Remote Working

I wanted to write up my thoughts on remote working after this post on Social Sound Design. I have worked remotely a lot in the last five years and in a few different ways. I guess the most common method that people can identify with nowadays is simply sending ones work to the Director/Producer for review via the internet. I work from home and for numerous clients based in another countries, they send me QuickTimes and an OMF/AAF for me. I do the tracklay/mix, re-record the sound within the session, export as a 320Kbit/s 16Bit mp3 and upload via FTP or DropBox. I then await notes about the work, once addressed I send another copy. Once the sound is done a full quality 24Bit/48KHz WAV is sent.

I find this way of working fairly straightforward and does lead to a more relaxed interaction between me and the Director/Producer. Plus it has the advantage of being mostly in writing so mistakes and missed information is seldom. However the fact that I don’t know what room and equipment the Director/Producer is listening in/on I cannot know if the work is being fully appreciated. This has lead to a few minor issues of a Director asking for a bigger sound when it already sounds huge in my studio and they were listening on small PC speakers (this is a made up example by the way). Another advantage is that this system works wherever my client is in the world. I can just as easily work with a client in LA as one who is in Cardiff. Like a lot of systems, this one has advantages and disadvantages.

One other disadvantage is that the feedback and changes take a while to get through. In my previous job I would review work via ISDN to LA and be able to speak with the Director just like being on the phone. The added bonus being that after an hour or so the show was finished. This system is obviously a lot quicker but can be quite costly. ISDN and now IP boxes to do this sort of setup are pricey and for a freelancer too much of an investment to warrant. I have looked into other similar systems such as Source Connect which streams the audio out of ProTools to IP as an RTAS plugin within your session. I have used it before but again it’s too pricey for me at the moment, it’s a shame as it now has the ability for a Director to review the stream via an iPhone or online.

I am hoping that live online streaming is something that becomes easier and cheaper to do as would make the review process easier for smaller facilities and individuals who cannot afford large hardware expenses. Whatever happens I like working this way as it suits me to work from home at the moment and also means I can be cheaper to hire than a large post facility.

Workflows – how I mix

I thought I’d continue from my previous post about post production sound workflows. I used to work for a large company as a mixer. Although I did get involved in other areas my main work involved mixing other people’s tracklay. I found it quite a shock to start with as I’d done a little sound editing for others occasionally but I had mainly done all the design, tracklay and mix myself. It’s interesting to mix someone else’s work as it really highlights how different we all are in what we think should be done for a project.

In my previous post, I tried to stress how important it is to keep your work organised. Working with other people can really pay off. The first thing I did when I got the tracklay from someone else was to re-organise their work. Partly as I wanted it to fit how I mixed, but also to speed up my mix in the first place. On the whole though this was a minor thing and I’m certainly not implying that their work was disorganised.

My mix session template is a fairly complicated affair. Although quite elegant and efficient when you get to grips with it. The most complicated things I mix are normally animated series. So, for this post I will only discuss how I mix animations. My audio tracks are divided into sections (that I also colour code).

Dial

Music

SFX

Stereo SFX

Footsteps

Atmos

The first thing I do is mix the dialogue. It means I can concentrate on ensuring that the dialogue hits whatever broadcast specs I am working with. I can also tidy up the edits made by the editor. At this stage I also add any reverbs needed as a send effect.

There is no right or wrong way to mix really. I could pre-mix my sfx but for the animated shows I have worked on I have never found a benefit as the track count is too small and the sound edit is not that complicated. The only thing I do do is reduce the amount of sfx tracks to a minimum. I prefer this method as I only normally have 8 faders to work with and it saves time not having to constantly be scrolling through banks of empty tracks. I don’t find grouping the same sort of sounds together advantageous as again my track count is small and the simplicity of the animations. This isn’t a large feature film with lots of similar groups of sounds that need premixed. I also mix the music and effects together at the same time, again as it’s simpler to.

