorded a Nissan GTR once for instance, doing well over 180 mph, but with a driver that was great and gave us exactly what we asked for each run. That makes things very easy and fast.
TTA: Speaking of drivers, what sort of instructions do you give to your drivers?
What instructions we give the driver is depending on the requests of the client. Do they use granular systems? Do they intend to make loops? We try to cover all possibilities, but sometimes there are limitations. The basics are engine startup and shutdown, idle and blips. Then we need different kinds of accelerations, decelerations, burnouts and kickdowns. We also try to do exterior recordings at the same time, with the car going by at different speeds. Important to remember is that the speed you reach is not of any interest, it is always about what rpm and how much load you are putting on the engine that matters. This is very important to make clear to the driver.
TTA: What’s your favorite sounding car?
I like things loud, I can’t help that. The Saleen from the GT-series was my favorite for a long time, but I also come to love old unruly and explosive V8s. My dream recording would be to record old F1 cars. Ihave always said that when I get to do F1s, I will be done.
TTA: What’s your least-favorite sounding car?
Any modern car with mufflers and turbos. Boring, no matter the price tag.
TTA: Are you planning on attending GDC or similar conferences in the next year?
We have been represented there some years, but we have not decided yet for next year. Would be fun to go sometime though, and even better to talk.
TTA: What’s the funniest thing that’s happened to you during a recording session?
I remember one time when we had just got our Zaxcom Fusion recorder, and I went out recording an old 1938 Chevy. We did the whole thing, the driver following my instructions, and when I was going to listen back I noticed I had forgotten to press record…. So we had to do the whole thing again. Funny now, not then.
TTA: What’s the scariest thing that’s happened to you during a recording session?
I once went with a driver recording his fast sport car on a highway, and he just couldn’t drive. He was bouncing all over the road, missing gear shifts and had no control of the car. That was scary. I am always afraid before I go recording with drivers I don’t know. Once I also went in a Ferrari 430 Challenge on really worn slicks on a rain wet oval circuit at about 155 mph. But on that occasion the driver was really skilled, so it turned out to be okay anyway. And that gave us a very nice recording!
TTA: And finally, where should I direct readers who want to get in touch with you?
I also had a chance to speak with Bernard Löhr long before I started TTA, asking him about the Lambo cup car video below:
TTA: You list using some DPA condensers in the engine bay and the rear diffuser. How exactly did you mount the microphones?
The DPA 4062 & 4061′s are taped to the different areas with these holders: DPA BLM 6000 — they are very effective on wind reduction.
TTA: In the beginning of the video you mention using a Holophone mic, which model were you using? Was it mounted in tandem with the Sanken, also panning with the car, or did you leave the Holo separate?
The Holophone is a H2 Pro. It stoodd by it self and is not panned, that way you get a natural panning in surround by using the different mic’s in the Holophone.
TTA: Did you try mounting that contact mic anywhere else? Say around the engine?
We always try to move the mic’s a lot but that depends on how much time you can get with the car. In this case we had 2 track days and we moved all the bad sounding mic’s until we found good positions for them all.
The Lambo GT1 has an totally open exhaust and is very(!!) loud so the exhaust mic’s where positioned on the backside (from the pipe outlet) of the rear wing holders to reduce a little of the sound level. The engine mic’s where taped on the firewall and on the side wall in the engine compartment.
You can never really know about the positions until you have tried, so to start with you have to guess a little. Of course you learn a bit on each session so after a bunch of recordings you guess better
Thank you very much to the fine folks from Pole Position. Be sure to go check out their work, and email them demanding their presence at GDC 2012!