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Posted by on Feb 22, 2012 | 45 comments

On the Unification of the Sound Awards

With Oscar rearing his ugly head, and people again becoming obsessed with little gold statues, I thought it might be a good opportunity to start a discussion on a topic that has been floating around the professional sound community for some time.

A few years ago, we began hearing that there was talk within the Academy about the two sound awards, those of Best Sound Mixing and Best Sound Editing. Firstly we heard rumors that the Academy as a whole wanted to unify the two awards into one. Secondly we heard that there was growing interest from some of the Academy members to move the two sound awards out of the main awards show, and into the technical awards show.

The basis for moving the awards out of the main awards show was probably due simply to the possibility of swapping sound editors for airtime, speeches for high-priced commercial time. It also showed a well-known lack of respect for what sound people actually do. There were great champions for our cause, trying to educate the public and the members of the Academy, that was we do is not purely technical, any more than a cinematographer or picture editor is a technician, employing technology in their respective jobs.

But what about the other discussion about unifying the sound awards? It’s my opinion, and I know this is shared by some, opposed by others, is that is is a shame that this didn’t happen.

People will tell you that the public, and even most members of the Academy can’t tell the difference the two awards, the difference between what they represent. I’ll go one further. Most sound people couldn’t tell you, with any lucidity, why exactly there are two awards. They couldn’t tell you why sound editing / design is a different enough art from mixing to justify a second award. Forget that the forementioned technology is and will continually blur the lines between mixing and editing anyway It is hurting our cause to have two distinct, yet undefined awards.

Of course there are differences between mixing and editing, between the phases of mixing and editing, between editors and mixers. But ultimately, what we do, when it is at its best, as a whole, is to bring together many elements of our art and our craft towards the common goal of creating a motion picture soundtrack. To justify two separate awards, those two crafts must be significantly different. And I don’t believe that they are. Any good editor is always mixing as they go. And the art of mixing include much editing. We are all just sound people.

As we all know, the last ten years have seen the technology of what we do change quite a bit. With all sound now being edited digitally, mixed digitally, and now even recorded right into a DAW such as ProTools, the ability to both mix and edit is available at nearly every stage, from the first days of cutting through to the final print master. A sound editor can adjust pan, volume, EQ etc. He or she can sum, route, and mix just as easily, maybe easier, than on a console. Arguably, the technology then at least of mixing is available to an editor. Most stages I’ve been on now have a ProTools terminal right now to the mixer, so that he or she can also easily make adjustments, mute, cut sounds, etc. So again, the technology of editing is available, let’s say, to a mixer as well.

So perhaps we need some clarity to what mixing and editing are, beyond their respective technologies. Let’s dumb it down to it’s most basic level. Perhaps we could say that editing is simply the creative placement of sound elements against picture in preparation for a sound mix, and that mixing is the creative combing of those elements using volume, EQ, reverb, panning to create the final soundtrack? While that would certainly be true, it’s certainly much too narrow a definition. Because of course most current editors are also using volume, layering, panning, EQ to accomplish their job. And a good mixer is constantly evaluating placement of sound to accomplish their job too.

See here is the problem. Even as I try, I have a hard time elucidating just what the difference is. And it’s not based on the blurring of the technology. It’s based on the blurring of the art and craft. It’s that every great editor I know is also to some degree a great mixer, simply by what it is that they do. And I would say that even the best mixers I have worked with are also great editors.

A unified sound award would present to the Acamedy and public a unified sound communtiy. It would also reinforce to our own community that while there are differences in what we do, they are all complimentary to each other. Two sound awards presents to the public a divided sound community. It gives them ammunition for the other discussions, like moving our awards to the technical awards. In my opinion it gives them the message that we ourselves aren’t quite sure what it is that we do.

What would a single sound award look like?

The BAFTA is a single award. Until a few years ago, it allowed I believe for up to seven nominations: Four mixers, two supervising sound editors, and one sound sound designer. This seem to me a pretty good representation of the sound crew, and I would love to see the Academy adopt something like this. The award should simply be called Best Sound. If you want to limit the acceptance speech to one person, fine. Let the nominees sort that out amongst themselves. If there are three supervising sound editors, or five mixers, let the producers decide who gets the nomination.

But standing up on stage should be a single representation of the crew as a whole, mixers and editors alike.

I’m sure we haven’t seen the end of this discussion. I highly suspect that in the coming years the two awards will indeed be unified. I think it will become increasingly difficult to convince the Academy, and even ourselves, that the awards are distinct enough to warrant there being two of them.

I would honestly love to hear what other people think.

Tim Nielsen


  1. It’s an interesting point, Tim. I too, found myself trying to differentiate between the two while reading your post. I started coming up with different ideas (creating focus, etc.), and I realized that nothing I came up with could apply to only one or the other. Personally, I do like the idea of a single “Best Sound” award that honors the contributions of the entire team. I hope it does change to that one day.

