Audio production technology has rarely stood still, but now a growing breed of dubbing mixers are taking this to a whole new level and quite literally moving with the times. Robin Cowap is a prime example. With a Pro Tools studio on his back and working either from his own home, from clients’ homes, visiting other studios with his own studio in a bag, or working entirely virtually with clients he never meets, Cowap is one of a growing number of itinerant dubbing mixers: agile, responsive to any job at any time, and with a work/life balance that those tied to the fixed studio rules can only dream of.
Dad and dubbing mixer in one
Cowap has served his time in the traditional studio world. Starting out as a runner over 10 years ago with Flix based in Salford’s Media City, he gradually learned everything from the basic jobs of cleaning up audio to the intricate world of animation audio dubbing with both Flix and Manchester-based Title Role. But when a second baby arrived, he realised that new technology where everything was becoming smaller and more powerful could open up the possibility of a whole new way of working where dad and dubbing could happily co-exist.
Says Cowap: “With a second baby on the way, it was a momentous decision. I realised that with a strong reputation in the industry, I could work less and earn more money by working freelance. So in a way it was a no-brainer. I could see that maybe the freelance route was the way the industry was going. There are a few freelance dubbing mixers in the north of England, but most are in London. Or a time I went completely freelance and it changed my life. I could work when I wanted and clients got the same high quality work but at a much more affordable price, so everyone would win. Plus, I could be a dad one minute and a dubbing mixer the next. And although I recently went back to being a full-time dubbing mixer at dock10, the mobile set-up has confirmed the importance of the work-life balance, as well as how useful the mobile set-up can be event to a major post studio set-up.”
It’s in the bag
For Cowap, the key to being an agile, responsive and versatile freelance dubbing mixer is all in the bag. In this case, a backpack similar to what a DJ might use, and containing an HP laptop with 64GB of RAM running Pro Tools HD and all the plug-ins he needs, headphones, and an Avid HD Native interface for that extra kick of power when he needs it.
Says Cowap: “I can throw the bag on my back and get across Manchester from home to clients really easily. It’s a whole system that I can take anywhere. With such a powerful computer I can even handle animation projects with the extra track count they need: 5.1 dialogue, effects and music. I quite easily work with hundreds of tracks and dozens of plug-ins, all running simultaneously.”
When choosing the right DAW, Cowap had no hesitation that it had to be Pro Tools. He said: “Pro Tools is absolutely the industry standard. It’s popular, commonly used, and I can readily source connect projects overseas with companies in LA, Canada or wherever. For me, it has it be Pro Tools on my laptop. When I worked freelance, if I used anything else I’d have been isolating myself as a freelancer. It’s good to know other DAWs, but if you don’t use Pro Tools I’d have been losing out on jobs with nine out of 10 studios who would be using it.”
Using his portable set-up, Cowap worked on projects with Title Role and Phantom Sun, as well as programmes such as ‘Crimes that Shook Britain’ and other international strands of the format, BBC’s ‘My Life’ series, ‘Car Crash TV’, and various animation projects.
Also, having a strong reputation and years of experience on multiple DAWs and consoles, allowed Cowap to adapt to various studio set-ups.
He says: “The continued dominance of Avid and their Pro Tools DAW means that many studios use standard kit. The control surfaces will often differ, but I’ve used every possible type of Avid mixing console over the years so I could easily adapt if required. So, if I was visiting a studio to work on a project, I found it easy to adapt my system to theirs.
“Most studios these days will have an Avid S6, some still have Pro Controls or D-Controls, but all use Pro Tools. Everywhere is pretty much the same. Over the years, I’ve worked on every control surface Avid has ever produced. More and more, however, it’s S6’s that are replacing the older consoles.”
The importance of support
But is there a downside to working freelance? Modern technology is increasingly complicated for all its benefits, what does XX do when things go wrong?
Cowap says: “That’s were Mediaspec comes in. When I was thinking about going freelance, I sent Mediaspec a list of what I thought I needed. Mediaspec use their knowledge to fill in gaps and often suggest cheaper and more effective options for me. In fact, they did everything. When the kit arrived, I opened the box and everything was installed, licences up to date and all ready to go. Within minutes I was already working on a project.
“They provide invaluable support. As a freelancer, you can’t have downtime – you have to be able to turn things around quickly. Mediaspec are hugely important to what I do. If I have a problem, I know that Mediaspec will remote into my laptop and it’s sorted. ” The future on the fly Does Cowap think that the agile freelancer always on the go and producing high quality audio on the go is the future for the industry? “There are still studios with large commissions and big budgets, and that will likely always be the case,” says Cowap. “Moving to work at a company like dock10, there’s a certainty and a level of professionalism and attention to detail that’s a pleasure to be around. But there are also other companies with much smaller budgets, and working with freelancers they find a way to post produce to a high quality while saving money. For them, that makes perfect sense. Rather than go to a studio with all its costs, they can pay a remote freelancer who can use a powerful computer, software, know-how and the speed of the internet to make life easier for them and meet their goals and deadlines. The industry wins and so did I. As did my wife and family who got a dad who was present when I needed to be. And that backpack of tech still gives me that flexibility to be at the studio when it’s necessary and to work from home when I need to be there. If that’s a blueprint for the future, then I think we should all be looking for the dotted line where we can sign!”
To find out more about portable systems, contact Mediaspec on 01355 272 500.