Outlook: Making music remotely
Benji Compston
Issue: November/December 2020

Outlook: Making music remotely

In the past, the process of producing creative work in a remote, work-from-home environment might have felt a bit like playing the kids game of Consequences, where players each draw the head, shoulder, torso & legs of a character in sequence, folding the paper over to create a disjointed and surreal picture. For many, 2020 has ushered in a new-era of remote work and back-to-back zoom calls, however, some have been working this way for years. At Syn, with teams spread out from Tokyo to LA, via Beijing, Shanghai and London, having an effective remote work set-up has been a necessity since well before 2020.

Music has historically been made by people gathering together in the same space, sharing ideas and accompanying each other to inspire creativity. From rock bands to orchestras, these musical ensembles rely on eye contact, body language, physical movement and leadership to make music as a group. So, how does it feel to set up a musical session remotely, and translate an idea across thousands of miles from composer to music-maker?

Some of Syn’s previous work with CNN gives an insight into this process, virtually travelling thousands of miles for a musical collaboration, with zero CO2 emissions. Since 2017, Syn has been fortunate to work with Fames Orchestra (pictured) in Macedonia, who are able to safely record in a socially- distanced ensemble. Working closely with their musical director, Oleg Kondratenko, as well as Syn’s orchestrator in Toronto, Todd Hayen, they have collaborated on a number of projects that require a full-piece orchestra’s depth and magnificence. 

Syn’s CEO & creative director, Nick Wood, joins the session remotely from Tokyo using Source Connect (an ultra-low latency broadcasting software created by Source Elements), whilst the client simultaneously ‘checks in’ from Atlanta, LA or elsewhere. Other participants can similarly join the session using this software, with Syn’s studio tying the process together with a final audio mix in Tokyo. Syn’s original music for CNN’s election coverage is a recent example of this symbiosis, bringing together creative teams around the world to create music in an efficient, virtual and safe setting.

Whilst COVID-19 continues to keep musicians physically apart, good communication and effective technology has helped Syn keep the show on the road to bridge the gap between distances, and create music without borders for advertising, film and TV. This is an Outlook, so why all of the 2020 reflection? If this year has taught us anything, it’s to leave any expectation and future planning as flexible as possible. 

Here’s what we see as a silver lining: remote collaboration is here to stay and is only increasing, because we have mass proof of concept. Sure, we all want to see live music and hang out in restaurants, or brainstorm in a shared space. But remote collaboration also allows us to dream big, to open minds and be expansive in our thinking in terms of finding collaborators. Whether via technology or in person, we will come together to create. That’s a sure bet for 2021. Who’s in?

Benji Compston is a Music Director/Producer with Syn (https://syn.world) in Tokyo, Japan.