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Issue: December 1, 2008

SWOT: AUDIO

By: Ron DiCesare
Technology, digital broadcasting and the uncertainty of the economy are all on the minds of audio post professionals. These aspects will undoubtedly have positive and negative effects on the audio post production industry.

Nathan Dubin
Mixer/Sound Designer
Margarita Mix
www.lastudios.com
Santa Monica


Nathan Dubin has been mixing TV commercials at Margarita Mix for eight years. Mixing in stereo and 5.1, his credits include work for Sony PlayStation 3, Honda, Time Warner and Burger King.

STRENGTHS: “As the advertising client base moves into different media formats, the audio mixer has become more important to them in terms of helping them understand these places they have never been before. For example, with high definition broadcasts, clients understandably can be overwhelmed with all the delivery formats that need to be adhered to and what is expected of us to deliver. Since I have that kind of experience doing surround for commercials for a few years now, it really helps my clients. They come in here and they see the 5.1 speakers and it’s starting to become comfortable for them. And now, I think that 5.1 is part of every national brand’s commercial. So, being able to provide 5.1 sound in a properly-monitored situation is one of the strengths we have right now.”

WEAKNESSES: “For our company, and a lot of companies like ours, we are very focused on doing audio post production mostly for television commercials. Something we are finding hard to compete with is the many facilities that offer video and audio under one roof. Companies that have consolidated audio and video can be a lot more competitive in terms of pricing. So, it’s a weakness if you are not diversified enough in terms of what you can finish. You have to start looking to expand the services that you can offer. Personally, I think a great marriage would be an online facility with a mixing facility.
“Also, I think that post services will move into ad agencies more and more, especially here in LA. The big advertisers will have their own post facilities with great talent and great equipment in them.”

OPPORTUNITIES: “I am excited about the idea of virtual mixing. For me, that is a blanket term to describe somebody being able to attend a mix remotely. They are not in the studio with me, but they have some kind of feeling that they are here, even if they are in their office in San Francisco, or at a hotel in Memphis, or wherever. What I am hoping for is being able to use pre-existing free-ware technology, like Skype or iChat, combined with proprietary video streaming technology. I think in the next few years, it will be really possible for the head of an agency in a totally different city to be sitting in his office looking at a big screen and watching the commercial I am mixing. They will be able to make comments live as if they were attending in realtime. I think that’s where the next opportunity is, just trying to offer our services everywhere in the world via the Internet.”

THREATS: “Along the same lines as weaknesses, a threat might be if your facility is not nimble enough to take on new services. The threat is that there are people out there taking our audio post services on. That’s a big threat because there are video editors who think they can mix, too. The clients are willing to go along with that and, in some ways, I understand. It is kind of organic to have that experience in one place. The landscape of a 21st Century artist is one where somebody does a lot of different things. It is possible to think that the next great video editor is the next great mixer.”

OUTLOOK FOR 2009: “In 2009, things will be as tough as ever. There will be fewer commercials made overall and, specifically, there will be fewer car commercials made. That is a big part of most commercial audio post houses. In order to stay alive, audio post facilities will have to take on many different types of work. That means working on TV and radio commercials, Internet ads, ADR for feature films, recording VOs for animated features and videogames, recording DVD commentaries, mixing bonus material, mixing a TV show, mixing a documentary, etc. We will have to stay nimble.”

Neil de Luca & matthew de Luca
Composers
Figure and Groove Music
www.neilandmatthewdeluca.com
Pleasantville, NY


Brothers Neil and Matthew de Luca (pictured, L-R) are composers of original music for a variety of media types. Their credits include trailers for MGM’s Other End of the Line, and Tom Cruise’s new movie, Valkyrie, as well as music for ESPN, Fox, and Midway Games.

STRENGTHS: Neil: “We feel the strength of our industry is the technology that we have to work with. Whether it’s virtual [MIDI] instruments or just the quality of the samples themselves. For example, today everyone would like to have a live orchestra, but the budgets are just not there. So, we have to make it sound just like a live orchestra. That entails us using live players mixed in with the highest quality samples we can get our hands on. And then with the technology, we are able to manipulate and integrate them so they sound like a huge Hollywood production at a fraction of the cost. Because of shrinking budgets, we now have to find creative ways of doing an original score.”

WEAKNESSES: Matthew: “In our composing world, a pretty big weakness is the tighter budgets. As a result, a lot of the top-level composers are starting to trickle down and take lower-level jobs than they normally would because they need to stay busy. And that is blocking out a lot of the up-and-coming composers who would have normally gotten those jobs in the past. So, it all wraps around the budgets and finances again. It trickles down, just like the economy, in the music world we feel that it happens as well.”

OPPORTUNITIES: Neil: “We compose for a wide spectrum and that is due to what is available to us today. For example, a few years back there was nothing going on with jobs for online projects for what a serious composer does. Now, there are jobs that are specifically for the Internet, like Webisodes, along with the whole videogame industry. Today composers have completely crossed over into video games.”
Matthew: “And it’s no longer just network TV or feature films, there’s a ton of independent films you can score that are high quality. Instead of there being only three major networks, there are all these cable networks that have really good shows, which are full series that use top-level composers. High-quality productions are becoming more and more available, like the Discovery Channel’s Planet Earth series.”

THREATS: Matt: “We have a two-word answer for that: library companies. A lot of the big stock music libraries have really good quality music, and a lot of that music is coming from big-name composers who wouldn’t normally do library music.”
Neil: “In the past, a client with a lower budget would still need to hire someone to write the music. But now, they can go to a stock music library for a lot less money. Those are jobs that would have normally gone to a composer.”

