Friday, April 16, 2010

Seven Steps to Being a Better Photographer, I mean Sound Designer

Welcome to The Educated Sound Designer

As a sound designer, re-recording mixer and all-around audio enthusiast, it is my goal to inform others of my experiences in the field and encourage other sound designers to do the same. You can expect software and hardware reviews, tips and techniques, and tutorials. My current blog schedule contains the following:
  • A review of the recent acquisition of Euphonix by AVID
  • A series dedicated to the discussion of how some of our favorite sound effects work, such as chorus, flangers, and convolution-based plug-ins
  • Testing and gear reviews (I already have an onmi lav mic shootout lined up for later this month that I plan on using for an upcoming car recording and a children's birthday party)
These are just a few of the topics I plan to post and discuss. If there is a particular topic you would like to understand in further detail, or if you have a great idea for a future posting, please feel free to send me a message at or through my Contacts page on this site.

For this first post at The Educated Sound Designer I am going to reference an article originally intended for photographers that is completely relevant for sound designers as well, Scott Bourne's Seven Things You Can Do If You REALLY Want To Become A Better Photographer.

I have been following Scott Bourne, a well-known professional photographer and lecturer, for about 2 years now. I first heard of him through the Macbreak Weekly podcast hosted by Leo Laporte. Scott was the first to bend my ear on the Drobo, which I now own (and love) for my sound effects storage needs, and has shared numerous thoughts and insights that I found valuable and incorporated into my own professional life. Scott has a very focused and organized approach to the way he conducts his business and, for the most part, the same approach can be used in the audio world. Check Scott out on his website,, and on Twitter at @ScottBourne.

The reason the article Seven Things You Can Do If You REALLY Want To Become A Better Photographer caught my eye is that, as much as we discuss sound design in our forums and discussion groups, we rarely (if ever) talk about the discipline it takes to be a great sound designer. Many of the greats that we commonly refer to in our sound design discussions got their start without the luxury of the time-saving tools we have access to today.

Our hand-held PCM recorders and digital sequencers are the replacements for their heavy Nagra tape recorders and large-format Moviolas. Today we can easily highlight a region in Pro Tools, run the audio through hundreds of Audiosuite-based plug-ins and create an unlimited variety of sounds, but before digital sequencers, they used 1/4” tape and a rack full of gear to get each sound they were looking to create. Serious time and commitment were required to master the art of using these tools, but in this day and age of “we needed it yesterday” and, we sometimes forget that the greatest element in creating a truly amazing sound designer is his discipline.

Here are the "Seven Things" from Scott's article:
  1. Always have a camera in your hand or your pocket or your purse or your car or all of the above. Always. No exceptions.
  2. Read your manual – please. 90% of the camera questions I receive on Photofocus can be answered by reading a camera manual. In fact, when I am asked questions about cameras I don’t own, I simply go download a PDF of the manual, search for and read the answer. You can do that too :)
  3. Photograph SOMETHING every single day. No exceptions. No excuses. Photograph as much as you can every single day. Don’t just take a snapshot, make a picture. Think about what you’re doing. Focus. Pun intended.
  4. Look at LOTS and LOTS and LOTS of photographs every day. Look at published photographs in books, magazines, on billboards, in advertisements and on the web. Ask yourself – “Why did they light it like that?” or “Why did she put the subject on that side of the photo?” or “What made the editor select this shot over another?” Asking serious questions of yourself about the photos you look at will make you think.
  5. Experiment. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Try different angles. Shoot during different times of day. Get outside your comfort zone.
  6. Read. Read something about photography every single day – no excuses. Take five, 10 or even 15 minutes and study the articles found on this site and others. Buy a book by Scott Kelby. Go to the library and ask for photography books. Read, study, learn, apply.
  7. Share. Show your work to others. Ask them how it stacks up to the work they see in newspapers, books and magazines. Be willing to experience some criticism and see if you can use that information to get better.
There’s no magic camera that “takes good pictures.” Photographers do that. The camera just waits to be told what to do. Try practicing these seven steps regularly and you’ll become a better boss of your camera.

I've left the application of these points as they relate to sound design to your own creative minds, and I'm interested to hear what you've come up with. One of the site pillars I want to establish with this first blog is open discussion and feedback, so please share your thoughts and comments below.

Until next time,
Nick Meade

-The excerpt above was used with permission. Click HERE for the original article in it’s entirety.