  2. I think the dividing line, if there is any, could be more about sync sound (best location recording, dialogue editing/mixing etc), and best post sound (foley/fx/mixing). I always find it weird that the location recordist is lumped into the award for a success based clearly on fx design. I am very proud of a number of films that I have worked on in that they are compromise largely of original sync sound. I consider this a great achievement, but does the public or an awards body. I doubt it. So leave the specific awards for within the sound community – the sound oscars – and let there be just one oscar for Best Sound.

  3. You know how I feel about it since we’ve had this discussion at length many times….. which is to agree. I’ll also add that IMO it would unify the editing & mixing crews during the creation of the track, whereas now the two awards can sometimes be divisive. Though the division typically only happens when the focus is on the statue instead of the work at hand.

  4. wow- that is a pandoras box. One thing I really dont like is the notion that sound designers must mix their own material- it takes a long, long time to get to the maturity to self edit ones work, and Randy Thom recently made the comment of the most important facet of Sound Design is editing, and the most important part of Mixing is editing. A good mixer brings fresh perspective to a project, and there are frankly very few editors who mix all that well. As far as using the BAFTA model, I think losing categories is bad, period. it simply is not the move of a craft we might want to get more attention for.

  5. We’ve chatted about this a long time ago, but I still find the notion of judging sound editing for FX as a separate category absurd. Yeah, it’s nice to get those awards, but how on EARTH can somebody judge if the sound-scape was created by great editing, or a good mixer who just happened to be able to shape an overload of sounds? If an editor edits 50 sounds for an explo, and leaves it up the mixer to decided what/how plays… does that warrant a “best sound editing” award. Me think not.

    If people want to give a best sound editing seperate award, then it should be submitted unmixed. lets see who wins the best sound editing awards then. Then it’s TRULY about editing.

    (can you tell I’m jaded? :)

  6. ps: before anybody gets any ideas if I’m hinting at something, or referring to something, the answer is no. I’ve felt like this for over 10 years.

  7. Charles M., I absolutely agree that a mixer brings a fresh perspective to a project. I love being able to great mixer take my material and do things with it I can’t. I am not in any way insinuating that editors or designers mix their own material. But I am from the position of Charles D. I can think of tracks that came out great even though editorial was a nightmare. I also know of tracks that sound horrible even though I know the editorial was solid. I agree that basically it’s nearly impossible to judge an editing job from listening to the mix. And Dave, absolutely. I think the division between editorial and mix teams would benefit from it as well. But a Pandoras box indeed. But just wait until I post my article about the ridiculous overuse of the term Sound Design :)

  8. Tim, you don’t mean to tell me that too many people are giving themselves the title of “sound designer,” do you? These kids have COLLEGE DEGREES! They are artists! ;)

  9. :)

  10. hi Tim- I guess since the two AMPAS awarded films I was fortunate to be a part of, U571 and Letters From Iwo Jima, were great examples where we won the editorial award but lost the Sound Mixing Award. There is simply far too many factors involved in the decision making of the final mix to forecast how things might go- I know the first film I worked on which was nominated (but lost) was Twister, and that same year, the marvelous sound job done for Independence Day both lost. Which, ultimately is informing my opinion on the matter. This year had a great number of truly exceptional films for sound editing as well- In the end, the Awards ARE important- and it goes to the greater awkwardness of logic that say, a film can win best picture, and lose best Director- AND vis-versa. Since we dont have any rational empirical manner of dealing with such outcomes, I would be more inclined to allow the categories to stand as they are.

  11. one last comment I should have added- 

    Randy Thom has always advocated the idea of us being seen as artists, not technicians. The tools we use do not “make” the work- nor do the sound libraries we might develop for a given project- the thing that defines our contribution is the space thing that sits between our two ears. Our judgement is selection to create the reality that supports the film-makers vision. We are truly magicians (at least on the FX side) in story telling- and I would say that sometimes that even is done by our dilaog deptartments, as it was on my principle work this last year “Moneyball”- we took a dry, near academic story on paper, and through the vision of our director Bennett Miller, created what I consider to be a very intimate and inward telling piece of narrative.

  12. Since I’m being quoted I might as well chime in… ; )

    Sound editing is roughly analogous to what the art department on a film does. It’s about assembling “sound objects” for potential use in the film. Sound mixing is roughly analogous to the camera department. It’s about figuring out which of those “sound objects” will be revealed to the audience, what will be focused-on, how the audience’s perception of those objects will be filtered, etc.

    The analogy holds in terms of the effects one craft can have on the other too. The DP can make the sets look nicer than they really were, or the DP can make the sets look worse than they really were.

    The borders between production design and cinematography are beginning to dissolve, just like the borders between sound editing and sound mixing.