OUTLOOK FOR 2009: Matt: “The economy scares us a little bit,  and we are wondering what will happen. We find ourselves working on indie films and movie trailers, which has been going fairly strong.”
Neil: “I find that people would rather spend less money on the project itself and spend more money on promoting it. They don’t want to spend all their money on the product and then not have anyone know about it.”

Tony Volante
Re-recording Mixer
Sound Lounge
www.soundlounge.com
New York


Tony Volante is a veteran mixer for Sound Lounge Entertainment’s film and TV division. With his music mixing background,  which includes recording and mixing for Donald Fagen and Roger Daltrey, he applies his finely-tuned skills to independent films such as Rachel Getting Married, Frozen River and the 2008 Oscar-winning documentary Taxi To The Dark Side.

STRENGTHS: “The technology, the digital revolution, if you will, has helped our industry a lot. It’s streamlined the workflow and made it possible to do films more efficiently now. It’s improved the workflow by sharing files over the Internet and providing a lot more possibilities compared to years ago. Pro Tools and Avid are a big part of that. Being able to work in the digital world has made it more competitive, but from the creative side it’s a positive thing.”

WEAKNESSES: “In the film business, there are a lot of different departments that get involved. For example, there’s the picture department, the sound recordist, the re-recording mixer and the lab technicians that make the film tracks, who are all involved in the process. They have always been very separate entities. Now, with the technologies blending and crossing over a bit more, we are starting to communicate more with each other. But, I think that the communication could be much better. We need to communicate even more and get involved earlier in the process during the different stages of filmmaking.
“For instance, there are a lot of times when I get poor production dialogue and sound. If I was able to communicate with the sound recordist ahead of time and share ideas, we could have ended up with a better result. In fact, mixer Jeff Pullman and I want to help set up better communication industry-wide between all the different departments and to streamline the workflow of our business. The strength is in the technology, but we need better communication to take advantage of it.”

OPPORTUNITIES: “I see our business being able to reach across continents now. In the upcoming weeks here in New York, I am going to be working on a Bollywood film from India. If I imagined trying to work on a film being done in India years ago, it would have been near impossible. But now with the Internet, we can upload and download audio and video files, and share creative thoughts back and forth in a matter of minutes. Today, it’s possible to stretch out and work with people in different countries much easier. That is going to happen more often. As the general economy becomes more and more global, our industry will, too.”

THREATS: “For independent films, the biggest threat is the recent crisis in the economy and the stock market. A lot of the investing for independent films comes from money that is considered extra cash, or loose money, as I like to say, from investors. Now, people who are looking to invest in films when the stock market is down so much will really tighten their wallets. There is less investing in not only all the other sectors of business but in the independent film industry as well. So, as Wall Street has its problems, it definitely filters into the film business.”

OUTLOOK FOR 2009: “I think there is going to be plenty of work, but companies are going to have to find more efficient ways of getting the job done. The jobs will be there, but they will be more like these independent films that I have been dealing with all along. More and more projects will have tighter budgets and shorter schedules. In order to stay competitive, companies are going to have to streamline their workflow.”

Mike Boris
SVP/Executive Music Producer
McCann Erickson
www.mccann.com
New York


Mike Boris is a seasoned music producer who relies on talented audio post production people for commercials such as MasterCard, Kohl’s, the US Army and Nikon.

STRENGTHS: “The strength of our industry is the people, more so than any kind of equipment. There are so many post production people who are great, creative people. Their technical skills are a given, so the strength of the industry is really their creative talent. For example, as I am commenting on a job, they are reacting to it instead of waiting for me to give them literal direction, which I am happy to do and will do. A lot of the great people I work with just listen and react. They know what to do because they are listening to me and following the process.”

WEAKNESSES: “The biggest weakness I am seeing is that as budgets get tighter, combined with people who are so used to our digital instantaneous world, the creative process gets truncated. There is so little time given to the audio post production process. In contrast, people might go to a video editor and spend maybe three, four or five days working on the creative process.
“And sometimes even before the production teams goes to the video editor, the editor will have two or three days to put something together. Audio and music have a much tighter timeframe. Not that it’s a last minute thought, but it isn’t given the time that it needs. You know, audio is 50 percent of viewing the commercial.”

OPPORTUNITIES: “I think the 5.1 digital broadcast stream is an opportunity to start utilizing the TV medium to its fullest. Sonically, our TV commercials will have the opportunity to sound potentially better than some of the TV shows. That’s the opposite now, most of the time, because our 5.1 spots are folded down [summed to stereo only]. I see that as the biggest opportunity since the quality all the way down the food chain is being improved. I think we will do a 5.1 mix for commercials more often and if not for air, then even just for client presentation.”

THREATS: “A big threat to the industry is the tools themselves. That’s because these tools are at anybody and everybody’s disposal, including people who are not trained to use them. An audio post engineer is a maestro of his or her instrument, like how you master a musical instrument. They are specialists. So, now we have non-specialists doing the work of specialists because the technology allows them to do so. For example, maybe a mix for a TV spot is done directly out of the Avid, but an audio post professional knows that the next step is going to be hitting a broadcast limiter. They know how hard to push it and what it’s going to sound like on the air. So yes, it’s a real threat that many people are using these tools that are made for audio specialists only. That’s because they are so inexpensive and available to anyone. As a creative tool, all this technology is great, but if the wrong people use it as the end-all final result, then it’s a threat to our industry.”

OUTLOOK FOR 2009: “I think 2009 will be great. The way that the economy is and everything that is going on right now, budgets are shrinking, but, I think that limitation can enhance creativity. We just have to learn how to do more with less.”