Keith Alexander is an Audio Post Production Specialist based in Dublin, primarily operating from his own home studio. Keith specialises in remote recording, sound design for film, broadcast & games, mixing & editing for broadcast, and audio cleanup, and he also writes and presents the online Adorama series Perfecting Audio.
Hi Keith. At NUGEN, we’re putting together some tips for people who haven’t had to work from home before. Can we chat about the best way of approaching audio stuff while stuck in the house? I know you work from a home studio most of the time, but how has this affected your working practices?
"I’m supposed to be delivering a mix in the next couple of months… if I can find a studio that’s open!"
I do almost everything here, mixing, editing, designing, all that sort of stuff. Working with field recordings. I’ll edit feature films in here, and I can do dialogue edits as well. Usually I’d take them out to a bigger studio for the final polish or pass or whatever else, and I’m supposed to be delivering a mix in the next couple of months… if I can find a studio that’s open! It’s a bit crazy. Of course I’d love to finish a feature film at home, that would be great craic! But I’d be on edge watching it in the cinema after that. People are excusing deadlines because of the situation, so hopefully they’ll push out the deadline, and when all this dies down in the next few weeks or months I’ll find a studio, and we can take it easy from there.
Fingers crossed! How remotely are you based? Have you still been able to go out and do field recordings?
"It’s easy in some ways, because people can deliver stuff to me, I can open up the session, mix a TV show, spit it out, and send it back."
I have mountains right beside my house, which is absolutely fabulous. So we’re okay for going out, but the only thing I’m doing is going out to film b-roll, because I can’t go down to the stage where I usually film for Adorama. They can’t get the usual crew in, so ultimately I have to do everything from here, for the foreseeable. I can go up to the mountains for b-roll, but there is no other filming happening in this country whatsoever.
The panic, oddly enough, hasn’t seemed to kick in yet! I mean, I can work away because I have the setup at home, and I’m running Pro Tools and Nuendo, with NUGEN of course! It’s easy in some ways, because people can deliver stuff to me, I can open up the session, mix a TV show, spit it out, and send it back. Even voiceover recording is really handy now.
So when you talk about voiceovers, do you do much of your own voiceover work apart from Adorama? Or are you mostly editing and mixing other people’s voiceover recordings?
"A lot of the session is taken up with directing the artist to find an appropriate space in their home, without lots of household noise and uncontrollable reverbs."
I’m using a thing called SessionLinkPRO. It’s easy for recording because it’s browser based - your browser drops the file onto your hard drive, and I can do my editing from there. But it’s not the simplicity for me that I’m looking for, it’s the simplicity for the other people, because right now there are hordes of voiceover artists coursing through the streets of Dublin like wildebeests, looking for means of getting their voice recorded. They’ve all got these USB microphones, they often don’t have pop shields, they might be in a room with hard, painted walls behind them, or even in their bathroom. Workflow wise, a lot of the session is taken up with directing the artist to find an appropriate space in their home, without lots of household noise and uncontrollable reverbs. Somewhere with soft furnishings, without a bathroom within 10 feet of it, not beside an open window.
Are there any resources that you’ve found particularly helpful for those remote sessions? I wonder where that myth came from, the idea that the bathroom is the best room in the house to record.
"This seems to have hit at a time when we can still get it done, and we can still get it done very well. Because we have the tools to do it."
Man, it might sound great in the shower with all the heavy air and the reverb, but when it’s dry and you’re just in there belting it out, it’s absolutely poxy. As I say, the SessionLinkPRO is brilliant for those voiceover sessions. The artists can phone me up, I can record straight into Nuendo or Pro Tools, and then spit it out to them a few seconds later, edited and sounding fabulous. I’m kind of using all the same stuff as always, it’s just that I’ve got a whole new swathe of people calling up to ask me “How does this work? How does that work?”. SessionLinkPRO is the platform that I have been turning to for voiceovers. The most stressful part is when someone doesn’t know how to use their microphone - “How am I gonna get my signal to you? I’m coming over to your house now!”. No you’re bleeding not, because I don’t want to catch anything off you! I can’t risk having people traipsing in and out of here.
We don’t have an end date for this, which is kind of crazy. If there was one nugget of information I could entrust into the people reading this, it would be: don’t panic! This has hit at an extraordinary time in humanity. Even just a few years ago we didn’t have all the technologies that we have, Skype, Zoom, remote recording. We didn’t have USB microphones, we had to go to a studio. This seems to have hit at a time when we can still get it done, and we can still get it done very well. Because we have the tools to do it, and the best ones will rise to the top. From an audio perspective, there’s no point in panicking about it, just plug in your gear nice and gently, and breathe. What I think most people should do is sit down, have a cup of tea, get a paper and pencil and say “What do I do? How do I do it?”. And when you’ve written that list, go through it methodically, nice and gently and slowly, breathing all the time. Cross reference with what technology you have to hand, or what hardware you can get delivered, or what software you can download. The big thing in all of this is that we have the tools to be able to get through this easily and professionally, and to do it just as well as before, if not better in some cases. You know, you’re not in work having a bad day because you’re stuck in the office, you’re at home, and the sun is shining. You can step out of your little room and go into the garden and have a cup of tea, which is a really nice thing to do. Or just go and wrestle the kids, you know! That’s my little piece of heaven on earth, my garden, we’ve got the fire out there, we’ve got lights all over the place and trinkets, and wildlife coming through the place, and it’s just heaven out there. And that’s what you need!
That sounds beautiful. The final thing I should ask - have any NUGEN plug-ins been particularly helpful with adjusting to this new way of working?
"NUGEN plug-ins are really lightweight, they’re not resource heavy, so you could crank open a session on a small laptop and it’s never a problem."
I’m using all the usuals like LM-Correct and ISL. I haven’t been doing any surround work, so I haven’t had much use of Halo Upmix, but I can imagine that Halo would be a super tool at a time like this! NUGEN plug-ins are really lightweight, they’re not resource heavy, so you could crank open a session on a small laptop and it’s never a problem. I could spit out a 5.1 mix through Halo, just on a basic MacBook Pro, and that’s a huge advantage. You can do very effective work with your tools, on a reasonably small machine, which is a huge advantage for people working at home.
Well that’s good to hear! Thanks so much for having this chat with me, Keith.