    I do think that editing, in the general sense of the word, is the core of what we do when we design AND when we mix. Both processes tend to be mostly about weeding things out, figuring out what is essential, taking advantage of happy accidents. A sound effects editor who merely offers a mixer ten alternatives for a given piece of action isn’t doing a good job in my opinion. Sound design and sound mixing are both about making choices.

    As to whether I think there should be one Academy Award for Sound, I won’t make a statement. But I will say that if there were to be one Award it should somehow acknowledge the roles of sound design, editing, and mixing equally.


  13. Randy, I certainly hope I didnt misrepresent your comments on the matter- if so, I apologize and dinner is on me!!!!!!

  14. Nope. I was honored by what you said.

  15. Tim- 

    I am very much awaiting you missive on the overuse of the term “Sound Designer”!  One thing mildly related that I feel compelled to mention is the comments George Watters II made at the MPSE awards last weekend- he said (para-phrase) that we have an obligation to support our fellow artists- even if we might not get along sometimes- the work in general is art, and we need to treat those who do it the same respect each of us would like to receive….

  16. I’m curious to hear your thoughts, Tim, on the “overuse” of the term “sound designer” as well.

    Honestly, I don’t know if I agree that it’s overused. As far as I’m concerned, there are all kinds of sound designers. There are sound designers who conform to the grand notion of the term that Walter and Ben had in mind when they started using it in the late 1970’s. There are sound designers who are “merely” sound effect fabricators. And there are people who call themselves sound designers, though they don’t design much of anything. Well, there are also people who call themselves editors even though they don’t edit much of anything. (and, by the way, there are people who call themselves mixers even though their notion of “mixing” is cramming as many sounds as possible into a compressor)

    We can’t all be a Murch, a Burtt, a Rydstrom, or a Klyce… but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have the right to call ourselves sound designers… does it?

    Thomas Kinkade isn’t Vincent VanGogh, but producing bad or thoroughly mediocre art shouldn’t disqualify him from being called an artist.


  17. I lean in Tim’s direction in my opinion of its use, Randy. I’ve been operating under the philosophy that, however you choose to define “sound designer,” there’s a certain level of responsibility associated with the title, and I would merely prefer that people have a little experience under their belt before they start applying it to themselves (something which does not always happen) I have to admit though, you make a very good point…and one that’s hard to argue with.

  18. Well I should say just in brief that I’m quite interested in the term itself, the use of it. Basically Randy I agree that it can and does mean many things. But it really seems to me these days that many people are taking it without it meaning any of the things we might mean it to mean. But that’s another article.

  19. I hope I’m not pre-empting your article, but as far as I can tell, the first use of the term “sound design” or “sound designer” was either in the New York City legitimate theater scene or in San Francisco at the American Conservatory Theater in the late 1960’s. Dan Dugan was definitely using the title as early as 1968 when he worked on stage plays at ACT in San Francisco. Walter and Ben brought it into the world of movies in 1979 with “Apocalypse Now” and “More American Graffiti,” respectively.


  20. Not at all. I actually quite curios about the history of the term too. When I get closer I mean to ask quite a few people For additional information to help. 

  21. Regarding the use of the term “sound designer” I would say I agree with Randy’s approach though I would like it would not be the case. The term, I think, is used to mean different things by different people and therefore in their use of the term they are fully right in using the term. A person who is designing a sound, vocalisation, or other sound object is essentially a sound designer as he or she is designing a sound. In the same way one could argue that a person designing patches for a virtual instrument/synthesiser is also a sound designer. So I agree with Randy in that sense. However I would like for that term to be reserved only for the more creative/ artistic role of overseeing a film’s use of sound in storytelling. As there is no other term that exists to describe that role I would like there to be one term that is reserved for this role and therefore I always use the term sound designer to describe this sonic storyteller role. The person who designs the aesthetics of the entire soundtrack and how it works in relation to the story and picture.  What I do find annoying is when people use this term when no real thought for the deeper aesthetic/storytelling  use of the sound has been had in the film. I do like giving this title a position of slightly more elevated experience and respect. But hey….words are words after all!

    • You may find that there will be difficulty in reserving one definition for “sound designer,” as it appears in multiple audio oriented industries. The games industry has adopted the term quite heavily; and while there are many parallels to film, their workflow and practices have their own considerations. In theatrical stage productions, sound designers take on an expanded technical role; often designing the actual playback system (the entire chain from, microphone through speakers). Theatre is actually where I first started my audio career, and I switched industries long before I would have made it to the level of sound designer there. So, while you can try to define the term within a specific industry (film/video in our case), it’s going to retain different definitions across the broader audio community.

