The Clandestine

I thought I’d write a post about my experience on an online series called The Clandestine. It’s the first online only project I have worked on and I have to say I had a huge amount of fun doing the sound on the project. I had a simple remit, to make the sound exaggerated and over the top. This is clear cue to have some fun.

However, the first job to do is to create a nice clean dialogue track to work with. Out came iZotope’s RX2 to remove or at least reduce the background noise and atmospheres. I will admit that editing and cleaning up dialogue is one of the most satisfying things in post-production sound. While there’s some parts that I was unable to clean to my own satisfaction I am quite proud of what I done. I appreciate that a “bad workman blames his tools” but however amazing RX is, it cannot do all the work. I would love to buy Waves’ WNS or even Cedar’s DNSOne but like any freelancer I need to be careful about spending my money. The dialogue was nicely recorded and the clean up was fairly easy so please don’t infer anything negative from my thoughts.

So, with a nice clean dialogue track, the first thing I like to do is to put in all the atmospheres. The story takes place in Belfast, although it’s not referenced in the dialogue, but the accents of the characters. I used some generic city atmospheres and nothing specific to Belfast. I spent four years living there and it sounds like any other city. Please correct me but I can’t think of anything to separate Belfast from any other city in the UK. The atmospheres were picked for two reasons; 1) to create the background noises from the locations seen and 2) to help cover up some of the dialogue cleanup. The trickiest part was in Episode 2 where the two central characters have a conversation in the harbour in Carrickfergus. Not only was there the traffic and the waves but it was quite a windy day. Ironically I removed most of those noises but then put them back in with the atmospheres. That said, it really worked as the dialogue balanced much better than the original recordings.

The next phase was to add in all the spot sound effects. Most of these are often mundane but thanks to the nicely recorded location sound I didn’t have to add in too much in the way of Foley. The main job here was to liven up the soundtrack with some phone and motorbike effects. What I love about post sound is the ability to do new things. I’ve (sadly) never had the opportunity to do animated titles before so this was a real treat.

The final phase is obviously the mix. I mixed this project like it was being done for TV. The only change to that was I allowed peaks to hit -6 on the meters. I think it would be a great idea to have some form of standards for online mixing. Perhaps ones that mean any mixes done for online playback will easily translate to either cinema or Television. I do wonder if this unification of media will become a reality? Especially considering the already emergence of online television playback with the likes of LoveFilm and BBC’s iPlayer.

Joseph has created a Kickstarter page as he is hoping to be able to make further episodes. Please visit it, check out the clip of the series and (hopefully) contribute. Click HERE.

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…

iPod/iPhone Apps

Way back in 2008 I bought an iPod Touch. To me it was an amazing device that did everything what I wanted from a handheld computer. I had owned an HP PDA a few years before that and while it was good, I never used it much as the technology wasn’t around to do what I wanted. I wanted a handheld device that I could type on, connect to the net, do email and most of all handle audio. The 2nd Generation iPod Touch almost did all that. Back in September 2010 I was in Gatwick Airport and picked up a duty free 4th Generation model. Wow, what a difference. Having the on board mic and cameras really transformed the device. Finally I could start using it for audio.

Before you start to think ill of people using such devices in a professional environment I urge you to stop and really think about it. I wouldn’t use it to do any editing or mixing work obviously but it does have some peripheral uses. Here is a list of Apps and how I use them. Some are actually really useful and some are more fun geeky things.

Cleartune – Being a failed composer I find it easer for me to isolate frequencies musically. If I have a drone/noise issue I whistle the frequency into my ipod and it tells me the MIDI note and frequency, I can then remove it with EQ and quickly work out the harmonics involved in my head. It’s pretty accurate too as you can easily test by playing some 1KHz tone into it.

SPL Meter – An handy and configurable SPL meter using the built in mic. Fascinating to use.

Mini Piano – I use this to help identify frequencies (mainly before getting Cleartune)

Frequency Generator – I’ve not found a use for it personally but if I was doing OB or live I dare say it’d be handy to plug in to send tone down a line for checking signal flowss.

RTA Lite – Made by the same company as SPL Meter but gives you more information about SPLs across the frequency spectrum.

AC-7C Core Mini – A control App for PT. Handy having a second controller for things missing on my MCMix like a shuttle control.

Retro Recorder – This is my weapon of choice if I am out and about and not got my H1 on me. I’ve never used any of its recordings but there better than one would imagine.

I do have some other fun stuff like the Moog Filatron but I’ve yet to really have a play with them and find a use.

I’ll probably update this list periodically too if/when I find something new.


Sound Effect Libraries

I fell head over heels for this idea when Tim Prebble released Vegetable Violence on the world over a year ago. Since then I’ve discovered dozens of people making and releasing these libraries. The best list I have found is on Designing Sound who list them as Independant SFX Libraries.

Here’s a few more missing from that list.

Wraughk FX

Samuel Justice

Martin Pinsonnault

Airborne Sound


Pole Position

Unidentified Sound Object

Daniel Gooding

Coll Anderson

I recorded the sounds for a library way back in November and thanks to illness and then moving countries I’ve still yet to edit it for release. It’s no secret that it will be called The Bells upon release. My father has collected bells forged in the village of Aldbourne, where our family comes from, by various people from 1694 – 1826. There were literally hundreds of bells but  narrowed it down a bit for the sake repetition. I’ll do a full blog post on the library when I release it.

In the meantime I have created a very small library as a way of seeing what is involved in creating and selling such a thing. Last weekend my wife heard some odd metal noises which turned out to be a JCB scraping the road as it picked up sand from an Urban Beach as part of the Blackwood Festival. I wandered down with my H1 and the driver kindly allowed me to record him scraping the road. I cleaned up the recordings with iZotope’s RX2 and then added in all the metadata using Iced Audio’s AudioFinder. It’s the first time I’ve edited sound not in ProTools. It took some getting used to but was fine and allowed me to keep the audio at 96KHz as PT9 will only run at 48KHz through my MBox2. Now, I have routed all the sound on my iMac to the MBox2 so how AudioFinder and RX2 were able to cope and ProTools is a question I doubt Avid would be willing to answer. Finally I added some pages here to my blog and used E-Junkie to store and sell my library and PayPal for the money side of things. Quite simple in all once you’ve worked out all the details involved.

I know no-one has bought the library yet but to be honest I was more interested in working out the system more than anything else. Please do make any comments and suggestions about the library as this is my way of learning my mistakes this time around before I work on The Bells.


Preset Sharing

Hello all.

It’s been a while since I thought of this but now my job is winding down I’ve a little free time to start setting this up.

We all use presets right? I certainly have hundreds filed away for the plugins I regularly use. This is especially true when one needs the save effect for each occurrence of something (dialogue on a TV or a reverb assigned to a reoccurring location) needed frequently.

So I want to setup a website that will enable us to upload and share our plugin presets with each other.

I use ProTools so at first this will RTAS only with a view to expanding to TDM and maybe other DAWs in the future.

Please send me your thoughts on this as if it’s setup by the community then we can iron out any issues from the off.