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Post Audio Looks Home, Away Despite Pandemic

Whether its actors building voice-over booths at home or Foley specialists figuring out how to keep going until non-essential businesses can reopen, the post audio community is doing its best to navigate the pandemic.

Before the pandemic struck, New York’s Alchemy Post Sound was planning to build a Foley stage and add a third Foley team. Now work has stopped.
Before the pandemic struck, New York’s Alchemy Post Sound was planning to build a Foley stage and add a third Foley team. Now work has stopped.

Los Angeles, CA (April 21, 2020)—While many stay-at-home mixers and editors have continued laboring over their remote Pro Tools rigs during the coronavirus lockdown, others in the audio post business have not been so lucky. “Our situation is a little different because it’s a physical job. You have to go into a studio to do it,” said Andrea Bloom, founding partner and COO at Alchemy Post Sound.

Alchemy is a 3,500-square-foot studio in Westchester County, NY, about an hour outside New York City, that focuses on Foley recording for feature films, episodic television and games. “It really takes an engineer and a Foley artist to do a good job,” said Bloom. “We’ve been looking for technical solutions to remote-record, but nothing is really feasible. At this point, self-record is the only option.”

Alchemy Post Sound, designed by Foley artist Leslie Bloom, was tremendously busy immediately before the COVID-19 outbreak, she reported, with two major releases finishing and two more in the pipeline. “Since they’re not going to go to the theater anytime soon, a lot of them have taken a step back, other than home releases,” she said. Alchemy worked on Invisible Man, one of the first theatrical releases to be made available for at-home viewing as lockdown orders took effect.

Audio Post Perseveres Despite Pandemic

The facility was very busy, she said. “We were going to add a third Foley team and build out a new Foley stage because of the amount of work we had.” As people began to stay at home, she said, “At first we thought, this is a nice slowdown, we can catch our breath. Then bam-bam-bam,” she added. There was a 50 percent reduction in work, then 75 percent then 100 percent. “In three days. That was unexpected.”

Once we emerge from this crisis, she said, there will likely be some changes, especially in terms of technology. “I’m dreaming of how we can do certain things remotely. It would make us so much more bomb-proof.”

Lowell Byers feels that an industry-wide push for actors to set up home VO booths at home “might change the industry drastically.”
Lowell Byers feels that an industry-wide push for actors to set up home VO booths at home “might change the industry drastically.”

While Foley services basically have to be handled in a studio, not all aspects of recording for post are so location-driven. If you’ve seen any Clarion Hotels commercials over the past couple of years, then you’ll be familiar with Lowell “Badda Book. Badda Boom.” Byers, a Los Angeles-based actor and voiceover artist. Voice talent typically records auditions at their agency’s in-house studio, said Byers, but that stopped when the social distancing guidelines kicked in. Instead, his agency, 3A VO, advised its actors to outfit a space at home, if they hadn’t already.

“My agency was saying that if you’re recording on your iPhone, don’t even bother because it just doesn’t sound professional,” he said. “Because that’s what it’s about: how good you can sound. You may not have as good a voice as someone else or be as right for a project, but if you sound good, then you give yourself the best shot.”

Happily, his father, Ralph Byers, is a Broadway stage actor of some repute and a longtime VO artist with a professional studio in his house. He recommended some equipment and had a friend in the Hollywood sound community come by the house and help set it up, said Byers.

The gear is in a quiet guest room in the center of the house. “And I put three sound panels up,” he noted. The Shure mic and RME interface connect to his agency via a phone patch. “They call my phone, I connect it to the phone patch, and they can hear what I’m doing in my studio.”

The equipment was a bit of an investment, but it was worth it, he said. “I wish I’d done those last few auditions with this equipment because it just sounds so much better. The better the equipment you have, the better you’re going to sound.”

He can still see a need to visit his agent post-crisis. “Even if you have the capability to do this remotely at home, it’s still a good idea to go in and show face. ‘Hey, remember me?’ But I really do think what is going on right now might change the industry drastically.”

Anyone who has played any of the video games in the Diablo series, the Winnie the Pooh franchise and or the Shrek franchise has heard the voice of actor and musician Michael Gough (as Deckard Cain, Gopher and Shrek, respectively). A veteran of the business, Gough has long had a modest recording setup at home comprising a Røde mic, Mbox interface, Pro Tools and a treated closet. As non-essential businesses closed, he said, his agency, AVO Talent, told its actors they would need remote capabilities.

“People have been having to audition at home for a long time. But we’ve been informed we have to have [a remote setup] now,” Gough said. The agency even sent out a request for a list of installed equipment and software, he said.

“You can’t audition unless you have either an ISDN line or, what more people are doing, Source-Connect,” said Gough, who has just added Source Elements’ software ISDN replacement. “It allows whoever is on the other end to record what you are doing into your microphone and talk to you in real time.” It wasn’t a user-friendly installation, he explained. “I had a tech friend talk me through it. It’s an unnecessary and ridiculously complicated process.”

There has been no slowdown in the demand for Gough’s talents since the lockdown began, it seems, especially from video game developers and animation companies. “There are more and more auditions coming in—sometimes I’m overwhelmed,” he said. “I’ve had several due every day this week and I’ve been up late trying to finish them.”

He, too, can see the need for human interaction once the country returns to some semblance of normal. “I like having feedback and interaction. It helps the audition,” said Gough.

Left to his own devices, he said, he becomes over-critical of his recordings. “I do too many takes and then I’m piecing things together from different takes. That contributes to what takes me so long.”

Alchemy Post Sound •