MUSIC+SOUND AWARDS TALK TO...
2018 Jury Member +
MD at Audio Post-Production House
SONIC UNION, New York
Adam Barone co-founded Sonic Union in 2008 which has grown to become one of New York’s most successful audio post-production houses… and one of the best places in the city to hang out! Here we chat to him about their unique company vibe, the stirring capabilities of Dolby Atmos and keeping ahead of the game...
We’d love to hear a bit about your career path, to date. How did you come to co-found one of the best audio post houses in New York?
I’ve been a sound guy since first figuring out how to overdub on my Dad’s open reel machine, and went to college to specialize in sound for television. Along the way, I met then-teenage Michael Marinelli doing the same thing, but I swerved into advertising and media production, in addition to live sound. I then became very involved with cinema advertising and actually tested sound for that application with a national cinema chain before today’s digital pre-show arrived. Ready for a new challenge, I wound up in NYC in 2001 working with Mike on expanding digital audio workflow at Buzz, and eventually HD and surround. These days, I get to listen for enjoyment rather than work as I’m on the business end of the beast, so to speak.
How do you feel Sonic Union stands apart from the competition? How do you help your clients walk away with a smile on their face, singing your praises?
We share a lot of clients with sister independent post sound companies, and I think we all do a great job juggling what’s thrown at us, on both coasts. Some of us have free parking, others have great views. We all have a good process and dedicated expertise. We like it when, as happened on Friday, a first-time client notices how seamless things work in the midst of their chaos and says so to everyone. And the long-time clients become so known, they have their own sonic union email (!) and can work their upcoming job while we take care of this one.
Sonic Union tends to attract very genuine people who laugh a lot together and don’t treat this as a job. That resulted in an environment where the staff relies a lot on each other and there is none of this ‘please the boss’ stuff. Clients like supporting that. With two studio locations in Manhattan now, it’s generated tremendous flexibility and teamwork.
Lastly, we constantly re-invest in our business with a positive view ahead. Everyday, our clients seem to find strong value in what we do and how it helps their work shine, so why doubt the future?
Has there been a project over the last few years that stands out as being a favourite? And most challenging?
To a certain extent, all our projects are challenging in one way or another. I think the most challenging and rewarding project has been the ongoing building of our Sonic Union team. We’ve all had a variety of work experiences good and bad, but through trial and error, and learning from our collective pasts, we’ve been able to assemble a team that people really respond to.
Could you talk us through your usual process on a job?
Every job is different. Some we get involved early in the process, and those generally run more smoothly. But we’re also quite adept at being tossed into the fire and solving “admergencies!”
Can you offer any advice relating to approaching sound in an ad?
People that plan ahead, allow sufficient time and budget for the all-important audible aspect of a production and seek someone known for great work, get the mix that they deserve. Those that don’t also get a great final mix, but what’s different is what never got tested, or the time lost waiting around for approvals, etc. So while it’s nice to think that yes, one can record and mix a :30 spot in under two hours, the best process comes from recognizing that there will be multiple versions, deliverables, requests that help realize value out of the whole project. And schedule accordingly.
Often times, a challenge in another area is attempted to be solved in the mix with respect to tone, timing, etc and that little bit of extra exploration can save days or thousands of dollars from another aspect of the production. I’d say that this happens frequently and ends with a resounding “Yes!” Many clients like to let us handle a music edit well in advance to cut to, or do a sound design pass early on to help sell a cut and then work from there seamlessly.
Great sound shouldn’t be very noticeable on its own, unless it’s radio or podcast. Sub-optimal or hurried sound drags the whole execution down. A VR client, upon hearing a proper mix instead of just a quick leveling of the elements swore that the visuals were different even though they had not changed. The sound made the film look better.
What do you see the next few years holding for Sonic Union, especially considering your recent expansion and fabulous new studio overlooking Bryant Park?
We’re really inspired by all of the conversation happening around spatial audio and built not only a second facility but greatly expanded our team to allow for that to become a large part of our work as brands and directors experiment with it. I have heard some playback in our Dolby Atmos room that has really moved me emotionally in the middle of a busy day. It’s that powerful. It’s more like what we hear naturally in our world. The latest sound bars fitted with Atmos are really cool. I love how you can be immersed without needing a high volume level. How you can leak off the music to the proscenium of the theater - one dimension forward of the dialogue let’s say - but still in front if desired, adding depth without invoking the full left and right surrounds.
We continue to grow by virtue of our younger staff evolving over the past decade and joining the ranks of of our all-original roster, now 10 engineers strong. It takes another 20 to support that correctly. We’d like to see more interest for those roles as clearly, the main part of the business is everything around the actual moment of recording and mixing. You can’t do that well and grow profitably without a very solid team alongside the engineers, especially when it’s typical to have many more clients under roof than staff.
I do see some of the work of course shifting to brands and agency in-house operations, but I also just see a lot of content needing high production values. And a need for talent that becomes deeply experienced by virtue of working with such a wide variety of agency and brand creatives, editors, composers, designers and producers that mentor those behind them.
I hope that there will always be enough work at this end of the spectrum, where the best work and the brightest creatives find themselves In a common place. We are grateful that it’s often our place.
Read more about Adam and Sonic Union on their site, www.sonicunion.com