Member Spotlight: Ana Betancourt

18 December 2023

Ana Betancourt, CEO of Black Goblin, is a veritable expert on sound.

Her innovative company is currently working on a new collaborative platform 'Thol' to help creatives everywhere, of all disciplines and skill levels, generate custom sound effects for their projects. We just had to sit down with Ana and find out more about this exciting technology, as well as her journey as an artist and Creative Edinburgh member.

Share your origin story! How did Black Goblin get started? 

Black Goblin started as a creative partnership with my then-colleague Gabrielle Haley. I had been a sound designer for about 7 years at that point and so we had the idea to band together into a company. Initially, our interest revolved around how to fix some of the problems we often found when collaborating with others. Usually, it had to do with a lack of funds to pay for high-quality sound work as well as time and a barrier of communication between audiovisual project leaders and sound specialists that made it almost impossible to keep projects within budget, let alone make a profit. To do this, we came up with the concept of creating in-house tools and libraries that allowed us to lower our costs by reducing time spent in certain activities of the sound design workflow.

2 years later and countless hours of market research and further understanding of our customers led us to the conclusion that the problems creatives faced with sound were fundamentally around communication and a fear of the technical aspects of Sound creation. And so our idea of a series of small in-house technologies grew to the concept of what is 'Thol' today and transformed into a collaboration platform that streamlines sound design processes and allows ambitious creators to generate sound effects directly into the timeline. Our company has also grown and evolved bringing together the knowledge of other creative sound practitioners, experts in artificial intelligence and other technologies that have allowed us to carry on with the development of our debut product while expanding the remit of the type of projects we can take on.

Tell us more about how Black Goblin works to make sound design accessible for all.

The key lies in our first product, Thol which is conceived as a collaboration platform which allows content creators to collaborate with sound designers or to get started with their projects in terms of Sound if they are solo creators. Our aim is not only to make sound design accessible to all but to make high quality sound design accessible, this makes a huge difference to the way we see our product and how we can best help our customers once it is live.

However the collaborations that we do and the way we have design our services process focuses around making things accessible and making way for the Creative and artistic aspects of Sound design, spending more time with our clients and getting to really know what their needs and artistic goals are and helping them achieve these as best as we can.

We’re excited for the upcoming release of Thol, can you explain more about what it does and how it will help people?

Thol uses several machine learning powered models that streamlines the sound effects content creation. 

Our workflow allows for a piece of video to be imported and our analysis feature then goes through the image and outputs a list of all events it finds that might produce sound (e.g. dog barking, person walking, etc.) And then allows for automatic sound effects to be directly designed to the timeline. Equally important the sound effects are custom made to perfectly match the image and they are digitally created which means they are all specifically composed for your work therefore no IP issues arise.

Additionally, a text based feature allows you to customise and further work with any sound effects while it learns which descriptions you use to refer to specific sounds (e.g. wet for reverberant sound , dry for present, big, small,etc.)

All of this plus planned collaboration features and "find collaborators" options allows you to find professionals near you to work with and to grow your team. 

What advice would you give to someone just starting their creative journey into sound design?

I think like with anything is to understand that things can take time and that it is ok to not be an expert on everything. By no means I am saying to fake having a skill you don't possess but even within our own area of expertise whatever this is, there will be lots of firsts, even 10 or 20 years after, particularly in this ever changing world where new technologies pop pretty much dialy and oftentimes by the hour, and this is ok, every project, every collaboration is a learning opportunity, this doesn't mean you are not a professional, but you won't know it all, if you're honest about what you know and what you don't know and you are resilient and eager to constantly learn and add new skills to your portfolio you can achieve much more than always remaining in your comfort zone.

And definitely look for networks early on such as Creative Edinburgh to increase your contact list for potential work, yes, but also because you might know people who are going through the same things you are going through.

Why did you decide to become a member of Creative Edinburgh?

I have been involved with Creative Edinburgh in different ways over the past 5 years but I initially got involved as a mentee in 2019, the experience was amazing and my mentor allowed me to grow important aspects of my company. I have come a long way since then and learned a lot from my own entrepreneurial journey and Creative Edinburgh has always been there as a great source of connections, support and learning.

The membership just gives you access to a wealth of benefits such as, being able to connect with an ever growing network of creatives, having access to events and even desk space and other crucial benefits for the Creative freelancer or small business that for me, it was a no brainer.

You’re also a mentor with Creative Edinburgh, could you tell us a bit about what that’s like?

I have been a mentor for a couple of years now and it has been an amazing experience. For me, this is an extension of that community, network crucial aspect of Creative Edinburgh where my job is not to tell a mentee what to do, but to be a sounding board and to support and accelerate necessary connections and avenues of work that can help them achieve their goals in a timely manner and with as efficiently as possible.

I have worked with amazing creatives from a wide array of sectors some similar to my own, some entirely different but I have found that in the journey of establishing one's practice a lot of the hurdles are the same or very similar.

One of my favourite areas to work with is fundraising and finance. For better of for worse cashflow is crucial to make any plans move forward and for me being able to expose my mentees to all the pots of finance available to them and work together to give them the best chances at succeeding with funding applications is a pleasure.

I am a very curious person and really love to learn so for me to be able to hear about the many industries my mentees work in and how they overcome creative and technological challenges is just a great experience. Likewise, I really hope that I can also be of assistance to them as this is my main purpose in undertaking this rewarding role.

To find out more about Black Goblin, visit their website, Twitter and Instagram.

This company is a Premium Member with Creative Edinburgh, and one of the benefits is a Business Spotlight article to showcase their work in the Edinburgh creative community.