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Will our jobs be automated?


Richard Ragon
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If you work(ed) at a local news station, chances are your audio job was automated YEARS ago. A buddy of mine works in local news in central Illinois, and when I was looking for a gig back in 2008 I asked him about a gig at his news station, and he told me they got rid of all of their technical staff minus the camera operators, and everything is automated now, and that happened a long time before 2008. 

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Since it has become common in narrative work to radio mic everyone all the time, and nobody seems to be objecting to the trend (actors especially), it won't be long before they'll realise many shows can be done with one person placing and babysitting radio mics and another hitting record on "auto mix" machine feeding the IFBs. Or maybe one person doing both. The reality guys are doing it already.

If we don't start making our job look a little harder, and defending the quality of our tracks, we will be "automated".

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If we don't start making our job look a little harder, and defending the quality of our tracks, we will be "automated".

Surely our job security can't depend on how much we're sweating. If technology is making our jobs easier (and it certainly has), then shouldn't we embrace it? Use the extra time/effort to make the tracks better, even if it doesn't look like we're working that hard.

If that isn't enough to get us hired... and a producer really believes that any PA can rig a wireless and feed a camera... then no amount of sweat will make them budget for a sound crew.

Ditto post. If an editor really believes that the latest magic plugin can make his Avid mixes sound perfect, and the production buys it, then yes: I won't get called for that gig. Or it'll be up to me to convince the production that audio post is worthwhile, for reasons they can understand and relate to. If I can't do that, then no amount of extra effort in my mix room will change their minds.

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I am currently working towards and looking forward to the future. I will be happy to embrace automation.

We can all whine and complain but the fact is automation is going to happen in certain sections of our business. And when it does I would not want to be left behind!

 

Edited by RadoStefanov
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I will say that the local news station back home that I saw that had automated audio sounded really really bad, and I actually emailed a formal complaint to the news station, saying they should hire a sound engineer to make their broadcasts watchable. 

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I will say that the local news station back home that I saw that had automated audio sounded really really bad, and I actually emailed a formal complaint to the news station, saying they should hire a sound engineer to make their broadcasts watchable.

I was working at a press event for the Bay Bridge 3 years ago and there was a gang of camera people from various stations and producers at the back of the room , all framing up the podium where the official people were setting up to do their announcements . Later I saw one of the camera guys outside next to his news truck doing a selfie stand-up . He had his camera on the tripod aimed and rolling as he delivered his piece into the lens, his notebook in hand. We came back a little later on and I saw the boom dish on his truck was deployed up in the air, and he was sitting inside with a laptop - I presume he was sending his feed to the station to make it into that evening' s broadcast . I figured out he was doing maybe 5 jobs: reporter, camera , sound , editor , microwave/sat. uplink truck operator. A one man band. Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk
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I've worried about this happening for a long time. I always found solace in the notion that physical field acquisition of sound and image would be the last thing to become automated.

Suddenly though, I think it's important to define the word "automate", for the thread here.

Previously, I've felt that automation would mean 'getting replaced by a machine', so I was picturing a Honda robot with a boom and incredible vision, or even a wireless HUD feed from the camera department...IN 2035!.

Well anyway, not a PA with a Kobalt toolbag full of wireless mics...but Jay Rose's comment was a bit of a wake up call. 

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Just read about 'LANDR' automated music mastering  in one of the audio/music periodicals. (Electronic Musician)  If it's cheap, it'll sell I guess.

​It's easy to make presets in Izotope Ozone 5/6 to make music sound better (louder) by running a rough mix through it and selling it as a "mastered mix".  It doesn't compare to a properly mastered record, but for $50, it's good enough for Joe song writer.

Sound department has a lot of presence on set that will be hard to automate.  I was just working a commercial last week where the 1st and 2nd AC were local 600 yet neither knew the TC options to jam an Alexa with an SB-T...

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​Sound department has a lot of presence on set that will be hard to automate.  I was just working a commercial last week where the 1st and 2nd AC were local 600 yet neither knew the TC options to jam an Alexa with an SB-T...

​I've worked on quite a few projects where the camera assistants had no clue how to jam timecode or even set timecode with their cameras. I make it a point to bring along as many PDF manuals as I can on an iPad just for those shows where we're all confused by the menu settings. 

I'm sympathetic to the camera crew: there used to be maybe 5 or 6 different cameras out there, and now there's like 79. And even when you learn one camera, chances are the settings will be different a year later when the software is updated. Or even the hardware, in respect to Red Epic / Dragon / Weapon.

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Rigging radios is a dark art in itself. A good boom operator who rigs solid bugs isn't expendable.  Production could get away without an actual boom mic, and just use a camera top mic to cut in with bugs set to auto mix at the recorder, but rigging the bugs requires skill, and attention on set in case trims and re-sets are necessary too. I started as a boom operator, still operate boom too, and when I record over the shoulder I find the controlling of levels to be the least of my concerns. Mixing on the fly with a boom and a few radios is a slightly different story.

I've spoken with sound editors who flat out tell me they go straight to the ISOs, and that the mix track is more for the picture editor to listen to as they cut.

Pretty much every camera dept I've worked with had zero idea how to jam code and change audio settings in their cameras. Sometimes when I'm booming and I ask what lens they're changing to, or if I've been off set briefly and come back to ask what lens they're on now, I get an "I don't know" from the cam assist. Really? They sometimes don't know. Shit.

 

 

 

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Has technology really made the job easier? Forgive my ignorance, I only messed around with the old way of doing things briefly, but it seems like a hard wired boom to a Nagra is a lot simpler way of doing things than what you see racked up in peoples carts now days.

I think that some shows might see the value in doing things the way we do them, and cheaper shows might just get babysitters. Who knows. You get what you pay for.

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