Bob Schachner is a Sound Designer with Alkemy X (www.alkemy-x.com), which has studios in New York City and Philadelphia. Here, he reflects on the trends affecting the audio post business, and new opportunities in experiential sound.
As is the case with many creative businesses, the democratization of technology continues to be a factor. In the music and sound sector, voiceover talent, musicians and audio specialists increasingly work from home studios with better technology — sometimes with ISDN or Source-Connect — so the role of full-service professional studios like Alkemy X is changing. Oftentimes, we’re just being sent the files, which can present a challenge when trying to create a quality product seamlessly from top to bottom.
While it’s amazing to see what these independent artists can achieve with the caliber of home audio and sound tools on today’s market, there is no substitute for the level of expertise and resources that companies like ours bring to the table. Furthermore, technological advancements equally elevate the creativity of our own work, pushing us in ways we never imagined even 10 years ago. Now I’m already anticipating some key upgrades on legacy audio production tools, such as Pro Tools, iZotope RX5, Waves, Soundtoys, and Slate Digital with our Slate Raven MTX.
Interestingly, despite all the aforementioned advancements and ground-breaking technologies — especially as it relates to our broadcast work — their potential has not always been needed or fully utilized. For instance, people talk about 5.1 or even 7.1 home audio systems, but surprisingly, few consumers take advantage of it — especially as we consume more and more content on mobile devices. Sure, we expect surround sound at the movie theater, and we provide this service for our film clients, but the majority of our network clients don’t even request it for broadcast; moreover, an increasing number of our sessions are being done without the clients even in the room, which means that they’re potentially listening to final mixes through less-than-optimal means, like earbuds, laptop speakers or cell phones. This presents a challenge for us when we’re trying to address client feedback. Clients will most certainly hear something more accurate in our state-of-the-art facility. But then again, remote collaboration will only become more commonplace, so it’s up to us in the audio industry to adapt and respond as best we can.
Incidentally, it’s not just clients and technology that have shaped changes in our process over the last few years. We also have to conform to federal communications regulations, such as the Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation (CALM) Act (2010). We’re now mixing all broadcast and non-broadcast projects to compliant levels, except radio commercials and music. The positive is, these new and unforeseen challenges yield new technologies and creative practices like the Waves WLM Plus, which miraculously measures perceived volume. Coming full-circle, not all home studios have the tools or the resources to accommodate such a critical regulation for broadcast and advertising clients.
So what will be the next issue or influential technology to shake up our industry? Anybody’s guess is as good as mine; but I do see areas for growth in experiential, immersive and VR projects, especially in the gaming sector, where the music and sound industry is flourishing. As a matter of fact, I did a mix for Assassin’s Creed Unity here at Alkemy X with my daughter, Sarah Schachner, one of two composers on the game. I believe she is one of the few women to score a gaming project of that scale, which makes me a prouder father than a futurist.