8 ways to optimize your remote sound editing setup
Sound editing on-the-go? Try these tips for a faster, more streamlined workflow.
While I always plan on doing my sound editing work on a desktop computer over speakers in my edit suite, there will always be times when having a reliable portable rig is incredibly useful and necessary.
Inevitably, there are last minute notes and fixes with extremely tight turnarounds. And sometimes, you just need the flexibility to work in another environment for a few hours to stimulate the brain in a different way, or simply to remind yourself that the sun exists!
In fact, for non-critical work, it is possible to work in a coffee shop, even when you need access to a large sound effects library.
Here are some tips and tools that have helped me optimize my remote sound editing setup:
Hardware and Space Management
When I first tried working away from the studio on a laptop rig, it was not the slickest setup. I’d sit down, plugin my work hard drive, plugin a sound effects hard drive, plugin my iLok…Oh wait, I’m out of USB ports…unplug the iLok, plugin a USB hub, and so on… This was a very messy setup and required a lot of table space for the drives and cables.
Fast forward a few years – my laptop rig is still not perfect by any means, but a few ideas and solutions have come along that have made my remote sound editing life much easier:
A portable hard drive large enough to hold your project files and if not all, at least a significant portion of your sound effects library. Recently, many manufacturers have released 4TB USB 3.0 portable hard drives. I find this to be fast enough and large enough to handle 90% of the work that I do. If you convert a selection of your sound effects library to FLAC – you will be able to squeeze A LOT onto a single drive, with plenty of room left over for projects.
2. Keep it tidy
To make the rig even more portable, I was inspired by my dialogue editor friend John Moros to mount the external USB drive and a USB hub to the back of the screen. This conserves space on your work surface and keeps the cables relatively neat.
If you’re particularly crafty, you may be able to figure this out on your own. But here are a few videos to point you in the right direction:
• Laptop Shell + Velcro: https://youtu.be/iwi-qItcNtQ
• Sticky Dash Mat: https://youtu.be/ovjB6dEsSZY
Choosing the right headphones for sound editing is a major consideration for remote work. I prefer the ubiquitous Sony MDR-7506s since they’re affordable (thus easy to replace if there’s an accident) and over the years I’ve learned their sonic characteristics very well. Some editors prefer in-ear monitors since you can achieve greater isolation and they’re small and easy to carry around (and you can even avoid the notorious “headphone hair” that is symptomatic of long hours of editing with traditional headphones).
If I’m setting up my laptop for more than an hour or so of work and there’s enough space, I’ll also bring along my mouse. I use a programmable gaming mouse (I have a few models from Cooler Master), and always carry a simple mouse pad just in case.
I’ve programmed my mouse to include Pro Tools editing shortcuts for the Selector Tool, Grabber Tool, and Trim Tool (I prefer to not use the Smart Tool). I also have common keystrokes such as “Delete” and “Toggle Volume Lane View” assigned to buttons on the mouse.
5. Second display
Also, if I have a little more room to spread out, I usually bring along my iPad mini to use as a second display via Duet Display. While there is definitely some latency, Duet Display connects via USB (instead of WiFi) making it just fast enough to use the iPad as a video monitor or for meters. I’d always double check sync on a more stable system, but Duet Display will free up some valuable screen real estate on your laptop monitor for the edit window.
Software and Efficiency
There are also a few apps that have made aspects of my remote editing life much easier.
6. Backup your work
Resilio Sync (free for individuals) is essentially a Peer-to-Peer version of Dropbox, i.e. no cloud storage, but it will keep folders in sync across multiple machines. I use this to avoid needing to carry a hard drive from the studio to home. I keep my laptop up and running so that it’s constantly syncing work I’m doing in the studio and vice-versa. Not only does this give me peace of mind should there be a catastrophic hard drive failure or fire, it gives me freedom to work anywhere I’d like without thinking about moving files back and forth between machines.
7. Custom trackpad gestures and keyboard shortuts
BetterTouchTool ($4.99+) or BTT allows me to create custom trackpad gestures to speed up my mouseless laptop editing workflow. It allows you to program all sorts of trackpad gestures either on a per-app or global basis. BTT can also create very powerful keyboard shortcuts and macros specifically designed for working on a laptop. It’s a feature-rich app and well worth the price.
8. Numpad shortcuts
Karabiner (free) allows me to use numpad (numeric keypad) shortcuts on a laptop, although it has not yet been updated for Sierra. Specifically, I have Karabiner configured to interpret Fn+Number as the same as pressing that number on a numpad. Since there are so many keyboard shortcuts in Pro Tools that use the numpad, this is a must-have for my Pro Tools workflow.
What hardware or software are you using to be productive on a mobile editing rig?
Let us know in the comment section below!