Working Remotely with Sound
In the world of lockdown we've all had to adapt and "pivot" towards a new way of doing things. We decided to reach out to some industry experts and ask them for some advice on how to make this a little easier. Here's Steve Jones of New Noise Studio shedding some light on how he's managed to work remotely with sound.
Since the lockdown commenced a little over 2 months ago, we have all been faced with the challenge of finding new ways to work. I wanted to share my journey with working remotely on Sound projects, in particular; ways to run remote recording sessions, as well as sharing the process behind some collaborative music projects I have been involved in during this time.
I have hosted a voice-over recording session using a remote recording technology called Source-Connect, which is just like an online audio chat which has some advanced functionality (which I must add can become highly complicated if you do not have the paid-for app). However, this functionality allows you to connect to multiple users and run recording sessions from afar. Source-Nexus creates a virtual sound device and the signal can be routed directly into your DAW (Digital Audio Workstation - in my case Pro Tools). Each user can record their stream natively inside the web application for editing. While Source-Connect is pretty great I think using the free app made it kind of confusing to route and not very flexible with inputs. I have found that Zoom works really well for VO sessions. I’m sure pretty much everyone is familiar with Zoom these days, and you know that annoying moment when it asks you if you want to “Connect with Computer Audio”..? Well, this can be helpful if you have an external sound card connected. Using an external sound card allows you to route the signal from multiple sound sources directly through the Zoom chat to your client.
In the case that you are recording a session with an artist in the studio and the client is connected online, you can send the client direct audio from the recording booth, a talkback mic, as well as route the client’s voice into your studio headphones. Getting audio playback to send to the client turned out to be more of a challenge because (at least with my Focusrite interface), Zoom seems to bypass the control application settings and only routed the incoming signal directly into the Zoom chat, with no ability to control which channels go in or out. As a manual workaround, I simply split the headphone output from the studio control room back into an input on the mixer. This allowed the signal to pass back into the device and directly to the client and I was able to monitor this level.
The only challenge to consider with using this configuration is that you run the risk of creating a feedback loop. If you are not familiar with Sound at all, you would have been to a concert at some stage in your past life and experienced the sound system making an unbearable high/low pitched screech? Well, that is a feedback loop, where the signal basically goes out the speaker and back into a mic, amplifying the sound, and it comes out of the speaker and into the mic again, continuing a loop cycle that repeats until you break it.
I digress, this could happen with the Zoom setup described above, but seemed to be controllable if the person/people on the other end of the chat mute their mics during playback, and you mute this link while recording. I would suggest establishing a protocol for this, as I’ve experienced how disruptive it is if the client is making noise in the background while your artist is in the booth, so as a rule, clients should have their mics on mute unless they are speaking. I think you can turn on some kind of push-to-talk feature on Zoom, but I’ll let you figure that out and please let me know-how.
Another semi-remote session we got up to in lockdown was that of a collaborative music recording, where multiple artists contributed to a single music project from various locations.
One such example of this collaborative project is the track we did featuring my wife Zweli, my brother Paul and his housemate Haydn (a former bandmate of mine from Sibling Rivalry).
In this case, the process was that Paul and Haydn had an idea for a track so they recorded a guide of this with a click-track (metronome). This is crucial for such projects, because everything needs to be aligned to the BPM, allowing for easy and quick editing. They sent us their ‘demo’ track via Google Drive (we created a folder on here when we started the project for quick and easy file transfer - I recommend establishing a file structure, naming everything at the start and using this as a central repository), then Zweli and I pulled this demo off the drive and started our Pro Tools session.
We laid down the drum track and returned this to the guys to complete the final bass and guitar tracks (I had managed to sneak my bro a high-quality mic and a stand before lockdown and he set up a booth in his cupboard with some cushions and recorded on Garage Band). Once I had the bass and guitar loaded into the project, we recorded Zweli’s keys and waited for the vocals to come from Paul and Haydn. We added their vocals and recorded Zweli’s vocals and any extras. The track was mixed and mastered and shared back and forth for a few updates until we exported the final mix, and mastered song. Once we listened to it, we through it would be cool to make a music video, which we did. I won’t go into too much detail on how we did this, but we also did this remotely between the two houses - each filming our parts and collecting footage for the edit.