  22. Hello,
    I’m a little afraid to write here because I’m just a young sound enthusiast from Brazil and I really admire your work.. but I have some questions.
    I wonder why you do not include the production sound mixer (sound recordist, or just sound mixer) in this group of sound awards? 
    Is this also a creative work – even if related to the search for technical solutions?
    Can the decisions taken by this professional interfere with the sound concept of the film? Even at this stage the priority is to record dialogues..

    I ask this because here in Brazil there are cases that the sound director of the film is who makes the production sound mixing too. I know it’s another film production reality, but Independent of this professional be the sound director of the project or not. Is the production sound mixing as important as the editing and mixing? or in most cases the production sound mixing serves only as a guide for you in post-production? 

    Sorry for my english or some term that has misspelled. I hope you understand my doubts.
    Thanks a lot.

  23. Don’t be afraid to write here, this is an open discussion for everyone. I would exclude the production recordist probably. Right now they would be included in the four mixer (three re-recording mixers and one production mixer).

    It is an interesting question though. I guess in my opinion the job of a production mixer is more technical, even though of course it requires creative solutions even that creativity is more of a technical kind. 

    I’ve taken a lot of heat from my dialog peeps for saying things like “Dialog editing doesn’t win Oscars, Sound FX editing does.”

    In their opinion I’m undervaluing their contribution which isn’t the case at all. But if a production mixer and dialog editor do their job extremely well, you shouldn’t really be able to notice what they did. 

    But it’s an interesting question. Does the production mixer deserve inclusion for the awards? Their inclusion is certainly historical going back to the days long before ADR and even dialog editing, when what was recorded on the track WAS the track. 

  24. Shaun, I know that this topic is more pertaining to film/video but I like that you brought up the term “Sound Designer” and it’s association with games.

    I’ve been one of the many that have used the title during the infancy of my career but because of the type of industry (video games) I have had no guilt associating with it. “Sound Designer” in the video game industry is a perfectly acceptable term in my opinion. Not only are we “designing” sounds but we are also mixing, editing and most importantly finding out ways to present all of this to the player to provide valuable game play feedback. There are lot of situations where we have to put on our “Game Designer” caps and figure out how to relay these important audio queues. How will the player know when their “special attack” is available with no visuals to match? What should that sound like? How/when should it play back?

    When considering how audio can work as game “design” and the slew of hats we wear to complete the overall audio experience, it’s pretty easy for me to draw the association to the term.

    Now, to throw a wrench in everything. I personally think the term “Sound Designer” is a bit pretentious in the way people in our industry view it. As some of you stated above, we all have a little hand in everything that ends up creating the final product. We all make edits, we all mix our source, and we all use our ears. If a good Sound Editor steps out of the office to record some dry ice and a vacuum to make a weird haunting ambience doesn’t that warrant the term “sound designer”? I would just as happily call him a kick ass Sound Editor though.

    To finish on topic, although I would like to see multiple people recognized for their work in audio on a film I do feel like it’s too complicated for most. Having an audio team win an Oscar for “Best Audio Soundtrack” would be more than enough. As I stated above, we all have a hand on it in the end and being acknowledged by your peers and knowing what you did should be humbling enough.

    • Good thoughts, Mike. I think it’s important to remember how the term “sound design” (at least as I understand it) got introduced to the industry. I’m hoping someone will correct me if I’m way off base here. It was partly to avoid complications with the union, as to be credited as a “sound editor” you needed to be a member. Remember, Ben Burtt didn’t win an Oscar in the Best Sound Editing category for Star Wars (where he was credited with “Special Dialogue and Sound Effects,” NOT as a “sound editor”) he was awarded a Special Achievement. By the Academy’s and Union’s rules at the time, he couldn’t win the Oscar for the sound editing category.

  25. hey Tim, I really am glad you brought up the issue of respect for our editor colleagues doing Dialog and Foley- The problem with the notion of the “Sound Designer” title is a sticky one- mainly due to 2 factors I have seen pretty commonly- the first, is that with so many films (and games etc) is that “Sound Designer” is a sort of elitist title in most peoples eyes- I cant think of the last film I got a Sound Editor credit on that didnt require “sound design” where I created sounds which didnt exist prior to the effort- And pointing back to the top of the thread regarding yours, David’s and Mr Deenen’s comments that as editors, we are required in so many times to mix those sounds to sit in a particular context. We seem to be a very long way away from the old days of cutting effects on a moviola and sending the tracks to a dub stage to be balanced in context- nowadays, in nearly case, we are at least providing a rough approximation of levels- and sometimes even panning and EQ/Reverb to a stage. In this case, we are still left with being recognized as editors- which is subjectively seen as simply removing less important elements in favor of those which tell the story of the screen action more effectively. For the Dialog/ADR/Foley editors- their contribution has seemingly been marginalized- though they remain, frankly, as the the more important contribution to the track in a manner that they are really providing what we might call the “natural” sound of a film. If those editors contribution is less than PERFECT, our additions in creating an extended reality with our sound effects can sometimes be rendered irrelevant. I would also say that Foley, which to many supervisors is the parsley of the parsley, can play an astoundingly important part of the reality of a film- This year we had some extraordinarily excellent foley editing (and perfomances) most notably in Warhorse and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. In past years, (and I will perhaps embarass myself with my adoration) Randy Thom’s work, which had breathtaking foley, on the film “Horten Hears a Who” was mind numblingly brilliant. 

