There Are Revolutionaries Among Us and They Want Our Voices to Be Heard with Unequivocal Clarity.
There’s a critical purpose for the inclusion of the word “Sciences” in Society of Voice Arts and Sciences. And, few people can bring that purpose to life like the dedicated, creative and scientific minds of Rebekah Wilson and Robert Marshall, creators of Source Elements. Without question, they revolutionized the voiceover industry with science. To learn about their fascinating story is indelibly moving.
By Rudy Gaskins, June 15, 2019 Society of Voice Arts and Sciences
Rudy: First, give us a snap shot of your backgrounds and how you came to be involved in developing digital technologies.
Robert: My background is as a sound designer and mix engineer. I am also a musician | producer | composer but early on my career was more directed to post work such as sound design and the many VO record/edit sessions associated with audio post-production work.
Rebekah: I was trained as a composer of western art music and taught myself computer programming. I was an early enthusiast and developer of digital audio over the internet, and I’ve put my technical and computer networking expertise to use in many non-profit situations such as coordinating long-distance wireless internet services during the Christchurch 2011 earthquake when there was no power in parts of the city.
How did you come to create Source Elements as a company and what was the inspiration for the name?
Robert: We started Source Elements out of a large post house in Chicago I was working at for many years. We ran a lot (a lot) of ISDN sessions and we would often hear about the costs associated with ISDN. At the same time, the internet was just coming up to speed, to just where it would be able to handle real-time audio over the newly, widely available cable/DSL and T1 connections. The reality is, we were just on the initial edge of internet use for low-latency bidirectional streaming and so the first few years were tough because bandwidth needed to be managed closely to make sure the connections were stable. We put a lot of research into making the connection as stable as possible even with iffy bandwidth. By 2007-2009 the bandwidth on the public internet and common local connections to the internet began to get consistent enough that widespread use took off. The name Source Elements refers to audio/media sources and elements (software etc) we make to stream/process/store etc said audio/media.
What constitutes the Source Elements as a brand?
Robert: Source Elements is a software and service company. We focus on audio software for post-production, VO, radio and musicians. We mainly focus on remote post and VO workflows.
Rebekah: We’re also proud of being a small independent company that dedicates all our energy to building hard things. A lot of what we release comes out of years of research, and it’s exciting to see new products come to fruition as they will have spent a lot of time being developed and tested.
What’s the biggest misconception about what it is and how it works?
Robert: I’d say for Source-Connect the misconception is that it is for Pro Tools only. We made it for Pro Tools initially but very early on we made VST and AU plugin support as well as standalone. Source-Connect doesn’t need Pro Tools or any specific software – it can run on its own with any computer and audio hardware or it can run as a plugin in any digital audio work station software. Also, the standard version doesn’t require a physical iLok dongle. In fact, the only single version of our software that requires a physical iLok dongle is Source-Connect Pro. Again, Source-Connect Standard which is the version most VO talent may need, does not require a physical iLok dongle or Pro Tools or any DAW at all.
Rebekah: We also remember the days when the internet was not as reliable as an ISDN line: that’s really changed! Now I talk to studios and I hear stories about how they prefer Source-Connect to ISDN – that’s largely due to the massive improvement in bandwidth and availability that’s made internet audio impressively stable.
What has it taken to develop the Source Elements product line?
Robert: Using our industry background in audio production and Rebekah’s software development talents, we develop our tools mainly by looking at what workflow obstacles exist and then look for innovative ways to make those workflows possible, easier, and/or more affordable. It has taken many years to refine what we offer and we listen to our customers closely. It is inspiring and we are honored to see Source-Connect being used every day on so many projects ranging from blockbuster movies to bread-and-butter VO work.
Rebekah: Robert is one of most ingenious engineers I know and it’s such a pleasure to work with him: not only is he exceptionally well-versed in knowing how existing tools work, he also really understands what new tools the industry needs. We’re also blessed to have an amazing team of developers and support staff. We have been able to build Source-Connect and many related tools thanks to our collective strengths, and we have a million ideas coming for the future.
Since the inception of Source Elements, what major hurdles have you had to overcome?
Robert: Making sure technical information that is out there is correct. Also making sure people use the tech to its fullest. For example, our Remote Transport Sync feature (RTS) allows VO talent and producers to work in perfect sync to picture in real time. This could be perfect for promo work. But often we see people working in the same workflow they have used for at least 30 years. Thus, one side doesn’t hear the performance in sync until the playback. But our RTS technology allows for real-time sync on both sides which speeds up the process and can often allow producers and performers not to pick a compromise because of the workflow and instead again focus on the creative aspects of their job/talent/performance. The same is true of Source-Connect’s Qmanager AutoReplace feature. It guarantees perfect remote recording and a lossless audio workflow but still some producers in ADR sessions choose to FTP files after the session and then have an assistant manually ear-match the ftp’d audio to the remotely recorded audio. When all they need to do is engage and use the AutoReplace feature and thus skip the ftp and manual ear matching process.
