Sound Design 101

A primer for anyone who likes to get into sound design

 

Introduction: Listen To Dave

A very entertaining and insightful interview on Tonebenders with Dave Whitehead (Lord Of The Rings, Hobbit).

 

Misconceptions Of Recording Gear

By Randy Thom

"I just want to make a statement about equipment, specifically about microphones. Almost all of us are gear fetishists. We love reading about gadgets and processes, and we easily fall into the trap of thinking that being a pro and getting great sound is mainly about the hardware and the software.

It's not. In some ways I think the epitome of this kind of self deception involves microphones. Statements like "this is the best mic for voice," or "this is the best mic for explosions," or "this is the best mic for ambience," or "this is the best mic for recording distant sounds," are everywhere. Basically all those statements are meaningless. The things that contribute to getting a great recording of a great sound are listed below, along with their percentage of importance:

  1. Identify a great sound to record. (30%)
  2. Devise a plan for recording that sound. (30%) The most important parts of the plan do not involve what equipment you will be using. They are about WHERE and WHEN you will place microphones, not what microphones you will use.
  3. Avoid making a distorted recording. (25%) Gain structure is one of the least understood, maybe most misunderstood aspects of recording audio.
  4. Choose mics and other gear (15%) based mainly on how they will help you avoid trouble. Don't choose mics based mainly on their supposedly wonderful frequency response, directionality, or multi-channel capabilities. For example, an omni-directional dynamic mic might often be a great choice in high wind situations because omni's are less susceptible to wind, and dynamics are rugged mics. It's often better to have an omni mic ten feet from a sound source than a shotgun thirty feet away.

My bottom line is this: Spend most of your time thinking about WHAT to record and coming up with your plan for getting close to that sound when there will be as little environmental noise as possible. You can make wonderful recordings with any of the various hand-held $300 recorders with built-in mics. And god knows there are millions of lousy recordings made with $20,000 rigs. Obviously, if you can afford the highest quality gear, use it. But don't be deluded into thinking success is mainly about the equipment."

 

Breaking Into The Industry

A very thoughtful collection of advice by René from Tonebenders. My only addition concerns the concept of a showreel. I think it's something you should have but it doesn't have to be a continuous reel. In my experience it's better to keep a collection of samples of work - audio or movie files or even clips on Vimeo that you can hand out. It's easier to assemble a tailor-made collection that you can send off to someone that way.