    Is there a solution for this matter that we will all find satisfatory? probably not- but personally as a sound designer, who makes pretty good wacky (via the studio) or real sounds (via microphone) I have settled on the notion of either an “Upper” or “Lower” case usage of the term, but perhaps a secondary term- leaving the title “Sound Designer” as architect of the track, might be “Sound Effects Designer”.

    I am looking forward to further discourse on the topic!

    In the end, I personally 

  26. The notion that the title “Sound Designer” is “elitist” is unfortunate. God forbid any of us little third class citizen sound slaves get uppity enough to try to be “elite!” It’s a visual medium, after all. We sound worker bees are just lucky they let us hang around!

    Sound design describes what we do. We design sound, even if we don’t personally fabricate every sound. Set designers don’t design everything on a film set from scratch. What they do is basically to edit rooms in the way that we edit sounds. They design some things from scratch, they buy finished pieces, they cobble together pieces by combining things…. sound familiar? But does anybody say, “Hey, Mr. Set “Designer” where do you think you get off bestowing this grandiose title on yourself?” “Designer” indeed. Are you trying to make the rest of us look bad for not calling ourselves designers in the first place? Shame on you for claiming to be an artist. Go buy yourself a beret.

    Some say that women were “allowed” to be film editors in the early male dominated film industry because the Moviola looked like a sewing machine. So, here we all are, women and men, in 2012, sitting at our digital sewing machines, wondering whether it would be too bold, too elitist, to claim that we “design” things. Pathetic.


  27. Ok I am really enjoying this discussion so far and so I thought I would add my view on the term Sound Designer.

    As I am still very early in my career, I do not consider myself anywhere near worthy of the title sound designer. However there is another angle here that leads me to use this title.

    And that is, promotion. As I am still working on small projects and am constantly looking for people to work with, film makers, animators and game developers. Most of these people are, like myself, starting out and often advertise for sound people using the term sound designer. 

    If I direct a recent graduate to my website or a stranger that I have just met, they’ll see the words sound design on my home page. This gives them an idea of what I am about and what type of service I can offer. Again the projects that I work on, see me doing everything, from effects sourcing/recording and editing to dialogue recording and mixing in surround.

    Giving myself this label allows people to get an idea of what it is I do, or aim to do should I say, without having to explain every aspect of what I do. In conversation this can become tiresome and it’s easier to say “I am a sound designer” when someone asks me what I do, rather than – 

    “I record sound effects, then edit them and blend them using audio software, I also balance individual elements to create new sounds and ensure they are in sync with the picture, oh I also record dialogue and edit that too, and when I have gained all the audio I need, I then mix it all in surround”

    I know this is probably a naive way to look at it, but as I have found with the work that I have done so far, my clients are naive when it comes to the audio and this clarifies my skills to a certain extent.

    I never ask to credited with the term Sound Designer, as to me this role is earned over time and based on successful projects. A sound designer, to me, is the person who is responsible for the overseeing of the entire soundtrack and evidently is responsible for making the hard decisions.

    So that’s my take on it. Try not to destroy what I said too much.

    Oh, and thanks to everyone who has contributed to this post, it has been a really interesting read. Thanks

  28. Randy, I think what Charles and I were commenting on was the disregard for the value in the other titles. I have nothing against the title “Sound Designer” and people that want to call themselves that. It’s the fact that people often think that “Sound Editors” aren’t nearly as interesting or prestigious. My comments were merely in defense to the importance and significance of the role a sound editor has. I think in a way, this article is a perfect example of that.

  29. This is a great discussion and I think it deserves the attention of anyone involved in picture sound, whether they are students who wish to make sound their income or professionals who either struggle with making sound a consistent income or have been blessed with a comfortable lifestyle in sound. Having studied sound for recording and production for over 16 years and spending a number of years prior studying the performance of and sound relationships in music, I think it’s very important to have distinctions between categories in respect to the job responsibilities that make up the “Sound Team” of any motion picture. Having one award for “Best Sound” at the high level of The Oscar Awards to represent the whole “Sound Team” would be a complete misrepresentation of the “Sound Team” behind any picture. Those of us who work in this industry all know the different jobs and responsibilities represented by the “Sound Team” of a movie, but very few beyond our circle have any clue of what happens in our circle or who is involved in our circle called the “Sound Team”. On top of that very few people out side our circle know the high stress levels involved in the critical judgement and thought process, plus the extravagant number of hours those of us in the “Sound Team” spend placing our personal lives to the side in order to deliver the best possible product for any given movie title we have the opportunity to be involved with. I’m sure you all agree that every picture we are contracted to work on is a great opportunity. It’s a chance for us to continue making a living by working with something we love; sound. And it’s a chance for us to be involved with another small part of history. At least that’s what it is for me.

