Interview with Pensado’s Place
December 20, 2023

In November 2023 we sat down with Dave Pensado and Herb Trawick to chat about remote collaboration, production and all things audio. 

Herb: It is literally a way for you to do virtual production, gather yourself together, be able to collaborate remotely . They really are good.

They’re in a bunch of different industries and now it’s time for you. And you want to check out Source Elements because we certainly are going to feature them at NAMM. Enjoy. Welcome, gentlemen. We are happy to have you. Thank you. Thank you.

Robert: Yeah, yeah.

Herb: yeah, yeah. So, so, so the easiest part to start is at the beginning. Robert, give us, give us a sense of Source Element, its origin, what you guys are doing, what you guys do well. Tell us all about it.. 

Robert: So Source Elements started in 2005. My background, besides being a mix engineer and whatnot, I ended up doing a lot of post production.

When you do a lot of post production, especially back in the day, you ended up on ISDN lines, which was a really sort of expensive way of doing high quality remotes back when no one even really thought it was possible. I began asking why can’t you do this over the internet? And then all of a sudden 20 years later, here we are, but Source Elements has a long history of providing remote audio technology for audio professionals really operating at a high level.

So the thing I’d like to joke about is that probably everyone here has heard audio that’s passed through source connect today. Most likely in some ad that you heard off the air or something like that, but you’ve all definitely heard audio that’s passed through Source-Connect in the last 20 years and probably today.

And that’s what we’ve been doing is essentially remote audio workflows, especially at the very high end level for post production. And we’ve got all kinds of new, exciting stuff. 

Herb: And in a wide swath of industries, right? 

Robert: Yeah, like, like audio in general, but across the audio landscape, all kinds of workflows and industries from major films to music to podcasting the whole gamut.

We’ve kind of touched it all. 

Herb: So for our audience there’s an application. No matter what you do, if you’re in our audience through Source Element and its product Ross, there’s there’s different stuff. There’s there’s Nexus. Give us an example of the suite of products. 

Ross: So technically Source Nexus Suite is is really a suite of plugin and software solutions for for playback purposes and review.

And then you have Source-Connect, which is largely used for audio acquisition. For critical projects, you know, when Robert was talking about most people have heard our audio, that’s he’s referring to Source-Connect as the means for acquiring and remote method. And then we have Source-Live which is a high performance media CDN for dealing with frame accuracy streams to lots of people.

We can synchronize audio to those to that stream. And we have a bunch of utilities that just make a lot of the common work from home scenarios that sprout up of talk back mics and LTC and stuff like that. We want to interface with all these professional studios and sometimes in less than savory environments.

So that’s kind of the challenge that we stepped up to. 

Herb: You know, I’m not certain. Dave, I want you, I want to hear your question. I just want to just note. I don’t know that I’ve ever heard studio and savory in one sentence. So go ahead, Dave.

Dave: When you’re working with Disney or Netflix or even Spotify, what exactly are you doing to do that?

Robert: So with Source-Connect, and you can kind of think of Source-Connect as the booth or the live room connection part of like, you know, if you look at a studio session, you’ve got the control room and everyone who knows better about the performance in the control room, and then the library, you’ve got the performer and they’re being recorded.

So Source-Connect is our sort of booth or live room connection. And what you see a lot of is all kinds of talent. They’re hooking up on Source-Connect between the talent wherever they might be. It might be studio to studio. It might be the talent right there in their house and they’re connected to an engineer who’s recording them directly into their workstation right off their mic over the Internet as if we’ve just thrown an XLR cable and a pair of headphones across the Internet.

But they’re wherever they are. They’re being recorded typically straight into Pro Tools, but it might be any workstation. And then in turn, the, the engineer would be recording them, editing them. Everyone’s hearing this live. Maybe it’s cut right back on the picture, and then that’s being streamed out in real time to clients who would be on Nexus gateway, which is our control room part of the connection.

So we have isolation. And we’ve got the quality managed in the direction it needs to go. So, for example, in Nexus, well you might have some people with echo cancellation and certain things in their microphone because it helps communications. But on the Source-Connect side, there is no echo cancellation.

