In conclusion…

AUS230 WRAP UP

“In conclusion…”

AUS230 this trimester has been a really good experience. I’m feeling more every week like I’m standing on my own feet, and admittedly, less like the things we learn in class are gospel, but just different ways to approach the roadblocks and inevitable variables that occur with bands, producers, managers and equipment. I’m feeling more ready* for ‘real world’ work once I leave SAE in August, having begun to pick up more freelance work this trimester.

* Ready

ˈrɛdi/

adjective

  1. 1. Impatient;

We’ve focused a lot on critical listening, having completed the Song Exploder project where we studied producer and engineer Erik Rutan’s style and applied it to Tom Petty and the Heartbreaker’s ‘Refugee’. We also spent a day in Northcote’s Soundpark, working with tape for the first time at SAE, which was a really great experience, and I’m developing a relationship with Tom Walker and Sick Individuals, who we recorded on the day, which looks to be leading to more freelance work. The Studer tape machine at Soundpark was great, and showed me very quickly how tape saturation can be used in a hybrid recording set up in 2017. In addition to Song Exploder and Soundpark, we’ve spent a few weeks working on a web series with film students to brush up on our skills and experience in post production.

Listening to music critically is something I’m slowly coming to terms with this year. To be clear, it’s great to listen back to my favourite albums and understand what kind of processing has been used to achieve a sound’s tonality, vibe and context. The reason I’ve had to ‘come to terms’ with this, is because I’m struggling to enjoy music like I used to. Instead, I appreciate production and mixing. I appreciate music no less, but I can’t simply enjoy a song anymore – something I’m indifferent to. I have a different appreciation, but enjoy it nonetheless. The Song Exploder project in the first few weeks of class was a great exercise in listening critically. In addition to listening to Erik Rutan’s mixes of bands like Hate Eternal or Cannibal Corpse, we also watched studio diaries and looked at the (absolutely crushed) waveforms of Rutan’s mixes. It’s been really good to analyse some of my favourite mixes more closely, and listen to them in context with other mixes, as well as using them as mix references for my own work. In addition to improving our own critical listening, it was really god to work in a small group that worked really well together and were excited about the project – I learnt a lot from my teammates as we all had our own workflows to get the project across the line. As a group, however, we bounced and printed the mix incorrectly and had stereo guitars that collapsed to mono. A little reminder to keep an eye on everything and listen more closely during mix down.

Our tape project at Soundpark was a great exercise in keeping an eye on everything in the studio. In addition to this, it was also great to really understand how easy recording is in 2017, having come from a primarily in the box/DAW workflow. While we didn’t use the MCI console as a conventional console, we routed all of our pre (Neve, API, Universal Audio, MCI) to the Studer A-80 that lives in the control room at Soundpark. The signal was split at the tape machine and we recorded to ProTools and tape, before printing the best takes back into ProTools from the output of the tape machine. This is the hybrid part of our set-up, besides the computer. The band we had in for the day, Tom Walker & the Sick Individuals, were great players, but that didn’t stop us from understanding how important it is to have a band that can really play their instruments to save both time and tape. It was also really great comparing real tape to some of the tape and saturation plugins I’ve grown accustomed to having on mix buses and individual tracks; this is only great in the sense that I really understand how real tape (a top of the line tap machine) differs from plugins (tl;dr – I want a Studer). Mixing these tracks was also a challenge due to the tape hiss and having a band play live all at once. Admittedly, I’m much more used to isolated tracks where compressors can be slammed without introducing unpleasant spill etc. All in all – this was a really great experience and I’m feeling confident in using tape on my own.

Our final project this trimester was a short webseries with film students called ‘Fantastic Fiction’ and has been a great exercise in post production, mainly because we’re working with real clients (though other students). It’s reminded me how much I enjoy post production, maybe because the work can often be more methodical than mixing music, and solutions to problems can be more immediate and obvious. Unfortunately I missed a few classes where foley and mixing was done, but was keen to assist syncing up some of the recorded foley etc. More post production work has reminded me how important it is that sounds are used and mixed in the right context, and that the project as a whole works and remains seamless. It’s also a reminder to serve the project and not always your own creativity. It’s really easy to lose sight of this, but the work we’ve done has re-established this mindset.

In addition to SAE’s assessments, I’ve also spent a lot of time working on freelance projects outside of uni. A lot of this has been at Goatsound, having been interning with chief engineer Jason Fuller. The primary project I’ve worked on at Goatsound is a new album for metal band King Parrot. This was a great learning experience as I was working with a full-time, professional band with a deadline to adhere to and label’s expectations to meet, as well as some of the best players in Australian metal. In addition to work at Goatsound, I’ve spent a few session recording drums for Melbourne metal band A Greed Science, and am currently waiting for guitar tracks and bass tracks to mix an EP for them. My primary freelance project for AUS230 has been mixing a live set for Dave Wright and the Midnight Electric. Classmate Oli and I began mixing as soon as we had access to the tracks, and went through and mixed our main tones and sounds for all the instruments, and decided to automate a set each (there’s a live set of old songs + their new album ‘Hwy’ in full). After a quick meeting with Dave at his cafe in South Melbourne, we decided to send him a few mixes to start off to ensure we were on the right track. Because of the Easter break, we didn’t hear back from Dave until the last week of tri, but and have some great feedback to continue mixing for the band.

