A Revolutionary Approach to Home Studio Collaboration In The Lockdown Era – And Beyond

July 16, 2020

[Editor’s Note: This article was written by Gary Gray. Gary brings so much knowledge and tips around home studio engineering to the TuneCore Blog, and participated in our “Home Studio Basics” TuneCore Live Session.]

Starting in July of last year, I conducted one of my latest (and most fascinating) research project beta tests in the field of home studio music production. The beta test lasted eight months with 20 producer/engineers, and finished up in early March of this year. 

The subject of my research? 

Determine whether or not a remote audio transmission technology existed that could be utilized to create a remote collaboration workflow system BETTER for my clients / students / collaborators than physically being there in my studio.   

As good fortune and luck would have it, the universe aligned perfectly. My research project reached a successful completion three weeks before the Covid-19 lockdowns began. 

During the three weeks leading up to the world hitting pause, I began promoting a new revolutionary remote workflow system to corporate clients, composer clients, singer/songwriter clients, band clients, students and collaborators. Some of these clients, students and collaborators had, up to that point, conducted all of their sessions locally, here in my home studio. Others were already remote clients, students and collaborators in various locations around the world. 

At first there were mixed reactions. Some local clients reacted with skepticism and even disagreement. “No, I’d rather do my sessions there with you in person.” Some were open to trying it out. “Sure let’s give it a try. Let’s see how it goes.”

Surprisingly, ALL ended up writing me very similar testimonials after trying out this new revolutionary remote workflow system. To paraphrase, every testimonial contained a line that went something like this:

“This is amazing! It’s better than being there!”

(There was one downside, all also agreed that sessions were not quite the same without enjoying the company of our three studio dogs, Emma, Kobe and Jake)

Emma (left), Kobe (right) & Jake (foreground) with Studio Manager Kristen La Roche

The Technology and The Revolutionary Remote Workflow System for Home Studio Collaboration 

The Technology

My challenge was to first discover whether or not a technology existed that could be used as the foundation for a revolutionary remote workflow system of collaboration.

I scoured the internet and discovered a plug-in that was being used by film directors who found a way to save trips back to Hollywood from active movie sets, for spotting sessions with film composers — by remotely conducting these spotting sessions.

“But how?” I thought. Remote audio transmission quality from a DAW is always so disappointing and frustrating. You can’t hear nuances, and what you do hear is filled with so many artifacts it’s unbearable to listen to. 

Well, AudioMovers created a plug-in called the ListenTo plug-in which gives anyone the ability to stream pristine quality audio from almost any DAW to any computer in the world in real-time – with multiple end-users able to listen at a time. 

Step one done! I found the technology: The ListenTo plugin.

There are many articles and videos and tutorials regarding the ListenTo plug-in. Using this plug-in only for its intended purpose was not enough when it came to the second step of my challenge.

NOW came the difficult part. Could I set up a workflow system utilizing this technology whereby the result would be so effective, efficient and high quality, that end-users would PREFER working remotely rather than working in-person?

The Revolutionary Remote Workflow System for Home Studio Collaboration 

Before I type one more word, I want to share something quite intense and emotional about the remote workflow system I developed. This was not expected. In just a few words I can save myself from typing for hours and you from having to read for hours by sharing the following short true-life story which just happened a few days ago.

I was in the middle of a recording/mixing session for a client who had previously conducted all of her sessions here in my home studio. There she was in her home, watching me working on my DAW as I shared my screen via Zoom, listening in real-time on her end via the ListenTo Plug-in. She was able to listen through various systems in her home, such as laptop speakers, headphones, home studio system with subwoofer, iPhone, etc. For a two-part article on how to create mixes that sound great in every system check this out.

By the way, this workflow system even allows my remote clients, students and collaborators to listen to me working on my DAW in real-time through their car stereo system!

The Story

So, there I am laying down drum and orchestral instruments and mixing a hybrid hip hop, R&B, rock, epic orchestral track — and I no longer hear my client commenting or asking questions. I look up wondering if my client has muted their mic. And then all of a sudden it hits me. My client is crying. I mean sobbing. 

I immediately stop what I’m doing and ask, “Are you OK? Did something happen?!”

Through tears and sobbing, my client responds the best she can, with an intense, steady, confident and calm voice – a complete dichotomy to the fact that she is at the same time crying, “Yes, Gary. Something did happen. I have never been so moved before by music. I am here watching you work and listening to everything that you are doing with my music, every nuance, and what you are doing is so powerful that I’m reacting with tears of intense joy. I’m sorry. It’s hard to put into words what is happening right now, but it’s amazing and it’s never happened this intensely before.”

She then gets her husband and her daughter, and she has them watch and listen to me mixing, so that she can share with them what she has just experienced. I see their responses. Both arrive obviously having been pulled from the middle of something they would rather be doing. However, both end up watching and listening to me work for some time. Rather than giving me the obligatory 10 seconds of semi-attention and saying, “That’s nice,” and going back to what they are doing, they stay. After watching and listening to me work, they both say to my client, “I totally get why you were crying. No need to explain. This is amazing!”

The Revolutionary Remote Workflow System

Let’s look at this from the product backwards. I developed a workflow system whereby I can record the session (video and audio) and send the client, student or collaborator a video replay of the session with pristine quality audio that they can keep forever. In essence, an audio/visual documentation of the pre-production, creation and completion of a recording of their music (or of lessons for my students).

