New York Metro

In the seething maelstrom known as New York City's audio post industry, one of the keys for facilities is to keep their eyes (literally) on the bottom

Jeff Berman (owner) and Gail Nord (general manager) of SoundHound and thePound

Photo: Andrea Rhodes

In the seething maelstrom known as New York City's audio post industry, one of the keys for facilities is to keep their eyes (literally) on the bottom line. The concept of mixing and music-creation companies branching out into visual services is nothing new, but these facilities are expanding into editing and graphics creation with an increased level of sophistication.

At SoundHound, convergence has officially taken hold with the founding of the-Pound, a full-service HD and SD video-editing division. Already a bustling audio post house primarily for promos, commercials, trailers and radio with eight audio suites (including three highly advanced 5.1 mix rooms), SoundHound launched thePound as the next logical step for the business.

“Both in New York City and nationally, what's happened is that in audio post you have a high end, a low end and very little middle ground,” says Gail Nord, general manager of SoundHound. “It becomes very hard to compete unless you continue to grow and make wise purchases. We tend to be conservative here: We don't build a bunch of rooms and then figure out what to do with them. Instead, we like to have our client base tell us what they need to do. If you jump too early, you end up doing things that are not what the market needs. Wait too long, and you don't have what your clients need and they go elsewhere.”

At the New York City original music/sound design/post mix company Ear Goo, the inspiration for opening the motion design company Element was as much owner-driven as it was client-driven. “I always liked the creative process; it's not just about running the company,” says Paul Goldman, president/founder/senior creative director of Ear Goo. “I'm a creative person. I'm not a designer, but I have good opinions on visual design. From a business point of view, I wanted to expand my own career.”

Partnering with Element co-director/co-founder John Yu, Goldman set up an advanced 2-D/3-D design house with the same address but a decidedly different corporate culture. “Ear Goo is Ear Goo, and Element is Element; they're not a division of each other,” he points out. “Element is very buttoned-up, while Ear Goo is more fun because designers and musicians are a different breed.”

Although SoundHound has offered video editing of some sort for five years, thePound consolidates formerly spread-out rooms into one purpose-built area, providing Avid Adrenaline and Final Cut suites for the fully blown one-stop shop. “It's a great process because the mixer, editor and producer are completely involved in the process from beginning to end,” Nord says. “If they make changes to the picture or to the VO, it's all happening organically in one location.”

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Paul Goldman of Ear Goo

Photo: David Weiss

SoundHound's audio-centric engineering staff had little trouble adapting their skills to the construction of video suites. “Obviously, there were lots of issues with video we needed to discover,” says Nord, “but audio post rooms are actually way harder to build [than video rooms]. You're still dealing with picture and video monitoring in both, but in audio rooms, for example, you can't have buzz — the light switch can't make noise — and the rooms must be floated. It took our CTO a little while to realize that they were over-engineering the video rooms and that they could back off.”

Conversely, the purely software-based nature of motion-design work gels nicely with the direction that music production has taken. “There was a time when you were doing 50-percent outboard, but audio is now 100-percent in the box,” Goldman says. “In video, it's also just guys with a mouse and a keyboard. With OMF'ing, a lot of visual programs will transfer directly to Pro Tools — not just Avid, but also Final Cut. When it comes to bridging the audio and visual components, there's a lot of internal logistics that the client never sees.”

According to Nord, beyond the technical nuts and bolts there are some other key differences between audio mixing and video editing that SoundHound had to grow accustomed to during the past five years. “One of the main differences is the way the work comes in. With eight audio rooms, four or five of them can have full-day mixes and the rest might have half-days — it can add up to 25 or 30 sessions in a day with a tremendous amount of client contact.

“With the Avid rooms, there's more prep work. You have to get elements delivered in advance and prepared for the load, and then work all day, sometimes day after day. So there were lots of media-management issues we weren't used to; in audio, tapes come and go, but they don't stay.”

Goldman has also experienced a learning curve in adopting motion graphics into his workflow. “The difference between audio and visual workflows is night and day,” he says. “For audio, they book you and do it in a day. In design, you could have six people working on one 3-D move, and it could take days to render that move. Also, designers sometimes never even talk to a client because in that world there are producers. But at Ear Goo, one of the reasons people are hired is how they deal with clients directly.”

While Berman and Nord are excited about what SoundHound and thePound can do for their clients, they also like the positive impact the diversity offers to the staff. “Certainly, from a business standpoint, our hope is that we continue to get really juicy projects that require everything we have to offer,” she says. “The thing that's most appealing to our clients is that they can say, ‘Wow, I need Damon Trotta to write original music for something that Lee Gurevich will be cutting.’ But if someone has a project that they want to simply pop in our laps, and ask us, ‘How can we get this done?’ that's an ideal scenario, as well.”

For Goldman, the fun has been seeing where the music leads him and his fellow artists at Ear Goo and Element. “If we're pitching storyboards or designing spots for a show, I'll be thinking about the sound design and music that goes along with the visuals — that makes our pitches really strong,” he points out. “From a creative standpoint, audio will always be a major player in what we do.”

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