Four Hands and Two Brains
March 13, 2012 by Jon Slott
Sitting in the office right next to mine is Kathy, our Senior Producer at BREED. By the nature of our roles in the business, she’s someone who I share a lot of common experiences with. In those moments when we both come up for air, and we’re able to put down our phones and stop firing off emails, we enjoy trading ‘war stories’ about the projects we’ve done over the years. With that, we dig deeper into sharing our individual philosophies about the nature of production. All vendors have the tendency to focus their attention singularly upon their interactions with the agencies that directly employ them. After all, they’re the main objects of our affection. But with that effort, we both agree that our interaction with other vendors is equally important. There’s a huge value when vendors take cues from one another creatively. On the production side, vendors need to instinctively know when it’s the right time to lead, and how to use restraint when it’s the right time to follow. You’re typically called upon to do both over the course of any given project.
Hopefully over time, other vendors become allies of yours and will consider you to be the same.
And from a music company’s standpoint, one of the most important vendor allies you can have is the audio post engineer.
They’re the last line of defense.
Since the production uses most of the timeline to focus on the important visual aspects of a project, it’s inevitable that some of the audio issues will be left to ‘deal with later’.
Eventually time passes by and the ‘later’ turns into ‘now’. And by definition of the audio engineer’s job…‘now’ is their responsibility.
I understand what that’s like, because similarly, time is always our enemy when we’re creating music tracks. But the audio post engineer is one of the last people to touch the project, and most of the time it’s with an audience sitting behind them in the suite as the final seconds tick.
There’s a special brand of intensity that comes along with that.
Most of the engineers I know are talented musicians in their own right. From my perspective, there’s a big relief in that, because they have a major influence on how our work ultimately sounds on the air. We’ve got each other’s back and we’re positioning each other to succeed. And with all of us being musicians, there’s a certain camaraderie.
While the agency is managing their own chaos on other fronts, and may at times be unreachable, vendors need to feel comfortable to proactively coordinate with each other, and see that the ball remains in play. This will ensure that extra work is not being created unnecessarily by a lack of communication, and we can avoid a /non-productive/ scramble while the clock bears down. If we fill in the blanks for each other, then everything is ready and under control when the agency walks back into the room. In the end, it’s our job to protect the final creative product and the people we’re working for.
My favorite audio post engineers to work with, I believe, are born to do the job, and they always bring a great attitude.
They’re required to be consistent performers, and their everyday duties can be numerous, handling the technical and the creative simultaneously. Their reputation rides on the audio being of the highest quality – during VO sessions, they’re under fire to have their input, compression, and other settings dialed in almost immediately - and sometimes they’re recording multiple talent, with each performer having their own volume of delivery, characteristics etc., or maybe the audio is being patched in from a remote source, where any number of technical problems can arise, and there’s potentially hundreds of takes to record, which need to be cataloged simultaneously, to be played back later for VO selection and editing, with several options for the client to choose from (on multiple spots), and then they might handle some additional fixes, clean up some dirty audio from another source, adjust new ADR lines to achieve continuity with the original audio, and shortly after that, there’s some music cut downs and on-the-fly sound effects work to do before they pump out the final mixes, with each version needing to be slated with the proper ISCI codes……all while chatting up their clients at the same time.
That’s a long list. There’s probably more to add. And you’ll notice that all of the activities described take place in a single unrelenting sentence - the longest sentence I’ve ever committed to writing.
To be honest, I’m not really sure how they do it. I’d need four hands and two brains to do all that stuff. They’re able to pull it off with just half of that.
And the best ones make it look easy.
Though I often compare their environment to that of a war-zone…
Taking fire from all sides, unexpected revision-bombs being dropped, key weapons jamming in the middle of a session, distracting communications coming from all around the battlefield suite…
I also compare their task to be like that of a surgeon.
ENGINEER: “Hey Jon, the client just made some last minute changes and we’re scrambling…Yeah, it’ll effect the music but I have an idea…just send me a revised file with the transition entering :02 sec earlier and the back portion of the track extended…send me your split tracks and I’ll handle anything else that comes up. Don’t worry…everything will still sound great”.
I’m not worried. I know our tracks are in good hands.
Jon Slott is the Executive Producer of music company, BREED. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.