Audio postproduction has come a long way in a short time and competition is tight. At Dallas Audio Post they’re keeping on top of it with a big control room upgrade. DAP owner and chief engineer Roy Machado tells us how they planned it and pulled it off
SVC: Roy, tell us what’s been going on at DAP.
Roy Machado: Thanks for having me Bennett. Dallas Audio Post is an audio postproduction provider for TV, film, any kind of visual media. We’re a vendor to advertising agencies, TV production companies, film production companies. We provide all the typical audio postproduction services, anything from sound design, mixing, Foley, ADR. We are primarily a B-to-B business, so we are dealing with TV networks and film production companies, and advertising agencies for the most part.
Ok and you’ve got an impressive list of clients I noticed so you’re used to working with the top people.
We are. We’ve been in business now 27 years, so we’ve had a lot of experience and built up our clientele throughout the country.
Right now, we’re all emerging from the pandemic and a lot of us have been working from home. For most of us, that just involves having a phone and a decent Internet connection, but I would imagine that your people required a lot more sophisticated home setup.
Absolutely. One of the interesting things that happened prior to the pandemic is we were contacted about three months before lockdown by a very large political campaign. They asked us, “Will you work on our campaign, and will you be willing to work nights, weekends, and any time that we need you?” So the engineers decided to make sure we had proper Pro Tools setups at home that mirrored the setups here at the studio–all the same software, all the same plug-ins, and all the same capabilities. We built all that up during that November and December prior to the pandemic hitting. When the pandemic started we were actually considered an essential business by the state of Texas so we did not have to shut down. However, we did have to limit people coming to the studio. So we decided we would short staff the facility and have one or two engineers only come in every day and then the rest of the people work from home and just kind of rotate up that way. It worked out really well for us. We really didn’t skip a beat. We had people here at the studio. We had people at home. If I work at home or one of the other engineers worked from home their Pro Tools systems were exactly what we have in the studio so we could just send files back and forth and update things wherever we were. It was a bit of serendipity for us to have these complete systems built up prior to the pandemic; we did not have to react to the world shutting down. We were very fortunate to have been proactive in setting all this stuff up. We honestly did not change our workflow one bit.
So today the big story is the Control Room A upgrade. That was such a substantial thing and the pictures on your website are incredible. It must have involved some very detailed planning.
Yeah. I can back up a little bit and say that this facility was built from the ground up about nine years ago and it was designed by the late, great Francis Manzella. These rooms are all spectacular. Fabulous acoustic environments, each and every one of the five rooms that we have. The Control A upgrade this time around did not involve acoustical changes to the room, it involved new monitoring for our left, center, and right speakers, new consoles or control surfaces to replace the aging one that we had, upgraded Dante capabilities in the room, and then updated monitor control before the room. So the room did not have to go through any kind of extensive construction, it was more about taking out the monitoring that was there, putting in new wiring, and then putting in the new gear. It was a process that took several months of planning to decide what it was that we were looking to change in the room and what capabilities needed to be addressed in the room. And then once determinations were made I set out to kind of design the new system and then start purchasing the gear and going through the implementation of the system.
And I noticed that you went straight to the top of the line on the main speakers with the Genelec 1238As.
Yes. They’re fabulous speakers and they’re just stunning in this room. We have a lot of experience with Genelec here at Dallas Audio Post. We have, through the years, had many Genelec monitors. We had the Genelec 1032 monitors in this room before and they were, honestly, a bit on the small side for a room of this size. It’s a pretty big cubic volume in this room. So we decided that the 1238As would be a perfect fit for this room. We first considered the 1237s, but we thought since this room was slightly bigger than the other we could use a little larger low-end extension and a little larger woofer. The 1238As look beautiful and they sound just phenomenal. We sit probably a good 12-13 feet off of the monitors so it’s definitely a midfield monitoring situation and it just has worked out tremendously well. And the fact that the 1238As have the built-in acoustic management capabilities really lets us dial in these speakers so they have optimal performance in the space.
Your work has to be played back in some environments totally different than the ideal one you have in the facility. How do you test the response in very challenging listening environments like train stations, football stadiums, and places like that?
Well, that’s a good question. We work a lot in the sports world. We handle a lot of audio that is played back in game at the Dallas Stars hockey games as well as the Dallas Mavericks and Texas Rangers baseball team. So what we typically do in those types of situations is that we go visit those venues and we measure the frequency response of the room as well as the reverb characteristics of the room. We’ll shoot impulses of those rooms and we’ll do frequency sweeps and play pink noise through those systems and we can analyze what is going on in those rooms. Then we come back to the studio and then we digitally recreate that environment by matching up frequency response and matching those reverb times. And then when we create mixes we simulate what those mixes sound like in those environments and we can make appropriate adjustments. For instance, when working on mixes that play back at the hockey games, that room has very large and long reverb times and also a very, very active low end. The frequency response in the 50Hz and down to the 30Hz range is just off the charts in that space. So we have to create mixes that are not too boomy and busy for that type of environment. Once we recreate that space and we play back our mixes here we certainly do make a lot of adjustments to make sure that those mixes play back as intended.
You’ve also added two of the Avid S1 Slimline mixing surfaces. What advantages did that give you?
