Kids and Grown ups Love Him So

Dave Robinson, Head of Sound at Creative Outpost, took time out of his busy schedule to talk to Behind the Glass about his work. His recent TV and advertising credits include soundtracks for brands such as Haribo, Playstation, Adidas, Coca Cola, and Mercedes.


Robinson started his career as a runner for Angell Sound in 1998 and quickly worked his way up to sound engineer. The early days as a runner taught him about working in the industry and gave a perspective that has stayed with him. “I semi fell into sound engineering” said Robinson. “Unsure of what I wanted to do after sixth-form I went to the careers office in Warrington and picked up a UCAS book. After seeing a University course for Professional Sound and Video Technology I thought that as I was into DJing it might be something I would enjoy. That’s where the professional side of things kicked in.”  Now, as Head of Sound his role is to help develop the growing audio department with a focus on the studios themselves.


One of Robinson’s favourite projects to work on was for Hewlett Packard. “It was my most rewarding to date” he said. Hewlett Packard launched a new laptop promoting new speaker audio that claimed to put the listener ‘in’ the sound. “In order to promote the high quality audio from the new laptop, a live performance by Plan B was shot with the view of him being in amongst the musicians” continued Robinson. “It was written from an audio point of view which is pretty rare as often audio is the last thing to be considered. The creatives had the idea of having one continuous locked shot in the recording studio so we went to RAK Studios to shoot there. Because it was so audio focused I was included from the very beginning which was unusual. I helped to decide on things such as where the musicians should be positioned to achieve the best results when it came to creating the cinema surround mix and worked with Plan B to plan and prep the audio stems for playback. When it came to the edit, the idea was to begin with some of the live takes from the day until the song picked up and then bring in the original stems. Using EQ and DSP in Pro Tools I was able to match the two recordings. Mixing in cinema surround allowed me to place the various instruments around the space and follow the movement of Plan B around the room. It’s rare that a script is written so fundamentally around the audio and I am proud of the result. Plus, it was great fun to work on, being a proper audio geek!”


Another enjoyable project was for the Guide Dogs charity. The aim was to give the listener a small insight into what it feels like to be blind. “They enrolled the Team GB Paralympian Libby Clegg” added Robinson. “I created a two minute 3D binaural soundtrack made up of vignettes depicting her life, from when she was a baby up to when she crossed the finish line at the 2012 Olympics. The binaural sound effect when monitored using stereo headphones can be quite effective with the right type of soundtrack.”


As for more recent projects, Robinson works on the well known Haribo adverts. “I have one featuring two policemen waiting to catch speeding drivers. A lot of people are not really aware of how the process works for these ads. It’s actually kind of done in reverse. We start by arranging for a group of kids to come along to the studio and record them four at a time. Armed with a big bowl of Haribo, we get the kids to describe the sweets. This can often result in hours of recordings for each commercial which are then transcribed before it’s over to the copywriter and director to create a 30 second story from what they said. I then cut together a sound for the actors to sync to on the shoot and then go from there.”


Working on short form productions, Robinson is often presented with challenges.  “I think my first ever real challenge, or rather baptism of fire, was very early on. I was thrown into an unexpected client-attended session when I was still working as a runner so I had very little knowledge. Up until then I had only really had the odd weekend to go in and have a play around in the studio. I was working late and most of the engineers had gone home when a client needed to come back in to make urgent tweaks to a job, so I had to jump in and completely blag my way through it. I only knew a few basics on the system we had so if they asked me to do something I didn’t know I had to make up some lame excuse to leave the room to go and ask one of the engineers in desperation. I would then jump back into the studio and pretend like I knew what I was doing. Absolutely terrifying but I just about got away with it. It was certainly character-building!”


As for other challenges, achieving a good voice recording is key and often the first piece of the puzzle. This usually involves a number of factors: choice and position of microphone, gain, EQ, compression, etc. and most importantly, directing the talent to get as good a performance as possible. As well as the technical requirements, it’s also important to be able to listen to and interpret the client’s requests in order to help them achieve what they are looking for. With mixing Robinson says “I think being able to take a step back to listen and assess the overall balance of the mix is a valuable skill to learn as well as how to make individual elements work together. Having also produced music for some years, it taught me to appreciate the importance of EQ and compression when aiming to give each element its own space within the mix.”


The rise in online content has opened up the opportunity to work on a huge range of different projects. “With the many platforms used to consume media nowadays there is often a need to create different mixes for each medium. The R128 Loudness scale used for TV can allow you to create fairly dynamic mixes, whereas 0dB normalised mixes for online sometimes require slightly different treatment. For example, if it is to be played on a Smartphone or laptop speakers, the use of increased overall compression may be beneficial. Mixes for cinema on the other hand can be extremely dynamic as they are generally played through a larger sound system with few distractions meaning you are able to go quiet on the whispers and big on the bangs! Also, the introduction of Dolby Atmos object-based mixing in recent years has been incredibly exciting, adding a whole new dimension to audio mixes and how they are delivered. I’m both excited and curious as to where we might be in 10 years… maybe we’ll be mixing by waving our hands around, using one of those Minority Report-style AR gadgets. I’d be up for a bit of that!”


Robinsons favourite DAW is Pro Tools. “It’s the most intuitive workstation I’ve ever used and since I switched over to it a few years back it has helped to improve my skills as a sound engineer massively. Not only is it a powerful bit of kit, there are countless different ways to achieving the same goal which means that each operator can develop their own particular method of doing things that feels most comfortable to them.”


With the country in the grips of COVID-19 more people are working from home. “It has certainly thrown up a few challenges for everyone” said Robinson. “I already have a decent studio set up at home, however my own Mac wasn't quite powerful enough for what I need so I relocated a Mac and Pro Tools system from work. It’s taken a bit of adjustment getting used to working from home but I’m now fully set up to carry on mixing as normal, albeit with 8 faders instead of my usual 24! Another hurdle for audio facilities during these difficult times has been voiceover recording but we have the ability to record remotely using software such Source Connect. Thankfully, many voiceover artists have their own home recording set ups too so, along with video conferencing software like Zoom and a bit of organisation, it isn’t too much of an issue.”



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