Checking in with a few organizations working in different areas of the audio post production workflow, it’s apparent that the growth of streaming content companies is making an impact, especially on the business side. At the same time, the wholesale embrace of digital audio technology is enabling clients to reduce costs and post-producers to respond through various efficiencies.
The evolution of the production and distribution landscape is certainly being felt by audio post shops. Tom McCarthy, executive vice president, post production, Sony Pictures Studios in Culver City, CA, reports, “On the theatrical side, we are seeing fewer large-budget films and greater focus on small-and medium-sized films. The emergence of Amazon, Netflix, Hulu and other new distribution companies has meant that there is a lot more content requiring post sound services.”
Alchemy Post Sound, located 40 miles outside Manhattan in Peekskill, NY, focuses on Foley and ADR for a broad range of content and has had to adapt to the demands of the new streaming distributors. “Traditional TV will deliver one show a week, but with Netflix, we’ll get three episodes one week, two episodes the next,” says partner and executive producer Andrea Bloome. “You have to have a system and a flow to make it work and get it all done quickly.”
Foley is hard on the talent and the technology, as Alchemy partner and Foley artist Leslie Bloome reports: “We’ll record 300 to 400 sound effects a day; our machines are going into record 700 or 800 times in an eight-hour day.” But as filmmakers currently prepare for their Sundance Festival presentations, he notes, “None of these guys have two dimes to rub together, but I don’t have a switch that says low budget/cheap sound. With Foley, it’s fast or cheap—pick one. But we’ll do it right; I can’t deliver schlock,” he says.
While there is always downward pressure on budgets, online production music library Killer Tracks is seeing more work as a result. Clients unable or unwilling to pay for custom movie trailer music have found a less expensive workaround, according to director of marketing Andrew Donahue. “We’re getting a lot of requests for trailer-esque songs with vocal that sound like they could be a commercial track,” potentially saving the client hundreds of thousands of dollars in licensing for a well-known artist.
TV promo-makers have also discovered that they can search Killer Tracks’ catalog for lyrics—via a website search button—for keywords related to their show, and license the vocal track. “They’re able to mesh it with a trailer song from our label and get the lyric they want with an underscore or music bed of trailer music,” says Donahue.
A new partnership with Australian company Score Addiction also offers budget savings, he says, allowing clients to semi-customize a piece of music by remixing its stems via web browser before licensing and downloading it. “You can mute the percussion or increase the volume of the strings, or speed the tempo up or slow it down by 15 percent,” he says.
Diversification can help a business through traditional slow times. Alchemy Post not only handles Foley and ADR but also music recording and live sound production. That said, streaming networks are now taking up some of the slack, says Andrea Bloome.
“Historically, summer is the slowest time of the year. But companies like Netflix and Amazon have been keeping us busy through the summer months,” she reports.
Sony Pictures, too, has diversified and become more flexible, says Mc-Carthy. “For example, on many of our current projects the supervising sound editor/designer also plays the role of the sound effects mixer during the pre-mix and final mix. It saves costs and enhances the creative process.”
Digital technology has facilitated this trend by providing tools that span the historic roles of the picture editor, sound editor and re-recording mixer, continues McCarthy. “Avid platforms are a case in point. They make it possible to cut picture, edit sound and mix in the same environment. That helps with scheduling and reduces staffing needs. A smaller team can accomplish more and be more creative.”
Sony offers further diversity through its services, which include an immersive sound stage for home entertainment, a 12-channel IMAX versioning stage and a color QC stage. The Sony lot is one of the few to offer a film-scoring stage, and houses independent music mastering company The Bakery, owned and operated by Eric Boulanger.
“Having everything under one roof reduces overhead costs,” says Mc-Carthy. “These services are available through a single management team, eliminating profit margins that would be added if each item were delivered by a different service provider.”
The new digital distribution paradigm has attendant challenges, however. “We have to mix ‘beyond’ the speakers these days,” says Sue Pelino, vice president of audio post production at Broadway Video in New York City. “We have to EQ elements of the mix to make room sonically for different low-frequency effects that may get lost on computer speakers or mobile devices. I also recently added a Bose soundbar, just to have another reference source that represents a typical home theater set-up.”
McCarthy notes that new platforms also pose a challenge. “Delivery requirements are becoming more complex due to additional release formats such as Atmos and Auro immersive formats for both theatrical and home entertainment. That trend impacts the filmmaker’s original intent and raises concerns about how to address delivery for these technologies.”
Virtual reality is still not mainstream enough to have made a significant impact. “It seems like a lot of consumer goods companies are investing in trying to do VR or AR projects for their brands,” says Donahue, who this year attended several VR/AR conferences. As a result, the fledgling format may yet come to fruition.