AUS230 WRAP UP
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.
- 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.