Remote Recording | Shifting Gears

Feb 1, 2010 12:00 PM, By Sarah Jones



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From Music to Broadcast

While some remote trucks continue to find solid work in music recording, in general most of the projects with the budgets are in broadcast. “Our business has definitely shifted,” says Brinton. “The only way to adapt and stay in business is to realize we're making TV now.”

Guillaume Bengle, president of Le Studio Mobile (Montreal), which recently celebrated its 30th anniversary with the launch of a new truck, says most of his traditional projects (music and radio) have been replaced by TV and satellite radio work — and TV trends drive the business. “If television still produces big audio music shows trucks will survive,” he says. “In Canada, comedy shows are fashionable — and, of course, they don't need us; it's usually one guy with a mic. As long as music stays an important factor in television, they'll still need us.” Bengle, who's been covering Canada's Juno Awards for 23 years, says big award shows are important, as are “things like HDNet, which has a lot of live music shows.”

Many remote facilities are banking on high-definition broadcast media to boost business. “We do the HD broadcast of the Metropolitan Opera into theaters around the country, which has been really successful,” says Brinton. “So I'm hoping that the quality of that is contagious and there are more things done that way.”

“With 5.1, people expect better audio and producers know that,” adds Bengle. “The generalization of 5.1 has helped us because smaller studios can't do that well, and TV trucks can't because they are made for sports.”

Sometimes the “product” is there, but monetizing it is a challenge. “I just did a show in Nashville called All for the Hall, which was a benefit for the Country Music Hall of Fame,” says McAllister, “and it was like a who's who in the entertainment industry: Keith Urban, Vince Gill, Brad Paisley.” Yet no television networks wanted to pick up the show. “It ended up going out over the Internet. And the way they're making their money on that is, they called me up the next day to remix a Faith Hill song that they were putting out as a ringtone. That's what we've been reduced to — ringtones on cell phones. It's not that there's nothing that needs to be recorded; it's because companies don't have a profitable venue to sell these new products.”

The Internet still provides unparalleled promotional opportunities, but low-revenue potential — at least for now Bengle sees “live to Internet” as a viable prospect for the future. “We did a couple of shows that were broadcast over the Internet, but it has not yet materialized,” he says. “I think it will take a certain number of years because just doing a music show involves lots of money, and for TV they can go there with small cameras and it's much simpler than it was. You may not need the big TV rigs for Internet shows, but audio is still complicated for them and that's good for us.”

D.I.Y. at FOH

The fact that artists can record their own shows accounts for a large drop in midlevel remote recording gigs. “The advent of those front-of-house systems eliminated much of the middle of the market, leaving only the high end, where the artist and producer are concerned about reliability, quality and a proper acoustic environment,” laments David Hewitt, who recently left the remote truck world after nearly 40 years and launched his own company, Hewitt Remote Services, to consult and facilitate projects nationwide. “You pay for quality up front or you can pay for trying to fix it in post.”

Singer says he realized years ago that the concert DVD business would change drastically as it got easier and cheaper for clients to bring their own recording rigs on tour. “Now the smarter ones still said, ‘When I'm going to bring in a 20-camera shoot, even though we're recording every night, I'm going to bring in a remote facility because it's money well spent to make sure the thing goes down without a hitch,’” he says. “But no one's getting middle-budget stuff, like bands who wanted to do a DVD. They'd rent a video flight pack and have their front-of-house engineers record on a [Digidesign] VENUE. But we had already moved away from that, and we're entrenched in doing broadcast music television.”

“That's why we left the CD market; it's gone,” says Bengle, “because people will come and put a computer next to the console and they'll have audio. They'll work more in post-production of course, but they're okay with that. In TV, they can't do that yet. Not with the same kind of flexibility and safety that big trucks provide.”

Bengle adds that production-wise, stakes can be higher for broadcast projects. “If you do a CD and it doesn't work one night, you say, ‘Oh, we'll come back the night after.’ In TV, they can't do that; not with the price of the big TV trucks. So what we have to offer is reliability and redundancy, which a PC next to the console doesn't provide.”

Yet for many mid-level acts, recording their own gigs is sometimes the only option within their budget, and accommodating them is a revenue stream. “A lot of times, clients don't have a budget to bring a recording truck out and do a show,” says Scott Peets, director of remote recording at Los Angeles-based Design FX, which also operates a large equipment-rental business. “But we can put together a Pro Tools flight pack that includes 48 channels of preamps and a Pro Tools rig with a monitoring system that they can take with them. So a lot of times, when bands might not be able to afford to record the show, they can get these smaller rigs and can capture not only one show, but they can use it on maybe 10 shows.”

McAllister has a rudimentary flight pack, and sees some business moving in that direction. “But then it comes down to, do I want to be a rental company or do I want to be a recording engineer?” Bengle also gets requests for flight packs, but prefers to work himself, in his truck. “That's the way I work. Some people do [flight packs] very well and have everything ready to go; I don't want to do that. I think there's a right way to do things in a truck, and my truck can go almost anywhere.” Bengle notes that clients will often try recording themselves with a flight pack but end up returning for full services. “They realize that the flight pack — with the additional work that it involves — can cost them almost as much as my services.”

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