Stream our July 14 virtual panel discussion on sound design above.
On July 14, the Chicago International Film Festival’s Industry Days and the Chicago Film Office hosted the virtual panel discussion “Did You Hear That?” with Chicago-based sound professionals to discuss their strategies, methods, and creative impulses in combining sound with image as well as the challenges and strategies for working under Covid-19 conditions. The entire panel was recorded and is available to stream above.
While our panelists discussed their craft and strategies in detail and answered questions from our virtual attendees, there were still many questions we were not able to get to in the one hour panel discussion. Following the conversation, the four panelists graciously offered to answer any remaining questions below to further provide insight and guidance. Read on for their answers, and watch the video above for an in depth conversation on sound!
- Victoria Salazar (Girl on the Third Floor), Sound Editor and Location Audio Lead at NoiseFloor LTD.
- Drew Weir (Knives and Skin, Drinking Buddies), Sound Designer, Re-Recording Mixer, and Editor at Another Country.
- Kayo Williams (This Time), Sound Mixer, Sound Designer, and Film Composer at KAYQUARII PRODUCTIONS.
- John Wong (Come As You Are), Senior Sound Designer and Re-Recording Mixer at Periscope Post & Audio.
What was the name of the 2 programs Victoria mentioned for sending audio?
One is called Frame.io and it allows people to comment at a specific timecode, super handy if the director/creatives are not able to go into the studio or they’re out of town! The other one is called Session Link Pro and it allows you to playback with video so it’s useful for mix sessions or when recording VO and the creatives need to see it with picture.
How does streaming your work to clients or producers affect how the quality of the sound and how it is perceived?
It depends on the streaming service, and how it translates the type of audio file format used. For example .WAV or AIFF are examples of lossless uncompressed audio file formats that would be best for reference depending on the clients capacity to receive that type of audio data because its usually large. But this is one of the best ways to send audio because the client can really hear the modifications made in most situations I would highly recommend using a service called Filepass to resolve this because its very kind to streaming audio without weighing it down with heavy digital compression that could affect the way the client interprets your sound modifications.
I think their listening/recording environment is a little more of a concern for me. Streaming over Zoom or Uber for reference with a high quality file posting follow up has been working fine. For recording, Source Connect is working well and there are some other proprietary services available but we have not had the need to use them. Right now, I think our clients are putting a lot of trust in what the engineers are doing in their personal studios to make sure it sounds great, so comments and revisions have been more about creative decisions and not technical issues.
The last two films I wrapped post COVID were reviewed from the directors and producers’ homes. As for how the quality of the sound is perceived via streaming, the options I mentioned provide full audio quality. However the quality of the mixes the clients are listening to is all dependent on what they are using for playback. Avoid laptop speakers, earbuds, tv speakers if possible, and try and find a quiet space. If you have bookshelf speakers, or even some good quality headphones that would be ideal. Obviously these types of listening devices aren’t the most ideal for playback, but in a post COVID world we are just trying to handle things the best we can. The clients from the last two films provided notes, and if I feel like the clients may not be hearing it properly, I’ll bring it up, and the clients of the films trusted my judgment.
It depends on what they’re listening back on/what environment they’re in. Listening off of laptop speakers doesn’t allow you to hear some of the details. It’s always best to ask/notify the client what would be best to listen off of
For a film that will be viewed only on YouTube or Vimeo on a small device with modest speakers, at what point does sound design become overkill that won’t be appreciated in that environment?
In my professional opinion it can only be overkill if the compression specifications for the digital streaming service (youtube, vimeo etc.) aren’t thought of and compensated for during the post sound phase. All of these digital services have varying standards (rates) of digital compression that will affect the way the audio is translated (heard). Keeping this in mind and compensating for those compression standards during the post audio phase of production is a really good best practice to follow.
Great sound design and mixing is always going to add to a project. Sure, iphone speakers or earbuds are not going to shake the room the way a commercial sound system can so if a project can’t make use of that kind of impact then it’s not worth going there in the design. However, there is so much a sound designer can bring to the party that isn’t just about volume or fidelity. One of my favorite films for sound design is “Amelie.” The sound team for that was not trying to blow people out of their seats, it was more about light touches and interesting details that added to the characters and the whimsical nature of the story. Obviously, “Jurassic Park” was pretty cool too. When you feel the T-Rex footsteps before you see it coming you know the characters are in trouble and it’s terrifying. But if they are all alone in the forest and the insects suddenly get quiet and you hear a single twig snap, well that can be terrifying too. It’s important for the director and the sound designer to work out approaches wherever possible so you don’t get to the final mix and have a big misunderstanding or expectation that isn’t going to work in the finished product.