We’re not touching that audio and we’re actually able to guarantee that it’s recorded perfectly into the session. And our software, all the little plugins in between help do things like manage the communication, manage sync. So you can actually do this recording. If the talent is working with picture or if those with film, so they’re literally dubbing back right on top of a picture.

Those are all what the other sort of software pieces help assemble for the idea is to have as cohesive a session as possible, where everybody is everywhere else, except for where you are. Essentially.

Herb: Did you end up in your research and your coding and figuring out the services and what and all the elements that you want to have?

Did you query folks and say, what are your problems and use your own experience clearly, but but get input from others and then decide how to fix those problems. 

Robert: Yeah, I mean, over the last 20 years, there’s been so many additions and little feature add ons, but a lot of this is ,especially the original sparks, are just things that as I’m doing sessions, you’re like, gosh, like, I need this or here’s how it should be because I’ve done this 1000 times before.

And then, as you start doing more of those sessions, you’re like, oh, gosh, like clients need something easier on their side, because they’re not nearly as technical as, say, an engineer and a talent, or there’s no time to load to onboard them. So, a lot of it is just from experience, not just the experience of being an engineer in sessions, but the experience of being an engineer in remote sessions, probably more than a, yeah.

Dave: When I was putting my notes together I started to wonder, how do you handle latency because there’s so many elements coming together? But I don’t know the latency was happening.

Robert: There’s 2 primary ways to handle latency and back, you know, going back in history. The 1st and foremost way was to lock workstations together.

And this started out by just like, let’s hook up in stereo. And I’m going to send you sympathy on 1 channel and whatever audio it is. I want to sync up with on the other channel and you’re just going to chase it like it was a tape deck. And then, you know, you can, you can play with it and do different things.

We eventually came out with our remote transport sync feature, and this was the first one that really made it possible to do overdubbing. And in that case, the trick was, I’m sinking to your workstation, but the remote talent was hearing everything from that workstation. So, the only thing going over the Internet was the talents performance and my talk back back to them and as the talents performance came back to me, I’m syncing it to my workstation.

So everything magically appears in sync. I hear it in sync. I’m capturing it in sync. The latency could be typically 300 milliseconds, but it could be three years. It wouldn’t matter. It’s going to sync up as it needs to to the to the timeline. But the problem there is that you couldn’t, you know, everything the talent was monitoring was off their workstation.

So if you said, oh, great, that was perfect. Now double it. You would have to quickly fly that vocal that you comped back over to them so that you could have them double it or have a feel for exactly what they did. Our newest stuff now, which we’ll get into, I’m sure later, but our newest stuff literally lets you send the audio right out of your workstation.

It goes to the talent, the talent performs. It comes back to you. You record it in your workstation. Einstein dictates. It’s late, but you hear it in sync. And if you just give our software basically, about 5 seconds when you hit stop, it is in sync in your workstation and you can pretty much work exactly like you’re used to where you’re like, the talent says, hey, I need more base in my headphones.

You can adjust everything about the talents mix. The only thing you can’t adjust with the talents mix is their actual monitor of themselves. That’s the one item that obviously… and any low latency situation has to come directly from the talent system. So you’re basically sending the talent what’s called the mix minus.

And this is a term that’s really familiar in radio and broadcast circles. But essentially what it is a mix minus because you can’t send the talent back to themselves. That would result in an uncomfortable echo. But for the most part, you can send them everything 

Dave: I’m still a little confused. Is that latency a separate piece of gear, a separate piece of software or how does that work.

Robert: Source-Connect is the primary one that deals with latency and compensating for it. With the client side plugins., they’re just receiving everything in sync..

So if it’s just music, they’re going to hear it. If it’s music and video, we’re going to stream it out to them. And the latency is just a matter of what the latency we have here with any remote conversation. It exists, but it doesn’t really impede on anything. We’re still having a fluid conversation where the latency becomes critical is when you’re trying to perform.

