I can work on your project.

Find me! Call DAP at 214.350.7678 or email rene@dallasaudiopost.com. Also check out echocollectivefx.com for custom sfx, and tonebenders.net for my podcast.

Thursday, July 19

Who can wear the "sound designer" title?

This is an age old debate, and it's not specific to our industry - but a recent question on Social Sound Design by Jay Jennings kind of re-spawned the debate.  "What makes you think you're a sound designer?"  or as it's implied, "what have you done that gives you the right to take that title within the industry?"

In lieu of just answering in short form there I felt like I'd take the opportunity to go more in-depth with my own perspective.

Initially, my thought is that discussions about titles are discussions about language.  The fundamental questions behind the question is: what are you trying to communicate with your title, and to whom, and for what purpose?

To preface this: in my opinion the title of "sound designer" has kind of devolved into a similar place as the title of "graphic designer" or really any adjective + "designer" 

The best of the best take those titles, and a whole legion of hacks take those titles as well.  Its why reels and credits have become so important.

Just because someone designed something doesn't make that person a designer, but the fact will remain that the person did design that one thing.  If that person designs lots of things, at some point that person will move across the broad grey area that separates novices from masters.  Many people will take the title of designer after the first thing they designed though, not after they've truly created their first masterpiece.

All this dilution reduces the level of meaning that the title itself holds.  There are no pre-qualifications or trade guilds that police who gets to use the title of "sound designer" and who cannot.  This is not a title like "doctor" - or even "nurse" for that matter.  There are no standards, there is no board that can strip you of your title, and just printing the title on your business card or email sig or resume won't get you very far.

So with that said, my perception of the basic skillet a quality sound designer would have includes things like:
  • field recording - including mic technique, signal flow, monitoring, etc
  • data management and metadata fundamentals
  • sync sound editorial
  • creative manipulation of sounds with eq, compression, delays and distortion
  • creativity in manipulating dynamic range
  • creative use of synthesis
  • a developed personal aesthetic
  • the ability to communicate and defend creative decisions
  • the ability to accomodate the creative vision of others
It's a tall list, and none of the things on it are easy or could be learned entirely in a year.

Of course not everyone that prints "sound designer" on their card can do all of those things well, and some of the things that really bring a person to the next level of sound design are not on that list.

I'll also note here, that generally titles can be pretty confining. They set up boundaries that imply both things that we do and things that we don't do.   My current business card implies zero about my ability to produce and edit copy, shoot video and timelapses, program websites, do public speaking, etc.

It also only peripherally implies things about my ability to cast, record and edit voices, mix for broadcast, and other more directly audio related things.

Its assumed that the titles we give use to describe ourselves are shorthand, but it's also assumed that it's shorthand for the most important thing that we do within the context of our jobs. 

So with that in mind lets get back to the underlying language questions about the title, and what my opinion of the answers should be.

First off: what am I trying to communicate with a title?

Going back to the "doctor" comparison, in the US, the title of M.D. means that you spent years in an accredited college attaining your bachelor's degree, and in school you learned anatomy, biology, chemistry, and other fundamentals of medicine.  You then went to med school and spent even more years learning the craft.  Once you've performed to the standards set by those institutions, you then enter into a medical residency program where you essentially act as an apprentice under other practicing and experienced doctors.  Once that process is complete you've applied for and acquired a license to practice in your state. All of this is implied with the M.D. title and the purpose of this title is to communicate these qualifications to the world in a standardized and uniform way.

I think that in the case of "sound designer" I'm not really trying to communicate a very specific skillset, and I'm certainly not going to be able to communicate any specific level of experience. 
I think that all I can realistically hope to communicate to a stranger with the title of "sound designer" is that I work in audio, that I do some sound editorial, and that I think that I'm being creative when I work.  To assume any more than that from the title would lead one to some misjudgements about people pretty quickly given how many people do take up the title these days.

Secondly: to whom am I communicating?

Generally speaking, professionals of any kind are utilizing their titles to communicate with everyone they come into contact in a professional context.  This includes clients and prospective clients, peers, vendors, management, etc. 

Given the wide array of people that I'm communicating with here, I really just have to try and lay a basic groundwork with the limited number of words I have available to use in a title.  My email sig and business card are not the place to get into a detailed analysis of what I can and can not do.