A quick tip here: For a series that uses the same locations I always spend time on the first episode to get the atmos tracks pre-mixed. Once done you can import those tracks without having to re-mix them again and again for each episode. Very handy too is to setup a session with a very long version of the pre-mixed atmos tracks. This is preferable than bouncing down an audio of the atmos mix in case you need to alter anything for a specific occasion.

Once I have finished mixing everything with the dialogue the show needs to be exported and sent to the director and producers for review. As previously stated I like to re-record my work within Pro Tools. It’s then easy to export the region as an mp3 to send to for review. I have worked a lot with people in a variety of countries and this remote method of working is quite nice once you get used to it. It’s also nice not having directors and producers having discussions (or arguments) about the mix while in the same room as you. Even with broadband internet speeds I still send a 320/kbps 48KHz mp3 as it still sounds good and takes a fraction of the time than a WAV.

Workflows and organisation

Thanks to @rynde and @joecavers for suggesting I write about Workflows. Workflows are very important in the world of post-production sound, especially in TV where there’s never enough time before the work has to be delivered. For me, I think that working efficiently is the key to this, the knock on effect being one is far less stressed than other people under similar pressure. Here’s two parts of how I organise my workflows that are evolving to make my work more efficient.

The key to efficiency is organisation. To start with all my work is neatly organised on the HDD. A clear and easily remembered folder structure makes searching for files and folders incredibly quick.

This is important not only while I’m working but as happens in the world of TV I might be called upon to go back to an episode to make changes beyond broadcast (like a different version of a mix to suit a different broadcast specification). Being able to find the work you did 2 years ago goes a long way to making one look slick and professional in my opinion.

My ProTools sessions themselves are always neatly organised too. Most of the time I use a specific template for any TV work as it has all the tracks, plugins and routing already there for large and complex programmes. I inherited the session from my predecessor in Telegael, apart from the input/output routing it’s now rather different from when I first used it. It is also a structure I follow even if I create a session from scratch.

Here is a chart outlining the rough signal flow.

Obviously this is rather simplified but it does show a clear logic of how my sessions get setup. From the audio tracks I can quickly re-record my stems within ProTools, allowing me to select sections and destructively drop in any fixes at a later date. It also means I can easily export different file types (mp3s for reviews and WAVS for delivery) of the same mix without having to sit through the show again in real time. This signal flow applies to all the different elements of a mix; dialogue, foley, sfx, footsteps, atmos and music. It means I can generate all my different deliverables (full mix, m&e, music only, sfx only, dialogue only) all at the same time within ProTools. It is this form of session organisation that can save an awful lot of time when in the delivery stage of TV post production.

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.

Ian

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

Bruitages

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.

LLAP

D.I.Y.

I started out after University working on my own as no-one would employ me. Back in 2003 there wasn’t the online community that we have now to go to for help either. This lasted for about 4 years, during which time I had to improvise and work things out for myself. I am now back working on my own, but this time armed with years of experience working in a top end facility. So a shopping list of gear was put together, bought and now almost all is setup and working fine. The weakest link in my chain is my room. I do not own the house so can’t do much to the room as it would damage the walls.

So, how does one acoustically treat a room in this situation? My first thought was to buy some panels. The easy option I thought but having spent a small fortune on my kit I didn’t want to spend another one. I then remembered that my Brother-In-Law built his own recording studio a few years ago and used copious amounts of rockwool. A cunning plan then developed with the help of my painting and decorating father.

I measured the walls and thought how big I wanted the panels. My father got some 9mm board and cut out the panels. We then placed the rockwool on top and cut it to shape. Earlier that day we had gone to a fabric shop in Marlborough (Dible and Roy for those of you who live in that part of the world) and bought some nice velvety fabric (in the sale) and laid this over the rockwool. Flip the entire thing over, bring in the fabric on all four sides and staple to the board. Hey presto a home made acoustic panel.

This is the result…

First impressions are rather good. You can no longer hear much noise from the rest of the house and they have taken all the roomy ring out of the studio.

The last thing to do now is try to take a measurement and see how the room is performing across the spectrum.