Patrick and I met in a slightly unusual way, he contacted me on Linkedin asking for advice as he was seeking entry into audio editing as a career extension. I was impressed with the clarity of his questions, and so I decided to include him in my series, as he is gearing up to take on work, and I have no doubt he will be a fine editor!
1.What led you into composing and sound design for college?
Like many film sound designers my background is in music. I studied classical piano and music theory from a young age and later on as a teenager I picked up the guitar. I played in a few groups and generally surrounded myself with other likeminded people. I mean this was the early 90’s so everyone seemed to playing in grunge or indie bands, it was the current trend of the time like popular music is today and has been for the last 50’s years. Like so many of us as you get a bit older you find your own paths and develop your own interest, pursuing a particularly career as your personality develops, straying away from the appeals of youth. Looking back now I suppose I was always more drawn to music then maybe many of the people I new who were around me. I would be at a party with friends and after a while I would ask if I could change the music from Nirvana or Pearl Jam to Steely Dan or Weather Report, I was always getting kicked out of those parties! (laughs)
So rather then choosing a career in medicine or learning a conventional trade my passion for music grew and grew, becoming the central focus of my life. I continued to lean as Rye Cooder say’s “by sitting on the edge of the bed for a million hours”, practicing hard and tried to keep an open mind by playing with as many other musicians as possible within as many genre’s as I was capable of playing. I think for many people over the years one’s focus shifts from genre to genre. I may have spent a few years learning blues and rock, then moved onto country and folk and then mixed it all together whilst trying to improve on each style. Over the last five years I have been learning Jazz piano, its been a huge joy to be able to understand this complex yet thrilling art form.
I started to make my own D.I.Y. audio recordings not long after trying my hand at the guitar. My first ever attempts were done by recording into a cassette player then playing it back on a larger stereo system whilst recording both the pre-recorded music and another over dub played back into the cheap little single deck cassette player. It didn’t take many times before the sound quality became inaudible so those first experiments didn’t last very long. Soon after that I moved on to a Tascam four-track cassette portable machine, that was another world! I instantly fell in love with recording over night. Some time passed and after taking the four- track as far as I could take it I entered the digital realm. This would have been around the mid 1990’s at the point where computer based music production soft-wear was becoming affordable to the public. Once again like so many others I couldn’t afford all the separate individual hard-wear units that are used in recording studio’s so to have a program with many of the standard music production technology included was a Godsend. From that point onwards I fell deeper into the technical craft of production to the point where I wanted to seek profession training to further enhance my understanding. Reading books and manuals was ok but I so impassioned by the art that I wanted to dedicate myself to it, enrolling on a two-year fall time sound engineer course at a local college. Personally speaking, taken the education route was right for me but it’s not the only approach to gaining an in-depth understanding of sound engineering and studio production. I have worked with many engineers who were lucky enough to start in a studio straight from leaving school learning their craft with a hand’s on trial by error approach.
The National BTEC in Music Technology course in the UK introduced to the many aspect of studio engineering and recording, taught by professional teaching staff with many years experience of working in high-end professional studio and live sound environments. Some of the key subjects covered were multi-track recording, microphone selection and placement, signal processing and production techniques. Coving topics that are fundamental to the recording process such as what a compressor dose, the use of signal gates, the importance of equalization and the many modulation effects that not only bring character and individuality to a sound but also helps shape the dynamics of a piece of music.
During this period whilst studying I was introduced to sound synthesis and sampling that the college course included in its syllabus as an integral part in the creation of modern day music. This introduction into the science of electronic sound manipulation came as a much-needed requirement as I had been drawn towards particularly artist who use sound synthesis (and in many case’s help develop it) in their music. Artist such as Peter Gabriel and Brian Eno were a major influence on my interest in electronic based forms of musical composition and studio production skill’s. As I delved deeper into what was a new area of technology for me I started to develop a real interest in film sound as a result of hearing Peter Gabriel’s film score ‘Passion’ the sound track to Martin Scorsese’s 1989 film ‘The Last Temptation of Christ’. Gabriel’s soundtrack merged traditional forms of world music with sonic landscapes generated by contemporary sound synthesis technology of the period along with subtle sound signature’s (effects) that corresponded with certain scenes from the film. It was this symbiosis of sound both acoustic and synthetic mixed with the conceptualization of a narrative via sound effects that sparked off my imagination in sound design for film and the creative possibilities in using sound and music with the visual medium.
