AUDIO SPECIAL: Pit Stop MD John Sanderson explains audio outsourcing across the Atlantic
John Sanderson established Pit Stop Productions in 1997 as a ‘one-stop’ service for all audio and animation needs. Over the ensuing years the firm has expanded substantially, most recently opening a new office in New York.
Despite the rapid expansion, Sanderson wants Pit Stop to remain a focused force in audio outsourcing. Develop was keen to find out about life in an expanding service firm during a troubled business era.
What does Pit Stop Productions Do?
Pit Stop is an audio and visual creative company with its head office based in the North of England. Three years ago we took the step to buy, design and build a facility that could serve as a one-stop shop for clients who required audio and visual creative services. Our head office in the UK serves as a hub to the studios we a year later set up in London, Paris, Rome, Stuttgart and Malaga. These are primarily for voice work. In February this year we opened up In New York City. We are team of 12 talented individuals who really enjoy what we do.
What is Pit Stop New York working on?
We’re currently working on the new Silent Hill with Vatra and Konami. We have also recently completed a few titles for Sony - Invizimals, The Fight Lights Out and The Shoot.
What do you think has helped Pit Stop to survive and flourish since 1997?
For Pit Stop it has been our business model. We set out and still hold true to this: strive to offer the best quality audio at a sensible price. It can be a really dangerous line to go down for some publishers and developers, as it may be percieved that if the price is lower than another company’s, your quality must be inferior.
However, by setting up an infrastructure whereby you can clearly control your costs, you are able to lower the price. Of course acting and other such creative talent will always have its ‘market’ value but I do think, especially in the US, publishers and developers in some instances are paying through the nose. That was another reason for setting up in New York. We were paying $1,500 a day for a studio. With the work we had on, it made sense to have our own place. Not being able to control your studio rentals makes it very tough when it comes to keeping a project within budget.
We have spent a lot ot time on developing good working relationships with many companies. New titles often pose audio creative opportunities and challenges. Sometimes they work and sometimes they don’t. If you have like minded clients, who are prepared to try new ideas out, I think that helps, as long as they don’t end up paying for your mistakes.
Later this year we’ll release two home grown products: The Times Table Adventure and a 3D short movie entitled Boris! The Dog That Hated Christmas.
The reason for us doing this is so we can develop our in house skills further, and have the freedom to try out concepts before providing them to clients.
We have multiple revenue streams coming into the business and from that we have consequently strived to build on that each year. Building the studio complex in one year, then moving into Europe the next, then America after that has helped us grow. We also make a huge effort not just to make game audio.
Its a case of one hand washing the other as we like to think we have a grasp on what the target market likes to hear.
Before going into game audio I was writing musicals and stage shows. Although it may not appear relevant to games as its largely a different market, it taught me the process of how to sit someone down for two and half hours and entertain them.
What are the major issues within video games audio today? How does Pit Stop get around them?
n terms of composition - there is major competition in terms of ‘named composers’. They are eagerly looking at the games industry and this is hard for even established game composers to compete with.
Pit Stop has not really tried to get around this, more a case of working through it. If a publisher wants a named composer you have to roll with it. If they want the sound and quality they would expect from such a composer, you have to have put your infrastructure in place. For example, there is a great deal of film music being recorded in the UK, and there are many talented conductors, arrangers and sound engineers doing this music justice. With that in place, a lesser well known composer could put to a publishing marketing team a more compelling case of why they should be using him or her.
There is a huge amount of potential for unique audio production in games that I believe will come from specialist audio
teams that really understand the craft of audio for games.