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This is for you sound-heads out there that routinely (or even not-so-routinely) deal with full deliverables for audio post.

The client is asking for full splits - VO, On-camera, Nat, Music, etc, etc... This is routine. Old hat. You can do a layback in you sleep. Heck! Layback time is a chance to sleep! (That's a joke.) The layback is done, the files are made, exported and zipped for delivery. Send. Client is notified, and you go home for the night.

The next morning your inbox is flooded and you have 4 increasingly angry voicemails from the producer. There are drop-outs in your music stem, there's a missing line in the VO split, and the short-version files are all 30 seconds short. Darn. Must have made a misplaced key-command....

So, the question: What is your QC process for standard audio deliverables? (I'm assuming proper session organization and layback routing....Not really talking about that. I'm thinking about review technique.) How do you "double-check" your work? Talk to me.

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As the old saying goes... "nothing to it, but to do it"... I routinely check all my deliverables COMPLETELY before sending them out. Yes it's a pain, yes it takes time, but yes, it saves those annoying voicemails for the most part. Visually check all your waveforms, double check all your routings, if the program is long, at least do spot checks on all the stems. If I had a nickel for every time I missed something and had to redo it... Verify and confirm everything copied to whatever media. Since my schedules lately are somewhat on the ridiculous side, I've started making checklists that I keep handy.

And of course, we're all only human. Even with my checks I've occasionally missed something ... Eat crow, apologize and fix it - pay for it you have too! :) The trick is do that as little as is humanly possible. Oh, and even if it turns out it wasn't your fault, always check your work FIRST, before moving the blame elsewhere.

(Amusing side story brought to mind by "increasingly angry voicemails" part. I once had to do a layback of DA-88 for a producer. At the time we were using the Maxell Black Hi-8 tapes for media. Did the laybacks, did the checks, all was well. Get in the next morning to angry vm's from the producer "You sent VIDEO tapes you idiot! My deliverables are now late, it's all your fault! I'm going to sue!". Turns out she didn't know WHAT a DA-88 tape even was, nor did her post-sup. After a few moments of explaining to them that Hi-8 WAS the format that DA-88 recorded on, and having them check the tape, I got a very red-faced apology.That one at least wasn't my fault.)

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Great points! I especially appreciate the point about acknowledging your own error.... Hey, just on the topic.. What might your "checklist" look like? –  Audiophile.2010 Aug 8 '12 at 17:25
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It sounds like you're the liaison to the client, so maintaining the trust in the relationship is essential. Whether blame lies elsewhere or not, take responsibility for the error and take charge of determining the solution. In my experiences, fixes for f-ups are always free, whether through human oversight or technical malfunction. –  Steve Urban Aug 8 '12 at 21:55
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@Audiophile.2010 It depends on the show. For example, on an animated show I'm doing, the checklist might look like this. 1. All files (Surround, LtRt, M&E) printed and checked. 2. All files pulled down (it's a true 24fps animation going to 23.976) and LABELLED correctly. 3. All files laid into Video project in correct order (LtRt, LRCLfLsRs, M&E). 4. Check sync. 5. All files properly exported (check Master Video File in QT to insure channels and layout are correct and exist). 6. Check Sync. 7. Ship –  Sonsey Aug 9 '12 at 15:11
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Oh and one other trick I always do... Since I'm re-recording to a track, I ALWAYS do a spot check with that track muted. If I don't hear anything else playing I know everything got routed TO said track (I regularly do this with stems too) –  Sonsey Aug 9 '12 at 15:12
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A few thoughts:

Do you print stems as you mix, and use those for replays (& not the source material)? That provides an ongoing QC, so the printed mix stems are heard every time you do a replay for the director, producer etc.. If you are all virtual/ITB mixing & effectively replay on input then imho you are missing an important step...

Also did you bounce the exported files or print them? I only ask because bounce means you aren't paying attention - the sound does not play in sync with any picture etc, so you might not notice if a line of dialogue is missing as there is no visual reference... Doing an output via bounce means unless after the bounce is done you replay it from start to finish to picture, there is no QC of the output at all...

So when you fixed the problems, why/how was things missing? Every problem you solve in fixing the deliveries is something to add to your checklist for BEFORE you start doing outputs in future...

(of course none of this may apply too!)

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Mixing on input...uuusually. I like this advice. Habit to date has been to print the stems DURING the producer review session. (Not prior to them coming in) I can see your point - print first, and then QC the printed layback with the producer, which will be, of course, black-to-black in its entirety. Oh, I personally haven't used the "Bounce To Disk" command in 2 years! –  Audiophile.2010 Aug 10 '12 at 16:41
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I will second all of what Sonsey said above, especially owning up to mistakes and making them right no matter the cost (time or otherwise).

One additional tidbit would be, I am usually monitoring the return from tape, or if ITB the output of the record track, while doing my final laybacks. This means that if I am hearing something, then it exists. And I watch the entire film/commercial/show/etc. as the final layback is happening. If I am laying back final mixes and all my stems simultaneously (most often the case) and I am ITB, I will also instantiate Main Output sends (muted) on all the stem record tracks so that I can unmute them and hear the reconstituted fullmix in realtime as well, just a little extra coverage.

Nothing beats double and even triple checking though. When I started out as an assistant, one job was to double check the engineers work before sending out and you can be sure those things were RIGHT before they left or else it was my (you know what) in a sling. Now if I have an assistant do it I put the same fear into them, and it travels with them. But I must say I prefer to do it myself :-).

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Being the person who handles our deliverables, I have to agree with everything that has already been said. This is how things go down at our studio so surely it can be applied globally, at least to some degree. Often our mixers won't print stems until after the review and the client is long gone (not always). The mixer is responsible for setting up the routing and then either an assistant or myself will watch down the entire stems print, spot checking along the way that each stem actually is what it's supposed to be, i.e. no FX on a DX stem. Then we BACK IT UP and I will commence with the layback. Make sure you are always monitoring what is coming off of the tape, not what's coming out of PT (extremely important). Our VTR allows me to toggle through my outputs without affecting the ins so I can continue to spot check each stem as it prints to tape. I will also just visually spot check along the way by watching the meters. After a successful layback, I'll give the stems a glance over to make sure there are no strange visible dropouts. I don't bounce the stems, I export them (shift-command-K) as either BWAV or AIFF and burn to disc to hand to the client when they come back for their tapes (occasionally we toss them on the FTP). That's basically it. It's not perfect but our success rate is pretty damn good.

I assume that you also have either a 5.1 or stereo mix stem, as well. Did the music drop out on only the music stem and not the mix stem? That would be odd. What were you monitoring where you wouldn't have heard the dropout yourself during the layback?

In my case, I would not be held accountable for a missing line of VO as I have not read the script or been involved the DX editing process nor was I in the room when the clients signed off during the mix review. The dropouts would, however, fall squarely on my lap. The incorrect length on the stems you provided sounds like a user error, mental lapse. It happens.

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Great input. Really. For the record, the "errors" that I cited in the opening question are general and primarily for example. Thanks for answering so thoroughly! I'm loving the discussion! –  Audiophile.2010 Aug 10 '12 at 16:46
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