Adjusting to the restrictions imposed by COVID-19, Australia’s leading studios have proven fast to adapt to the new normal. Implementing remote working practices, rising to the challenge of limiting physical attendance and employing rigorous in-studio health and safety protocols, our top players in sound open up to Campaign Brief on their triumphs and struggles during what has been our most testing year.
For many in audio production, the biggest disruption to day-to-day operations has been in communications.
“You can’t just go into the next room and ask a question,” Bang Bang Studios director Stephen Renfree says. “We’ve had to make sure everyone has their phones nearby and switched on – the opposite of a day in session at the office – and that everyone has the technology they need to function creatively and professionally.”
Renfree reveals tasks such as backing sessions up or getting information so a job can be invoiced have taken on a slightly greater degree of difficulty because of communication. Another big challenge has been the simple emotional one of not being alongside your mates. “We’re all really good friends and it’s hard not seeing each other,” he admits.
Renfree says Bang Bang Studios has however adapted to working remotely: “The technology at our disposal in 2020 makes thing possible that only five years ago would have been very difficult.”
At the time of writing, the Melbourne based studio is in Stage Four Lockdown, with staff legally prohibited from entering the office and spread across locales from Byron Bay to Hobart.
With multiple studio locations around the world, Squeak E. Clean Studios had moved to a cloud-based system well before COVID-19 hit. Jobs, meetings, presentations and happy hours were already being managed via the studio’s central integrated system, so when the team had to work from home the workflow and systems were rehearsed and in place.
“When the more physical issues with COVID-19 arose with social distancing and, for Melbourne, the inability to enter the workplace in Stage Four Lockdown, we just had to roll with the punches and work out solutions,” explains executive creative producer Karla Henwood.
“That ranged from simple scheduling changes to minimise people in the workplace, to setting up an ‘At Home Voice-Over Kit’ that we couriered out to actors who didn’t already have the ability to record remotely, to us moving whole studio set-ups offsite. Thankfully, all the clients and talent who would normally come in for a recording session have also adapted and embraced the changes.”
Remote working practices and technologies were also pre-built into Sonar’s client servicing processes. Explains executive producer Sophie Haydon: “Recording talent remotely – whether it be in interstate or international studios or even in the talent’s home studio – has been standard practice for some time now. Similarly, in regards to music composition, clients have always reviewed and given feedback remotely.”
According to Haydon, allowing clients to attend recordings via ZOOM, Skype or Microsoft Teams was simple to integrate into this process and allows feedback to still be instantaneous.
One of the most significant changes to Sonar’s workflow has been in limiting physical attendance at the studio and incorporating remote communication technologies into everyday sessions to ensure clients have a consistently high-quality experience.
“We have implemented thorough cleaning protocols, hand sanitising stations are set up in our facility and also there are daily temperature tests conducted on site. Production work can mostly be done remotely and because our composers and engineers work in-house in separate studios, close contact is kept to an absolute minimum.”
Rumble Studios executive producer Michael Gie says making sure all software worked seamlessly so clients could listen and watch in real time from anywhere in the world, maintaining the back-and-forth flow of communication, has been crucial.
He quips the word ‘Zoom’ will send a cold shiver down everybody’s spine in the future, but it’s been an effective tool to keep business running and relationships strong. “We’ve become connoisseurs of hand sanitisers and the studio has never been so shiny with our cleaning protocols. The lockdown also meant that talent around the world, as well as high profile actors, were more available via link up so we used it as an opportunity to extend our talent pool.”
In the early lock-down phase, most of Song Zu’s staff worked remotely with voice over talent, mainly recording from their homes. “We had some complicated set-ups with clients on Zoom and voice overs on Source Connect, but it all worked surprisingly well,” says managing director Ian Lew.
“Our staff are coming in when they need to be on site, and they generally work in their own spaces with strict limits on the number of people allowed into rooms. We have also added sign-in protocols for all staff and clients alike, like most businesses out there.”
Getting up to speed also proved a steep learning curve for Smith & Western Sound, but once workstations were in place, the teams settled in and clients enjoyed the seamless transition into a new way of working. “It’s fair to say that audio is probably one of the few aspects of advertising production which has not been affected too badly,” admits executive producer Dan Higson. “As we know, filming stopped altogether but nothing has prevented clients from making radio ads and so on.”
Higson says Smith & Western Sound takes the threat of COVID-19 rightly serious.“We disinfect all touch points before and after a session and we also provide disinfecting wipes and hand sanitiser. Face masks are required for staff and Voice Over (VO) singers and musicians who enter our facility. If there are multiple VOs coming in sequence, we ask them to wait in their car until the previous person has left and we’ve disinfected the voice-over room.”
“Before we moved back into the studio from our homes, the whole S&W team were tested for COVID-19 and we’re pleased to say that the results came back negative,” Higson adds.
One company that hasn’t seen its work practices change at all is MusicBrief. Says executive producer Jodie Vignes: “We have worked online and remotely since the day we launched in early 2018, so it’s been business as usual for us.”
She feels extremely fortunate that the MusicBrief business model hasn’t had to adapt in any way. “Our global roster of composers all work out of their own studios so they have still been able to work on the briefs uploaded to the MusicBrief platform, even during the various lockdowns in their countries.”
Whilst lockdown hasn’t directly affected MusicBrief’s business operations, it has affected the team’s overall outlook. Says Vignes: “We used the lockdown period to assess our goals, make plans for future growth and figure out how we can inject our passion for music production into every facet of the company. While we have been introspective, we have also looked out to the community and at how we can use our skills and platform to give back.”
To that end, MusicBrief is currently working on developing a charity partnership with young people in music as a non-profit. “We are really excited to be able to put our time into making meaningful connections.”
People in a Time of Pandemic
Increasingly, Sonar is finding its local clients are choosing to work remotely. With the advent of working virtually, Haydon is also finding the barriers of doing business……
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