Check out the video for this track here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pwSG-e43nQo
*SideNote* I have used a lot of data over the last two months… a lot. I wonder how quiet most cellular providers and ISPs have been lately. We should discuss data prices people, please. #datamustfall
Another track I collaborated on was with Jon Shaban and his 21 Songs in 21 Days project. Hats off to Jon because that was a crazy undertaking and amazing achievement to write and produce 21 songs in 21 days, with contributors from all over the world. I chatted to him on around day 13, and his ears were hurting from mixing so much in his headphones (all he had at home). I offered to mix this track seeing as he had invited me to lay down some drums.
In this case, Jon wrote an old-school ska punk jam and invited contributions from a bunch of mates. He started with writing and recording a guide take of the song, with a set tempo. He dropped that on the shared Drive folder and I used this guide to complete my drum take, which was sent back to him as a guide. To this drum take, he added his main guitar and vocal takes which I mixed to send to the rest of the contributors. Once received, each musician recorded the parts set out by Jon for them. Some of these were funny because people were trying to hustle to record in any way possible; using whatever software/hardware they can find, with some not having any prior experience recording themselves.
*Side Note* I produced another collaborative track for a special friend's birthday recently, and was even able to use a voice recording from a friend in Vietnam who recorded it on his phone app with headphones - we mixed it in and it didn’t even sound too bad. If you do choose to do this, never use the Whatsapp voice note, always record with the native (built-in) voice memo recorder on your phone and send those files. Similarly to how Instagram’s in-built camera squashes the quality of your camera, Whatsapp compresses the hell out of audio and instantly lowers the quality.
Back to the track with Jon Shaban, I waited for all the different parts to trickle through from 8 contributors in Thailand, Cape Town, Durban and the UK. All these different parts were imported into Pro Tools (bit rates needed to be matched/converted) and then the song was mixed. The entire process took place over about 36 hours or so before the release of the track, Rollercoaster, (a self-confessed cheesy metaphor for the obvious) on Day 16 of the National Lockdown. Check it out here: https://jonshaban.bandcamp.com/track/16-rollercoaster
The full 21 Songs in 21 Days project can be enjoyed here: https://jonshaban.bandcamp.com/album/21-songs-in-21-days
This is just a slice of the projects I’ve been getting up to amongst a bunch of other things during this time. I built a home studio for New Noise, so have been able to make use of this while many people have had limited movement. I will certainly continue to make use of these tools and explore new ways to make it easier and better to collaborate as well as look into new and exciting tech and trends as we evolve with the times. I am also thinking of ways to bring these innovations into other areas of my work, and am currently very interested in the space of digital online streaming. I would like to look at how to make these digital social and cultural experiences feel more alive.
Hit me up if you want to chat further about any of this, or if you just want to chat about surfing.
Who is Steve?
Steve Jones is a creative professional from Durban and the founder and director of New Noise.
New Noise produces content across multiple creative mediums. They are working to create a more agile and free-form company structure to tackle any creative projects; keeping overheads down and productivity up.
They harness the potential from a vast network of freelance creative professionals to build highly capable and specialized teams for any project.
His personal experience spans a number of mediums; having obtained a formal qualification in Graphic Design. He took to production and sound from a very young age, while playing music in numerous bands, and founded “Uprising Festival”, a music festival which ran from 2000 - 2008. Following a short stint in a traditional advertising agency, he was part of the core team at UKZN’s Centre for Creative Arts for almost 5 years, working on 18 editions of major international cultural festivals, including the Durban International Film Festival and Poetry Africa.
Currently, Sound and Design are at the core of his expertise toolkit; he works as a Sound Technician in-studio and on-location, and a Designer for various clients, including logos and web/UX design. He also has experience with Photography, Video, Editing and Motion Graphics.
He employs all of his expertise to inform the creative vision for New Noise, applying his knowledge of various technology, production and media along with collective expertise to direct creative projects for their clients.
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