The Sound Co-op: Setting The Standard

The Sound Co-op explains how they are reimagining production mixing in the Covid-19 era with Lectrosonics, and why the kit comes through for them every time.

New York’s The Sound Co-op started in 2015 as the brainchild of a post-work discussion between members Phil Shipman and Jon Moore. Their vision was a sound mixing company that, through cooperation, could be a win for both production companies and for sound mixers themselves.

At its core then and now is the belief that together they can be stronger and better, and that co-operation, not competition, could create both a company that would support better quality work for its clients from call, to booking, to shoot, to billing, and also camaraderie, mutual support, learning, growth and change for themselves as a team.

“Our Co-op is a legal structure,” begins chief financial officer, Shipman. “It’s just like how some apartment buildings and food stores are co-ops. We’re not only worker-owned, but democratically controlled. In a for-profit company, owners take profit based on the share of the company they own. Here, each sound mixer takes revenue based on how much they work.”

“We realised that we didn’t have to ask anyone else to create that economy, we could do it ourselves,” adds Austin Plocher, CMO at The Sound Co-op.

“So, starting an alternative to solo freelancing, as well as an alternative to something like New York's union for sound mixers which, when we formed, was actually frozen shut to new members, was important to us.”

What sets the company apart from others is that first and foremost, they have formed a company in an industry of freelancers.

“It’s a company owned by its workers and wholly democratically governed; we all make the decisions together,” Plocher points out. “All of us were used to being our own boss, and we still are, but now we share that boss-ness with each other, and we help each other grow as individuals and as a company.”

Agreeing it was crucial to standardise wireless and other equipment across their team, the Sound Co-op chose Lectrosonics’ Digital Hybrid Wireless gear, including the SMV and SMQV transmitters and SRc receivers, supported by pairings of the T4 and R1A for IFB applications.

Even prior to the pandemic, standardisation was a must:

“From a technical perspective, we needed wireless products that were wideband, durable, user-friendly, and easy to troubleshoot,” says Moore.

“I’d worked in the rental department of Professional Sound Services for two years. I was people’s go-to guy for problems like, ‘My receiver is not picking up’ or ‘How do I get more range?’ Just coming in with that experience made me know we wanted Lectrosonics.”

“Lectrosonics’ reputation, reliability and usability were all key components to our choice,” adds Plocher.

“We had to have gear that could be teachable to newcomers, uniformly used by those who were already members, and stand up to the toughest of jobs. We weighed our options between different wireless manufacturers and Lectrosonics won out.”

The company does most of its work in New York City, a very competitive area for open frequencies, so naturally wideband products were a must when they made their choice.

“Durability is key because we work on such a variety of jobs, from comfortable studio shoots to risky documentary gigs,” says Plocher. “Ease of use and troubleshooting is a must because a part of our system is bringing in new mixers and training people who have little-to-no experience. If our equipment is a puzzle, that won’t work for them.”

Early 2020 changed life as we know it: Covid-19 took hold of the world, changing the way we live and work. The situation gave The Sound Co-op a further and unforeseen reason to have a single wireless umbrella.

“That makes it even more important to have reliable gear that’s an industry standard and that we already know how to train newcomers on,” Moore confirms.

“People tend to be familiar with Lectrosonics when they come in the door because they’ve encountered it in the field. If bio-safety considerations validated their equipment choice, performance in the field cemented it.”

So many people treat them like little utility boxes that can just be thrown around. That should give us anxiety, but because it’s Lectrosonics, it doesn’t. Austin Plocher

With crosstalk and dropouts being common audio gremlins in such conditions, Moore adds that he can’t remember the last time he had “any such issue that wasn’t solved with a quick frequency scan and repairing of the transmitter and receiver”.

“I can speak to range as well,” notes Shipman. “We do a lot with Major League Baseball. Even though a ballpark is a big, open area, it’s filled with RF. You go to the frequency coordinator in the morning and they put their hands on their head and go, ‘Man, I have hardly anything left I can give you!’ You don’t get to pick and choose, yet the production depends on you getting in-game sound. Relative to a player mic'd up deep in center field, your position is on the edge of range. Other wireless products we’ve tried wouldn’t have got us anything out there!”

Contact sports have no script, even when the team is shooting a sports documentary. This makes IFB all the more crucial.

“On the basketball doc Benedict Men, we had three camera crews courtside, where it’s very loud,” Shipman explains.

“We’d already programmed three channels using the Lectro T4-R1A combo so producers could move around and select which crew to monitor. Then, we gave R1As to the camera operators as well. They could just reach down to their belts and turn them up way louder than the audio being sent to the camera. This helped them know where to aim to capture all the action.”

In such a noisy environment it was important for multiple producers to follow different character storylines.

“We had lots of transmitters on players, coaches or families, so we were able to use multiple Lectro T4-R1A transmitters to send differing outputs to a bunch of R1A receivers so producers could switch between these multiple storylines that they wouldn't hear otherwise amidst such noise,” Plocher elaborates.

“Importantly, the camera operators were getting audio from the R1As that they could boost to higher volumes than if they were listening to their camera's audio output.”

The company caters to a range of projects, including broadcast, commercial, documentary and playback on music video shoots, with Plocher citing Lectrosonics’ reliability in range, as well as durability.

“Using Lectrosonics wireless and IFB technology was crucial to something like HBO's The Vow documentary series, where at any given time we had to put wireless microphones on talent who might wander out of our sights,” he recalls.

“Being able to hear them as much as we could and not worry about the gear breaking from situations out of our control was key. And then being able to feed that audio back to multiple producers who needed to hear crucial story points was necessary.”

The team deployed Lectrosonics’ technology in unexpected ways for Eminem’s Rap God and Madonna’s Living For Love music videos:

“We were able to use Lectrosonics’ IFB technology to feed both master timecode from Pro Tools – using a computer interface – to a slate to ensure synchronisation between what was being shot and the music track, as well as feed audio from Pro Tools to the cameras,” shares Plocher.

“We used multiple IFB transmitters for different purposes, and a wealth of IFB receivers.

“We hand countless R1A receivers to producers and directors,” he continues. “So many people treat them like little utility boxes that can just be thrown around. That should give us anxiety, but because it’s Lectrosonics, it doesn’t. I can’t remember the last time an R1A stopped working!”