    Like everyone else, I enjoy watching someone receive a great award for their professionalism and dedication to the work I aspire to continue doing. I may never receive an award, but watching them receive this honor pushes me to achieve a higher level of knowledge and expertise in our field; it’s very inspiring.

    If the distinction between the art of Editing or Mixing of sound in motion picture is removed, then the motion picture community will be at a loss. While editors do make adjustments to certain parts of the mix during their involvement in the process and mixers make edits to the overall sound track while they work, their jobs are very different. Just as the sound designer’s job differs from the location sound mixer’s job, and the boom operator’s responsibilities differ from the sound utility who holds 2nd boom for half of the production sound track. And don’t forget the dailies house (or occasional post intern) who transfers production sound tracks from the master sound discs for review on dailies. We all represent the “Sound Team”, though most often we don’t know each other or work together and enjoy a latte and chat. 

    Holding to these distinctions in our craft for reception at The Oscar Awards is a way of honoring the individual artists (Technicians) represented by their job descriptions and talents and honoring the “Sound Team” as a whole, as well as honoring the entire motion picture industry as a collaboration of dedicated and skilled artists and technicians covering a broad spectrum of disciplines and back grounds.

  30. You probably noticed that I didn’t mention my ideas on the term “Sound Designer”. That’s because I think it’s a pretty magical thing. From movies to video games and music, people who can design soundscapes or individual sound elements that sonically represent the visuals depicted on screen or in the mind, are like magicians to me. To either know intuitively what a visual cue needs in audible terms and record it or to audition numerous folders of source files to finally find what your mind fits perfectly into the missing sonic “space” for that moment in a picture or song; wow,…pretty cool stuff. Then to take the recordings or source files and transform them into living, breathing expressions; it’s a discussion that will always involve the term “Over the top” for me. I’m sure I sound pretty corny, but who cares. I love to listen to the things many of you guys create, and I think the title is definitely a broad term that allows for people in all the variety of sound mediums to place on their resumes, given that they actually do design soundscapes, or sonic spaces, or individual sound elements for motion picture, video games, and instrument patches, and ringtones, and website button push and page turn elements, etc, etc, etc. It’s all very cool stuff to me, very cool. I’m hoping to be able to earn that title over the next few years now that I’m slowly transitioning my spare time back toward editing (which is where I started making an income with sound in radio). As it pertains to awards, I think it is great to identify and award a professional for their hard work in creating and implementing soundscapes and sonic elements in the final stage of a film that didn’t exist in the live process of the film production. It makes sense to me no matter how technical a term or how compartmentalized it may sound. 

  31. I think one award for sound is perfectly fine for all the reasons mentioned. Also, every team/dept has a leader whether it’s the DP and the camera/lighting crew, the production designer and the set builders/decorators, costume designer, vfx, etc. In sound in an ideal universe without all the politics of the guilds, awards etc, that person ought to be called the sound designer, the person that leads the sound crew for a film. It doesn’t draw attention to any specific craft within sound (recording, editing, or mixing) but encompasses the craft as a whole. And every crew knows who that person is. They’re the one who simply put have seen and guided the project through from start to finish. And when they get up on the stage to receive their Oscar, they’ll be the first one to be calling out thanks to all of their talented crew whom without they could not be standing there.

    Only in sound have we made it this awkward thing to call yourself for what you are, a sound designer.

  32. My beef would be with the possibility of a musical winning a ‘unified’ sound category. Simply put, there is little ‘heavy lifting’ done in sound design or sound editorial in a musical, for the most part. The winner of this new category is decided by all members of the academy, not the sound branch. Obviously, this body, as a whole, is not as adept in determining how much drama is built within the non-musical elements of the soundtrack.

  33. JJ – I swear I was thinking of exactly that issue this morning! so great to see you here too!!!!!

  34. Good point, Jon. That’s one reason I think that if there were one sound award instead of two it would be a good idea to call it “Best Sound Design.” Though the term “sound design” is still controversial within the film post community, I think the vast majority of people inside the media industries have a pretty good idea of what sound design is. I think they understand that it’s basically the creative use of sound, and that it isn’t “music” in the usual sense of the word. By the way, as far as I’m concerned the creative use of dialog is also sound design.

    Some of us in the Academy have been lobbying for the production and distribution of DVD’s that would help members better understand each others’ crafts. I think they could be entertaining and very instructive.