When I’m done with a recording, mixing or mastering session (or giving a lesson to a student), I make sure my client, student or collaborator receives a video replay of the session as soon as possible. Clients that had no interest in learning more about music production are sending me stem files that sound amazing and that make my work easier and more efficient. It’s basically impossible to not learn more about recording, mixing and mastering by simply observing these sessions.

The Philosophy and Architecture of The System

The Philosophy

Read this testimonial from a client who helped me beta test this revolutionary remote system of audio production. It actually spells out the entire philosophy quite succinctly:

“In some ways, it’s actually better than being there – I can watch and listen from my environment and when you need me to supply you with stems or a new vocal or instrumental recording, I can do it within minutes in my home studio – while you produce me and listen to every detail from MY studio! We are getting twice as much done this way. This is blowing me away. Thank you Gary for having the foresight to set all of this up when you did. Talk about timing!!”

The Architecture and the Workflow

When I’m streaming live audio from my DAW to a client or student using the ListenTo plug-in, the cost to me is either $3.99 for a week, $9.99 for a month, or $99 for a year. I purchased the year subscription. It paid for itself within 1 hour of use. There is a free week trial available. The client or student or collaborator does not have to purchase anything or install anything. For the end-user the cost is ZERO.

They simply receive a link from me (a URL) in the chat window of Zoom or Skype or Google Meet, paste it into their browser and THAT’S ALL THERE IS TO IT. 

For the person transmitting audio, the following needs to be in place in order to create a seamless pleasant and productive experience for the client, student or collaborator:

  1. Your computer needs to be optimized for audio production. All other apps or background running functions should be turned off.
  1. Conditional: If your computer is not capable of running smoothly while under the stresses and demands of intense audio production, you may find that adding Zoom or Skype or Google Meet to the equation can create anomalies or problems that may take away from the efficiency and beauty of this workflow system. If this is the case, save your pennies and do everything possible to upgrade your computer or replace your computer so that you are working from a foundation of stability, confidence and joy — without any added frustrations or exasperation. 
  1. Go to AudioMovers.com and either start the free trial or purchase a weekly, monthly or yearly subscription. Download the ListenTo plug-in and follow the simple installation instructions. I’ve noticed that the most technologically challenged individuals get through these steps easily and comes out the other end victorious.
  1. Ensure that your DAW recognizes the ListenTo plug-in.
  1. Test your system by first streaming to yourself on your smartphone. You do this by placing the ListenTo plug-in on your master buss out in your DAW and clicking on “Log In,” then “Start Transmission” and then “Copy Link.” Email the link to yourself. Open up your email on your phone and click the link. Your phone will now playback your audio! NOTE: this is an incredible way to work, spending a portion of your time mixing THROUGH other playback systems, such as your smartphone, instead of “checking” your mixes after the fact.
  1. Once you have tested your system solo, now it’s time to test it with an individual in a remote location. Once you have tested it with an individual, you can test it with a group of people. (I conduct regular mastermind sessions and coaching calls with this system, where more than 25 people at a time are listening in).
  1. See the diagram below for ideas on how to set up a recording workflow whereby you can record each session (video and audio) for video replays. Be sure to record the Zoom, Skype or Google Meet session for the video portion of the video replay. A second computer can be used to record the audio portion for the video replay. Note: for collaborations, both participants use this exact same set-up. Also Note: there is a slight latency in using this system. This is not a set-up for remote performances. No client, student or collaborator has complained about the latency issue. In fact, it tends to eradicate the McGurk Effect, an auditory illusion which occurs while mixing. For more information on the McGurk Effect, check out The Lucrative Home Studio Program. 

To see this workflow in action visit FlyOnTheWallApprentice.com, a website I founded where students of music production can be apprenticed by observing actual client sessions. You can watch the video replays for free.

Two unexpected and truly fascinating results of my beta testing:

  1. Students do not have “short attention spans” and do not want to only see “short, edited, get-to-the-point tutorials” as I was told over and over by consultants. My research finds that students want to see the real thing IN ACTION. How it’s ACTUALLY DONE IN REAL-TIME. This is what Apprenticing is. Mentoring is good, yes. Apprenticing is the real thing. Apprenticing in many fields, crafts and industries has become a lost art. Soon, you’ll see FlyOnTheWallApprentice.com expanding into all walks of life, professions and crafts.
  1. I’ve always advocated that students of studio music production run LIVE SOUND. It brings your competence level up to professional standards whereby you are forced, whether you like it or not, to move fast, learn your craft, learn your gear, use your ear and get it done right the first time. I discovered that this revolutionary remote workflow system, when used, accomplishes everything running live sound does for students or pros alike – and MORE! And in these uncertain times when live concerts and even live recording sessions are not always possible, utilizing this system will help you become a Ninja recording, mixing and mastering engineer now!

And the most beautiful thing of all? This system doesn’t just temporarily replace in-studio sessions for your clients, students or collaborators, it creates a whole new dimension and a better format for running sessions from here on out into the future!

Here’s to a productive and successful music career for you!

Gary Gray is a Voting Member of the Grammy Recording Academy; a Two-Time Telly Award- Winning Producer, Arranger, Mixing and Mastering Engineer; The Author of The Home Studio Bible, and creator of the online Masterclass The Lucrative Home Studio. 

Tags: engineering featuring home studio production