Virtually Attended Mixing & Mastering Sessions: How-to Screen Share with Stereo Audio (for free!)
Updated: Mar 31
Covid-19 has forced changes in the way we all work, for better or worse we have no option but to embrace and find solutions to, and as much as I hate this phrase, 'the new normal'.
Unfortunately like many others, nationwide lockdowns meant that I have had to pause offering recording time. Fortunately, mixing and mastering lends itself to remote working but one challenge I found for myself is how to resume offering attended mixing and mastering sessions with my clients.
The solution seams obvious, pick you favourite video calling app, route the output of your DAW into the microphone input on said app, do the same for your talk back microphone and your good to go!
Audio routing was the first major hurdle. Most non pro-audio applications allow the user to choose an input and output device, but don't typically give you the option to specify what channels are used. That's where an application like "Loopback" by Rogue Amoeba shines, working like a virtual patchbay, it makes it very easy to route audio around your computer solving this hurdle. Mission accomplished!
"What do you mean it's only in mono?" and there lies the problem. Somewhat obviously, when you think about it, all these apps are designed around speech which, surprise surprise, is mono.
Mono voice channel but supposedly supports stereo audio when screen sharing an application but that feature isn't available to Mac users. This is potentially a great option for PC users.
Mono voice channel only
Mono voice channel but does support stereo audio but requires that you use it's virtual audio device and while this works very well, personally it's been a bit of a pain to setup. Plus changing audio devices in Pro Tools is a pain, forcing a restart. Ultimately, it works but from a workflow point of view, it didn't cut it.
What is the solution?
The perfect solution needs to meet the following criteria:
- Stereo (in case you skipped down this far)
- Provides lossless or nearly lossless audio
- Requires minimal messing around with routing or changing audio devices
- Must work on Mac & PC
- Easy to setup for the client and doesn't create routing issues for them
Audiomovers - Listen To
"Listen To" provides exactly the solution we're after here. The "Listen to" plugin sits across your mix bus and streams the audio to a webpage which can be shared with a remote user. Having used Audiomovers "Listen to" platform, I can't say a bad word about it and it is well worth the money if you regularly work in this fashion. For myself, the frequency in which I would use their platform doesn't justify the subscription cost ($10/mo).
This is when I found SonoBus. This free application works in largely the same way as "Listen to" but relies on a peer-to-peer connection instead and does require that the remote user downloads the standalone application instead of being able to simply navigate to a webpage. This does convolute the workflow slightly for the other person but other than having to download and install an application, it couldn't be easier to use.
Setup from our side couldn't be simpler and requires no messing about with complicated audio routing. SonoBus runs as either a standalone app or as a AXX, AU or VST plugin. The standalone app even provides the advanced channel routing that was previously mentioned as missing in many other applications! Good-bye routing nightmares!
How to Setup SonoBus:
Insert SonoBus on your Master channel. Audio is automatically passed through.
Under the settings > options > default send quality and set this as high as your internet bandwidth allows. This will take some experimenting but a reasonable internet connection will allow you to max this out. This setting is specifically your send quality and remote users can adjust their receiver quality separately to fit their needs.
Have the remote users download and install the standalone version.
On your side, click the big blue "Connect..." button to setup a "PRIVATE GROUP" and share the details with your remote user(s). Have them click "Connect..." and enter the details you provided them and thats it.
Use your favourite screen sharing application to share your screen and voice chat. The audio from your DAW is handled by SonoBus so there's no need to configure any special routing. If you're not recording their audio into your DAW (yes thats a workflow!) it's worth clicking "MUTE" on their incoming source so that you don't double up on their talkback.
Near realtime stereo audio... for FREE.
As an additional benefit, this workflow allows the remote user the ability to balance the volume of your DAW with your voice.
Additional thoughts from usage:
- When set to PCM, audio quality is exceptional and far better than what I was getting in Zoom even with "high fidelity music mode" on.
- A stable internet connection of 15Mb/s upload and download should be sufficient.
- When using this platform on WiFi, latency could exceed 1000ms. However, with a wired ethernet connection I was consistently getting latency reported at 10ms. Impressive!
- While it is possible to have SonoBus handle voice, I preferred having talkback handled by Discord/Skype/Zoom.
- Both the plugin and standalone application are very light on CPU usage.
I'm utterly blown away by how effective this platform which has enabled me to offer attended sessions again for my clients and while it requires installation on the clients side (unlike Listen To) I have had nothing but positive comments from my clients regarding their experience.
Download SonoBus for free
...and consider donating to the talented people who worked hard to make this application.