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Communicating With Sound Designers

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Recently I have done some projects where I got to wear more of a directors hat. One thing I found is that I sometimes had a hard time communicating with sound designers. I guess I am used to explaining what will be going on visually but when it comes to sound I just don't have the vocabulary or the same background knowledge (and I can't just draw a picture if words fail).

 

I am sure there is no magic solution, and with time and experience I will get better at it but I was wondering if anyone on the board has some good tips for working with sound designers. I'm sure a big part of it is finding someone you work well with and doing multiple projects together so you develop a shorthand but because of schedules and budget haven't been able to work consistently with anyone.

 

One thing I might try for my next project is to draw out a timeline and maybe use a few different colors to represent different emotions/sound textures so I can show how I see the sound working/evolving throughout the piece. Anyhow curious to see if anyone has some good ways of working with sound people. Any sound designers on here who can give their perspective?

 

None of my experiences with sound designers was bad (still overall very good and was fairly happy with how stuff turned out), but I hate when I get really vague, wishy washy sounding notes, and I really don't want to be "that guy" giving hard to decipher feedback.

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Monkey covered this pretty well here. (Scroll down to "The Audioboards")

 

Thanks for reminding me, it didn't come up in my search, but I must have read it way back when because I posted in that thread (I suspect my idea for drawing out the timeline probably came from reading that:)

 

Curious to see what other people's approaches are as well...

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Are you having problems with communicating 'production' points like instrumentation/mixing/sounds etc, or is it more an issue of composition?

 

Just as with any industry/craft, audio production has it's share of jargon which I think it would help to familiarize yourself with - mainly so you don't go telling someone to do something when you actually mean something else. For example 'pan' has a specific meaning to us, while the rest of the world sees fit to use it for anything vaguely related to the moving of a camera. So make sure if you're talking about EQ/reverb/compression in any specific way you're doing so correctly.

 

As far as communicating musical ideas, I think a basic understanding of major genres and a mental backlog of music reference is the best way to go. If you can say "I like the grittiness of the percussion at 2:30-2:40 on track X" and "the creamy syncopated house bassline from Y" you're at least going to be on the same track production wise.

 

If you're talking about sound/texture invention, that's always going to be somewhat vague territory unless you want to speak in terms of waveforms/LFOs/envelopes and so forth. In this case I'd probably try to reference real world sounds that you can both identify with - a 'glassy shatter' or a 'pistol crack' or a 'green-tree break'. If you look at the iconic pieces of film sound design, they're mostly familiar, everyday sounds augmented and taken out of context. If you do some research on foley techniques that might give you a more accurate way to describe sounds. E.g. 'rice pouring onto wood' is more specific than saying 'rain' and 'an umbrella opening' is more specific than saying 'a fireball whoosh'.

 

On the other hand, if you trust the sound designer, you may want to give him/her the freedom to experiment but giving them just the emotions you want to feel when hearing it. I think that's a matter of budget and schedule though - the guy who came up with the Raiders of the Lost Ark boulder sound (car tires crunching on a gravel road) no doubt had more time to experiment than you will.

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Thanks for the thoughtful reply pixelpusher lots of good points in there for me to chew on.

 

I definitely want to give the sound designer the freedom to interpret while also dealing with the reality that these are projects with tight turn around times, so it's a delicate balance (isn't it always).

 

I tend to stay away from being as specific as talking about reverb/LFO/envelopoes/compressors etc. because I feel I don't know enough about that stuff to be that specific (I wouldn't want a director who wasn't an animator to get in there and tell me how to key frame stuff). I tend to speak more along the lines of e.g. "I like sound X but can you make, it sound a bit bigger, nastier, and angrier" I might suspect that the way to achieve this is to add a little distortion and then run it through a compressor but maybe there are a hundred better ways to achieve this that I don't know about because I am not a sound designer so I normally wouldn't get that specific (maybe that's a mistake).

 

Definitely reading up on the technical aspects and getting to understand the jargon would be a good idea. I think the idea of reading up on foley is really good suggestion, a lot of times the problem is not so much to explain what sound you want but the quality of that sound, so to have some concrete examples would def be helpful. I guess I will have to do some homework:)

 

I really should add that I haven't had any specific "problems" dealing with sound designers, or bad experiences, just it's something I think I am a bit weak at since in the past by the time a project went to sound it was completely out of my hands. It's more about wanting to see how I can get the best results under tight deadlines, than dealing with any big issues that have come up.

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Definitely reading up on the technical aspects and getting to understand the jargon would be a good idea. I think the idea of reading up on foley is really good suggestion, a lot of times the problem is not so much to explain what sound you want but the quality of that sound, so to have some concrete examples would def be helpful. I guess I will have to do some homework:)

 

Yeah I think that the foley angle is probably going to be the quickest way to expand the communication channels. I agree with avoiding the micro-management trap - "marbles bouncing on glass" should immediately suggest "bell stabs" while still leaving room for creative interpretation.

 

I think "bigger, nastier, angrier" is probably a reasonable request of a decent engineer given a base sound - I think you'd struggle to find an electronic music producer who hadn't been asked for that before. If you're starting out with a given sound decision I'd say that if you can qualify "angrier" with "jet engine", "lion roar", or "tire screech" you'd be on your way to getting what you're looking for.

 

That said, I understand Cameron spent 2 days with a sound engineer just to get the pulse rifle sound from Aliens so these things aren't always quick :)

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That said, I understand Cameron spent 2 days with a sound engineer just to get the pulse rifle sound from Aliens so these things aren't always quick :)

 

He he, right now I can only dream of shcedules that would allow me to spend two days on one sound.

 

Cheers for the pointers.

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