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In this article, 8dB Sound’s Alan Sallabank considers the benefits of putting psychology before technology. He describes how to prepare yourself mentally for remote workflow sessions, suggests why the ‘new normal’ is becoming the ‘new better’ and how one tool, in particular, can help make your remote workflow sessions as stress-free as possible.
As much as we’d all like things to be different, the fact remains that Remote Workflow isn’t going anywhere any time soon. Existing ‘solutions’ such as Zoom, Google Meet, Skype (and many others) got ‘caught napping’, and the development of new ideas and products has been slowed down by the huge task of suddenly transferring physical meetings and gatherings that we’ve taken for granted, into the wild west that is the internet. So what can we do to help ease the transition, and turn the “new normal” into the “new better”?
Put Yourself First
Before you can even think about participating in Remote workflow, and more importantly, making a living from it, there’s one big investment you need to make, and that’s in yourself.
No amount of technology is going to help you if first and foremost, your mind isn’t in the right space. There’s an old saying – “electronics have in-built stress sensors”. This generally applies to printers and washing machines, but now it extends to remote workflow. While this saying isn’t strictly true (developers don’t design things to be difficult on purpose, despite your suspicions), what can really affect your success with remote workflow, is your own mental attitude.
Define Your Space
Your first step is to allocate space, wherever you are, that is your workspace. It doesn’t matter where it is, or how big it is, but you have to feel comfortable being there, for hours on end.
Your next task is then to define this workspace with your housemates. Make them fully aware that this is your place of work, and that while you’re in there, you are not to be disturbed. This is vitally important and I’ll explain why later.
Get yourself a comfortable chair, that supports you properly and keeps your posture correct. If you’re vertically challenged like me, get a footrest. You are likely to be sat there for hours at a time, so it’s vitally important that doing so doesn’t give you long-lasting health issues. Make sure you can operate your mouse/trackball/trackpad easily without obstruction, and that your posture is correct when using the keyboard or any control surface you have. A good rule of thumb is to make sure that your knuckles normally rest lower than your wrists, while you’re using your keyboard. If your knuckles are above your wrist, it compresses the tendons and can contribute to tendonitis, otherwise known as RSI. You may need to raise your chair to achieve this, which is where the footrest comes in.
Present Like You’re In The Studio
I certainly wouldn’t turn up to the studio for a physical presentation, in my joggers (aka ‘WFH uniform’) or dressing gown. And I wouldn’t take along various personal artefacts to arrange around myself, such as family photos.
Present yourself professionally, and you’ll be treated professionally. Make sure you have a plain uncluttered, tidy background – make sure your laundry isn’t out!
‘Broadcast’ presentation matters as well. Avoid things like Bluetooth earbuds/headphones, as they have a knack of dropping reception or running low on battery at exactly the wrong time. Get yourself the best webcam possible and also a hard-wired microphone. Even better is the headset-style mic, as they provide better isolation against your clients’ return audio.
Choose a mic placement where you can be clearly heard without having to raise your voice. A raised voice implies stress, which is the last thing you want to communicate.
Get Your Hardware Sorted
On your main host system computer, make sure that you only have the essential apps open that you need for the task in hand. Imagine it’s the studio computer – make sure all the myriad of things like Facebook messenger etc aren’t open and you don’t get bombarded with notifications from unnecessary apps running.
Get yourself a wired connection to your router. 30 metre long Cat6 flat ethernet cables are available online, next day delivery, for less than £20, and are totally suitable for running out of a window and back in where your router is connected. At the beginning of the pandemic, I had one literally running over the roof and back into my living room, where my router is.
I wouldn’t recommend an ethernet-over-mains solution, as they can be very unreliable, don’t work very well in multi-ring installations, and very rarely perform anything near as fast as advertised.
Find a friendly ‘buddy’ to try out your presentation before you go live. It doesn’t have to be someone technically minded – indeed it’s better if they’re not – remember that most often, the people you are collaborating with do not possess the same technical skillset that you do, so always keep this in mind.
Use your buddy experiences to put together a concise, but most importantly, accurate ‘how-to guide’ that you can send to collaborators ahead of the session.
Clients Need Confidence Above Everything Else
This is the main thing you need to concentrate on, and it’s contributed to, by everything I’ve already covered. Clients need to know that despite you working remotely, the job is going to get done, in time, on budget, and to the exacting requirements, they normally expect.
By getting your own ship in order before you invite anyone “onboard”, that gives you the self-confidence that you can impart to your clients. This of course leads me to a very important issue –
For A Specific Specialised Job, Use A Specific Specialised Tool
You wouldn’t turn up to a corporate cleaning job with a £50 supermarket vacuum cleaner. And you wouldn’t attempt to mix anything destined for broadcast on Garageband (at least I really hope not).
So, why use a video conferencing system that billions of other people around the world are using? It doesn’t make sense and certainly doesn’t help you achieve giving your client a similar quality experience as if they were sitting next to you.
For this very specific specialised job (because nothing we do is ‘normal’), you need a purpose-designed solution, which can give your clients the experience of being sat next to you, seeing everything in full frame rate, full HD, with full resolution uninterrupted, in-sync sound. For this, you need to checkout the brilliant Source-Live Low Latency, by Source Elements.
Source-Live Low Latency – Professional Solutions For Professionals
Just before Christmas, Source Elements released the latest version of their Source-Live software – Source-Live Low Latency. As the name suggests, this is a low latency, full HD (1920×1080) version of their live video streaming solution that has been around a while.
Notable improvements with the new “LL” version are –
- Full HD (1920×1080) pictures,
- Full Frame Rate pictures (vitally important for lip-sync)
- High resolution locked sync Stereo audio – 5.1 coming soon
- Low latency – 350ms from transit to receive regardless of the number of viewers
- Hardware input – send proper HDMI or SDI pictures from your video device, rather than loading your GPU with screen capture.
