Charles Deenen Special: Reader Questions
Here are the answers to the questions you made to Charles Deenen. Even if you don’t made any question to him, you could find really great infromation related to different topics.
(some questions are combined and/or edited down)
Designing Sound Readers: 1a. Every single company I look at, and every website I go to always says the same thing; “Applicants must have at least 3 years experience in the field of Sound Design” and leads me to my question: How are you meant to “start” a career in Sound Design when every single place you look tells you that 3 years experience is needed. How did the people who work for these companies get their first job without the 3 years? I mean you can’t have 3 years experience. . . if every job (even your first) needs 3 years experience to actually get into! Any advice for someone like me who is seemingly staring into a black hole of nothingness.
1b. I understand I could do freelance work. How would I go about becoming a recognized freelancer though? How do you become freelance? Is there an organisation that you become a member of that allows people looking for small Sound Design jobs to select you from a catalogue?
1c. I’m very intensely serious about becoming a sound designer, I’m working with an indie dev. team, and am paying a very healthy sum of money to attend an audio production school. When I get out of this school, how do you suggest I start looking for my first professional gig? doing sound design for commercials, or even cell phone GUIs, or just any gig that will pay me to make sound. Are there any like, job boards just for sound designers?
Charles Deenen: You’re asking the holy grail of questions :) The first question I think is “how is my work going to get noticed and liked enough for me to get hired”. My advice stems from how I hire new freelancers. This might be very different from other people though.
Often I’ll look for videos on youtube, vimeo and other places for new and exciting ways that people have used sound. Usually they’re easy to find, especially if people have commented about the use of sound. Then I’ll contact them and see if they’re open for a test or some small freelance work.
Another way I hire freelancers is when they send me some work to look at it, without being pushy. After several times, something might catch my eye and will keep it in the back of my mind for a future project. Don’t be pushed off though by the “3 year experience” phrase. The work will speak for yourself. If your work rocks, the developer or post-house would be crazy not to hire you. Tools and processes can be taught, but talent is hard to brew.
Sadly, human resources will indeed filter your resume by the experience, so find new and creative ways to get the Audio Director/Lead to look at your work. Maybe even have them give you a specific task to do, so you can show off your work when given direction. This will show how you interpret direction. If time is critical, I have to admit I usually will go back to proven sources and/or word of mouth recommendations.
A catalog of sound-designers? I don’t know of any website or book that would be a catalog of sound designers. There are some organizations like the MPSE and unions that could maybe assist with this. Sounds like a great idea for somebody to make a site with demo-reels from sound designers. Would save a lot of hassle trying to find the right person.
DSR: 2a. Congratulations for your work on the NFS franchise, Shift is one of my favorite games! How you record those cars and all the noises of them?
2b. Last week I recorded some engines and general cars sounds. I was satisfied with the work done on some recordings, but I had problems with other sounds. I can’t get the “heart” of the engine, maybe I’m missing something… So my question is: can you share some techniques you use on cars/engine audio recording? Is there a way to position the microphones to get better sounding engines?
2c. What mics you use for cars recording?
CD: Howdy, and thanks for the support on the NFS games. NFS Shift and all the other NFS games are the work of a team of people, but I’ll try to answer this for the team; Most of this is captured in the two “Need for Speed” articles that we just did on this site. We record cars in various ways, but we get some of the best results when doing it on the road vs. clinical environments with dynos etc. We also look for cars that have a lot more “bite” and pressure level vs. stock cars, Skids are done in a similar way, except we use the opposite car; a very quiet car with various tires, various surfaces in hopes to get the perfect artifacty squeel. Beyond that we got turbos, transmission whine, wind-noise, air-movement. All these get recorded in the traditional way, with lav & condenser mics near the sources. Most gets recorded onto Sound Devices 744T’s. We usually hire some of the best recordists to ensure the process runs smooth, and that owners leave happy. Hopefully the NFS articles answer most of your questions. If not, feel free to shoot me an email.
Regarding positioning mics; Without knowing what car, what mics, and what locations you tried already, this is hard to answer. I know this sounds cheezy, but use your ears, and learn what the characteristics are for each mic you use. Take your wind-shielded lav (MKE2’s and/or Audio Technica’s are common due to their ability to withstand high pressure level), and place it in several spots on the car, repeating the same movement. You’ll quickly learn what location that mic works best. When listening to the engine, you’ll notice there are locations with build-ups of “noise” (bad), and build-ups of tonality (good). Watch out for hot parts though! On the exhaust, we’ve noticed that placing it too close to the exhaust will get you a lot of air-movement, but little tone. Again, it’s critical that you find the location that will extrude the most amount of “tone”, and the least amount of “noise”. Practice, test, experiment, and learn.
