Get Going: Tips for a speedy audio post workflow

gearshift

Deadlines are an integral part of the film industry. We need to be creative, make smart choices, manage efficiently and make the client happy while making ourselves happy, all in that span of time that we get starting from when we receive the project to the day we deliver. That time is never enough for us to keep refining and polishing our work, but we can ensure we make some workflow tweaks so we save time not doing repetitive or preliminary technical tasks that could otherwise be automated.

The points discussed here are gathered from personal experience and have slowly become integrals for a smoother workflow. Here are some audio post production workflow optimizations so you can spend time on the more important stuff.


Know thy DAW

Can’t stress how important this is for every one working on audio in any capacity. In addition to learning shortcuts, it’s equally important to learn the quirks of your DAW. This happens when you work on a daily basis on one or more systems, although with Pro Tools, one system is enough to learn all the quirks 🙂

Try and explore every option/button in your DAW that is clickable and if there’s something you can’t get a hang of, then Google is your friend. I use Pro Tools HD extensively on a daily basis and have way more than 10,000 hours of experience with it, but I can still say that there are so many things I need to learn and discover, it’s such a layered DAW that it takes a good number of years to understand and use it efficiently. In my experience, there is always more than one way to perform a certain task in PT and that’s something for you to find out and see which way works best for your workflow. For example, I’ve seen a lot of people use the smart tool in Pro Tools where you need the cursor to be near a certain point in the timeline on the clip for it to change tools automatically, this works for a lot of people but I find that changing the tools manually through Cmd + (1 or 2 or 3) saves me time and includes no waiting time. It may not be a lot in isolation but it adds up along with a lot of other things on long sessions.


Templates & Presets

The use of templates and presets is the one single thing that has enabled me to save the maximum amount of time. According to your application, you should prepare different templates that will get rid of all the track creation, routing, naming etc. you do when starting on a new project. What you will put in the template will depend on the kind of work you do and will come from the experience of knowing your most frequently used tools, chains, color codes, busses etc. Once you have this information, you can go ahead and create a template that needs you to just import the video and get started.

Screen Shot 2017-09-13 at 6.15.22 PMOne great example of an efficient template comes from the composer Junkie XL aka Tom Holkenborg who has scored films like Deadpool, Dark Tower and Mad Max: Fury Road to name a few. He has some videos showing his template for music composition for film and that kind of organization and the sheer size of it makes you realize what you’ve been missing out on.

Presets are no different. Each unique effect that you make for a project, give it a name and save it in the presets menu for your favorite plugs. Over the course of time you will have some custom presets to work with that will act as a starting point for your creations.


Using Plugins & Software

Knowing how to use your tools effectively is only half the battle, the other half is actually knowing what your tools are. The internet is the best and the worst thing to happen to us, but it’s made researching tools and techniques to know what we need to learn so easy. Now everyone can access that information and be smart, only if you know how to get there.

There are several new plugins and standalone software that will help you both creatively and technically by automating tasks and getting your first pass done. Some of them that I’ve encountered and use include,

Auto-Align by Sound Radix – This wonderful light plugin automatically corrects phase problems with recorded location audio and aligns multi-mic recordings to a sample accurate order. Needless to say, it’s saved countless hours.

Absentia DX by TODD-AO – This standalone software helped me on a TV show where I had to deal with really bad location audio. I used it to remove hum, broadband noise and ticks from the location tracks. Instead of having to go through each take manually, this software cleans them up automatically with batch processing. My workflow with ABDX is to first assemble my dialogue edit from the OMF with suitable takes and processing only those takes from the ‘Audio Files’ folder and later re-linking them. This software also retains the original meta-data of the recordings.

Izotope Neutron – This was magic for me and I had always wanted something like this from the time I started in the film sound industry. It has some neat features that helps me cut time on eq’ing specific elements in a film mix in relation to other elements. That eq’ing accounted for a lot of time spent on the first run which this plugin cut and now I get done with first pass even faster and I think in a more precise way because of the free’ed up time.

Trackspacer by Wavesfactory – This little plug will compensate for clashing frequencies in a mix and will give you a cleaner palette to work with. One of the simplest yet most useful plugs out there, use it to do some of your work for you and be gentle. You would still need to do the heavy lifting yourself 🙂

There are many more that come to mind but maybe I’ll reserve that for a future post. I have no affiliations with any of the software discussed in this post.


Using ControllerMate

This software deserves its own heading and a paragraph. Ever since I was introduced to ControllerMate, I’ve been in love. This lets you create custom shortcuts for your DAW or OS to be triggered by a wide variety of devices connected to your computer.

