I thought that it may be worth while to put up a list of what I bring on the average sound design/composition job. While I find these tools invaluable, everyone has a different way of doing things.
This is my gear kit:
- Large Diaphragm Condensor Mic: Aston Origin
- Reference Mic: Audix TM1
- Interface: Clarett
- Headphones: Beyerdynamic 770s
- Macbook Pro
- Ableton Live Suite 10
- Qlab Versions 3 & 4
- East West Composer Cloud
- Monitors: Jbl 305s
- Various Guitars, pedals, amps
- Weighted Keyboard/MIDI Interface: Casio CDPs-100
In my mind, one of the main things that make up a truly special aural design are how cues begin and how they end.
Often, when you see a non-professional theater piece, the sound and music is simply played over the loud speakers by slowing fading the music/sound up and then down. While I find this type of theater vitally important to the fabric of art, I also think that, if they so desired, they have room to grow.
The goal of all sound and music cues are to explore and grow the world of the production. The beginning and the endings of a cue are the most important parts. Let’s take a cue from a production I just completed: The Winter’s Tale at The Island Shakespeare Festival directed by Kyle Haden.
In this play, there is an oracle’s decree brought down from a mountain and read at a trial. We decided to have the guard open the box and have the oracle’s voice magically leap out move around the courtroom.
We recorded the voice on my travel microphone, an Aston Origin, pitch bent it down 15 cents, and then I ran it through my vocal chain: compressor, EQ, de-esser, reverb, slapback delay, saturator. This creates the feeling of a god from on high speaking down to you, especially when played loudly over the surround sound system in the space. Here is the cue:
In a perfect world, the voice would spiral out of the box in a cloud of white smoke, then it would speak, and it would be sucked down into the box with a bang. The first cue is workable, but creating distinct beginnings and endings adds to the drama.
This becomes a stronger deeper artistic cue. It also informs the decision to add in the sound of wind ambience behind the godly speech.
Obviously, this is just one interpretation of this moment, but strong beginnings and endings are essential to the cue. They are something I am always trying to push as designer. It adds a precise nature to the design that I find helps support plays and cues.
As someone working in today's aural space, I often find myself over taken over with gear envy or another, even more sinister force: thinking I can find the "perfect" piece of technology that will solve all my problems. (For the purposes of this blog post I will call this "perfect tech.") These are issues anyone who works in this particular field has to contend with.
One of my moments of gear envy happened early on in my theatrical design career. I was working as a freelance audio tech at a regional playhouse when a designer from Chicago came in with four reference microphones, each worth well over a thousand dollars. I helped focus and hang speakers around the production space. He sat in a comfy chair chewing gum and making small EQ and delay adjustments on the Yamaha speaker DSP. If only I had those four reference microphones I could move from hanging speakers to tuning systems, right? Obviously no. They knew much more about sound system creation, system tuning, phase alignment, and, perhaps more importantly, this person had spent twenty plus years doing this many, many times. Looking back at my inexperience, this was a valuable learning moment.
Obtaining the piece of "perfect tech" is something I have to remind myself myself to push out of my head. There is no such thing. I know I am not alone, and that it is a mark of true passion for the art to make it work with the tools immediately available to you. Professional musicians often spend thousands repetitively buying the same instrument over and over in a world that creates upgrade after upgrade, always making the second newest version seem outdated. How many guitarists buy a few guitars a year? A lot. Similarly, audio engineers are often found jonesing for microphones, preamplifiers, sequencers, plugins, audio interfaces. The reason, I think, we feel this urge is due to two reasons: the first is clever marketing campaigns by music companies, and the second is the healthy urge to consistently improve one's contributions to our art form and collaborative space. A workable kit is important. New gear is luxurious and amazing. I think we all should try to maintain a healthy personal balance both for the sake our collective bank accounts and our own sanity.