The video games industry is a vast and ever growing industry, with near every job imaginable having a place in the industry. From the flashy stuff like artists, level designers and voice actors, to the not so flashy stuff, like journalism, coding and more.
Informed Pixel are proud to start a brand new series of articles named Industry Insider, in which we speak with people from all over the industry. The goal? To help the readers understand that there’s more to gaming than just playing games. We want you, the reader, to see what it’s like on the inside of the video games industry.
For the very first Industry Insider piece, we’ve got a CEO talking to a CEO. I sat down with Richard Dolmat, the CEO of Digital Sound Magic Recording Studios Ltd, to talk about the audio side of the industry. What goes into running an audio studio, how much does it focus on music, VA and other areas of audio production?
Please enjoy the write up of all the questions asked in our conversation below.
Question: To bring everyone up to speed, what exactly is Digital Sound Magic?
We’re an Audio Production Studio in Vancouver and we’ve got a Satellite office in Las Vegas, and we do basically anything that has to do with sound. Whether it’s dubbing foreign films and anime into English, or doing voice over work for games, games sound design, audio production and design, implementation. We handle pretty much all the sound aspects of a lot of the visual media that is out nowadays.
It’s crazy fun, and you’re going to hear me say that throughout the whole interview.
Question: Where did it all begin for Digital Sound Magic, and what was the inspiration behind it?
Well it started off when I was about 4 or 5 years old. I’ve always been into music, absolutely obsessed with music. All types of styles. I don’t have any one particular genre that I listen to. I love everything across the board.
During Christmas I was kind of reminiscing with my parents a bit, we were looking at old photos, and there’s a picture of me in my funky pants in the 70s, sitting in front of a bunch of pots and pans just banging on them. I’d also set up a recording session. I had an old portable vinyl record player that was playing some music and I had a tape deck with a mic that was connected and recording, and I was dubbing my quote “drumming” on top of that, so that was my first recording session, and it’s been that ever since.
It started out as music for years and years, it’s all been music based and music productions and recording CDs and albums and singles. Probably I would say about 5 or 6 years ago, we’ve really refocused into a more visual media, so doing a lot of voice overs for commercials and that’s when the dubbing started. We do lots of dubbing for clients in Asia and it just snowballed from there.
We get the repeat clients coming in, we get new clients. Last year of course was difficult to do anything because we couldn’t go to any conferences, but that was the basis of it. We don’t do music any more, well we do very rarely but just for old clients that we like *laughs*. It’s a bad thing to say but people we’ve been with for 20 years that are repeat clients and good friends, so we’d make exceptions for them.
Right now it’s all sound design, film mixes, dubbing and game audio.
Question: How has Digital Sound Magic evolved not only through the course of it’s lifetime, but since the 90s now that video games and anime have become a bit more popularized?
Good question. We weren’t too involved with those industries that long ago. I think one of the main reasons was the internet was still kind of basic. There was still a lot of dial up, there were still a lot of local productions. You’d get the companies in Asia looking to their local suppliers to do those productions.
We weren’t really even focused on that at that point, because of how basic the internet was back then. I mean the World Wide Web just started creeping up in ’94 maybe, and it was still dial up, so we didn’t have the ability like we do now with fibre to send multi gig files back and forth. It was still local music production at that point.
Question: Has getting involved with video games changed the studio at all? If so, how?
It’s become a lot more energetic, a lot more fun and encouraging because all our engineers, administration management, everyone but me basically is a major gamer. They all know exactly what’s going on. It’s very inspiring to get new productions coming and new projects coming in, especially for me to hear the engineers and to hear all the staff get excited and talk about (video game projects).
It blows my mind how much they know about everything. “Oh the sound design for this game, if you listen to that they did it this way.” We have a couple of people, Kari my COO, she knows everything about voice over and character voice over and anime. She could name you the names of the actors that played those roles in those games. I just sit there with my mouth open going “this is crazy, you guys know everything about this.”
So that’s part of my inspiration for the last few months. I’ve got to get myself up at least sort of to the mid 2000s level of gaming. There are still projects that we do, there are still ongoing clients that we have that are what we call “paying the bills”. It’s not all fun and games and it’s still a business and you still need to make a profit.
Right now I can’t tell you too much, but starting yesterday, we’re doing the complete sound design, front to back, for a full length animated feature. It’s a 5.1 as well so we’re mixing surround. I mean what a way to start the year. Everyone’s calendars are full with sound design and effects and weapons and fight scenes, so yeah, that creates a ton of variety.
Question: What are some of your personal favourite moments you’ve had at Digital Sound Magic?
Some of the most recent actually just happened. Not to diminish previous projects, or maybe it’s just how humans remember, but it seems like the newer projects kind of eclipse the older projects. You know about the Altdeus production that we did, that we just finished up. That was a huge, huge project. I think it ended up being bigger than we even expected. Almost 10,000 lines of individual dialogue. It’s a lot.
We love spreadsheets. We made spreadsheets just for the fun. If there’s a project that we can make a spreadsheet for, even if it’s not necessary, we would probably do it, because it’s fun. We had progress charts on all of the TVs in all of the rooms, we had live access to our clients to see the progress minute by minute to see how many lines we’d done and how many we had left. A predicted deadline. So yeah we had about 10,000 individual lines.
We had to record each one, and we had to schedule the talent for every recording. Not only that, but we were required to export each line on its own and name it according to the file name that was on the spreadsheet, and if one line was incorrect, we had to look at the calendar and try to reschedule the talent to come back in to record those lines that would need to be redone. It was a big big project, and it went a bit longer than expected.
The end result, I’m getting goosebumps now, of course I’m bias, but I think we all thought it was amazing. Even the reviews on Oculus, it’s one of the highest rated games, and that’s kind of an unbiased fact I think. I just got the Quest 2 and I’ve been jumping on every boxing and new years sale of every app, and Altdeus seems to just be up there with its reviews. I hope we had something to do with that.
Question: What are the goals for the studio going forward?
Number one, you’ll hear me harp on about this all the time. To make sure our people are happy. That’s the base of everything. I’m not just saying it as a CEO like “Oh well it increases our profit”. It changes everything. It changes the atmosphere. It changes the output. It changes the feeling of inclusion. That’s always priority. From that everything else just happens. and I think it really falls into place. As well as making the clients happy too that always helps.
We’re going to keep focusing towards sound design. We do a lot of voice work, a lot of character dubbing and a lot of that stuff. We have 8 booths so we have the ability to work on multiple projects at the same time.
We’re making it happen. We’re going to keep doing good work for people, and the rest should follow.
That concludes the questions and answers. Another huge thank you to Richard for taking the time out of his busy schedule to chat with me. I certainly enjoyed chatting with Richard, so I hope you enjoyed reading his answers too.
If you want to check out Digital Sound Magic, have a look into the studio, the team, or their projects, you can visit their Official Website. Alternatively, you can check out updates from the studio on their Twitter page.