Besides the aforementioned lav mics we use a plethora of other mics (neuman 191, SM57, 421, D112, Sennheiser MK’s etc.). But often its much more important on where to place it, then what mic to use. Placement for getting that aforementioned tonality, and resistance to wind is the most critical issue. Placement of mics comes from experience in regards to acoustics and aerodynamics, and having made many mistakes. If it makes you feel better, I still not happy with my results either.
DSR: 3a: Hey charles good job on the soundminer video, really great to see how you can get a great sound effect so fast. I see you use a lot of plugins there… Could you share more information about some of the best plugins you use for your projects (not the video)?
3b: Your video on sound design with soundminer is superb! You have a lot of effects there. I wonder how you know what effect has to be there? Any method to identify what could be the best plugin or the best structure to use in a chain? I already have some experience on that, but watching that video I get a little confused seeing some effects I don’t use and could help me a lot in the future.
CD: I’m going to try to answer these both at once. You got a few hours? There’s a HUGE list of plugs I use and love, but I’m still not the king of plugins. But I’m close to becoming the kings’ servant though :) Honestly, all kidding aside, I use whatever solves the problem. I naturally have a few “reach for” plugins like:
- Waves L1, Ren-compressor, Rbass, Z-noise & Mondomod
- Soundtoys Filterfreak, Soundblender & Phasemistriss
- Digidesign Lo-fi, recti-fi and d-verb (yes, d-verb for it nasty bad reverbs)
- A ton of the McDSP plugs like ML4000, Filterbank and Analog channel
Other plugins I reach for are the full GRM set, Eventide set (love their H3000 factory), Alitiverb, various granulators (KT granulator etc.), Avox warming plugin, PSP plugs etc.
The process usually is to reach for what I know, and if that doesn’t solve the problem, I reach for others. On the VST side, I try out at least 1-2 new ones every week or so, and sometimes run into some great gems. I visit some websites like KVRaudio.com, and find some new gems there occasionally.
However, plugins are tools. Tools to manipulate sounds which become part of a soundscape. All the plugins in the world won’t help you build a soundscape, but that’s quite obvious. Treat your plugins as your tools, learn what the tools do, so you can spend more time being creative with your sound editing. Knowing what effects to use stems from knowing your tools. You wouldn’t reach for a hammer when a saw is needed right? Often its also about experimenting, doing things you normally wouldn’t do. The answer to your question is not a straightforward one, but please read the section in my first interview on this site about the 3-day test I did to myself. Try to recreate somebody else’s sound with only a handful of sounds. You’re going to have to rely heavily on processing, and you’ll find a thousand ways of how -not- to achieve the result. But at the same time you’ll learn a thousand ways on how to get a different sound than expected. That experience will carry forward in you knowing what to use, when and where.
DSR: 4. I’m studying sound some time ago, everything by myself, with books, websites and practice (There are no sound schools in my country). Lately I’ve been working on some projects (redesigning videos) and feel I have already a good material to show. Now what worries me is how to get hired on a company without having “official” study. What you could advise me? What do you think would be the best way to get into the industry?
CD: We seem to be in the same boat, I haven’t had any formal study either, so never let that block your way. Just like question #1’s answer, the key to it all is to have will-power, and find ways to show your talent. In the early days it was much harder to reach everybody, but now with the internet you can show your talents to everybody, and send out links easily. Before you try to send your video to companies, audio directors and sound supervisors, get feedback, lots of feedback. There are several groups (like the yahoo sound_design group) where people are very open to share their feedback on your work. Learn from that feedback (especially the ones which request improvement), and resubmit. You learn from the mistakes, and mistakes will make you grow. Often you have to go through a hundred mistakes before you reach the solution.
2nd, before sending it out, really do a gut-check and question if your work can compete against the majority of productions out there in a commercial world. If not, maybe time to go back to the table, and research what you can improve. In my time I’ve met a fair number of sound designers who became “cocky”. They thought their work was amazing, simply due to the sheer amount of time they had put into their work, or the sophisticated differentiation they provided with their work. They forgot to check however if the work stood up against the “expected” norm for a commercial release. Their work might have been awesome in terms of an art-school project, but maybe too strange.
