Audio OP-ED: Socially Distanced Studio Production

In 2020, the Farm Studios in British Columbia used Audinate’s Dante networking protocol to facilitate socially distanced recording sessions with musicians in different spaces, including outdoors.
In 2020, the Farm Studios in British Columbia used Audinate’s Dante networking protocol to facilitate socially distanced recording sessions with musicians in different spaces, including outdoors.

The current worldwide pandemic has sent musicians and audio experts scrambling to devise solutions to challenges created by social distancing. Recording music is normally an intimate undertaking with others, but that intimacy now directly contradicts safety guidelines. Thus, studios are asked to answer the question: “how can we work together while staying safe?”

Not long ago, this would have been a difficult question to answer. Studio level audio meant not only top-notch gear, but also thousands of feet of heavy, specialized audio cables. Moving or extending such systems risked compromises in performance and reliability – and came at no small cost.

Fortunately, our current challenge occurred at a time during when the audio world has already been transformed by technologies that provide a foundation for long distance, low latency, bit-perfect, multi-channel signal distribution. The question instantly becomes: How can facilities use audio networking to provide the creative environment musicians need while maintaining safety guidelines?

Every Room A Place to Record

If a performer can stay behind closed doors, then it’s easy for that person to be safe. With audio networking, this possibility becomes far easier than in the past. Studio operations have created workflows that allow performers to remain isolated in separate rooms of a large facility or house, yet all be connected. Rather than installing hundreds of heavy, dedicated, single-purpose audio cables through the location, a simple IP network is put in place with Ethernet jacks in each room—just like in any modern office. Microphones, preamplifiers, signal sources and processors can be connected to the control room from wherever they need to be, with absolutely no compromises in signal quality.

With the correct audio-over-IP system in place, sub 10 ms latency can be achieved. This allows performers to remain safely distanced while being able to hear and collaborate with others, something that would have been extremely difficult and expensive to accomplish with legacy audio technology.

Outside is not Out of Bounds

Imagining a network inside a house or building is not difficult, but people may or may not realize that extending networks beyond a single structure is nearly just as simple. While the notion of running microphone cables over several hundred feet or more is rightly cause for concern due to signal degradation and noise, IP networks can easily do runs of 300 feet (100 m) between switches with no issues whatsoever. The use of optical fiber, now an inexpensive option, extends this reach into miles or kilometers. This allows studios to embrace stand-alone recording spaces that enjoy full connectivity to the control room with no compromises in audio quality or latency. This means multiple structures on site—or even outdoor recording—can be added to a socially distanced setup.

A Very Socially Distanced Recording Method

Bringing it Home: Mobile Recording

Another idea brought forward by the pandemic is that of mobile production. If people are already safe at home, then bring the microphones and connections to them. This is another area in which legacy analog workflows were cumbersome at best, with audio equipment taking over the living space. Networking allows a mobile studio to connect everything one needs using a single, slender Ethernet cable. A truck serving as a control room can bring services everywhere without jeopardizing anyone’s health or compromising on audio quality.

Networking in the Long Run

The benefits of networking that have been realized during this stressful time are unlikely to fade even once the health crisis has passed. The paradigm of earlier recording studios as monolithic installations will transition towards lighter, more responsive systems that can accommodate multiple spaces and locations that serve performers while delivering world-class audio. The future for those who know how to help musicians deliver their messages to the world looks bright.

Brad Price is senior product marketing manager at Audinate.

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