Sound Design for Radio and TV at AUDIONPLUS — New Avid Pro Tools | S6 Console for Enhanced Workflow

By in Audio Post, Music Creation, Pro Mixing

For more than twenty years, Germany-based AUDIONPLUS is considered a first choice in the development, composition and production of sophisticated sound design for private and public television and radio stations. BR and ProSieben, BRmedia and the Bundeswehr, Deutschlandradio Kultur and Bayern 2, MDR and WDR television, NDR Kultur, Radio Tirol and many other stations are among their customers. In the recent past, title songs for Das Erste were added, such as for “W wie Wissen” or “ttt – titel, thesen, temperamente”.

Recently the seasoned D-Control was replaced by a modern Pro Tools | S6 System. We asked Michael Braunschmid about his productions, the initial experiences with the S6 and his philosophy when it comes to mixing.

Highlights of recent years

“A real highlight was a production for NDR Kultur about two years ago. They expressed the desire for a classical orchestra, the NDR Radio Philharmonic, and two worlds came together. We initially created the compositions digitally in Pro Tools and that already sounded like proper film music. Then we synchronously recorded the real orchestra.”

“The big challenge for us was to create the scores for the orchestra. Someone had to do that for us who knows about such things (laughs) – on the one hand side our digital world and on the other side our arranger and the orchestral world. It went so far that we forced Pro Tools to follow the timing of the orchestra. The customer wanted the orchestra to breathe, so we didn’t record to a click – wonderful that Pro Tools is able to do this! It’s a bit cumbersome to define all the bars and beats, but including an acoustic recording works: thanks to Elastic Audio – an ingenious feature that we use in many productions.”

“In the end, we had the real orchestra on one fader and the digital orchestra on the other fader. In film music they are doing it like that for a long time: They record the large orchestra – quite possibly with 80 individually conducted voices. Then, by adding the digital orchestra, they get a fatter and more modern sound. And perhaps they intentionally add a few digital gimmicks. The difference is obvious if you have that on the faders for an A/B comparison. It is amazing how you can change the sound in Pro Tools with the instrument plug-ins, and suddenly it sounds like Star Wars!”

“That was one of the most exciting and most complex projects. We had to add another DSP card, because we honestly had 300 tracks in Pro Tools in the end. On top was the orchestra with 80 tracks and below various digital themes with about 30 tracks per piece. With seven different themes you have about 200 tracks. Together with the orchestra you get this 300 track madness (laughs).”

The new system

“This April, we moved on to the S6. Our D-Control would have reached ten years of operation in September, and for this date we had planned the exchange anyway. We just brought it forward a bit. The change over worked great. The guys at SMM were very well prepared and did a perfect job. Honestly, the disassembling of the D-Control, then the installation of the S6 and and the start of operation happened in less than two hours! For the current consoles, you don’t need the complex analog wiring anymore – just the Ethernet cable! After about one and a half hours the exchange was finished and we could have started working immediately.”

“The S6 is much more intelligent than the D-Control, in particular in terms of fader groups. We recently had quite a complex vocal recording with two singers and a total of 32 vocal tracks. It’s really awesome how you can set up fader groups in the S6 and then step through them via recall. Our S6 has 16 faders, so for example, I can use the eight faders on the left for the main vocals of the singer. If I want to edit the second or third voices, then I can switch easily. On the right I always have the groups – and everything is under control on a very small space.”

“In the past I have always treated me the luxury of having a fader for each of the 32 vocal tracks on the D-Control. The disadvantages are that it is quite confusing and you always have to drive left and right with your chair. You have to leave the sweet zone and that is why we deliberately opted for a smaller console. With only 16 faders, it’s not wide and you sit exactly in the sweet spot all the time. You have everything under control and only things you really need on the console. This compactness was a little unfamiliar at first. Meanwhile, that’s one of the reasons why I’m much faster.”

Everything under control

“The graphic displays of the S6 don’t just look pretty, they are also very useful in the production. You always have the waveform assignment directly above the fader. When moving a fader on the D-Control you were always looking elsewhere: on the screen. Works well, but if you can look at a display directly above the faders, you can see the incoming audio files and you are better prepared. For example voice recordings: you see which take is coming in and are able to react much faster. And of course, the displays show a lot more. Where did I put my plug-ins? Which send is on? That’s very cool!”

“The coloration alone gives you a much better orientation. And with the touch panel you already have very much under control without having to touch the console on the far left and right side. The editing of the plug-ins is very well done, too. If you practice it a bit, it’s actually much easier than doing everything with the mouse on the screen. On the S6, you can change the function of every single button. That really has a great potential for a faster workflow. For example, I partially used the rewind button for zooming.”

“We produce about 100 spots per year for the Wertheim Village. The challenge is to balance speech and music, and a hardware controller is absolutely great for that. It’s something completely different when you have your finger on the fader and are able to trust your ears. Without a fader solution that wouldn’t be possible. You’d have to draw a volume automation on the screen. These rubber bands, as I always call them, are much more cumbersome.”

Philosophy in the mix

“We are trying to find the sound already while composing and arranging, and actually I mix already during the composition. I want that everything sounds great right from the start. In the past, you always did a rough mix – something I don’t do anymore. While composing I already push the faders to the right spots and even master the track – at least partly. Because I want to hear how it might sound in the end.”

“Customers often say that it is okay for demonstration purposes to just sketch the sound, but that no longer works in modern music. Because nowadays you don’t just have some piano, a few strings and percussion, but really crazy digital sounds. When a customer gets something from us, then it should already sound like the final product that gets aired by the station.”

“In the end, we want the customer to be excited by the sound design they air from their station. That’s where it has to work exactly how the customer imagined it. This way, you get a certain longevity and the customer is able to let our sounds run for three years or more – without the sound design wearing off at all.”

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Thomas Wendt is a producer and engineer turned journalist and marketing expert. Since 1998 his company Integrative Concepts serves A-List clients from the MI and Pro Audio industries with communcations and marketing services.