Well, the decision to replace our previous control surface, which was an Avid C24, basically was about just coming up to the latest workflows authored by Avid, which is their EUCON-based controllers. EUCON is Avid’s proprietary software or control algorithm that they use to control the software with their hardware controllers. EUCON is very interesting; it’s always being updated and new capabilities added. So our experience with EUCON surfaces started on our Dolby stage, which is our theatrical mixing stage and we have an Avid S6 32-fader control surface in there that uses the EUCON for its communication. That has been very successful for us. When redesigning the control surface situation for Control A we decided that the S6 or even an S4 would be probably a bit overkill for the room; we wanted something that was just lower-profile and smaller yet retained some of those same capabilities. So we decided to go with the Avid Dock as well as the two Avid S1s. They have tremendous capabilities between the three of them, so we have now 16 faders plus a focus fader in front of us, an amazing amount of visual feedback, and then it gives us the capabilities to do a lot of macro controls so we can use Pro Tools in a very efficient manner.
What’s the latest project that you’ve used it on?
This room stays really busy. One project was the multichannel mixing for the AT&T Discovery District which is an installation in downtown Dallas at AT&T World Headquarters. They have a 22-channel audio system in the lobby of the building that plays back content from WarnerMedia and other moving art, visual-type installations. This room has been used extensively to design and mix that 22-channel content. We’ve also designed all of the sound for the graphics packages for the new Bally’s sports networks that are active all over the country. That has been a big project for us. We shoot a lot of ADR for TV shows. We just wrapped up a season of Walker for CBS and a season of Freeform’s Cruel Summer.
What other facilities do you have?
Dallas Audio Post has five rooms total. We have Control A that we’ve been talking about, Control B, which is a stereo room that is more dedicated to custom music scoring. And then we have another 5/1 mixing environment called Control C that sees a lot of action doing TV mixing as well as ADR. And then we have an editorial suite called Control D where we do a lot of dialogue recording. Right now they’re recording an audiobook in there. And then we have our theatrical mixing stage which we call the Dolby Stage, and that stage is an ATMOS-certified room so we do theatrical mixing in there, TV mixing. That room stays very busy as well.
You’ve got some very big-name clients and they expect to have all the latest capabilities.
Absolutely. One of the main things that clients seek from a facility like ours are controlled environments. People, when they send an actor here to do ADR or they send an author here to record an audio book, what they want to know is that the equipment is going to provide a fabulous recording, fabulous audio capabilities and that the acoustic environments are sound, meaning that they are quiet, that they are linear, and that they are able to be replicated across the entire facility. They also have the expectation that from the technical perspective everything works perfectly. These days the majority of our clients are remote in Los Angeles or New York. So you have to have the ability not only to have talent in the studio, but to be able to pipe in video and audio from geographically-dispersed locations and have everybody communicating in real time seamlessly.
Yes, and that’s not just performance of the hardware in the room but you have a lot of communication links to maintain during the sessions.
It’s very common for us to have Source Connect, which is our studio-to-studio networking real-time software that we use to send audio back and forth, kind of like a high-end version of Zoom. We could have Source Connect running, we could have Zoom running, we can have various cameras all over the session to make sure there’s visual feedback, so it can get complicated, and it can get complicated quickly. The name of the game is to have everything tested and have everything from a technical perspective very tightly sussed out so you avoid any kind of pitfalls with very technically challenging sessions.
It’s got to be a pretty big challenge scheduling all of those things.
Yes. One of the hardest parts of working through the pandemic, has been scheduling. You are not just scheduling the talent to come in but you’re also having to schedule geographically dispersed teams. You could have an ADR supervisor in Los Angeles, you could have the ADR recordist in Northern California, and you can have a director in London. You have to be able to schedule all these people and have clear lines of communication so everybody can jump on Zoom or whatever method we’re using that day. It does create a challenge. There’s a lot of emails. There are a lot of challenges with time zones.
Taking a look at the broader picture of this, what significant trends do you see in the audio postproduction business right now?
Well, several. Number one from the production side the trends are obviously working remotely. So being able to stream your high-resolution real-time sessions to geographically dispersed teams, that’s one thing that has kind of come out of the pandemic. Multichannel audio is the other big trend in the industry; doing spatial audio, whether it be Ambisonics or Atmos, that is pretty much one of the biggest because the content provider is now requiring that of us. We have to be able to work in multichannel audio and be able to author that audio predictably, and we also have to be able to deploy the audio for certain situations, whether it be a theatrical Atmos mix or a home entertainment Atmos mix, or even an Atmos mix that is being played back over headphones as a binaural mix. That’s another trend. Internally in a post-production facility the trend now is that audio has become transported over IP versus going over traditional digital or analog lines. So of course the live sound industry has been using audio over IP for a while, but it’s taken a while for the post-production world to go there. We have been getting our Dante network or audio over IP network deployed across the entire facility and working that side of the equation in a lot of the projects that we do. It allows us to do complex routing for complex productions using multiple rooms in our facility at the touch of a button. For instance, using audio over IP allows us to do what we call a sportscasting session where we have a couple of announcers here that are calling a tennis match, for instance. Then there may be a producer in another room and then a director in another room. With our Dante network we can deploy commentators’ boxes throughout the facility, put people in isolated spaces, click a button and it’s all routed properly and we are recording the program in very short order. In the past that type of setup might have really taken us a lot of time and effort to route it all, test it all. We have condensed that now using audio over IP to literally a fraction of the time it used to take.