So the end of the year is almost upon us and it’s been a busy last few months. The amount of valuable know-how and industry exposure during this time has outweighed any of my previous experiences thus far. This “Post MorTem” of this duration will breakdown what skills I have learnt (both soft and technical) and show a reflection of how I handled things and how I can improve in the future.
To start with I will breakdown the short film we replaced all the sound for. This was the only project that I blogged about already which is here so i will try to keep it brief and not go over anything I've already reflected upon.
Basically in a nutshell this project was fun and I am happy with the end result for the limited time we had. Things I will take away from this exercise are pro tools shortcuts and some video syncing techniques. While recording the atmos for this video I realised just how tricky it can be to capture some quiet atmos. The common shotgun mics pick up a lot of distant sounds, often from cars, people, birds you cannot see. I’ve learnt that if you need quiet atmos you need a large park away from civilisation or use a different microphone instead of a shotgun condenser which are generally long range. In terms of Foley it did open up my mind a little more to different uses and techniques like; recording the air condition air noise for some steam atmos you see in the video. The toughest thing without doubt would have to be the recording of the dialogue. Capturing a good performance, microphone choice and replicating the emotion on the screen is crucial for any video, our ears are tuned for to speech and can easily recognise anything out of place.
Another project I was apart of recently was a live sound event at SAE. The brief to was to organise, host and successfully run an event including different bands with different preferably different in nature. What we ended up hosting was an event with three different acts. First up was a solo act by Pete Broadway who gave an exceptional performance, coming in with a wealth of experience. Second was a great band with awesome musicianship named IDKK (I Don’t Know Kevin) these guys stepped it up a notch with a 4 piece ensemble of drums, electric guitar, bass and lead vocals. Last to play were a band named Luke Seymoup which consisted of drums, keys, vocal, bass and guitar. These guys really gave a good show and exhibited a lot of maturity and talent for a relatively young group.
My contribution to this project was organising the band IDKK to come in which included a promise to mix one the tracks of their choice from the night and supplying them the multitracks. Here is a work in progress mix i’m currently working on for IDKK.
In general I contributed to the setup up of the live sound stage, performing line and scratch tests, foldbacks levels and console setup with effects and inserts. Specifically I carried out sound check for IDKK and did some live mixing for them. In addition to this I printed out a time schedule for the night and allocated certain roles so people wouldn't get confused. Previous to the night I sent the band a stage layout with all the timings and any other relevant information for the night.
I believe my contributions both prior and on the day helped make this event possible and run smoother. By securing IDKK to come and play, be on time and provide a drum kit for the other band made the night possible, fun and less stressful. They were great to work with and were very punctual.
Like the majority of our group we turned up hours before the event and made sure everything was prepared, luckily we did because we ran into a slight hiccup which took a bit over an hour to figure out.
One way in which I could have helped our group was to make sure everyone would turn up on time and carry out set tasks. I tried setting tasks to people on Trello and allocated due dates, but in the end certain people chose to ignore this and leave to the group to pick up the slack. I guess I could have gone further and followed up even more vigorously.
Learning live sound has helped me to understand a new type of signal flow and get my hands on some new microphones, amplifiers, speakers and console. Other things learnt have been things like :
Turning amps on last when setting up and amps off first when packing down will help protect equipment. Testing the PA system with white/pink noise (line test). Scratch testing the microphones for connectivity, mixing on the fly and the use of side-chaining on gates eg: Having the signal of a top snare channel on the desk be sent to a bottom snare channel, telling it when to open the gate. This results in less delay and phase issues. Also with gates I am now using the EQ a lot more. This EQ looks at the signal accordingly Instead of the gate opening via a whole signal that can often contain spill. By using the EQ to target more specific signals results in a more accurate gate opening, causing fewer problems with delay and phase. These are skills that not only help live sound but also transfer into regular mixing techniques. I now use the sidechain technique almost always when dealing with multiple kick and snare mics or to duck the bass with the kick.
The most challenging technical aspects of this entire process would have to dealing with problem frequencies in a live sound environment either from the main PA itself or in the foldback system. I found it difficult trying to keep track of all the different foldback speakers for different musicians. With more practice and knowing the system better I believe my confidence would benefit a lot.
In terms of soft skills I think myself and the team performed well in terms of time management but personally I am always aware that my communication skills can be improved upon. Coming from a background where I tend to think but not speak can impact on others. Learning to engage more with others is something I will work on. I do push myself to do this but I want to push myself even further and sometimes I neglect to do this. Since my public speaking course I now have some tools that can help me achieve this whereas before I really didn’t know how to improve or how others perceived me. I learnt since that I come across really easy going (often to easy going) when the reality is i'm far from that inside my head. Lately I’ve come to realise that what you think people perceived you to be can be completely different to what you may think.
For the next project we were asked to produce a 30 min podcast based on the question; What is the Sound of Melbourne?
Below is a 5 minute snippet and the full 30 minute podcast.
Full 30 minute Podcast Below
To complete this we had a group of four and we soon came to realise that we all had different ideas of what the sound of Melbourne is, for me it was bands playing in restaurants and cafes when dining out.
I contributed to this project by taking the field recording equipment to the locations making it easier for everyone involved. Being my gear I took it on myself to be the one in charge of the recordings (making sure we are capturing a clean signal etc). I believe this contributed to the overall quality of the podcast as I used some professional gear with a low noise floor. Saying that I believe my recording techniques have room for improvement and i’m glad this project gave me the opportunity to see where. Other tasks I contributed were: consolidating it all into one pro tools session and starting the editing. During team meetings I helped record the narration and more editing. I created the 60 sec clip for a demo in class and created the 5 minute demo for CEO of Music Victoria. I also did a lot of the mixing along with a chap named Amos. I believe the overall quality benefited by skills learnt in class like using a large, wide notch filter on music tracks where there is talking over the top.
