FORTITUDE: Eric Stolberg | Hand Sanitizer or Stress Reducer?
This story begins with a bottle of Maker’s Mark on Dig One’s front desk. Yep, it’s sitting right there in plain view, ready when you need it. Keep reading, and you’ll find out why.
One of the West Coast’s premiere audio studios and based in PDX, Digital One serves clients from around the world. Last week, I had a fabulous Zoom chat with Eric Stolberg, Dig One’s founder, sound mixer extraordinaire, OMPA member and astute businessman. The dude is an amazing example of left-right brain creativity and business acumen. (For myself, I view my own combination of right-left brains a curse, but that’s another story. Eric’s got the balancing act down. Me, not so much.)
When the lockdown hit, Eric’s business went from rock-&-roll to zero in five days. He had 10 employees and scores of clients from all over the world flowing through his facility. All of a sudden, those clients cancelled everything. And he had to furlough his team.
“It was like the rug got pulled out from under us,” he told me.
Sound familiar? Like most of us, Eric was reeling. He retreated into a space of isolation, struggle and survival as he tried to figure out how he could keep his business and staff stay afloat. Then up popped an invitation to one of the early Oregon Production Industry Zoom chats — and he found himself online hanging out with sixty of his colleagues, all experiencing the same things he was.
“The sense of community I felt hearing what people were going through was incredible,” he told me. “I came away with a sense of empowerment, that we’re all in this together. I was among friends again.”
Eric set out to do everything he could to keep as many of his colleagues working as he could. And it wasn’t long before clients started trickling back, and he was able to put in place new COVID protocols for doing business. The thing is, Eric had been trying to get his team and clients to work virtually for years. Finally in 2019, he launched “Operation Get Me Home” — upgrading Dig One to full video and audio web-connectivity in every control room and sound booth. “We also moved all files and scheduling calendars to the cloud so that my staff could spend more time with family,” Eric said. He also built the system so that Dig One could work with more out of town creatives. “But with all that capacity, we struggled to get our out of town clients to work remotely. Even our own staff was reluctant.”
The thing is, Eric had been trying to get his team and clients to work virtually for years. Finally in 2019, he launched “Operation Get Me Home” — upgrading Dig One to full video and audio web-connectivity in every control room and sound booth.
Eric must have been channeling something back in 2019, because oddly enough, when COVID hit, Dig One was already set up for the Zoom Generation. “Our clients are finally loving it, Eric said. “I had an LA director ask me last week, ‘Why does this sound so good!?’ Because I’m using a full audio console and a world class German mic, I told him. Why get on a plane to Portland, when you can get online from Santa Monica and guide your session?”
Producers can stay in Santa Monica (or Mumbai or New York or Sao Paulo), but when Eric’s engineers have to come in Digital One to record or mix. I asked him about his COVID protocols. He told me:
- Each Audio Engineer is assigned to a single studio, no musical chairs.
- Talent has separate entrances to the recording booths, social distancing via soundproof glass.
- Each booth is limited to one actor per day.
- All sanitizing and mask protocols observed.
- ISDN, IPDTL and other systems for remote recording.
- EVO shared storage server allowing contributors from multiple locations.
- Avid Cloud Collaboration to work with home-based sound designers.
- Remote video and audio access for client supervision.
- Producers and Sound Designers work from home.
- And a bottle of Maker’s Mark on the front desk.
“Really? On the front desk?” I asked Eric. “Whatever it takes to stay disinfected,” he said.
Digital One is a Portland-based post-production studio that has consistently won national and international awards. They’re a family of audio engineers, sound designers, mixers, producers, problem solvers and go-getters all focused on one goal: Making the magic happen for your production.
FORTITUDE is OMPA’s column about the trials, tribulations, successes and victories of our members during these strange times — stories of true grit, creativity and resilience, written by David Poulshock and contributing guest writers.
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