Essay: Cloud Collaboration

May 1, 2011 9:00 AM, By Blair Jackson



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Sherlock Tones used Dropbox to send files back and forth between bandmembers and audio production crew.

Sherlock Tones used Dropbox to send files back and forth between bandmembers and audio production crew.

Dropbox was also an essential tool in helping electro pop/hip-hop group Sherlock Tones create their new album, LEO (“Love Every Opportunity”) simultaneously in Atlanta, where principal producer/musician Steven Vasiliou lives and works, and the San Francisco Bay Area, where vocalist Khattab McIntosh, keyboardist Elliot Peltzman, mix engineer Chris Fletcher and producer Rei Tracks reside.

“The big benefit is that you can treat the files as if it’s just another folder on your computer,” Tracks says. “We’ll literally place sessions in our Dropbox folder on our computer and work on it. When you’re all done, there’s no need to take any other additional steps because everything automatically gets uploaded to your Dropbox instantly. So you can work on the session, hit the Save button, close it up and walk away, and as long as your computer is online, it’s going to upload. It’s almost like we’re in the same studio working on the sessions.”

“The musical idea will be from me, then I might send it over to Elliot to add keys,” Vasiliou notes. “I don’t need to be with the other players to come up with the song concepts, and then when the music is together, the vocalists have setups at their houses. Khattab has a Pro Tools rig, so I’ll upload the file, he’ll record his vocals right in the Dropbox. I’ll go in and clean it up, then we’ll email Fletch [mixer Chris Fletcher] to let him know they’re ready for mixing. He can open the session on his Pro Tools rig, and then he’ll send us back a WAV stereo file; he doesn’t need to send the whole session back.”

The last song on the album, “My Sister Remix,” took an even more circuitous route to completion, Vasiliou says. “That was a track that Khattab and I had originally recorded and Rei went in to remix it.” Rei Tracks adds, “Once Steve uploaded the original session, I worked on it directly from Dropbox and started remixing it, and then Steve would go in every now and then and make his changes. Then we gave Dropbox folder access to a mixer in Florida—he goes by ‘X144’—and he mixed it directly from the folder.” Vasiliou is in charge of the master Pro Tools sessions.

“This has really allowed me to work with people all over,” Vasiliou notes. “I have a vocalist in Portland I work with and one in Los Angeles, and it’s made the whole process a lot easier.”

Iron & Wine worked with indie producer Brian Deck for their latest, Kiss Each Other Clean.

Iron & Wine worked with indie producer Brian Deck for their latest, Kiss Each Other Clean.

Brian Deck, the much-in-demand Chicago-based indie producer who has worked on the last several Iron & Wine (Sam Beam) albums, says, “Depending on the level of audiophile that I’m working with, I’m actually pretty happy to be sending mixes as MP3s, usually just in email. If the MP3 is too big for somebody’s inbox, I’ll use YouSendIt. I ask them to live with it for a day and get me some notes, we’ll talk about it a little on the phone and then I get them a revision, and in most instances we’re 98 percent of the way there.”

In the case of the latest album from Iron & Wine, Kiss Each Other Clean, the pregnancy of Beam’s wife prevented him from going to Chicago for the in-the-box mixing sessions so Deck used YouSendIt to have the artist check the mixes. “I’ll text them right after I send it and let them know it’s waiting for them, and then there’s always something else I can work on while I’m waiting for their comments,” Deck says. “It’s the beauty of digital recall.”

Do the sonic limitations of MP3 affect the sort of mix decisions that are made? “Not usually,” Deck says. “You lose a measure of three-dimensionality, which is hard to put your finger on in the first place. I think you also lose a small measure of stereo imaging. But I find that when I’m discussing this with people and I’ve made fairly small corrections from one mix to the next, in terms of imaging, the astute listener can hear it—especially when they’re listening on ear buds, which more and more people find to be a relevant mix reference. And MP3 is also part of so many people’s listening experience.”

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