Professionals and Equipment

What is professional equipment? It’s been long stated that home recording will be the death of the larger recording studio. I have heard similar talk in the world of Post Production Sound in the last few years too with a few people I know moaning about people working in their bedrooms and not in proper studios. When I started out I did a little bit of freelance work (in addition to a normal full time job) on short films from home on a now terribly underpowered PC, but I was able to get some good results. I was happy enough for the time until I started getting some TV work so I bought a 17″ G5 iMac, ProTools7 (and DVTK2) and a pair of Genelec 8030s. Even though I was still fairly in-experienced I needed certain tools for the job.

The following year I got a job as a full time Dubbing Mixer down in Galway. Suddenly, I was confronted with a “proper” studio, complete with a ProTools HD system, I/Os and a control surface. For 4 years I plied my trade and finally was a “professional”. But what makes a professional exactly? The Oxford English Dictionary defines it as “engaged in a specified activity as one’s main paid occupation rather than as an amateur”. So one can be immensely talented and experience but because money is not involved you are not a professional.

I have recently become freelance again and have setup a home studio. I am now far more experienced that I was when I started full time but my equipment is relatively basic in comparison. I now have an iMac, ProTools9, MBox2, MC Mix and my trusty Genelecs. I have also bought some rather powerful plugins too (iZotope’s RX2, PPMulator+ for example). Recently I blogged how I have made some DIY acoustic panels as well to treat my room. So, I now have some rather powerful kit in what is still a bedroom in my home but I am using said kit to do the entire tracklay and mix for a large pre-school animated series for the international market. Now I have years of mixing under my belt I feel comfortable enough to work in such an environment as I know it’s shortcomings and can compensate. I had this notion validated last week after taking two episodes to a Dolby approved cinema mixing stage in Cardiff to have a listen. It sounded great and just how I thought it would.

So, my question now is where is this technology going? My iMac feels just as powerful and certainly faster than my HD2 system from my previous job. Will this lead to more professionals buying cheaper equipment to do high end work and will we see more people working from home as it is cheaper than paying rent for a premises? However, I firmly believe that there is still an absolute need for large facilities to exist. It doesn’t the best bringing a client into your house when compared to the studio kitchen. Film mixing is also another necessity for large facilities.

Personally, I think we may see more people working remotely from home. Partly because of the equipment but also the increase in internet speeds that will help facilitate this. Why pay to build and kit out numerous tracklay rooms when the same work can be done from a freelance sound editor working from home for example?

This is more a conversation than my opinion so hopefully we’ll get a little debate going sometime…


4 responses to “Professionals and Equipment

  1. Hi Ian,

    It is a way of working that I have been using for 12 years at least. Certainly the internet has made file delivery much easier, but I am still getting large projects via hard drive, especially when picking up work that the client has already started. For me it is a win win situation. I work at home, on the same standard of kit that you will find in most top end dubbing suites, but I don’t have the overheads to go with it so my rates are extremely competitive which pleases the client. I still find some prospective clients need reassuring that they will get the same standard of work in a ‘home studio’ but once here they rarely need any persuading.


    • To me it just makes sense these days. Like you I’m doing a large animation series all from home and with ease. The producers and director are all happy and I only took my work to a proper studio for my own peace of mind, I was never asked to do that. Looks like you’re ahead of the curve there Mike!

  2. Things surely do seem to be heading in this direction. And I think it’s also up to us to educate clients and future/younger sound people that it is not just the gear but the experience and knowing the limitations (and advantages) of gear that makes the difference.

    On a personal note I prefer working in a dedicated space – for the viibe, for being around fellow sound people and having a separate work and home space.

    That said, I have done enough number of ‘budget’ projects on my old mac book and the newer MacBookPro.

  3. Hi Ian,
    An interesting article indeed and it underlines that experience and understanding of the equipment you have rather than the amount/spec of the equipment you have is the most important aspect for a creative. Sure some clients will just want to see fancy premises and a huge mixing console but when it comes down to it can the job be done properly in a timely and well communicated manner.

    I routinely prepare jobs at home and then bring them into our (very modest) studio but I know my monitoring and it’s setup to make sure that what I deliver from home or studio is going to playback well on the intended exhibition system. In fact it’s one of the first questions I ask the client – what’s the delivery format(s)?

    Finally the excitement of mixing a film in a smaller room and then taking it a large cinema for exhibition is always one to savour!

    There’s no doubt that budgets are diminishing, but standards must still be maintained and expected so if overheads can be bought down as low as possible then so be it, even if that means working ‘professionally’ from home.

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