Also, the accompanying note can tell a lot about the person. During the 90‘s somebody send me a piece of sound design done solely on a violin. He plucked it, scraped it, banged on it etc. and in the end it simply wasn’t fun to listen to and plainly annoying. His letter stated it was the best work he’d ever done. If he had stated it was an experiment showing off what he can do with manipulation (which was awesome), we probably would have asked for a 2nd demo.
To better answer this, I forwarded the question to Tristan Beulah (one of EA’s new young sound designers) about how he got into the industry and give a different spin on an answer; “Even within the sound industry there are niches. As with any industry, the trick is to find out what makes you stand out and leverage that to your advantage. Work on your primary skills and demonstrate them in the best light possible. You obviously don’t want to end up as a one-trick-pony, so improve wherever you can. The idea is just to figure out what makes you you, and find out where you can slot in, then go for it.
Cut down on the clutter: select your best works and put those in an easy to navigate portfolio. Don’t make it a chore for prospective employers and clients to find you and decide you are exactly what they are looking for. A web address is a lot easier to distribute than DVDs, too, so if you don’t have a website, you might want to start there.
Also, like any industry, you need to meet the people you’re trying to work with. That means directors, sound designers, studio managers, whoever. The majority of my peers just getting into the industry are making strides through acquaintances, not cold calling. Find sound related events, film related events, projects you can contribute to, anything that puts you in front of the people you want to work with. There’s no risk in putting yourself out there and making an impression. Don’t be a nuisance, just be a passionate sound designer and try to find projects you want to work on. Make friends in the industry. With experience, and time, you’ll work your way into the industry.”
DSR: 5. I can see you work with proprietary software at EA. Do you use middleware solutions such as Wwise and FMOD? What are the advantages you find to work with your own software?
CD: I personally don’t really use any 3rd party middleware for commercial projects, but several projects at EA do. I’ve experimented with them during my free time to see what the buzz is about. Usually the manufacturers have to make the 3rd party software super user-friendly, and fill the common feature-set. They usually can’t get to the specialized tasks that certain games require. The advantages of our own software is within that boundary. We can write it in a way it’s optimized for the game, does specialized processing techniques, and in general is more CPU friendly than “general” packages.
DSR: 6a. Hello Charles, thanks for the articles. Loving your special a lot. I was wondering if you can share some mixing tips to get great sound on cinematics.
6b. NFS trailers/teasers have really crazy cuts between different scenes. Do you know about a technique or tips to deal with that kind of videos?
CD: Great questions. Apologies that my answer won’t be great and probably something you’ve heard before. What you’re asking has to stem from doing; analyzing other people’s work, acquire (honest) feedback from people who’s work you respect, and improve. The basic tips on doing fast cut cinematics and trailers would be:
- Work with your picture editor to have him/her edit the picture to a pace. Regardless if that pace is music and/or soundeffects, they get inspired by the pacing of the sound, just like you’ll get inspired by the pacing of the picture. Without a picture editor who really knows how to use sound, sound intensity and pacing, you’ll always be stuck playing second fiddle trying to make something out of nothing.
- Work with your picture editor to build up trust. We often get the video, and will re-edit it a bit in protools to match pacing of a crescendo, breathing room, beat-cut or similar. Then we give the OMF or edit-list back to the editor to conform picture to.
- Don’t cut every sound that you see. When you watch the video the fist time, quickly speak out, or write-down what you were focusing on, and only highlight that sound. Those are the main sounds to work on.
- Then on pass 2, figure out where sound can provide enhancement; can it enhance the story, the pacing, the contra-feel etc. Any way to enhance the music? Are the hits big enough, are there holes which require FX support? are the drums sharp enough? etc.
- Pass 3: figure out which soundeffects can be tied together. It’s easy to edit a sound in for a car-by, followed by a wipe, but can you find a way to combine the 2 into a seamless sound so it won’t feel so choppy? Never edit exactly “on the cut”. You’ll find it often plays much better if you don’t attach to picture too closely, but instead ramp in and out. Move the sound out of the picture, don’t just stop it (unless it’s for an “effect”)
- Pass 4: figure out where you get bored. Are you providing enough intensity build-ups, does the video leave you wanting more? Is your heart beating just a tad bit faster? (this means that intensity build-ups were working) Do you find yourself breathing different while watching it? (if so, you probably provided enough gaps, valley and peaks)
- Pass 5: toss out anything not needed, especially sounds which are just noise. Less is more.
