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??