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HEAR Rethinks Remote Recording

The pandemic led John Harris and Jody Elff, two live music event mixers with a stack of awards between them, to finally start their own remote production company.

John Harris of HEAR
John Harris of HEAR

Burlington, NJ (June 21, 2021)—Technology eventually caught up to concept for John Harris and Jody Elff, two live music event mixers with a stack of awards between them. For more than 25 years, the pair had been pondering the practicality of remote production and finally, a year ago, hastened by the pandemic, their dreams became a reality.

Way back in the day, says Elff, a Grammy-winning audio engineer, sound artist and designer, the conversation was kickstarted when the band he was touring with needed to record a show. “It really needed a remote music truck,” he says, “but nobody wanted to pay for it. I thought, if I could give someone control over the Pro Tools system next to me at front-of-house we could save ourselves a lot of hassle without adding an extra semi to the tour.”

Fast-forward a couple of decades and little had changed—the industry paradigm was still typically to move dozens of channels from the stage to a truck or control room. As producers pivoted to work-from-home workflows, “We were still trying to ship all this audio over the internet, which is really hard and unpredictable,” Elff says.

While collaborating with Solid State Logic, which was seeking to meet the WFH mixing challenge with System T, they had a eureka moment. “We need to control the mixer that’s on stage; that has to do all the work,” says Harris, who has numerous Emmys, Grammys and a Peabody Award to his name. The preamps, recorder and mixer need to sit stage-side. “And we need to accurately and dependably control and hear that system,” he says, from their remote mixing locations.

“Once we started going down that road, it was pretty straight forward,” says Harris. A couple of months into the initial 2020 lockdown, the pair launched a partnership, HEAR (Harris Elff Audio Resources), offering remote music mixing services from their respective similarly equipped facilities in New Jersey and New York.

One of HEAR’s first gigs was recording Diana: The Musical, a Broadway show closed by the lockdown the week it was to have opened. “We recorded for five days with me in my studio, John in his, handing off monitoring and mixing capabilities, and sent it to Skywalker Sound for mixing,” says Elff. The show will premiere on Netflix on Oct. 1.

Capturing a Grammy Awards Like No Other

Harris and Elff are also part of Remote Production Group, a “strategic alliance of like-minded folks,” as Harris describes it. RemotePro includes several key members based in Nashville who provide video services for remote live productions. Together, they have produced live events such as the iHeartCountry Radio festival and performances from the Anyway Café in Manhattan.

Key to the technological breakthrough that has enabled HEAR’s offering is a patent-pending IP tunneling scheme that Elff co-developed with RemotePro’s IT guru, Greg Green. “We’ve effectively moved the control of a console surface in my studio or John’s studio to a Pro Tools system next to the stage,” says Elff. Any number of surfaces can log on and off via the tunnel, offering failsafe redundancy.

With no need to move dozens of audio channels across the internet, HEAR can generate a broadcast mix at any resolution up to 24-bit/192 kHz. Control data passes between the stage and remote studios, but only monitoring audio is transported to the mixers.

Using Unity Connect, a 64-channel high-resolution audio streaming solution developed by Chuck Downs, “We’re sending back our monitoring audio—which can be a stereo or 5.1 mix plus PFL—and whatever else we need that’s independent of what goes to broadcast,” says Elff. “It’s fast, very good quality and it’s a very secure network.”

For any event, the pair ship a couple of racks equipped with up to 128 channels of Millennia mic preamps and a Pro Tools Ultimate primary computer plus an independent backup recording computer, all Dante-networked using Focusrite interfaces, to the location. For smaller productions, they offer a rig with a 16-input Dante-enabled SSL Net I/O SB i16 interface.

There are broadcast console and workstation manufacturers offering remote solutions, typically requiring duplicate surfaces and DSP at either end. “But none of them have as integrated and comprehensive a hardware-software partnership as Avid does with their consoles and their software,” says Harris.

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