I think my contributions would have been better if I didn’t have to do as much as I did. A lot of my time and energy was put into this project during a period when I had many of jobs on the go. I actually found working with the group the most challenging aspect of the entire project. The recording work was often fun and a great experience whereas the organising and effort from some group members was draining and frustrating.
Some skills I have learnt from this experience are : working with field recording equipment, in particular making sure you are monitoring the signal from the Zoom (post tape) not from the mixer (pre tape)
During this project I learnt how to use a Neve Genesys board and some new microphones. The Rode classic in particular.
Some soft skills learnt were how not to interview bands (don't treat it so formal) the more natural the conversion the better.
Group dynamics would have to be the toughest one in terms of soft skills which had negative effects on the group's moral and the outcome of the production. I’ve learnt that Facebook chat is not a good tool for projects and trying to organise with people's busy schedules can be tiresome. For one of the recordings I basically just went with one other person because we needed to get it done and trying to organise everyone there would delay the project and wasn’t actually necessary. It’s these types of scenarios where you have to make judgement calls based on the project's schedule.
In regards to the KPI I believe I’ve improved even though it feels like i’ve gone backwards. This is due to certain aspects (lack of teamwork) being more challenging than ever.
This was my first real taste of working in the games industry and I was both relieved and scared of the professionalism of everyone involved. I was provided with an informal brief, some history of the game and then the freedom to go away with the animations to create sounds for.
For this I worked with another sound designer and we agreed on certain technical issues like what limiter to use, what -dB to place the ceiling and even what plugin we should use for reverb. I believe this consistency helped give the game some glue. One thing we did a lot differently was the process in which we created sounds. He was very Foley based and had a great sample library whilst I had some great synths but not much Foley. In the end this contributed to the project as my designs were mostly for monsters and spells while he had more human based heroes. I am really glad how it created a different balance of sounds.
Since then I have purchased a Foley recording kit and have started to collect samples. Just today I went out to a park and recorded myself smashing rocks.
I realise from this experience that the key to creating great sound designs is to have an arsenal of synths and Foley at your fingertips, allowing yourself to be productive and not lose the creative ideas that can come and go quickly.
Some other things I can take away from this experience is the importance of backing up work, naming conventions and discipline when it comes to saving sessions and bounced files. I've been hearing a lot lately that the gaming industry is the place to be but from my experience it can be a cut throat business (like many others) and there is no magic money appearing for developers. Marketing, designing, networking, game quality are all important factors when releasing titles. There is no magic cure for pursuing this path except for hard work and dedication. Any money saving and money gathering resources you have available must be utilized. Overall is was a great experience I learnt a lot and they were a pleasure to work for.
Moving on to another project now is where I ended up being the only sound designer for a SAE University Trimester six game " A Wizard Did It". One week out from the deadline I was handed animations which meant a stressful time. I ended up with 101 designs in a week whilst still attending other work and uni commitments.
This project differed from the last as well because we ended up using FMOD for implementation which in itself took some time to get up and running. The benefit of using this was the ability to have a different sounds trigger for when a character swings a sword for example. This keeps the player from going insane from listening to the same attack sound over and over again.
I think by having more time my contributions could have been better and more time should have been allowed for implementation. Only half a day was really allowed by the designers to implement all the sound and even then we had lots of comparability issues. Nothing worse than doing loads of work for not to be implemented. It seems common among the film and game industries (judging from friends working in the industry) that audio designers are expected to perform miracles and often left with no time.
Soft skills for AWDI consisted of fortnightly meetings and countless facebook chats. The guys where very welcoming and easy to get along with. Looking back I feel our meetings could of consisted of more practical examples of using FMOD and seeing some sounds getting implemented early on. I realise now I could have been more pro active and stressed the importance earlier hopefully ironing out problems sooner rather than later.
My final project I would to talk about is a TVC for a advertising company. Due to the TVC coming out next week I am not allowed to show it yet.
The final brief was to create a 30 second and 15 second audio track from sounds that the kitchen utensil makes. After it was where they roughly wanted the video would be made accordingly. It had 8 in 1 uses and I was instructed to introduce these sounds in sequence of importance. This was my first real taste of working in advertising and the realisation hit me hard that this project would be expected to be of a professional standard and done within short time frames. The idea of your soundtrack being on national T.V is a scary thought and I think this hindered my creativity. Another thing that hindered my creativity was the technical issues of sync'ing and timing. The song that was used to create the video started at 80'ish bpm and finishes at 127 bpm over 30 seconds. When I received the video back they had taken a few of audio out to fit with the start and ending etc. This meant my whole project was thrown out of time and with a slowly rising bpm everything had to re-done. This took a lot of time and sucked my creativity out of the project. I was to green to say anything but reflecting now a quick phone call may have resolved some of my problems for eg: knowing which bits they took out exactly.
In summary I have learnt a tremendous amount in a short period of time. If I can continue the amount of work and improve on the quality in the coming year I will be happy. Things to watch out for will be taking on too many projects and un-organised projects. To do this I will have to be vigilant of time frames and scopes of work. I feel like I am discovering where my passions lie in audio as I continue this journey but I am also conscious of the fact that I wont get to work on what I wan't to work on the majority of the time