Netherlands Focus: Creative Sounds

We put questions to Patrick Ulenberg, managing director at Hilversum-based dubbing specialist Creative Sounds, who gave us a rundown on the strength of the studio market in the Netherlands.

How healthy is the market for studios in the Netherlands?

Our company, Creative Sounds BV, is specialised in dubbing, so our market is a bit different. The dubbing market is a kind of a niche market. Only a few companies serve this part.

Do you see more demand for personal studios over larger commercial spaces?

Some of the voice-talents built their own vocal booth at home to serve the market from their homes. This can work for advertisements and commercials, but for dubbing this is not desirable. During the dubbing process, we have directors present in our facility, so the actors can be directed into the right artistic direction. This is not feasible once a voice-talent sits at home behind a computer. Having a voice talent recording on their own mostly results in the dialogue’s getting lost. Characters speak the right language, but they don’t communicate anymore. Besides that, in my opinion, the actor cannot do the do the actual recording and perform an act at the same time.

Still clients demand from dubbing studios to handle the complete project on site.

We notice that the larger, well-equipped, commercial spaces are still in favour. Also, due to the risk of copyright infringements, clients will not send out sensitive material to individuals.

What about audio post-production facilities? Is there much demand for new facilities?

I can’t really say there’s actually a demand for new facilities. The existing post-production facilities do need to be creative enough to keep their clients and gain new ones.

Where have you seen the most growth in the past 5-10 years?

We have seen a growth in dubbing content for the teenagers. The dubbing market used to be limited to pre-school and cartoon, but we now see there’s a significant expansion towards live-action series for teenagers. Besides that we have noticed a growth in producing different language versions at once as I mentioned earlier. We also see a growth in multimedia localisations. Games are being translated and dubbed, and apps for mobile markets need translation as well. More and more we see that certain cartoon characters get their own games and other interactive products. This spin-off market keeps on growing as well. It’s not just the series on TV or VOD, but a whole new world is being created around different characters and shows. The experience of watching a movie or series has been enriched with merchandise, games, and interactive media.

What sort of clients have you had through your doors since you opened?

We’ve had broadcasters, DVD/VOD distributors, advertising agencies, toy manufacturers, game studios, software developers, audiobook publishers, voice response system developers, live show agencies, record companies, e-learning, corporate filmmakers, and documentary makers.

Tell me a bit about your studio set-up gear-wise.

When we started back in the year 2000, we decided to work the new way; a synonym for less is more. Although not very new those days, Pro Tools wasn’t that popular for dubbing. Most of the established studios involved in dubbing shared the opinion it was a cheap way of working. This resulted in these studios investing in expensive gear that didn’t have half the capacity Pro Tools already had at that time. So against the stream, we started to use Pro Tools. And to this day, we still do. It turned out to be the world standard DAW after all. Because of the fairly friendly priced systems, we had the possibility to invest more into top notch pre-amplifying and more expensive, better sounding microphones.

At this moment we use Pro Tools as DAWs, and we use Focusrite RED7s and Avalon 737’s as pre-amplifying and Neumann mics.

Our perception is to register the original sound of a voice as natural and accurate as possible, before it gets into the digital domain. After that, everything is possible with the recorded material. Although not used too much anymore, we still work with DigiBeta to create video references if necessary.

For monitoring we use Genelec 8040A and Genelec 1031A.

Due to tapeless environments, and the increasing software developments, the demand for computer systems is growing. Where we used to have a room for equipment storage, we now have server rooms and IT offices. 

Have you seen any trends in technology purchasing? Is there anything that could be unique to the Netherlands?

I have not noticed a trend in getting the new stuff. Most engineers still want the good old quality stuff. Naturally, we keep our systems up to date on the software side. What we invested in most lately is software and hardware. In order to hold the lead in our market, we forced ourselves to develop a software system to economise the workflow. We now have a dedicated software system active in our studio that controls automated recording actions and keeps track of all takes being done within a session by all voice-talents. The system accommodates a complete paperless reading system, and fills out all kinds of forms a client might need for their administration. The system counts all necessary takes for completing the production, so planning can be done according to the predictions the system gives. It also produces casting lists, it summarises songs and lyrics, and it reports the amount of work being done within the set time.

The artistic freedom the system gives is unbelievable. Actors, directors, and engineers can focus more on the performance because technical actions are reduced to a minimum. This opens up many new opportunities to find yet other new ways of working.

How did you get started in the industry?

Back in the eighties I started working as an assistant engineer at one of the most famous European music studios. At that studio I learned to be a sound engineer. Working many hours with many different artists on many different recording and mix sessions. The studio owned just about all the gear you could ever dream of. So there were enough possibilities to get to know all the good stuff. After twelve years of hard work, and recording many CDs, I decided it was time for a change. Together with my wife Charlotte I started Creative Sounds BV. No music recording anymore, but we decided to start working in an upcoming market; dubbing. We bought an old studio in the centre of Hilversum. After five years, our company has grown to be one of the market leaders, and we needed more space. So we moved our studios to a new location and we built six dedicated dubbing rooms.

What are your plans for the future?

Plans for the future are always being made. We intend to lift our company to a higher level by being innovative. Quality over quantity. Even when budgets are under pressure, we keep on delivering quality. It’s our task to find ways to maintain the 100% quality within the available budget. We keep investing in finding more economic ways to get the job done. One of these is expanding to other language territories. We don’t feel the urge to build studios in other countries, but we prefer to build long lasting relationships with different studios abroad.

Lastly, do you have any predictions for the future of the industry in the Netherlands?

Futures tend to be unpredictable. But, if I really need to give it a shot, I would predict a growth in the current market. We see lots of new clients entering the market, and existing companies expand their services. Especially when it comes to content distribution I see a colourful future. Video on demand is a boosting market. The public wants to see content when they feel like it, they don’t want to schedule a viewing session so to speak. More and more media companies adapt to that demand, and there are the recording studios providing the content in the right languages.