    In my opinion if a project that was mainly a “musical” used “sound design” in an interesting way it might deserve to get nominated for a sound design award. I would like to think that few people would be dumb enough to nominate a film in a sound design category simply because they thought the music was good. Maybe I’m naive.


  35. I still say its a bad idea to keep two awards because we are concerned about our ability to win those awards. If the voting members decide to vote for a musical, that’s the way it goes. We’ve seen that happen already in recent years. If we need to educate them more in sound as an art then we should be doing that too. 

    I would take issue with calling the award Best Sound Design which I’ll elaborate more on when I write something here (although at this point this thread is getting into it already). Mainly you’d never get the Academy Sound Branch to adopt that term I think, and the mixers would riot :)

    If anything in a two awards system the best editing award should be renamed that, as it leans the meaning of the award back towards the creative and does imply technical as much as calling it editing might. 

  36. I’d propose something even more radical… that mixers start calling themselves sound designers too. I’ve mentioned it to a few prominent mixers. The response was more positive than I had expected, and I’m pretty sure they weren’t just being polite.

    Quite a bit of the opposition to there being one sound award comes from sound editors who remember the time when there was only one sound award, and only mixers were allowed to get it. It was a big breakthrough when sound editors were given their own category, and many of them are very reluctant to give it up. Even if the one award were to go to the same group of people who get it now as two awards…. up to three re-recording mixers, a production mixer, and up to two supervising sound editors… many of the editors still feel like they would be giving up something… recognition of sound editing as a craft.

    It’s a complicated issue to say the least.


  37. I beg to write (in this case as a simple “civilian”), that when I didn’t know anything about the sound (it was not long ago) and when I considered the Oscar ceremony mostly as a grandiose television show, the categories “sound editing” and “sound mixing” was the most unintelligible categories for me among the others. I couldn’t understand the difference and I always thought that “sound editing” was a technical nomination and “sound mixing” – an artistic one. And I think that this question is still popular among the many peoples.

  38. Hi, Constantine!

    None of the categories of awards that are presented on the television broadcast are “technical” awards. Unfortunately people often refer to all the awards except for writing, directing, acting, best film, best documentary, etc. as “technical” awards. Cinematography is not a technical award, neither are editing, visual effects, sound mixing, sound editing, etc. They are awards given for artistic decisions, not for expertise in knob twiddling.

    The Academy’s technical awards are engineering awards which go to people who design and manufacture equipment and tools.


  39. I don’t necessarily think of Sound Designer as the person who oversees the entire sound aesthetic for a film, it’s usually the Supervising Sound Editor, or Sound Supervisor (who may or may not be a Sound Designer themselves). I’d like to see the primary Sound Designer included in the sound editing awards if they aren’t already as the Supervisor, but often there are sometimes two or more Sound Designers on some projects.
    Also, I think any time you’re combining sounds, creating soundscapes, or even choosing a particular door sound because of the way it makes you feel (or anything beyond just using the first sound you find in the library), you are contributing to the aesthetic of the film and you are “designing sound”.
    As far as having one or two awards, I’m really torn on that, as you really can’t have one without the other, and yes the lines have been blurred between the different crafts. At the same time, I do feel that some films deserve awards for sound editing while others might be more deserving in the mixing front. That being said, all films that are nominated are outstanding in their own rights, the best of the best.

  40. Chris, well said. The main problem with the term Sound Designer is that unlike Supervising Sound Editor, or Re-Recording mixer, the term is still too vague. A big Hollywood film a few years back had at least seven credited sound designers, along with about eight others credited as things like supervising sound editors, supervising effects editors, sound effects designer, etc. It has gotten I think a bit out of hand. My basic point if I ever get time to finish it, we’ve begun to use Sound Designer as a stand in for many jobs, all of which probably had job titles already. The truth is, the terms Sound Effects Editor and Sound Effects Designer would more properly describe what 98% of the people who are calling themselves Sound Designer are doing, myself included most of the time. 

    I suppose that is where the pretentiousness appears with the term. Every student film, every TV show, nearly everyone working seems to now describe what they are doing as Sound Design, when nothing they are doing has changed from the days when Sound Editing was enough of a description?

  41. I think all the existing job titles in sound are confusing and obscure, including “sound editor,” “sound effects editor,” “sound designer,” “re-recording mixer,” and “supervising sound editor.” Even “production mixer” is a bit of misnomer since the main job these days on feature films is to capture the sounds of actors on separate tracks, not to mix them.

    I think all the jobs that merit creative awards involve “designing” with sound. So, I think all of us who do creative work in sound should call ourselves sound designers, and that on each project there should be supervising sound designers. Some supervising sound designers would be mainly mixers, some mainly editors, and some mainly fabricators of sounds; but in order to be called a supervising sound designer you need to also be in a supervising role. So, having the title “sound designer” wouldn’t qualify you for an award, but the title “supervising sound designer” would.


