Confessions of a Small Working Studio—21st Century Sound-for-Picture

Sep 7, 2010 12:52 PM, By Lisa Horan and Kevin Hill

New Opportunities for Small and Mid-Sized Studios

photo of Kennedy Wright

Kennedy Wright of Kennedy Sound in Washington, D.C.

The term sound-for-picture traditionally has been linked to the music and sound that accompanies major motion pictures, but we’ve entered into a new era. Thanks to technology, the Internet, and new marketing methods, sound for picture now relates to multiple types of projects, which offers some much-needed good news for audio post and sound professionals. In this month’s "Confessions" column, we’ll highlight some of the latest opportunities springing up for small to mid-sized studios, review new approaches to more traditional projects, explore some emerging trends, and provide a few tips for success in this promising market.

Opportunities in Unexpected Places
With the increasing use of video in just about every facet of our society, there are new and unique sound-for-picture opportunities for audio post professionals springing up everywhere. You may find yourself experiencing a, “Wow, I didn’t even think of that,” moment after reading about some of the projects in which sound for picture plays a pivotal role. Case in point: museums. They don’t exactly scream sound design, yet opportunities within them are becoming a hot commodity among both sound and audio professionals, as many museums are incorporating high-tech elements and amping up their audio-visual presentations. These presentations, which typically cover films shown in theaters or incorporated within exhibits, often rely on sound design to add impact to their messages. One sound designer who has been able to take advantage of this emerging trend is Kennedy Wright, the owner of Kennedy Sound (Washington, D.C.), a one-man shop that just celebrated its 10th anniversary. Wright’s “sound for museum” work has included projects for the Woodstock Museum, the Museum of Science and Technology in Chicago, and the Museum for the University of North Carolina.

According to Wright, one of the biggest keys to success in this medium is analyzing and fully understanding the floor plan of the space in which sound will be incorporated. “A lot of the time, museum theaters have intricate sound setups that I have to take into account when working on a project, so the very first thing I do is study the floor plan,” says Wright, who often finds himself re-creating the space in his studio. “The audio can be completely wacky because of the physical space, but I’m happy to hang speakers and do what I have to do to re-create comparable surroundings so that I have an idea of what it’s going to sound like in the real space.” When he took on the sound for the Carter Presidential Library’s theater, for instance, he was required to mix in 6.0 and figure out a way to create an environment in which sound panned six panels across the front of the theater. “I didn’t have a template, so I set up six speakers across my console and mixed from there,” he says. “The sound design and editing of these projects usually takes quite a bit longer than other projects, but it’s really enjoyable,” adds Wright, who relies on Pro Tools 8 and typically the plug-in Unwrap for his museum sound work.

photo of the Edge Studio team

The team at Edge Studio in New York City

Museums are one thing, but what about your dentist’s office? Not getting the connection yet? Well, maybe you’ve noticed the addition of a TV and DVD player in the waiting room of your dentist or doctor’s office. That’s because many professionals, in the medical community and beyond, have begun to play sales and promotional videos in waiting areas that combine product promotion with educational content. Each of these customer-centered videos relies on sound support—in some cases, quite heavily. For example, New York City’s Edge Studio recently provided voice recording and sound support for a series of waiting-room videos produced for TIAA CREF that provides information on financial investments. “The video communicates to TIAA CREF's customers that their local office offers numerous services, and it explains the processes, the benefits, the risks, of such services, so it’s part education and part sales,” says Edge Founder and President David Goldberg. Each of these videos features sound elements, most often in the way of voice-overs.

In fact, the voice-over plays such a critical role in today’s sound-for-picture projects that Edge has built a successful business on it. The company, which has grown to a staff of 22, specializes in providing voice recording and sound design for an extensive range of projects that include everything from animated educational videos for Disney to corporate sales presentations for Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines to training videos for the U.S. Army, and everything in between. And they’re not alone. While EggHead Productions in Rocklin, Calif., bills itself as a video production facility that focuses on branded entertainment, much of the company’s work—which centers on small to mid-tier businesses, government productions and creative content-driven projects such as Webisodes—is voice-over–heavy, reports Creative Director Dan Cunningham.

When it comes to voice-overs, a new trend has begun to take over. Foreign language recording, or ESL (English as a second language), has become big business for audio post facilities. “These projects require another set of skills on top of the ones needed to capture a solid voice recording, as translation is obviously a factor,” explains Goldberg. “For instance, we work on a number of projects that require English-to-Spanish translation. The challenge in these projects lies not only in the fact that there are multiple dialects in Spanish, but also in that Spanish is spoken at a different rate from English. If we’re doing a 60-second spot, for instance, it would typically run 75 seconds when done in Spanish, so we’ve got to be able to edit and effectively limit word choices to meet time requirements,” says Goldberg, who says Edge has created partnerships with a number of language and dialect experts to ensure accuracy.

Additional types of projects that require audio post work that are lesser known, yet popular, include “360s,” or Web-based tours (which are prominently used in the real estate, home rental, and health club industries); tutorials and Webinars; trade show videos; and branding videos.

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