After successfully completing that course I worked in recording studios for a number of years in London working with many artist whilst my interest for sound design for film continued to grow. Like before when growing up with music production I did my own studies and research, read extensively on the subject, listen to many sound tracks and of course watch many films. So that brings me up to starting my university degree in 2009 at The London College of Communication where I studied sound design.
2.In our talks, you’ve mentioned a passion for literature, audio, and the spoken word. How did this lead you into looking into audio book editing?
My passion for literature, audio and the spoken started even earlier then music when I was just a very young child back in the early 1980’s. I can remember it clearly. It was my 5th birthday and I was given a Sony portable hand held cassette player as a present along with several child stories on cassette. In England they were called ‘Story Tellers’ that were produced by Lady Bird Books, a major publisher for children’s books. As you can imagine they made a huge range of classic stories from famous authors going back to the Victorian times such Jules Vern, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, JM Barrie and Hans Christian Anderson. I had every single audiocassette and storybook that was available at that time, I loved them! I could be found somewhere quite at the top our house with my little tape deck with a pair of my fathers headphones on that were far to big for me, happy times. To me that was my strongest memory of my early childhood. On one occasion that I feel I must mention was when my grand mother came to stay with us. God love her, she had bought me an audio book from our local library that was selling off old stock. Remember, I was only a very young kid, 6 or 7 at that time. Well, I rushed up stairs put the cassette into my cherished tape machine very excited and intrigued to know what this story was about I settled down to start listening. Half an hour into the story I had experienced my first lesson in complete confusion; I couldn’t make head of tale of what was being said! This ‘children’s story’ that my grandmother had kindly bought me had turned out to be Brave New World by Aldus Huxley read my the English actor Sir Edward Woodward (laughs). This incident was a running joke in my family for many years.
When I think back now I realize just how much audio books not only introduce me to all these wonderful authors and story’s but also it inflamed my passion for reading and literature. They opened the door to my imagination making me even more inquisitive about other writers and different genres. It was like I had been given a key to an endless world of ideas, possibilities and insights about the outer world of our existence and the inner worlds of our human nature and the many types of personalities and characters that exist. It really was a seminal moment. I am sure that I would still have formed a love for literature but I feel that listening to these actor’s spoken words with all the vivid descriptions and color in the voices drew the young, agile mind deeper into the greatness of expression and knowledge. And since then and throughout my life I have read avidly, science fiction being a particular favorite of mine. Audio books played a significant part in my development with a major impact on my understanding of people, the world and the path I wanted to take in terms of my career as an editor.
I also feel that audio books are also fantastic from a learning perspective, they certainly help me to speed up in reading and writing as a child. I think listening to the spoken word help’s to understand correct word pronunciation. I would certainly advocate that children should listen to the spoken word as a part of there education not only to learn but like myself you never know where it could lead?
During my second year at university I found that I was becoming drawn towards dialogue editing. I had worked on various student films that were fun but I could never really get into them as much as I would of liked due to the subject matter not really appealing to my creative interest. So I started to think about how I could study dialogue editing in a way that would interest me creatively without feeling limited. As I was studying I didn’t have the luxury of dedicating all my time to one area so I wanted to find a way in which I could combined the various elements that go into film sound. At that time I was reading a book called The Algebraist by the Scottish science fiction writer Ian M. Banks. In particular parts of the book there was whole pages of detailed descriptions of panoramic views of outer space, striking visualizations of the outer atmospheres of gas’s giant planets and one breath taken passage when the story’s protagonist travels throw time and space when entering a womb hole. As I was trying to find new source of inspiration I came up with the idea of merging sound design with dialogue recording by recreating these scene’s from the book. This seemed like a great way to practice both aspects of film sound whilst challenging myself both creatively and technically. So I set about the task of creating atmospheric soundscapes that mirrored the descriptions from the story. In terms of the dialogue editing I asked some various people who could do a good job of narrating with a sense of realism, and conviction in there voice. After a few attempts I found the right person for the job. What I found was a huge help was getting hold of the audio book for the story. In doing so I could get a greater understanding of certain factors such as the timing of the narration, and the correct vocalization for a particular passage that gave my interpretation of the story a believable and dynamic edge.