And you’re down to the millisecond with a good musician down to within 20 milliseconds, you’re well within musical time. We’re syncing up perfectly when it comes to the musician’s stream and what they’re hearing and getting back to you.

That’s sunk up right down to the sample basically, 

Herb: And because of the thought that you guys have put in to it and all the kind of refinements that gone over 20 years and based on your own experience and stuff. I’m imagining then the quality of the audio signal that comes through is as good as it can be given the circumstances that you’re putting it into to make sure it’s shared, is that correct? 

Robert: Absolutely. I’ll let Ross take this one. 

Ross: Yeah. I mean, I love this aspect of, of, of Source-Connect. We have kind of like a triple tier safety net, if you will. So you’ve got the stream happening from point A to point B, and that is by all means a high quality stream.

But there’s possibilities that there could be interference in the Internet traveling from point A to point B. Now you might have an artifact or drop out inside of there. That’s when restore kicks in, the moment you’ve cut a file into your media bin inside Pro Tools or your audio files folder, we’re tracking it.

We’re monitoring it, making sure that all the packets are there. If we detect that anything’s missing. We’re going to go and grab it from the other side of the connection and fill it in. And then further to that, we can actually restore that file in place, Pro Tools won’t know any different.

I’ve restored that to the actual PCM quality audio. So now you’ve got the best of all the worlds. You had a really lightweight transmission. That happened in real time. It was good enough that a lot of times it does make it to air.

You know, I’ve been in the commercial industry for a while to know that a stream, if there weren’t any audible errors was good enough to go and the client said, ship it and we shipped it, you know, so that’s a real thing, but obviously on longer format pieces and music, you start to get aware of where some of these artifacts might exist.

And so these second systems are critical to making sure that you can start comping right away and you just have everything. The next day you open up the session, you’ve got all the PCM audio in there, and it’s like you track that in the room, and we can do this with multichannel, too.

So it’s very exciting when you think about groups of microphones possibly being passed over Source-Connect. 

Robert: So it’d be that exactly. Source-Connect uses a codec or it crushes the audio when it sends it and that’s re expanded and it’s technically gone through a lossy phase and the restore process makes sure that you get every bit of that.

And it’s a very high quality codec. Like Ross said, you might not even know. But the restore process, I find it funny sometimes when you look at your files and you go, oh, I didn’t hear anything and restore picked up this and this and this, which I didn’t even notice was dropped. Right? But that’s the Internet being the Internet.

But then, in the end, when you run the replace process, which means that everything you record, it feels like you just recorded it and you’re done and you don’t have to manually say, hey, give me those files and let me download them and over cut them. The replace process is just going to get that audio straight off the ADC converter on the talent side.

And switch that for your audio in your workstation. So you’re working with the exact audio that you would have gotten had you been there with the talent.

Dave: Does it require any software with Avid? 

Robert: No, it works with Pro Tools, but Source-Connect is actually a completely standalone application.

And I joke about this, but literally you could do this with Source-Connect: you could hook up and you could record somebody to a DAT tape. You could then load that DAT tape into your Pro Tools session. As long as you do it digitally. And you could restore that to the uncompressed audio from that person’s microphone. 

Herb: Wow

Ross: Years later. 

Robert: Years later, as long as the person doesn’t erase the cache on their system, it doesn’t matter when later you want to replace it, and how many edits you did to that, we’re going to be able to replace every packet of that and replace it with the PCM audio whenever. As long as you have a digital capture of it, meaning a DAT tape is probably the lowest level digital capture I can think of that will still survive.

Ross: You know, just to add a couple points to Robert’s there, often talent are in a situation where they have a bit of anxiety about what they’re going to do, especially if they’re not in the studio and they’re trying to take care of all this technology. And there’s a bit of an overcorrection that tends to happen where people start running secondary applications in the background to record audio for safety, unaware that we’re actually caching it all and the backup exists in line in a way that has much greater quality and saves time for the engineer at the end.

The last thing I want to do is take sensitive data, put it up on WeTransfer, send it over to the other side and get a bunch of files that are named poorly. 

