When starting a post-audio session for a commercial or corporate presentation I am frequently asked by my client, “what should we do first?” My reply is always “Prep the dialogue and sync tracks then cut the music.” Quite often a client will come to a post- audio session with grand expectations for his or her project involving multiple layers of sound effects and ambience. While these elements can lead to a rich finished product, they can also conflict with or be obscured by a powerful music track. Start your session by assembling the music bed tracks. You can then decide which sound FX will add to your mix, saving the time of cutting in layer upon layer of material that you may eventually drop in the mix.
Make no mistake about it — if you are watching a colour television picture on a North American television set, the actual frame rate of the picture is 29.97 frames per second, not 30.
Although not the rule, more often that not post-audio clients don’t care what specific equipment is being used in their session as long as the end product satisfies their requirements. Of much greater import are the creative and interpersonal skills of the engineer operating that equipment. Of course technical proficiency is a must. However the ability to put the customer at ease, gain his or her trust, and produce the desired product in a reasonable time period is what will earn you customer loyalty.
One great indicator of customer comfort level is the amount of time that they book for the session. Customers quite often book sessions with their chequebook in mind, not their project. If a session is booked for six hours and you produce a brilliant track but take eight, your client will be dissatisfied that he is over budget despite your creative genius. If you take only four hours but produce a substandard track then once again your client will be upset this time at your lack of effort. The key is to do your the possible job within a reasonable margin of the allotted time. If you feel that the time frame for the job is not reasonable then the client should be made aware of this early in the process, so he or she can make arrangements to solve the problem satisfactorily. Studio monitoring can also prove problematic for clients. No two systems or rooms sound the same and the client who spends only a fraction of the time that you do listening in your environment is easily confused. As a result, he may often ask you to make changes to your mix that will adversely affect the end product. If you feel that the client is misinterpreting the sound in the monitors, be patient. You don’t want them to feel that you are being uncooperative. Try to gain their trust. Explain that your experience is an important and integral part of the monitoring system. You are more important in fact than any of the individual physical components. In time, most clients will simply defer to your experience. Remember that a state of the art, multi-million dollar recording studio operated by amateurish staff is really just a worthless bunch of buttons and knobs! This business is all about people.
Richard Spence-Thomas is the Manager and Chief Engineer of Spence-Thomas Audio Post.