In conclusion, I’m feeling great about my second last trimester at SAE. I’m feeling like I can handle working my way towards freelancing full-time, and I have the skills to get there. SAE has been great for making mistakes and learning what I’ve done wrong quickly, and while this won’t stop, I feel like I can avoid major issues that may lose me clients. This confidence is slowly helping me to attract freelance work outside of SAE, as I think it’s clear that I’m becoming more sure of myself. It’s been great to critically analyse one of my favourite engineers, as well as to use a reel life (pardon the pun) tape machine. It’s really helped me to understand where recording came from, and why there’s been a massive throwback to vintage gear, including tape. Finally, post production has reminded me to keep sound in context with the project, as well as how important it is to be able to work in a group, and work for a client’s vision. I feel really ready for the final trimester of work at SAE.

Post-post production.

Post production is an avenue of audio that I often forget about, particularly regarding how much I enjoy it. In this blog, I’m going to outline a few of the reasons I shouldn’t forget about post production, and that there’s paid full time post production roles available. Contrary to the freelancing that I work towards in recorded music, there are post production roles available in dedicated post production studios, similar to days gone by where recording studios had in-house engineers (admittedly this isn’t completely extinct but it sure isn’t common anymore). On top of ‘real’ audio jobs, post production is also a reminder to keep creative with audio. When making sounds, effects/FX and foley, we’re more often than not recording sounds that differ greatly to the foley we’re trying to recreate. This is mostly because, ironically, something recorded doesn’t always sound like what it is (e.g. footsteps on gravel don’t sound like footsteps on gravel, instead you might scrunch paper or some other layered sound). I’ll start, however, with the fact that post production can teach you (a gentle reminder at least) about making audio immersive by using layers of foley on top of a sound bed and using the right reverbs or delays to really put sounds into a space.

In trimester 4 of my bachelor degree, we had Lincoln Sharpe speak to the class about his work in post production over the last twenty years, and how he’d arrived at finally having his own studio to record and mix in. One point he made has really stuck with me: when a post production engineer has done a great job, you’ll forget about them. This has been mimicked by Jason Fuller in my internship at Goatsound, who also said that when an album sounds bad, the audience blame the engineer, while if an album sounds great, the audience assume the band are great musicians. This is because when an engineer has done well, they’ve processed sound in a way that is natural and therefore immersive. There’s nothing unpleasant that jumps out to grab the audiences ear to remind them they’re listening to recorded music or watching a Hollywood blockbuster, or the AFL grand final (in Lincoln’s case), and the engineer has mixed sound in a way that’s appropriate to the time, place, feel and movement of the music or audio. One thing I’ve learned during this trimesters’ post production classes as well as classes during the last few trimesters is how much a sound bed helps to make foley, ADR and FX feel cohesive (reverb aside). In real life, there’s a sound bed of air conditioners, traffic and other noises, so it’s important to use these in sound for film, television etc. aswell. While this isn’t completely necessary to have a sound bed in recorded music, this can be a really helpful tool for making a mix sound cohesive. Sometimes a bed of white noise can fill in the gaps of a mix and make a mix sound less articulate or more intense, while on the other hand, establishing a bed of sound can be used simply to pull down the noise to emphasise the openness and space in a section of a song. It’s these kind of creative tips that have really made this trimesters work beneficial to my mixing.

Creativity is the name of the game in an industry that is suddenly overwhelmed by home studios and a new generation of engineers and musicians. To survive, dedicated engineers (like I hope to be) really need to stay on their toes and be willing to adapt to changing expectations from clients, and we can do this by getting creative with the tricks we use when recording, mixing and/or mastering. In post production, a common example of getting creative is the iconic sound if lightsabers in Star Wars. The lightsaber sound is the hum of movie projectors being interfered with by television sets and microphones. Admittedly, sci-fi forces us to be creative because the sounds need to literally be ‘otherworldly’. In film, there’s some psychological leeway in that when we hear sounds coupled with impact etc., we can quickly align the sound with the action without much thought, so we can get away with a lot without the audience hearing an out-of-context sound. For the Fan(tactic Fiction web series we worked on in AUS230, I recorded some foley and assets for the montage. I had to record pants being zipped, a spinning gun as well as the gun being caught, shoes being tied tight, a bag zipped and thrown over a shoulder and a ’thumbs up’. Admittedly, most of the sounds were what you’d expect them to be, e.g. my pants zipper, a bag being slung over my shoulder, but the guns were lighters being lit and batteries snapped into a battery charger. Finally, my girlfriend played a G major on my Lowrey Genie 88 organ for the thumbs up asset. In recorded music, this isn’t always so easy but when done right it can add interest to a mix or emphasise a groove or change in the song. One of my favourite examples of this is the end of Absinthius’s Vile Deluge, where a sample of a baseball bat hitting a metal pole is layered beneath a snare. This can be heard from 3:20 onwards. This kind of sampling really adds a layer of interest to a mix, or can give a lengthy groove or instrumental section new life.

Finally, post production can be a great avenue to explore because of the security that this kind of work can provide. Melbourne has some great production houses, such as Soundfirm, that are really operating at the highest level. The prospect of freelancing with the intention of eventually running a space of my own is a daunting one, and realistically the freelancing won’t stop even then, there’s just more opportunity to make money (with a lot of extra overheads). The prospect of a paid job in audio that can be used to supplement freelance income would really be a dream come true. As I’ve outlined above, regardless of whether post production is your ‘thing’ or not, post production can give some really great insight into keeping audio interesting, but still appropriate and in the correct context. For freelancing engineers and producers, it can be stressful organising their own finances, invoices and payments, in addition to a job that can often lead to a lot more than 40 hours a week Monday-Friday.

In conclusion, post production at SAE has provided we with some really great skills that I can use for either further post production work or to use in my engineering and mixing, or both. We can keep audio interesting with tricks and unusual sounds, and in post we can get really creative, hopefully one day iconic, and use visual cues to make these sounds fit. Ultimately, it’s important to process audio in the correct context (for film and music), so that, in a sense, we remain invisible and the band can get all the credit. Lucky we love it, right? Right??