Robert: The one that drives me crazy is GarageBand. So in post production the typical sample rate is 48k. And so the talent will say, oh, I have to run a backup, but I only use GarageBand.

So, boom, GarageBand now launches and forces their audio interface into 48khz into 44.1khz. If you’re not at the same sample rate as the engineer, you can’t replace it because the gears don’t match up. You have to both be at 48k, then everything’s great. So the fact that they launched GarageBand and drop into 44.1khz and the engineers at 48khz, they actually kill the backup feature and trying to set up a 3rd layer of backup that they really didn’t need. 

Ross: Double the CPU load. Now their fans going and they’re like, oh! This has been designed to keep the technological barrier for the talent position as low as possible without compromising what the engineer needs in a high quality production, so you can let that internet dropout happen. We’re going to heal it, we’re going to repair it and you’re going to get the full quality thing and just blast over it. Like, it never happened.

Robert: The talent doesn’t have to perform it again. That’s something that used to happen on ISDN all the time. Oh, we got a glitch. Can you do that again? Or can you play it back to us? Like, don’t even worry about it. You’re going to get it. 

Dave: Will that same system give you a corrected piece of audio. If there was a glitch, it would it would send it off to the side and let you handle it. 

Robert: Basically what happens is say, you do take 1, it’s good. Take 2 is good. Take 3 has got dropped out. Pretty good at that. Take 4 is good. Take 5 is good. You go back to play. Take 3 was it and the dropouts gone and you didn’t have to do anything.

It just we just needed 20 seconds to go analyze that file, find the dropouts, go to the talent system, get the missing bits of data, put them back in your audio file. So, by the time you go back to playback Take 3, it’s healed, but you can start editing Take 3 with all kinds of dropouts in it and we will fix them as quickly as we can.

And you might edit quicker than we can fix them, but we will fix them automatically. You don’t have to you don’t have to download and upload and over cut it. You don’t have to worry about that. 

Dave: That’s crazy, man. That’s crazy. 

Herb: Yeah. So, one of the things that that is kind of fun and why we …audience, what I hope you’re picking up is what. I picked up in my initial discussions with the guys and Rebekah who is part of their team, they think about this, they care about it. It works. There’s a wide use case of various folks who deal with audio that on a large scale it’s effective for, but you as a bedroom community producer, you as a mix engineer, you as a, who knows what you may do, there is an application for you in this that absolutely will make your life easier.

We’ll make it smarter. And it’s not above you, it’s designed to make sure you’re better. And so we’re actually, Dave and I and his assistant Sam, we talked a lot once I first met the guys about this is how Dave should shoot his ITLs, which is, you know, how we capture his ITLs, which are going to happen.

And then the second thing that’s going to happen is we’re going to have Source Elements at NAMM at our Friday event we’re going to bring, which I can’t announce yet. But some superstar producers are going to bring superstar sessions and we’re going to use Source Elements so you can see how they did what they did, and hear what they did, and meet them and all kinds of cool shit.

So I will tell you, get your buns to NAMM quickly, register and sign up. Get there early, because we’re going to give you access in a way that we usually do at Pensado’s Place. But now we got a tool where it’s going to really benefit you and you’ll be able to see in real time how this tool works. And, it’s going to be super cool.

We’re very excited about this relationship. There’s a number of things that are ongoing too. I mean, the idea of our constituency from mix reviews and other kinds of stuff, explain how that works for them. And then also where you’re going in the future, Robert, you’re kind of like a mad scientist. There’s some shit going on -all the time.. 

Robert: The general plan is to invent time travel, I think. That’s pretty much the goal you know, yeah, it’s funny because because when we talk to Rebekah, that’s actually her line. And we’re like, well, we want to do this. And then she says, good, I’ll get back to you

when I invent time travel, but the general idea is to kind of make time and space go away. And I’d say in the, in the short term, I’m not sure exactly when. I mean, actually, now I’ll say now, you can record 20 tracks of drums over the Internet in real time, right into your workstation. If you’re ambitious enough, you can make that happen.

We’ll continue to make that even easier. But that’s that’s a future and a now, in a sense, and I think that that alone is pretty exciting. 