I personally don’t think sound design is overkill for any film (short or feature length) for platforms like YouTube or Vimeo. As a sound designer and a mixer you have to keep in mind what the main platform is, and make sure sonically the sound design will fit the platform so the sound design will flourish in those platforms. The real question in my opinion is, how polished do you want your audio to be?
I don’t think it becomes an overkill, if the client knows it’s only going to be streamed on a phone then the sound designer and re-recording mixer will have to take a different approach to sound design (like not using a ton on low end) and mixing.
What was your biggest challenge getting into the industry and what do you look for in an assistant, if you work with one, who’s just starting in the industry?
My biggest challenge was patience , but I overcame that by realizing and treating every experience like a classroom and honoring the lessons along the way, by realizing that although they may have been uncomfortable at times ; they were very necessary in gaining unique career knowledge. When I’m looking for an assistant, I think about the value of their interpersonal attitude. This is someone that I will be spending a lot of time working with closely and I need to really know the strength of their personality in addition to their technical knowledge. What we do in audio can be fun but it can also be mentally challenging at times, also if they have a love affair with problem solving that is one of many ways to get my attention.
I was fortunate enough to get hired pretty soon after finishing school. I got an opportunity to intern with a well known studio designer, John Storyk. Being an office assistant for an architect was not exactly a dream job for me but I knew he would have clients who were building studios and expanding their business so I figured that would be a good way to meet someone looking for an assistant. That is pretty much exactly what happened. From there, building trust and developing people skills was the biggest challenge to actually making it into an engineers chair. Attention to detail, problem solving, personality, passion and drive are all great qualities to have byond knowledge of software and signal flow. It’s important to diversify your skills and keep an eye out for opportunities that will lead to what you want in a career, there are a lot of paths in the audio industry.
The biggest challenge for me was timing. I went through a few internships, and was freelancing for a year before I got hired at an audio studio. It’s great to have the talent and the personableness to mesh at the companies that you may have interned at, but if they aren’t hiring, you have to keep looking. If you feel like you are one of the people that stood out, keep in touch with them, and maybe one day they’ll have an open position, and you can potentially be a candidate. Keep busy though. Network, and find those freelance jobs because it’s always nice for a company that you interned at sees you are trying to grow and make something of yourself when the position opens up.
When we are hiring, I always look for people I think will work well with our current team. A lot of times, those we hire were interns at Periscope because we know their personality, and some of the skills they are capable of. I’m not saying that’s the only way we hire, but we already have a good sense of who these people are already in a working environment. Another thing I look for is those people who have a drive, and are they willing to listen and learn. I’m not looking for someone who thinks they know it all already, because everyone doesn’t know everything. I learn new things all the time. It’s a creative industry, and we all make each other better by feeding off of everyone’s creative thought process.
I think timing is a big part of it. Internships help get your foot in the door, and for you to get to know some of the people working in the industry. From my experience, trying to find ways to be helpful and a good asset to the company is very important, even as an intern.
If I were to look for an assistant I would look for someone who is just overall a good person, and showed passion for audio/film. Skills are important but I feel like if someone came in with a good set of fundamental knowledge/skills that’s better than someone who really knows the craft but they aren’t great to work with.
Were you born with a good ear, or did you develop it?
It is my belief that everyone develops that and continues to add to it throughout their career through making the most out of every opportunity to get exposed to projects at all levels of audio quality.
I think it’s something you have to work on a bit. Like anything, some people have more of a talent for it then others. Ears are kind of fickle and our brain is very good at filling in the details so it’s important to listen to your work in context and at appropriate volume and be aware of ear fatigue so you don’t start missing details or over compensate. I mix on a speaker system that is always calibrated to the same volume. When the dialog is sitting correctly in the mix and is at the right LKFS level, it just sounds a certain way to me. If you start there and don’t compress or process things too much you usually have plenty of room for dynamics when a director really wants to punch something. If you take the time to find good SFX and Foley to work with and build the mix up you can work out details without a bunch of sound masking going on. In a dense audio scene with a full score you have to learn to pick and choose what is the main focus for the sound. It’s not usually effective to slam the audience with everything all at once.
No I wasn’t born with it. This is something you develop over time. It’s like training. I didn’t start picking up how certain things sound until it was pointed out to me in school, and early in my career. Once you know what you are listening for, your ears are so intune to it, it just sticks out. For example, dialogue editors are a special type of people. They are so intune of the sound that comes out of an actor’s mouth, they know exactly what noise to take out, or what to remove/reduce when it comes to production noise.
I don’t think I was born with a good ear. I’ve definitely learned what to listen for and how things “should sound”. I feel like everyday I’m hearing new things happening around me and they might be interesting to add into a film as an ambient layer. I’m still developing my hearing everyday and I think I’ll still be learning for the rest of my career.