Remote Mixing during COVID-19 – Advice from our Engineers
As with all recording studios in the UK, Real World has had to close its doors temporarily due to COVID-19. That hasn’t stopped our team working remotely (in isolation) on mixes, and our emixing service is still very active. Oli Jacobs, Real World’s Head Engineer, shares his workflow for remote mixing in which he sends clients a hi-res live feed of the mix for real-time feedback and tweaking. Oli writes:
In all these examples, I am showing working within Pro Tools but this method should apply to all DAWs. It could be that your workflow doesn’t allow this exact setup, but hopefully you may glean some ideas, and if you have any improvements or suggestions, please let me know so I can add them. So far, this has been working well and feels like the next best thing to having a client sat next to you in the studio. This system could also be used after COVID-19 restrictions, if you are working with an artist (e.g. recording voiceover) in your studio and want someone at the other end (e.g. the director working the other side of the world) to hear your output in high resolution.
The basic set-up is two audio links running between you and the remote client: one is a ‘high resolution’ audio stream and one is a regular Zoom/Facetime/Google Meet call for chatting and screen-sharing. The high resolution feed has a high latency (around .5-1s), so isn’t suitable for having a conversation. This means your client will receive two links.
In these examples, I’ve used Zoom for the low latency call and this solution works with most platforms I’ve tried (Facetime, Google Meet, Skype). Zoom does not work with this method if your session is at 96k or above (but Google Meet does). The software I have been using for the high resolution streaming is Audiomovers. It’s well priced and has been flawless so far.
These systems on their own are simple and self-explanatory to use with no further knowledge. However, I’ve put together a little design that allows auto-muting of talkback microphones so the listener doesn’t hear the same audio twice (once via Zoom through your talkback microphone and again (a bit later) via Audiomovers). It saves you manually muting your talkback microphone every time you press play – which on long calls is really useful. The system can also optionally mute the return signal from the person at the other end so you don’t hear everything twice (directly from Pro Tools and then again through Zoom from their talkback mic). This is particularly useful if your remote client is monitoring on loudspeakers. At the bottom I detail another cheaper (but more convoluted) way to do this if you don’t want to buy Source-Nexus.
Step 1 – talking to the other person
I have been using an external microphone going into a Universal Audio Apollo with a heavy compressor on it in ‘UA console’. This mic goes to an aux channel in Pro Tools. From here, I have used the (free) Muteomatic Plugin which automatically mutes the channel when Pro Tools is in play and unmutes it again when Pro Tools is stopped.
To get this signal into Zoom, (and the audio return from Zoom) I am using Source-Nexus Pro plugin which has a 15 day unrestricted demo. In my example I will use Source Nexus A for the microphone and B for the return but of course it makes no difference which you use! However, you will need the Pro version to achieve this.
Source-Nexus settings on Talkback A
Zoom audio settings – would be the same for Google/Skype/Facetime etc.
Step 2 – hearing the other person
Simply create another instance of the plugin on another aux (let’s call it the Talkback Return):
Talkback Return Aux plugin
It is possible to have the send and return from Zoom on the same aux and run one instance of the plugin but I like to keep them separate. You run another instance of Muteomatic on the return signal and have their talkback also mute. If you want to keep hearing the other party during playback, simply bypass this plugin. I have the return fader locked to a channel on my Avid S1 so I can quickly control their talkback level and also quickly bypass the Muteomatic insert if I want to keep their talkback return active during playback. I would do this if I think they will want to talk to me during playback or if they are working on headphones.
In Pro Tools Mix window, right click on both talkback aux channels to turn off delay compensation:
Showing disable plug-in delay in Pro Tools
Final channels created in Pro Tools.
- I have the return audio from the client routed to another set of outputs on my Apollo to a separate small powered speaker – it’s nice to have their audio returning through another speaker because it makes it easier to hear when they are speaking.
- Zoom doesn’t seem to play ball at all at 96k or above. Google Meet does (you may need to restart Chrome to make that happen).
- Obviously you can screen share in this scenario too, Google Meet and Zoom support it really well.
- If you are using a UA Apollo you can route the audio from your computer output into Pro Tools. This would allow you to play Spotify/YouTube references etc directly to the client. To do this, set your speaker outputs in Audio Midi Settings to be Virtual 1-2:
- Click Audio MIDI setup > Audio Devices > Universal Audio Thunderbolt > Configure Speakers and set as below:
Showing audio device routing
Then just create an aux input in Pro Tools, set the input to Virtual 1-2 and send this to your Remote Mon bus on a send and also to your monitor outputs. This configuration is available in any interface that supports virtual channels.
Showing configuration to get system audio into ProTools and streaming over Audio Movers
How to use UA Virtual Channels instead of Source-Nexus to get to and from Pro Tools and Zoom
Why? Source-Nexus is relatively expensive and virtual channels are… free! I’ve shown how to do this in UA software, but in theory it will work with any audio interface that supports virtual channels.
Despite the title, this method doesn’t work in Zoom. Zoom seems to ignore system audio settings and always uses the first hardware input (mic in) of the UA and the hardware monitor output, no matter what the settings are set to elsewhere. However, it does work in Google Meet very well.
Step 1 – Configure UA console
For this example, I will use Google Meet which works well in this configuration. Firstly you need to assign a virtual channel (I chose number 4) to get your mic from Pro Tools to Google. Send your talkback microphone from Pro Tools down Virtual 4 after it has been through the Muteomatic plugin. You then need to configure Virtual 4 to be the first two inputs in UA Console. This is because Google Meet always looks at the first two channels of an interface to be its inputs:
Showing virtual channel configuration – note that virtual 4 is set to be inputs 1 and 2
After this, just set your input device on Google Meet to be your Apollo and it should work.
Google Meet audio configuration to work in this way
To get the return from Google Meet back to Pro Tools for monitoring the talkback return, set the return to be two virtual channels (as shown above in Audio MIDI Setup) and set these as your inputs on your Talkback return in Pro Tools. You can also run Muteomatic across this aux. Note that the test in Google Meet may ring through the monitor output but once a call is in progress the routing seems to be correct.
Please feel free to contact me with any questions or feedback via the Real World contact form or instagram @olijacobs1