Coronavirus:Tales of Resilience #1

Composer Nainita Desai talks about how The Remote Recording Directory was born as a reaction to the Covid-19 crisis

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Nainita Desai creator of The Remote Recording Directory

As a composer in the film and TV industries, the effects of Covd-19 on my work has been huge. Film and TV production has been crippled and the domino effect will be felt over the coming year. Some of the series I am working on have been delayed by up to six months and who knows if the productions will pick up again – the uncertainty was a huge mental distraction for the first month and my creativity juices reached a worrying low.

Thankfully, my other film and TV projects are already mid-edit, which has meant I can carry on working remotely from my garden studio. It was quite a logistical adjustment for my film directors and editors, but we have got into a pattern of working that is moving forward.

Two days into lockdown I got offered a feature for Netflix which was already in edit. The team requested live orchestral recordings. I placed a few phone calls to the major recording studios and orchestral fixers, who all stated that business had literally closed overnight. I had to let Netflix down saying a live score wouldn’t be possible.

At the same time, I also started receiving emails from musicians saying they had lost all their work overnight. Theatres, live gigs, everything had been cancelled and I felt powerless to help them.

It immediately dawned on me that I could bring these two needs together. I realised that the only way I was going to be able to deliver to Netflix was to bring musicians on board that could remote record themselves.

I created an online spreadsheet, put a call out for musicians on social media, and there was an incredible response from the community. Within four days I had over 300 entries.

These were from top session players, who performed nightly in stage productions such as Hamilton, or sessions for major film and TV productions including Phantom Thread, Lord of the Rings, as well sound engineers who have worked with the likes of Laura Mvula, Adele and Alicia Keys.

With the support of IT tech expert Stu Kennedy who built the website, The Remote Recording Directory was born out of the pandemic. The Ivors Academy are hosting the directory permanently on their website and we currently have over 625 musicians from all over the world.

I can send rough mixes of my music, along with sheet music, for the musicians to play to. Using live video apps I can connect and communicate with them. Within hours recorded files start to be sent back to me, which I can then edit and mix into my score.

I’ve just been commissioned to score Unprecedented, a BBC drama series where all the actors are filming themselves via Zoom in their own homes. It’s very fast turnaround, and a pioneering series in every aspect, which is very exciting and new – it’s amazing how we can push the boundaries of creativity in different ways.

Remote recording may have been around for a while, but it’s suddenly going ‘mainstream’. Orchestras and smaller ensembles in other countries are now embracing it too.

I have always preferred face-to-face contact with musicians; however, remote recording is a way for us all to still be together with music making and complete our project goals delivering high quality music to clients. It’s also made me appreciate even more how wonderful it is to collaborate with musicians. To have access to some of the best musicians from around the world from the comfort of our homes utilising simple tech many musicians already possess, can bring us all together as a global community.

I do hope that once social distancing has come to pass, this way of working becomes more widely acceptable and not just a means to an end, so that it can sit alongside traditional recording sessions. How we experience live music, theatre, cinema in such a communal way, may evolve using technologies, but still nothing can beat a bunch of people being creative in a room together.

Nainita Desai

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