4 common challenges of sound spotting remotely (and how to overcome them)

Sound spotting is an almost mythical process in the development of a movie, television show, or other video projects. These "seen" and unseen sound effects of footfalls, birds singing, hushed conversations, and so on can have a dramatic impact on the tone and texture of the finished product.

It can be a very complex and intimate process, and like many elements of post-production collaboration, it has largely been conducted through in-person sessions where all creative parties involved can watch through footage together and “feel” the rhythm of the edit until they’ve identified the perfect soundscape for the final product.

So how do you tackle this crucial collaborating in a remote work environment?

We are all suddenly thrust into a world where we must collaborate through screens, emails, and phone calls as we try to piece together a cohesive final product.

This has brought its own challenges that audio and music editors have to face, but we've compiled a list of our top 4 common challenges when sound spotting remotely and some tips and tricks on overcoming them.

4 Common Challenges of Sound Spotting Remotely (and How to Overcome Them)

Challenge #4: Low audio playback quality on live calls

When sampling sounds for certain moments in a project, it's important that you be able to hear that sound to its fullest potential. But when attempting to audition audio over a traditional video call or Google Teams collaboration session, the audio may not live up to its intended glory. This goes double if live foley is being auditioned.

You can employ a few tips and tricks when trying to improve your audio playback quality during a virtual sound-spotting session.

Invest in a high-quality USB-connected microphone

This is one that is likely already in any editor's toolkit, but it bears repeating. Having a high-quality microphone on hand that has the capability of plugging directly into a USB port will save you in many a moment of "this won't play for me." You can utilize this to audition real instruments, foley creations, etc., over video or voice calls and capture the true essence of the sound itself.

Send collaborators audio files via a shared cloud-based drive

When screen-sharing playback falls short, have a shared backup drive of all the sounds you may want to audition for the piece in a cloud-based drive where they can access each sound from their end and play it directly.

Make sure your fellow collaborators/clients are using high-quality headphones.

If you’re able, maybe even provide some to them, but ensure that they’re not listening to your sounds or mixes through devices like an iPhone or laptop speakers.

While collaborating on sound design over Zoom may not be ideal (and we'll get to that later), these will help you eke out every last bit of quality you can from your audio sources.

Challenge #3: Inaccurate audio placement notes

In sound spotting sessions, timing is everything. It doesn’t just matter what sounds go in, but where they go in, and when you’re working remotely, getting accurate notes from clients and collaborators can be a challenge.

“After the bird flaps three times, I want to hear a branch crack right at the tail end.”

“Can the music swell a bit as they look each other in the eyes, then come down a little for a few seconds, maybe a minute, then come back up again somewhere around when he blinks that weird way?”

If you’ve attempted collaborating over email or video chat, these notes no doubt sound painfully familiar.

Thankfully there is a way to overcome it. Several post-production sound mixers suggest creating "pre-mixes" of suggested sounds for a scene or project and then sending an entire exported video/audio file to all collaborators so they can make timestamp-accurate notes on any additions, subtractions, or overall changes they'd like made. While this can be time-consuming, it helps save some time "guessing" on sound placements.

Challenge #2: Security

No matter how you're sharing files or collaborating virtually, when you’re working with digital files being transferred in a digital space, security becomes of the utmost importance.

With an increase in sensitive information being transferred online, the temptation for scammers, hackers, and other digital assailants is at its highest level yet. When you send a brand new edit to a client, you want to be sure that it's going to be seen by their eyes and their eyes only.

Here are some ways to ensure that your file transfers always remain secure.

Only deliver content through HTTPS sites.

HTTPS encryption enables a secure, encrypted transfer between the host and the user accessing the information. Whenever you're sending files through a web-based program, ensure that site is utilizing HTTPS encryption so you can be sure that no prying "eyes" can peek at your data as it's being transferred.

Utilize a secure file-sharing site that has controlled access

Programs like Citrix ShareFile allow you to save and send media files with state-of-the-art encryption and only allow specific users access to files being transferred. While a bit more expensive than using services like Google Drive, higher-level secure cloud-based systems like this are less vulnerable to attack or intrusion.

And file transfers aren’t where the security stops when you’re mixing for a client. Secure storage is a must from the first download to the last transfer.

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Ensure you’re using encrypted storage drives for sound editing and backup

This one may be a no-brainer, but ensuring that you have physical, encrypted backups of all your files is a must when working digitally. Invest in high-quality solid-state storage drives that offer bank-level encryption and RAID backups so you can be sure that your data is always safe and secure.

But all of these challenges so far still haven’t really addressed the number one problem facing anyone trying to conduct a remote sound spotting session, which is:

Challenge #1: Being able to do real-time collaboration

This is by far the biggest challenge facing remote sound spotting sessions; the inability to effectively collaborate together in real-time.

No matter how many times you send a file or a drive back and forth, you can't replicate the productivity and the magic of sitting together with your footage and making decisions in real-time. That's the place where creativity flows, and sometimes even a spark of genius jumps from creative to creative.

And anyone who has tried to run a sound spotting session over a traditional remote office co-working platform can tell you these platforms just fall short for creatives.

The biggest problem is lag. When you try to run a sound spotting session via a Zoom meeting or other web-based video collaboration programs, lag can cause video and audio to fall out of sync or drop out entirely, leading to more frustration than true collaboration.

Plus, with sound spotting, timing and pacing are everything. Without a seamless stream of video and audio, there’s no way to get the rhythm just right during a live session.

And it’s not entirely the fault of Zoom or other platforms. They simply weren’t built for the specific needs of creatives collaborating on data-heavy audio-visual projects.

Thankfully, there is a purpose-built solution just for remote-working audio and video producers.

Evercast is a remote collaboration platform specifically designed for video and audio production teams. It allows editors to stream their workflow sessions in HD while video chatting and making notes with their other remote team members, all under one seamless platform.

Working with a purpose-built platform for video and audio editing collaboration makes all the difference when you're looking to recreate that authentic feel of being in the editing station together. It prioritizes low-latency streaming, so everyone is watching and listening to the same thing at the same time, as it was intended. It allows team members to make notes attached to specific timestamps in the video, saving you time hunting down the exact moment to make a change.

Most importantly, it allows you all to look each other in the eye as you collaborate and see people's reactions in real-time, an important and often overlooked part of the creative process. It allows you to feel the "rhythm" of your creative product and your creative team and make those "gut instinct" choices that sometimes become your savior. 

Being able to do it all under one platform that works seamlessly with whatever editing software you use makes it the perfect ecosystem for audio spotting, mixing, and anything else your project may demand.

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