Ross: Yeah, I think that we’re, you know, have been kind of known for some high level professional tools, and that’s that’s here to stay. But I think what I’m really excited about is that we’re now getting to the opportunity where we can open up a lot of these things and and and empower a lot of the other types of workflows and creators that are out there.

You know, I come from a music background. So I’m I often get excited just picturing some of these workflows coming to be the norm. I don’t think we’re quite there yet with music. It’s still very intimate and private thing. But yeah, once you see what’s possible with connecting to players that are not, you know, geographically just close to me, I can do this thing with you because you can come and haul your stuff into this room. 

Robert: Or just accessing clients that are remote. And that’s true. Like, you know, it’s, it’s, it’s easy to talk about the future is also about this, like really crazy workflows, knowing 24 channels of drums, but yeah. Also that we’re making it extremely easy to just to do the stuff that was hard now becomes easier and the simple stuff, review, review should just be like nothing.

Hey, hook up, check out my mix. What do you want to change? Oh, no problem. Boom changed. Wasn’t that easier than posting files up to Dropbox and getting them down and waiting for you to respond and then opening it back up and then going, where was that that I was that you wanted me to change the vocal? And now it’s just like, ‘there’. In fact, you can just show them the Pro Tools workstation. They can say, ‘the purple wave form there’. 

Herb: Yep. Right. 

Ross: I mean, this call environment is a perfect example. Like if we were to try and bring Pro Tools into this right now. Just think of the headache of wiring.

Robert: It’d be an on the side thing. It would mess with the echo cancellation of the main room. You’d have to think about how you’re routing it and you could get it done, but it wouldn’t be as easy as what we’re presenting. 

Herb: The other part that’s so cool about it is, you know, voice and TV and film and advertising.

And there’s just so many places, podcasting and video games. It would seem to me also that a big space would be education. 

Ross: Huge. 

Robert: Oh, yeah, it’s been used in education for sure. I mean, one of the best places in education, this is super exciting, is you have these film scoring students and they finish their scores at the end of the year.

And then they want to hear these things recorded by a full orchestra and that’s one of the first things and still one of the most exciting. If you’re ever on one of those sessions, it’s one of the most exciting Source-Connect sessions you can be on. You’ve got real time, this orchestra with, like, 40, 50 players. And if you’re the composer and you’re hearing your music, just like, boom, right back.

And so it’s used in film scoring schools. And I think, and a lot of the schools we’ve talked to, especially in post production, this is a chapter in your curriculum. It’s not just a way to learn audio. You can now hook up like, during the pandemic, we had schools who are hooked up and teachers were teaching compression and students could see the gain reduction meter in perfect sync with high quality audio and they could get a feel for how that is supposed to.

Because, you know, when you look at compression and the metering of it, it’s something you got to get a feel for in a sense, you can see it. You can relate to the meters and the graphics there as as they’re happening. So that’s an instance of it’s being used to teach audio, but also you can use our stuff and a lot because we’re in the middle of the industry, but teaching remote audio, the workflows that are necessary to literally be current in the industry today. I would say that you’re not in post production in a deep way if you haven’t dealt with remote audio at this point. 

Herb: You know, it’s funny. You said that bottom line is I got some people to introduce you guys to for sure on the education side, on the post side. Not that you need my help.

Ross: We’re happy.

Herb: Well, it also it’s also and I think this is what Dave and the mysterious Sam, Sam, you should put your head in the, in the camera and just wave. Sam is our script… There you go! 

Robert: Sam! You’re the strings that are connected to Dave. 

Herb: Yeah, exactly. And one of the things that we got excited about and Sam in particular was the broad based applications that could happen.

And then the ease of it, like it delivers what you say it does, it delivers and it just, you guys just do it. Well, I mean, it’s just incredible. So. It was really a no brainer that, great, let’s do our ITLs like this, and then let’s figure out what we do at NAMM, and then let’s go, there’s all kinds of sort of introductory things that people who don’t know who should know, and it’s always better when product stimulates you to deal with it.

