If you had told me in March of 2020 that our studios would remain mostly empty for 18 months and we would still be in business, I would have bet against that. And, thankfully, I would have been wrong.
Amidst so much uncertainty at the outset of the pandemic, there were some things that made it possible for us to move quickly from a studio-based business to a mostly-remote operation. For one, we no longer have bulky gear, like recording consoles, so relocating our equipment was not very difficult. High-speed internet service is easy to obtain and most of the team already had very good connections at home. The number of voiceover talent recording from their homes using services like Source-Connect or ipDTL to link with studios has been steadily increasing for years, but really took off during the pandemic.
Less simple to navigate was the loss of our human connections. We’re a tight-knit group and also close with many of our clients. Prior to the pandemic, we were all spending plenty of time together, so the sudden separation was very strange, to say the least.
Zoom! Most of us had no idea what it was before March, 2020, but have used it nearly everyday since. Once we were able to stream decent audio and picture in realtime, that was a game-changer. We also leaned heavily on our Zoom capabilities for staff holiday parties, happy hours and client poker nights. The client service team even created an online version of the Sonic Union prize wheel, where clients can have a virtual spin during their sessions.
Internally, Slack is now our go-to application for communicating. It’s where mixers, assistants, producers and client service share everything from important, time-sensitive information, to random things, like hilarious pictures of our dogs/cats, or spirited commentary on current events. It’s kind of like our digital clubhouse.
One of the most significant changes we made was to add a cloud-based, file-management network, which provides secure, high-speed transfer of large amounts of data between our 17 Avid Pro Tools systems, and allows us to work together seamlessly at home and in the studios. We also designed and assembled a dozen mobile recording kits outfitted with microphones, preamps and laptops that we’ve been shipping all over the world for clients that would like to book talent that are not equipped to record at home.
The remote workflow allowed us to add mixers without needing additional rooms. In the absence of a commute to the studio, some of our staff relocated to other states, and even across the country. We now have a presence in Los Angeles, which is something that developed organically over the last year.
For the first six months of the pandemic, I was the only person coming to the studio. It was a very ‘Tom Hanks in Castaway’ sort of experience. Talent, staff and clients have gradually returned, following HVAC air filtering upgrades and COVID protocols in place. While work in the studios has picked up, we recognize that our remote capabilities remain very successful. The global workflow and priorities of people everywhere have meant that hybrid collaborations are here to stay. And that’s not a bad thing. Over the past 20 months we’ve learned a lot more than just how to use Zoom.
We’re no longer making predictions as to whether everyone will stay home or return to the studios after the pandemic has truly passed. Based on what we’re hearing from staff and clients, continuing to do both appears to be the best bet.
Joe O’Connell is a sound designer/mix engineer/partner at Sonic Union (www.sonicunion.com).