  42. After watching the Oscar Awards last night, and reading all your posts this morning (all of which have strong merit), I still think the categories already set in place are well deserved and proper. Most of you have been working with sound in film production for many years and I’m sure have held many hats along the ride and have more understanding than most when it comes to the jobs performed in each category of sound awarded. Yet for the majority of viewers, these two awards, “Best Sound Mixing” and “Best Sound Editing”, represent the best in the final stages of the creative and decision making process in sound for each film nominated. The men that received those awards actually performed those jobs that were awarded, and performed them masterfully. I’m sure deciding between the nominees is a very difficult process because whose to say which of these films soundtrack truly captured the complete essence and nature of the visual element, allowing the movie goer to be fully transported into the world on screen? They all did that. As Chris Jacobs mentioned, these are The Best of The Best. This is a way for these artists to be honored by their peers and for the public to share in their experience and hopefully be encouraged to press on to perform their purpose with as much dedication and expertise. It is inspiring.

    I work in this industry with sound on set as sound utility, boom operator and production sound mixer. The latter on smaller shows requiring isolated tracks; but I learned from location sound veterans that taught me to always work hard to mix a mono track that represents each frame captured on film or CF Card. The more opportunity I get to do this the more I understand that you guys in post take what we do on set and make miracles happen. We try very hard on set to give you the best possible tracks to work with because we know you guys have loads of stress and often times short schedules, yet are required every day to create perfection when marrying the location sound tracks with the foley tracks, and the sound FX, and the music, and the etc, etc. It’s a daunting task. The person who performs edits to these tracks and the person who performs the final mix of these tracks should be awarded for their artistry and expertise. It only makes sense for these positions be honored individually. I hope that as I continue to grow in this industry, I can become better at giving you solid, clean, and robust tracks from location. We still are a team, and I like to watch you guys be honored for your hard work.

  43. Interesting thoughts Tim.

    Down here in Oz we followed, for a long while, the model of sound designer which Randy picturesquely described above as ‘the grand notion’. Having learned my trade through that era (with inspiration from the magnificent tracks of Burtt and Murch and Splett) that is still how I picture what I do if I have to try and hammer myself into a category. These days the Supervising Sound Editor has become the norm here, and that role seems to have absorbed most of what I thought I did (but not all), but it isn’t a title I choose willingly because it just doesn’t seem descriptive of what I think is the most valuable part of my input. In the best of all possible worlds, I design the sound. That doesn’t mean (again cribbing from Randy) just ‘fabricating sound effects’, although that’s part of it, but is more about considering the whole scope of sound in the film and directing that sound to be informative of, and contributive to, the intent of the story. 

    On a recent US movie on which I worked (and with which you will be familiar, Tim), the Supervising Sound Editor (a most honourable gentleman) insisted that I share that title with him. I think he was a little bemused that I seemed ambivalent about it, but I know he felt I wouldn’t be awarded due credit under the Hollywood system if I just took the sound designer credit. I am terribly grateful for his generosity but even now I wear that mantle uneasily because I don’t feel like I ‘supervised’ anything, really. I worked with the director and the editor and I just ‘designed’.

    Personally, I’d hate to see the term sound designer go exclusively to people who just conjure up sounds. For me it would be a little like equating a carpenter with an architect. Sure, a carpenter can nail together a nice object, but that’s all it is without context: an object. In takes a designer to realise that context. In movies, in particular, that designer has to realise that context in terms of a complex dance of other contexts, and that, I believe, is a great skill.

    I would hate to see the Academy drop the sound awards from the main Oscar presentations. That is the situation we now have here with our Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts (formerly the Australian Film Institute). As of a few years ago sound was relegated to a separate event – the so-called AACTA ‘craft’ awards. In my opinion it was a demeaning and divisive move, further rending an already-fractured industry, and cementing in the minds of audiences the idea of the film business being divided into what I call the Glamour and the Grunts.  I resigned from the AFI over it.  This idea that sound and editing are simply technical processes is deplorable and it needs no further reinforcing by film councils.

    I really don’t mind the idea of the two Oscar categories folded into one, as you suggest. It might even help to focus more attention on the skills and creative talents of the sound department. For the sake of us all elsewhere in the world, you should strongly resist the Academy’s desire to push the sound award onto a technical night, though. In my resignation letter to the AFI I was, at least, able to defend my stance by using Hollywood and the Oscars as an example to follow. If they lost the sound awards, my argument loses its last exemplar. It’s a depressing thing to consider.


  1. | Artesãos do Som - [...] designer Tim Nielsen provocou uma discussão pertinente ao escrever recentemente o texto “On the Unification of the Sound Awards” no…

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