Where is that echo coming from?

Words echoed by directors the world over since the beginning of the pandemic (see what I did there?). On set we are used to walkie talkies and comtecs in our ears. And post loves conference calls…on speakerphone. However communication challenges of the pandemic have pushed us to the edge, both in our patience, as well as our technical capabilities.

At SetStream we like to go beyond tutorials that are specific to our service. We want to help address the pain points in any remote workflow. So today we talk about echo. Let’s dive in.

What causes echo?

The problem of echo is often very simple. You speak through your mic. It comes through the speakers on the other end of the line. The mic hears your voice through the speaker, and transmits it back to you. In post production echo usually isn’t happening to your voice, but to the sound of the edit. And it only happens when the edit is playing back, which plays through your speakers, and into your mic, and broadcasts back to everyone. Lastly, sometimes echo is caused by someone in the same room as you and both of your mics pickup both of your voices.

Solving echo can be frustrating

Captain obvious strikes. Solving echo can be frustrating. It’s not because the solution is complicated. It’s because there are so many variables in your communication setup. There are so many things going on that pinpointing the problem can be difficult. 99% of the time when we are on a typical video conference call we don’t have echo problems. This has lulled us into complacency. A lot of work has gone into echo compensation for typical video conferencing scenarios. But this is the film business. We don’t do “typical”. A complicated post or production communication workflow rarely fits the classic video conferencing use-case, and therefore echo compensation breaks.

Best practices to the rescue!

Pinpointing the problem and seeking a targeted solution to echo problems is sometimes necessary. But if you stick to these best practices you’ll likely never have a problem to troubleshoot.

  • Headphones: It’s so simple. If everyone participant in the chat uses headphones it’ll solve the vast majority of echo issues.
  • Earwigs for talent: This is basically the same as the recommendation above. But obviously talent usually can’t just wear headphones. Contact your sound mixer to see if they can provide earwigs for talent. This isn’t a new workflow. News programs have been using earwigs for years to allow directors and producers to communicate to on-screen talent.
  • Go to your room!: Don’t worry you aren’t grounded. But if you’re on the same call with someone in the same room, odds are even with headphones you’ll run into problems. If possible either make sure everyone is in a separate room, or those in the same room are only on a single device. If this isn’t possible, make sure everyone in the room is wearing headphones, and is speaking at a relatively low volume.

That’s it! I know. This feels like a recipe blog where you’re just looking for a list of ingredients, but you have to scroll through paragraphs of the author’s deepest feelings about the recipe. I’m sorry. I enjoy creative writing. I hope this article helps you to proceed to an echo free production.