Three months into lockdown, and the MCV/DEVELOP team have things (relatively) down to a normal schedule. We’re unable to shout at each other when needed, and I’ve certainly been spared Seth’s long stories about his favourite sandwich place from a previous job, but nonetheless, we’ve found a way to adapt our usual working dynamic to a remote work setup.
The same is true across the industry. We’ve heard in previous issues about how management has had to adapt processes to our new normal, and the impact the ongoing lockdown and social distancing measures have had on game development.
Ironically, however, we have yet to hear about how the audio sector is coping. The sector has its own host of challenges when adapting to remote work – audio recording requires specialist equipment, and a level of soundproofing that is often not available in most people’s homes.
To find out how the sector is coping during these challenging times, we reached out to Posy Brewer, a voice actor with her own business and state-of-the-art recording studio in Guildford, and voice director, sound engineer and casting director Mark Estdale of OMUK.
What have been the challenges to your work during the pandemic?
Posy Brewer: Reaching out to people in studios and production houses who aren’t working in their normal environment. A lot of production stopped and projects were pulled. Initially, I had a couple of weeks covered and then it went very quiet whilst people had to make changes within their own businesses.
Also, juggling home-schooling with work, I then took the decision to stop for a bit in order to give attention to my kids who needed help adapting to the new school system at home – as did I.
Mark Estdale: We record actors for games, and our ethos has always been working collaboratively in the recording studio. So when we closed the door in mid March, we had to do a massive U turn to enable actors to record from home. We didn’t know how the pandemic would impact buying equipment, so we bought a large stock of microphones and equipment to take to actors who were in isolation. Then we’d train them with the technical side to enable them to record from home effectively. It turns out that a lot of really good actors are not that technical, so it has been an interesting experience…
Are you working from home? If so, how do you work with actors/musicians from a distance, and how do you ensure good audio quality when recording from a home office?
Posy Brewer: I am very fortunate as I have my own purpose built office and studio, so I was able to isolate myself as normal and carry on. I didn’t stop, but the world did. I have a professional broadcast sound proof studio here in Guildford, which I also am able to hire out. I was still and am able to deliver great quality and good audio to the industry. I have ISDN, Source Connect Pro, Skype and other facilities all linked into the studio, so am able to connect with anyone wherever in the world that they may be.
What I did notice was the quality of audio online and on radio/tv etc – it wasn’t good. Many people panicked and instead of directing the work to professionals with the correct setup, they would accept lower quality from other artists, who didn’t have the correct setup readily available. That’s why I always offer a sample to my clients, so they can hear the quality and be rest assured they are getting professional and great quality. There are freelancers similar to me who work from home and have a professional studio and so can provide the services to the industry fast and quickly.
“There are many benefits for working from home, but it also can be so isolating.”
Mark Estdale: All pre-production work is done from home and some recordings are done via home recording. The biggest challenge is the acoustics of the room the actor is in, as it differs with every actor. Recording in different environments becomes a post production challenge when a number of people need to sound like they are speaking in the same space. It’s like trying to match audio recorded on a MOCAP stage with audio recorded in the studio. We spend hundreds of thousands building studio rooms that are acoustically neutral or controllable – that is why people use studios as the output is utterly consistent. All having identical equipment goes part way but it’s not the same as recording in the same space. Luckily the tech we built to connect the actor to the game in the recording studio works online too so the actor at home is still connected to all the other actors’ performances, music sound effects and all the visual assets. Technically everything is the same and we can stream all audio and visual references to the actor in real time as the dialogue tools we built for the studios work online very well.
How has your business been affected?
Posy Brewer: Sadly there has been a slow down on production and advertising within many companies during the pandemic, which obviously has had a knock on effect to the audio and voice sectors. So hasn’t been great for us voices, but it’s not been great for many. Around 40 per cent of companies will be holding back spending till 2021, which wasn’t great to hear. Hopefully that won’t be the case and they can find different ways of working to then get everyone else working more. We all have to work together and find ways of blossoming through these times and not to wilt away. We need to pull in on our resources, join forces and think outside the box.
Mark Estdale: The first two months were terrible. No one knew how things were going to pan out so most projects got postponed or collapsed. The US remains a clusterfuck but with a lunatic in the Whitehouse that’s not much of a surprise. Most work in the US involved international travel so it’s now dead in the water with the travel ban. In the UK it’s been a different story. Once devs got into home working things are back on track with a vengeance. Also with easing here we’ve been getting back to the studios. We’re very lucky to have two control rooms In the main studio room in London as we can uber isolate. It is helped by the fact that recording studios by nature are isolation rooms. We’ve been very cautious opening the studio, with COVID-19 cleansing and distancing procedures. So far it’s working well.
Are there unexpected benefits? If working from home, is there a benefit to now being more open to working with people remotely?
Posy Brewer: People understand and I think it’s changed people’s understanding, in a good way. More people are open to working remotely. It can be done.
There are many benefits for working from home, when you have the right set up and facilities of course, but it also can be so isolating. It’s lovely to go to outside studios and work with different people, meet the teams behind the project that you are recording for and be connected. There is something about meeting in person.So both together is great if possible!
Mark Estdale: Not really. It was nice being at home for a while but the lack of social variety is tough. We will certainly be doing more script writing, editing, project management and QA work from home but for production we want the team together in the recording studios.