Nah, it’s a relationship or we’ve got some sort of paid things like this shit is banging and y’all need to know about this, you know, that’s the sort of more exciting thing for, I know Dave well, and Dave doesn’t get motivated unless it’s motivating. You know, and this is one of those things that was like a no brainer from the top, correct?

Dave: Yeah, as a matter of fact, I’ve already got one right here. Alan Meyerson, not sure you know that guy, he’s my hero and, I had a 108 input G series SSL and we didn’t want to go to the amps, so we went straight to line in. And apparently that it seems like you can do that with something in nexus 

Ross: We’ll have to give you a special version at some point, so you could ship it over Source-Connect, with the channels . You know, there may not be limitations there, we obviously want to make sure that we’re building something that people know how to wield easily and not break it.

But, you know, I’d love to see that. I’d love to see a point where we’re passing an entire console.

Dave: It’s just a plug. It’s not coming in at the top of the console, you come in in the middle where the little switch switches you in and out.

Robert: Are you mixing all on the desk and not in the box? And you got like, 108 channels and the SSL and you’re mixing through the desk, and then you want to share that? 

Dave: I haven’t been mixing on any SSLs. 

Robert: I didn’t think so. 

Ross: I mean, it’s certainly possible. Nexus has channel formats that it adheres to, right. So the maximum width in the public release right now is 7.1. So that you’re kind of bound to ….

Robert: the latest one will do all the ambisonic formats too. 

Ross: So you can open it up to 16 channels, possibly even more, I think third order ambisonic is probably going to be the ceiling of what we can talk about right now, but it’s very exciting to get to a spot where every mic that’s conceivably on a setup could be passed through every channel from a console, could be transferred to another location in one passthrough Right, and with that, all that PCM restoration process being in line, it might be faster. I know it’s a bit of an edge case here, but to ship an OMF into a session over a real time playback.

Herb: This is like sex talk for engineers. 

Robert: Dave, what was the idea? Like, you’re, you’re bypassing the mic preamps on the board and going straight into the inputs?

Dave: I didn’t want to hear the amp on that particular sound. 

Ross: Yeah. So are you kind of just using the console as like a summing mixer? 

Dave: Well, everybody used to say, well, man, your mixtures are just crystal clear. It’s because of that, because I didn’t run it through an amp. 

Robert: You didn’t run it through the, I see, I see.

Dave: Yeah. Right. Yeah. And it wasn’t my idea, it was, it was Alan’s idea. But, it really worked. It really worked good. 

Herb: Well, the great part about people who are innovating and see challenges as fun things to go solve and then make it good for you. That’s who you’re meeting here with with Robert and with Ross and with Source Elements and the content and the product that’s available.

We encourage you to go look and sniff around and see what it is you’re going to be hearing a lot from them through us with Pensado’s Place and between now, all the way through November, December and in January and beyond this, this is going to allow your workflow to be better and your stuff to be just as accurate and for you to be able to work globally and not miss not nary a thing.

No reduction in what you hear, no erosion and what you deal with. And, and doesn’t really matter kind of what industry you’re in. If audio is around, you can utilize this in some shape, form or fashion. And it’s super, super impressive. And, the last thing I’ll just say this, Dave, I think you and I over the course of all these years have always felt that you can tell sometimes the content and the quality of a product by the quality of the people. 

Dave: Absolutely, Herb, absolutely. 

Herb: Right, and that we think that’s important because we’ve seen consistently when the people are high quality and they care like this, the product is high quality. Some people do it as a gig. Some people do it because it’s a passion Source Elements, every interaction I’ve had with them, and as you guys see for yourself today, these folks are in it and they’re cool as shit too. And and we like that. So you’re gonna hear more to come. Robert Ross, welcome aboard . It’s not the Soul Train. It’s the Pensado train. 

Ross: Alright, happy to be aboard. 

Herb: Absolutely. So much more to come. We are, we are pleased to have you onboard and, audience, we’re going to be back to you. Check out Source Elements. Check out Nexus, check out all the things you can do and know there’s more coming down the pipe. 

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