From the website,

ControllerMate is the Mac OS X application to trigger custom keyboard, mouse, and MIDI actions using a wide variety of input devices. Its building block architecture gives users exceptional freedom in the types of actions that can be created and the inputs that trigger them. Programming actions can be as simple as a single keyboard key that is triggered by a generic button, or a complex combination of timing and logic that is triggered by a combination of controls.

One out of my hundred or so custom shortcuts that I use everyday every few seconds while working on PT is automatic fades. I like to have a 1 frame fade, head and tail, for my ambience/background tracks on hard video cuts. I’ve configured a key on my keyboard that takes my cursor and automatically makes the fades on the head and tail of the sound clip saving a few seconds every time.


Using Sound Library Management Systems

Take your time to always name your recordings correctly, fill in correct meta-data and always think about how other people would search to reach that recording and make sure you always update the meta-data with those keywords. A library management system will help you immensely with this along with a ton of other things. Searching and importing sounds in your DAW becomes simpler and applying basic pitch, compression/expansion modifications don’t require the use of any plugins. I’ve been using Soundminer Pro for a number of years now and it has never let me down. I’ve created a number of databases according to how I want my sounds to be organized. You can use any SLMS you want as most these days have similar features.

In addition to giving you a chance to organize your libraries, SLMS also help you with a great feature called VST Racks. In soundminer, you can chain up to 16 plugins and save those virtual racks for future recalls. With all my sound files already in the SLMS, I don’t even have to import the sounds into my DAW to see how I want it processed. I can keep tweaking the dials till I like and when I’m happy, I hit import! Happy days!

Charles Deenan has a great video on this,


Using Custom Scripts

Now I’m not saying you need to go learn programming but if you do have an interest then it can’t hurt. I had a background in computer engineering in a previous life and that taught me how to deal with computers and a bunch of programming languages and more importantly, Logic. Not the Apple DAW Logic but actual ‘logic’ that is needed to program a piece of software. That’s helped me now in audio post to create contemporary procedural workflows that save me from the all the donkey work.

For example, on this one show I was working on, I needed to bounce out the Mono, Stereo and 5.1 mixes, stems and M&E tracks, rename them the way the production wanted and then zip them in a folder before uploading them to the client. I don’t know if you know how long this takes but I’ll tell you it was always around 30 mins or more of repetitive donkey work every time I got done mixing an episode. A simple script written in Python did all this work for me while I made myself a cup of tea, it even started the upload to wetransfer.com so I literally had to do nothing after finishing up. One word, Gold.

You can also use other programming environments or Applescripts to do similar things with the OS or your DAW which might be easier for a non-techie newbie to learn. An example of using Applescripts for audio post can be found here as explained by Sreejesh Nair, award winning re-recording mixer and Avid’s pro-audio solutions specialist.


Multiple Screens

I’m sure a lot of you already know and practice this because of all the “show off your studio” posts on Facebook but for newbies I’d totally recommend this. I used to work on my laptop for a while before I could buy a dedicated desktop system for audio post. The difference of having a single screen to multiple screens is huge, both figuratively and literally. This increases readability of parameters of your plugins, give you the ability to see multiple running softwares at the same time among other things and more importantly, it will free up space on your main screen to have the entire timeline for you to work on, without overlays like plugin windows or video. Referencing the video on a separate monitor screen will also improve your judgement on a few creative levels such as pans, perspectives, space etc.


Be Organized

I feel there is no need to elaborate on this as anyone with some serious experience in audio post will teach you the same and has been etched in our minds countless times in the past which brings us to our closing note.

You’re only as fast as the person before you in the chain.

Many a times we’ve encountered video editors who have assembled a cut and exported an OMF only to find that something was not the way we wanted or even worse the recordings are stripped of meta data disabling us from assembling our dialogue edit. The time that goes in sorting something like this can be saved if everyone in the chain is organized at their level. If you as a sound editor don’t deliver your sessions with correct naming, color codes, aux’s and VCA’s to control the puzzle of sounds that you’ve created, then the re-recording mixer will need to spend time on this and hence delaying everything else in the process. A lot of re-recording mixer’s I know wouldn’t even accept such a session and would just send it back to you. Everyone needs to follow some amount of standards in their work to ensure the water flows smoothly, otherwise it won’t be long before we start sinking!

What are your workflow tweaks? I’d love to learn and experiment with some new techniques or plugs!


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