Rebekah: We’ve always wanted to build the kind of company we would like to be a customer of, so that meant providing outstanding support. Doing this while our team is distributed over various continents and time zones has been a challenge, and it’s one of the things I’m most proud of getting right. That has been achieved by a combination of internal tool development and strong company culture.
Some would say that Source-Connect is a product that few voice actors can afford to do without. Do you agree? If so, how so?
Robert: Remote audio is here to stay in the VO industry. We have made Source-Connect Standard/Pro for professional work and we try to avoid consumer tech and platforms that are often forced into the industry and cause frustration to end users because they don’t handle audio with true fidelity in mind and instead are only aiming for intelligibility when transmitting and receiving audio. Audio professionals expect purpose-built tools and thus many studios, producers, engineer and VO talent rely on Source-Connect because it delivers results and allows people to focus on their job and not worry about if it’s going to work, or if it’s a pain to use/implement.
How would you explain Source-Connect to a 12-year-old?
Robert: Source-Connect is a super high definition quality phone with features that lets people who use it record and sync audio so they can work together on everything from movies to podcasts creatively, collaboratively, and fast.
Rebekah: It’s similar to apps you already use like Skype or Facebook Messenger or Facetime but it does something special: you can hear every sound from the other side perfectly. That’s because in Source-Connect we prioritize the sound quality but it also means you need headphones or you’ll hear yourself echoing back!
Beyond voice acting, in what other fields is Source-Connect being used?
Robert: Movie remote ADR (dialog replacement), remote record sessions with Orchestras for movie score, remote 7.1 surround mixing for movies, musicians overdubbing, producers mixing remotely for their clients, radio interview and remote hosts, podcasts.
Rebekah: We’ve also been working a lot lately with creative groups who are seeing internet audio as having potential for new forms of musical expression and ways of communicating remotely. For example, I worked with two choirs recently, one in Sweden and one in Greece who sang a concert together at the same time using Source-Connect. It was beautiful and we’re looking forward to supporting more projects like this in the future.
Do you see the science of AI generated voices eventually disrupting the work of voice actors?
Robert: Yes. Some of the work Adobe is doing is great but scary. Not just for VO talent but for the general public. It will get to the point that it may be hard to trust what you see and hear. They are not just getting to the point where they can clone a voice but they can also manipulate picture and mouth movements to sell the change in audio with perfect lip sync. That has big implications for ADR. That said, there is still a ways to go. Though a voice may be cloned, it is still in its infancy and the AI is not sonically there quite yet and certainly a computer program will be hard-pressed to take direction from a writer or be a creative partner in delivering a message/performance/emotion. People thought MIDI and string/orchestra synth patches and sounds would be the end of orchestral musicians. Clearly, it was not! It’s a tool people use to make sure they can compose better music but in the end, many projects use a real orchestra to replace the synths they used during the composition process. In fact, Source-Connect is used extensively in those remote orchestra scoring sessions. It will be very hard for AI to totally replace human performance, interpretation and nuance.
Do you see Source Elements’ role changing as a result of the growth of AI?
Rebekah: AI is a tool, and there are extensive opportunities to harness the potential of machines to improve our services. A basic example is that AI could detect what kind of internet network you are on and configure the ideal settings on your behalf. Or for more sophisticated imaginings, it could help us transmit even greater quality of sound and video, and could lead towards the development of advanced, helpful control surfaces that do a lot of the work for us. For my part, I believe machines will give humans more time to do what we are good at: being emotional, chaotic and creative.
What do you like to do when you’re not in the laboratory?
Robert: I personally like to spend time with my daughter. I write and record music, ski, travel and spend time with friends when possible. Just kidding, I just work all the time …
Rebekah: Like Robert, I too work a lot, but also travel extensively. One of my favorite things that I like to hear is “where are you?”.
What’s the next big thing for Source Elements?
Rebekah: We’ve had our heads down working on some very wonderful things that will be released very soon! It’s been an exciting development process and we’re eager to show what we’ve been building for you all as soon as the final polishes are complete.
Rudy: Sounds to me like it’s worth the wait. For more info on Source Elements, visit the website at Source-Elements.com
Rudy Gaskins is the Co-founder, Chairman & CEO of Society of Voice Arts and Sciences, voice acting coach and brand strategist. He is a Backstage Magazine columnist and Emmy® Award winning TV producer with a long experience as a feature film sound editor and documentary film director for PBS. IMDB LinkedIn
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