Workflow: It really is everything.

Like so many of you that are in the profession of music/audio/media/doing-what-I-can-to-not-be-at-the-job-centre, will find, Technology is always a bane and a must have thing to make sure you are up with the buzz words and hip with the kids. We tend to buy and upgrade massively and excessively to the point we always just hit “automatically install updates” or we just instantly buy that Fruit phone 9c. Do we need too is my point. Have/are we becoming conditioned to instantly download or replace as soon as possible? is it just for the latest thing and buzzword? Examples of Buzzwords I’m sure you have heard of and are now quite sick of… “4k” “trueHD” “Full HD”  “8K” “DLSR” “Waves bundle”

Ok, ok… so I know what you are thinking out there…. “woh, woh, woh, Ash, you say these buzzwords” yes, I know. I am forced into saying them. right? well you see, it is a thing of nature, a call and response kinda thing… like hip hop…. “when I say hip, you say hop….. HIP…..(adoring fans) HOP” so when a student says to me “have you heard that {insert brand name here} are making the new ultra high def cut your eyeballs and spray salt in there 64K screen?” I instantly go for all the latest stuff I’ve been reading and spew out a stream of standards, figures and buzzwords to make them do the famous scene in “Catch me if you can”… “I concur”.

Now don’t get me wrong I love tech, I do upgrade and get that Fruit phone 9c, and I’m not getting in the way of progress or against the future coming soon. There is all kinds of awesomeness out there and it’s great really that we have technology and its staggering rate of development going on, but.. and a big but…. I have noticed people, including professionals I know, and friends etc get hooked too much on the gear we use to accomplish what we are trying to create. Factoring the success of something down to the systems we use.

Examples.

“I can’t do this without the “{brand} plugin, it just is not possible”

“You can’t work with that OS, it’s soooo buggy and slow”

“4gb of Ram?! Ha! even with 16gb of Ram you are going to run into problems.”

“That’s your problem, you built your machine.. a team of experts calculated every piece to work on mine already… THATS why its £3000 more.”

Now, ok. I admit. One or two of you….ok, or the one or two of you that actually read this, will be waving your fist at the screen going “Tidball! Why I oughtta…!” and feel like bashing this out with me. Yes I have have said that in the past, or words like it, but come on, who doesn’t get excited when they get that new system or an amazing plugin…. but you will always hear me say it comes down to one thing… and to discover what that one thing is, send $199.99    😉

The one thing is, Wait for it,…… Work Flow.

Work Flow?! I want my $200 back! No seriously. Its something I learned whilst on the job. Let me break it down.

 

Time:

I always start at the end. What is the product I need to deliver here? What are the time restraints, and most importantly, how much is the budget? This approach can be applied to almost anything. University assignments, corporate works, film production. You prioritize the Product in terms of how much, how long. Never compromise on quality though. Think about how much time it will take you to realistically finish the work and always add on a few days just for any issues or even a flash of brilliance. A problem can occur with what I call “the perfection factor”. Some people never finish work due to this. You can get stuck in a loop of not being able to finish as your work never feels up to the quality you desire which makes you feel like you are compromising. You need a cut off. Or a kill switch. There are sometimes that even if it is your own loving project, you must learn how to kill your babies… so to speak. I find a cut off is essential and more vital than a piece of hardware.

Example:

Little Johnny is recording  a really awesome guitarist who has limited time to perform, but liked Johnny’s spark of enthusiasm and says “hey kid, lets make a track’. Johnny is excited and realises there isn’t much time… He grabs a mic he’s used at gigs and sticks it in the front. Bam. Hit record as little Johnny’s mate says the classic line “we’ll fix it in the mix”.

Freeze frame. At this point, hit little Johnny’s mate in the face with the gig mic and tell him to sling it. “Fix it in the Mix” I have done that in the past and I am telling you now, it is not an efficient workflow, never mind good practice. I’ll tell you what that gets you… it gets you 27 hours of comping an entire rhythm section into a live  multi-track recording as some one didn’t patch the gear correctly… NEVER rely on Fix in the Mix. ALWAYS look at the source. Little Johnny would spend 15+ hours EQ’ing and processing his guitarist sound. He could have done two simple things like, Mic choice (A better acoustic mic), and better Mic Placement. Both would have taken about 3 minutes of testing and the result would be better. Johnny would have worked those 15+ because he is a perfectionist. He didn’t know when to stop and  would go on to never using that work as he was not pleased with it. 3 years later, Johnny is found in a dumpster with a note… “If only I didn’t Fix in the Mix”.

Johnny should have had a cut off. A point where his perfection levels should be capped for this project, a realists point of view. He will never get the amazing sound he is looking for with the work. Instead he uses the kill switch. Here is the best mix I can do with this work. I can present that or I could offer to re-record.
Time management is vital to work your product from a business sense. Too much time spent will mean you are working for £2.09 an hour, trust me, these figures are correct. I always now block my project into workable goals and limits. A day here, a week there and 3 days error factor. Things WILL go wrong. Developing a target/goal approach, a kill switch and a way to tackle problems will quickly narrow your work load and focus the project.