- Accessible from any device with a Chrome Browser
- Low internet bandwidth, making collaboration over 4G (LTE) or even 3G, viable
- Dedicated servers devoted to the Source Live Gateway
- Full video conferencing, with “broadcaster override”
- Major Studio approved security
Professional Hardware Compatibility
Source-Live can derive its picture source from a variety of sources, and indeed can do “picture-in-picture” with any combination of these sources.
Most streaming software can pick up a webcam input or a screen capture, but this raises two issues.
- A webcam input is often locked to non-HD resolution and frame-rates – for example, a lot of software does not recognise a 24p input, which is an issue for those of us in filmland.
- A screen capture can get very GPU intensive, which can impede your DAW’s performance significantly and indeed make the whole rig unstable. It also depends heavily on what screen “real estate” you have – whether you have more than one monitor.
Source-Live can derive its input from professional video capture cards as well as individual application windows and the NDI network video infrastructure. There is a whole raft of professional spec video capture equipment that is compatible – I’ve found great results with the Blackmagic Ultrastudio Recorder (available as Thunderbolt 3 or PCIe) and the AJA U-Tap, which is USB3 and class-compliant, so no drivers needed to use.
With these devices, you can “loopback” your full-res full frame rate picture from your pro video device (in my case a Blackmagic Decklink 4K) back into Source-Live. That was, your attendees are truly seeing exactly what you’re seeing.
Another advantage of being able to feed from an external input is that you can offload the CPU and GPU load from Source-Live, to another computer entirely. Source-Live has been designed from the beginning to be dual-platform – Windows and Mac, and there is absolutely no difference between the two versions. Offloading your hardware overheads from your Pro Tools system enhances the stability of your rig, and the confidence of your clients.
Source Elements have researched a lot of hardware in their quest to find good solutions for all budgets and scenarios. You can find a really neat compatibility guide on their website.
You can even tailor the refresh rate of the ‘broadcast’ video to match the refresh rate of your attendees’ screen – if they’re watching on a standard flat-screen TV plugged into the HDMI output of their laptop or desktop, they can see frame for frame exactly what you are seeing, with no pan judders or pixelation.
If your clients have security concerns with streaming a full-HD full frame rate picture, then you can superimpose a watermark over the image.
Let’s Get Streaming!
Once you’ve got your audio and video sources sorted, you can get to streaming.
You will need to enter your Source Elements account details into Source-Live, and of course, purchase some “broadcast time”, and then you can start streaming. If you need to record your session for any reason, you can record your broadcast straight to disk as well.
Just press “Start Streaming”, then select the “Go To Gateway” option –
This will take you to the Source Elements Gateway…
This is where your attendees can log in to the “chatroom”, plus if you are the broadcaster, you can log in for extra privileges, when it comes to managing the session.
Your attendees can set up their audio and video I/O and are then able to see the pictures and hear audio, either in absolute full screen or with chat attendees simultaneously.
Once logged in, you can see all the other attendees and do the usual things like having the Space bar on your keyboard assigned to your talkback and being able to switch off your camera, for the time when your cat video bombs your session.
From that point, it’s very much like other ‘off the shelf’ streaming/conferencing solutions, except a whole lot better.
The pictures are stable, the audio is top quality and uninterrupted, and the CPU and internet bandwidth load are all very efficient. Yes, there aren’t little niceties like virtual backgrounds, but those never really help a professional “feel” to a session, and I personally find them more distracting.
Source-Live is available on subscription and has a range of ‘tariffs’. In my opinion, the pricing is much fairer than other solutions, as it is per minute, per attendee. So, the more attendees you have at the same time, the more you pay. However, even then, the tariff never goes above the nearest competitor.
This pricing model actually favours small enterprises – those who are generally interacting one-to-one, maybe for a final mix review, a spotting session, or an edit sign-off.
Not ‘The New Normal’ – The New Better
Source-Live can help make the whole remote workflow experience for your clients as seamless and transparent as possible. Your main objective should be to make the session no different from a “normal” session – no juddery pictures, no stuttering, no low-quality audio, no huge delays in communication. Indeed there are many ways in which this ‘new normal’ can actually be better.
Remote workflow has had a real positive effect on the people who ultimately matter most in our industry – the end consumers. Without them, we are lost.
It’s great that finally, industry creatives are now engaging with how the average consumer sees and hears things. It’s all very well sitting in an 800 square foot, THX, state of the art, darkened mix room with 8K laser projection, but if your dialogue is illegible and your picture grade only resolves as varying degrees of grey, to the average consumer in their living room, then the long term effect is that even when the cinemas reopen, or live performances recommence, your customers won’t return to you.
Remote workflows force you to take your customer’s perspective, which is no bad thing. Source Elements have a vast range of solutions that can help you achieve this. I strongly recommend that you check out Source-Live, as in my opinion, it’s one of the most significant developments of 2020.
It’s not just for us soundies – everyone working with pictures and sound can benefit from this software – film editors, picture graders, VFX editors/designers, even film sets. I’ve managed to successfully broadcast full HD pictures from an ADR session, from the depths of the British countryside, with only 3G coverage. At the same time, the ubiquitous ‘solution’ that rhymes with ‘room’, was barely able to manage sound, let alone pictures in full HD and full frame rate.
Source-Live may not have the prettiest of interfaces, and it may not be quite as intuitive as other software, for the end-users, but, the benefits of having low-latency, easy and quality workflow, are really worth the effort of helping your clients work with this.
With Source-Live Low Latency, it really is like having the client in the room with you.