Thirdly: why am I trying to communicate this with my title?

Medical doctors utilize their titles to shorthand all of the credentials listed in the previous question.  This leads their clients to give them a baseline assumption of credibility that they can diagnose and cure many physical illnesses that they may be approached with.  The standardization of the titles in the medical profession has gone a long way towards improving the art and science of medicine.

Sound is not nearly as noble or dangerous a profession, and as such those types of standards aren't really as in demand.  The question of why designers of any kind utilize titles at all is kind of interesting. 

In my case, I use my title in context with my coworkers.  I'm generally the sound design guy, another guy is the lead composer, the boss does mixing and biz dev, and the new guy is still in the process of defining his niche within that dynamic.  This is not to say that I'm the only one that can do sound design in the shop (I'm not) nor is it to say that I can't do things like mixing and biz dev (I can). 

I think it also gives another level of insight into what I can do when I'm working with clients outside of the context of design.  If all I've done for this client is cut voices and they grab my card where it says "sound designer," they may think of me when its time to make cool noises near the end of the project.


In the end, we're not defined by the titles we assume because titles are confining.  They're a shorthand, a means to an end, and we use them despite the fact that we're always learning new things, doing different things, and evloving our perspectives.


for more thoughts on this, check out the second half of ep 56 on lets make mistakes, where  Mike and Katy struggle with the same issue in the web design world.  I don't think they came to any real conclusions there, but if nothing else it shows that audio people aren't the only ones who struggle with the whole title thing.  :)

Sunday, July 8

fun with dopplers

here's  a quickie tutorial I just did with regards to how I use the Waves doppler plugin to make bys out of steady onboard vehicle recordings.  In this case I used the onboards that I recorded of my motorcycle a few weeks back.

Structurally, the concept draws heavily from Charles Deenan's 100 whooshes in 2 minutes tutorial on designingsound.org

The main change I made to his process was to really work the ins and outs of each by using the faders.
Some things I didn't really discuss, but you can see how they would work are the fact that you can make stylized whooshes with this technique as well.  That 100 whooshes post goes into great detail on that, though my preference is to go a little more focused than what Charles does.  For example, I'll  substitute a bunch of bow waves  and streams running, and get a bunch of underwater waves going on.  

In the vid I'm using a controller instead of a mouse to move the faders (so that I can move several simultaneously)and I'm performing the moves in real time.

skip the first 15 seconds or so.  Vimeo seems to have a pause glitch in there.

My two wishlist items for doppler would be an option to make it stop at the end of the path, and 96k support.

Tuesday, July 3

Neighborhood Dogs

One of my favorite things about the new collaborative way that the internet has brought us sound people together is The Sound Collector's Club.

TSCC is the creation of Michael Maroussas, and the basic premise is that all members pay a nominal fee to help with hosting the files, then each month a new theme comes out and we all go out into the world and record it, with each contributing member contributor getting instant access to the other recordings from the group.

Its an insanely cool way to beef up your library, because it has you out recording on a regular basis, and it puts you in contact with a group of great sound recordists from all over the world.

Its multiplicative recording.

So after some twitter riffing on themes a while back Michael had decided to roll with one of my favorites:Dog Barks-BGs

In my personal library I call them neighborhood dogs.

I have a moderate collection of these recordings, the first of which I made when out walking my own dog.  She's actually very good at staying quiet while others are going nuts, so for a few weeks I just went on my walk and brought my trusty D50.

They say that if you take a closeup photo of someone and put it across the room, that doesn't make it into a wide shot.  The same is true of audio, and the reality you get from recording the dogs in space like that trumps faking it every time.

Once I had a few of these, they went into immediate effect as I was cutting BGFX for various films and shows.  The texture of the dogs is really great to add a little bit of stress or drama to just about any urban or suburban environment.

Having individual dogs was nice when I could get them that way, because it allowed me to just kind of edit it in some drama in the gaps when I needed them.  They make great little punctuation marks on an outdoor scene.

They're also fun to establish and have going for a while, then pull them out to jolt the subconscious mind into noticing that they're not there anymore. 

BGFX are all about the one off elements, and neighborhood dogs are one of the more useful outdoor oneoffs you can find.  I highly encourage any sound people to record some dogs from a good distance, join The Sound Collector's Club, and share with the group!