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It's a Terrible Cliché, but Work Smarter

Alan Sallabank, award winning Dubbing Mixer and Sound Editor, owner of 8dB Sound and known for his work on the likes of The Jungle Book, Finding Dory, Doc Martin and Plebs, has found himself using new technologies and having to diversify his working practices since the break of the pandemic.


Sallabank has like many, been working hard ensuring that 8dB Sound can offer Covid-19 safe facilities; working to the absolute highest standards, while also trying to make the process as seamless as possible for artists and clients. His hard work has paid off by the studio being approved by the Screen Actors Guild – American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, for Covid-19 Safe operating procedures for Voice Recording. “Being forced to adapt our working practices we have also pioneered a fully functioning Remote Pro Tools recording rig to send to voice artist’s homes” said Sallabank. “We can also arrange multiple remote attendees with individual talkback direct to the talent using Sourcelive 3.”


“I’ve been doing a lot of beta testing for Avid Pro Tools, Avid Surfaces, Dolby Atmos, iZoptope RX8 and Source Elements since the pandemic hit” added Sallabank “There’s a common theme to the recent testing as its about democratising post production technology, so that the incredibly talented people who used to pack onto crowded public transport to get to work, are able to effectively work from home, in such a way that it is sustainable and indeed desirable.” Sallabank specialised in Immersive/Surround Sound and Digital Audio, starting with Steinberg Pro12, AudioFile, Pyramix, Sadie, Akai, Waveframe, Sound Station and ProTools. He did his first Dolby Surround mix in 1993, and his first Dolby & DTS 5.1 mixes in 1997. He is on the beta teams for Avid Pro Tools, Avid Surfaces/Eucon, iZotope RX, Nugen Audio, Dolby Atmos & Source Elements.


Sallabank views his job as that of translator, taking the creative brief and translating it into technical actions. “If I do it right, the average listener doesn’t hear the “cogs whirring” and has an almost subliminal reaction. It’s all about getting the viewer absolutely engaged in the sound. The difficulty comes sometimes when things get “lost in translation”, or there are aspects that can’t easily be communicated over some mediums, such as smart phones vs. cinema. But when we’re all on the same page, it’s great and very fulfilling.”


As for his approach to the final sound required he says “You need to get in the head of the creatives who are making the piece, but also be aware that on most occasions, you are making a product, which has to sell, or is designed to sell something else. Never get romanticised by something being an “artistic masterpiece”. At the end of the day, if it doesn’t make money or gets terrible reviews/ratings, there won’t be another one.”


In the studio Sallabank can’t live without his RME Interfaces. “They’re rock solid workhorses and sound utterly brilliant. In my studio I have Pro Tools Ultimate, Avid S1’s, Avid Dock, Avid Control, 4K screens, 7.1.4 Presonus monitoring controlled by a JBL Intonato, RME and Focusrite interfaces, Dante network, MacPro and Windows computers.”


Sallabank served on the BSi committee that set up the LEQ(m) standard for theatrical commercials and trailers in conjunction with TASA, and for several years served on the Association of Motion Picture Sound Executive Council so has seen the industry develop over the years. “TV and Film has stopped being “passive consumption”, where if you weren’t in front of your TV or at a cinema at a certain time on a certain day, you missed out. Nowadays we’re firmly in an “on demand” world. I don’t actually see this as a good thing. It limits your exposure to what you want to watch at the time. Last year we had an issue with our set top box, in that it stopped showing the EPG for a couple of channels - we couldn’t even set the shows to record, so had to watch them when they were being transmitted. We renamed them “the mystery channels”, and it was an absolute joy - I ended up watching so many things that I wouldn’t have chosen to watch, but really enjoyed nonetheless. Personally I think that there is going to be a return to the group “as live” experience. Even if the audience is in pockets of isolation, they will still be able to interact with each other and see and hear each other’s response. The BBC has been doing great work in having a “virtual studio audience” for their radio shows.”


Although we are all working remotely one thing that hasn’t changes is the ever shrinking budgets. “It’s a terrible cliché, but work smarter. And with decades of experience comes confidence in your own skills. I can generally edit a piece of music and only have to audition it once, rather than have it on an endless loop, tweaking the edit in front of the client.” 


Sallabank began his career without any formal training so being keen to give back to the future generation of sound engineers he spends time at Christchurch Studios. “I find that the one thing that is generally lacking in further education for our industry is practical experience. I’ve put my time in, just watching absolute masters of their craft working. And not just working the equipment but working the room as well. To my mind, Christchurch presents a unique opportunity where we can give students actual practical experience of working on real projects, with real clients, with everything that entails. And the building is utterly steeped in history, plus totally perfect for a post Covid-19 world.”


As for what advice he would he would give to up coming sound designers he says “Talk to people. A problem shared is a problem halved. There may be a way of coming at it that simply hasn’t occurred to you. Don’t be ashamed or scared to play people sections, even if they’re nothing to do with the sound team - the majority of your audience have no idea what goes on behind the scenes, so it’s important to get their perspective. Be prepared for negative feedback, take it on the chin, learn from it and improve.”