 

Delivery:

Working backwards, we have a cost, a time, and the project brief. We know a rough guide of our working hours. We know our final format/delivery.

Delivery is paramount. I know many people (including me) have been asked for a Final stereo Master mixed in ProTools. Some people instantly ask “do you need the mix session or just the final output” this is because (and I’m betting some have already laughed at this thought)  you will already be thinking about taking the raw work and loading it into your favorite DAW like Cubase or Logic. This is your workflow. You know that you have a certain set of tools and a way you work, templates, plugins, setups… already to go and get you on the way to finishing this piece. Working in your environment is a great thing. You are king… but hold on, the director of this piece has said they want to send it to there guy in New York and tweak your work around the film and he needs the ProTools session…. now you are thinking, shit, I need to get this Cubase mix into Pro Tools…. and now my friend, you are back to “Fix in the Mix” adding countless hours on to your time of completion. Maybe a bit of work in ProTools is not so bad to do from time to time.

This is the main core of my process of Work Flow. The systems. Now I love working with many different products, and I do find sometimes I am bias towards the “fruity” computers but I try not to get stuck and become an OS or DAW snob. Look, if you don’t know ProTools because its not like Cubase or Logic, then shame on you and people like me may get your work. I know what you are saying but what Im saying is don’t stick with one thing for ever, after all its only software. I suggest that if you don’t like a program, find out why not. Break it down yourself, Don’t rely on Sound on sound to make up your mind for you, actually play with it. Its the same for editors for video. Don’t believe Final Cut is the world. Now before you start slamming me, realise my point. I’m not saying you can’t have favorites, I’m saying be open and work with whats needed. They are TOOLS at the end of it, and if the company that has hired you has said they want a ProTools mix and you have to deliver one, then that’s why you should know that system.

Sometimes you may have to get hold of certain gear to achieve the final result, but this is a step that you should really think long and hard about. Do you really need that 4K camera when your delivery is for short film and internet? The expense and the additional computational workflow for that system alone will need more time and more money. Do you really need that 12 channel Nagra recorder for location when you are doing an interview setup?
People argue to the cows turn blue that ProTools has a better DAW “sound” and cubase can do this and Logic is better for that… its the work flow you are use to that dictates  your passion for a system. “You can’t mix that with only 3 plugins and 2GB of RAM” Im sorry to tell you this but, yes… yes you can.

This brings me on to the gear.

Gear:

You need the gear relevant for the job. A boom operator would not use an SM57 to mic the lead role, for example. Work in to the cost if you need to hire but plan out ever step where possible. If its a location shoot and on set you have 6 people talking do you hire boom ops or clip mic? all channels or downmix? Its choices that you make, that define your workflow process. There is always the chain around your neck that says “you can’t do this with that as its 3 years old”. Listen buddy. I live by the rule I was once told by a master… “never trust a man that has not used an Atari 1040st” What I actually mean by this is… if your system is 5 years old and craps out with 4 channels of audio… look at stepping up before you do yourself a professional injury. Its not gonna get you through… but if your system records 16 audio channels has a really great audio interface and could produce top results for clients 5 years ago and still can today…. why upgrade so quickly just because of the operating system is out of date? 

Technology is my point and If you have already invested time and money into making your work flow… work, then you need to review your projects coming in and ask “could I be making more money are developing better or creating better if i upgraded to xxx unit” if the answer is maybe, re-look at the question and see what areas need the improvement. Most of the time everyone has only upgraded to keep with the curve. Just think. People where/are making entire albums of amazing work, editing fantastic films and production professional results with gear slightly older (or even analogue) because they have the perfect work flow for them, they KNOW what is the best way to produce what is required and they spend the time in the planning stages.

Technology is, like spiderman, a blessing and a curse. If you get hooked up on the fact you are always upgrading or getting the latest, you can’t develop a workflow. I am not saying don’t learn and keep up-to-date, because the people that dwell on the past and the glory days/equipment will Die out with that stuff. Instead, take time to seperate the two elements. Celebrate technology and integrate the new into your workflow when you feel it will make you more efficient. Keep your workflow working and making money. Define your outcome, your time, your cost, your gear and your product. Work backwards and always check at the source.

I have equipment that is getting on, but I’m not pushing my upgrade until I hit the wall that will not let me progress. A computer from 2 years ago that was the top spec then, is a million times better than what year 2000 Ash Tidball had. If I can’t perfect myself with this machine, what will the new system do? Also award winning product is down to the delivery of the content. The users or people on the other side of the curtain will never judge or break things down just because of an operating system or a version4 piece of software compared to version 5.2, and as creators and producers, why should we?