That’ll get you started with the general stuff. As always, listen and learn from other people’s work, then clearly figure out what sets your work apart, and how you can sell your skills.
DSR: 7. What could you recommend me to improve my sound design skills? Any practice or method to analyze or remake the sound?
CD: For this, lets go back to the first interview where I mentioned the 3 day test I put myself through. The best way I’ve improved on my sound design is by constant practice and tryouts, learning from peers and mentors and pushing myself:
- Know and learn your sounds/library, and what they represent in real life
- Go out and record new material. This will not only get you new source, but also exposes you to the real world. You’ll get to appreciate what happens to sound when it travels; air distortion, pitch-bending, phasing etc.
- Pick one of your most favorite sounds. Now pick 5 sounds from your library in random, 1 from each category (i.e. kitchen, gun, ambience, vehicle etc.). Then try to make that favorite sound from ONLY the picked 5 sounds. This will make you learn how to do processing. Don’t give up. Do this at least for 3 days. Again, it’s not important if you get the perfect result, but what is important is all the ways you found how to apply processing, and get to your learn what your plugins do.
- Now learn how to create movement. Listen carefully to real world movement (car by’s, jet by’s etc.). Then try to create that movement using your plugs, and bit of other sounds on your own sounds.
- Last but not least, and this is the harder one. Grab a video from somewhere that inspires you. Redo the sound, but give it your personal twist, and get feedback. Honest feedback. Find your harshest critic who you admire. The feedback might be painful, but improve, redo, and continue.
DSR: 8. I made some sound remakes to trailers and animations. I realized that the hardest thing is to evaluate yourself and see what are your mistakes… Could you list some of the most important things to analyze from a sound design reel or example?
CD: When I listen to somebody’s sound design reel I watch for a few things:
- Originality. Does it sound new, refreshing, or is it the same old stuff
- Clarity; does the sound designer understand the difference between simply placing a sound to picture, and placing it to picture for a reason.
- Does the sound designer really understand how to make a clear, clean sound-bed, without creating a wall of noise, or elements which “stick out” as improper.
- What are the mixing-skills, and musical skills of the sound designer. Do they understand musical timing, valleys, peak and musical tonality.
When evaluating yourself, compare your work to others’ who you admire, back to back. You’ll always find ways to improve. Sooner or later you’ll find that you don’t have to compare anymore, or can’t find anything really wrong anymore. That’s when you know you’re getting better (I’ve yet to come to that stage :)
Your work is never better or worse than somebody else’s, just different. It’s up to you to find out what the consumers click with. That’s what you’re really learning, and for all we know, you’ll come up with the next new sound-scape for others to learn from.
DSR: 9. Sometimes a sound completely stumps me and I have no idea how to make it, or even what to start with. When this happens to you, what do you do?
CD: AHA! Great to hear I’m not the only one. Welcome to the club of reality :) If I don’t have any ideas, I jump out of windows, take a dive of the empire state building, and swim on the bottom of the ocean… kidding aside, it happens to all of us. But I do have some methods to help me get ideas.
- If you have an example file you’re trying to emulate, Dissect. Dissect. Focus in on each frequency band, and try to figure out what’s happening there. Play the sound back at half-speed or even quarter speed. This will tell you a lot of info.
- When starting on a new sound, I often start randomly playing sounds in a library program like soundminer, and toss in some plugs, move the pitch, activate reversinator plugin etc. You’re looking for inspiration of a sound that moves you. You’ll hear it when you hear it. When I’m completely out of ideas, I’ll simply start putting random things to picture, and sometimes you bump upon something that really works well. Once that happens, your inspiration will take you further, and you’ll shape it. It usually is that first hump you have to get around. Most of the time that original sound that inspired you to begin with doesn’t even survive the cut.
- Hum/sing it a sound into a microphone, and then process that. Sometimes you can make the sound better with your mouth than you can find it in a lib, especially if they are surreal sounds.
- Use the peers around you. Talk to them, show them the picture and get ideas on what they would do. Sooner or later one of them will give you a route you hadn’t thought about which will totally inspire you.
- Acquisition of new sounds. Sometimes it just takes a few new sounds to get you inspired when you hear a certain element. Either record or buy a commercial library. Several sites (or so I heard) also provide free sounds. So there should be a plethora of sources to get you going.
Hopefully some of this was helpful. You can always reach me by email, facebook or linked-in if you have any further questions. I hope you had fun reading the articles this month. Cheers !