Although this project was challenging in a technical sense, creatively it was a brilliant experience. As there was no visual’s to work with I had to work purely with words as a guide to drive my imagination. Of course in the real world sound design behind dialogue in audio books would be a huge distraction making it hard to follow the story. It was an extremely enjoyable project to do in the context of this particular science fiction story as well as allowing me to cover both areas of sound whilst bringing them both together in an interesting way. Since then I have worked on many similar projects based on the spoken word. Most recently I have been re-working short stories from the English fiction writer JG Ballard. As I have said audio books played a big part in my formative years so the project I have been involved with have re-kindled that passion, Its great to know where you want to go with your career.
3.Do you feel that your related areas of experience–for example already being very familiar with pro-tools, editing, and mixing–will help you make the extension into audio books easier?
Absolutely. I have been working with voices in one way or another throughout my career. When I started off in studios a very important factor was editing vocals, both lead vocals and backing. Of course there are other elements involved from a studio engineer’s perspective such as choosing a suitable microphone, using different compression settings etc which of course if done correctly minimizes the editor’s job. Similarly I am sure the same applies to audio book recording? In terms of editing and mixing, in many ways when working with different forms of vocalization, weather it’s a singer, film dialogue or the spoken word for audio books, certain rules apply to each medium, but not in every respect. For instance, dialogue for film and audio books have the same editing principles, removal of unwanted noise such breath, pops and clips, removal of silence between spaces and replacing it with room tone that can also be used to mask unwanted noise and cover mistakes. Obviously when mixing for music the lead vocalist sits slap bang in the middle of the stereo field with the backing vocals positioned on the left and right. In film the position of the dialogue depends on the actors position on screen but during close up it sits at the central position. Having an understanding of the correct positioning of the voice is extremely important in terms or clarity and realism with music and film. Studying and working within these separate disciplines have certainly fine-tuned my listening skills in preparation of working in the audio book industry.
A big thing for me is attention to detail. Its just a part of my nature, I love to zoom into a waveform and scrutinize every little detail. I think for this kind of work you have to enjoy details and not be phased by long term commitment as audio books requires you to be in it for the long haul. I discovered this was studying dialogue editing at university. Most people only wanted to work on effects or atmospheric sound as they found dialogue too long and boring. And as a result there worked suffered due a lack of patients. I can understand that to an extent, no one wants to be bored in there work but dialogue editing is an integral part of the post-production process, it needs to treated as so.
In terms of soft-wear I started using Pro-Tools at University, as it is the industry standard for film. Pro-Tools is an incredibly involved program with huge amount of functions. When dealing with a great deal of audio as you would imagine for television or film Pro-Tools is purposely designed to organize and manager a ton of audio at one go, so when you compare that to audio book editing there is a great deal of features within Pro-Tools that would not be suitable for the task, effectively not using the program to its full potential. In my conversations with Pro-tools engineers in relation to using it for audio book editing I have heard many similar statements. Yes of course its wonderful tool for the job in terms of its in-depth editing capabilities but that’s the point it’s so massively in-depth and for what is required for audio book editing there are more suitable programs that are less complicated and a lot more straight forward, In my humble opinion of course. When I started out in audio editing for music many years ago I cut my teeth on Steinberg’s Cubase production and editing soft-wear and like most things we tend to stick to what we know. Making the jump to pro-tool was a big leap forward. Working at this level has given me the confidence and skill’s to embrace working within the audio book industry.
I use different soft-ware programs for a specific task. Logic 9 studio Pro for music and sound synthesis along with Alchemy, Pro-tools for film work and for audio book editing I have decided to use Steinberg’s Wave Lab 7 as it is purely designed for audio editors unlike the other soft-wear I mentioned that are DAW (digital audio workstations) that are used by composer’s. Wave Lab 7 is dedicated to audio editing and mastering. Personally I think that it’s a very powerful piece of kit for audio composite, editing, analyzing, and processing. I found the basic editing tools are very easy to use helping me to work quickly, the metering tools such as the oscilloscope meter and the spectroscopic meter are a huge advantage when you need to see what your ears are hearing.
There is of course far more involved editing and mastering soft-ware packages that would take the editing / mastering process to another level. Programs such as Waves for instance. But for what I need it for and especially as this is a new area for me Wave lab 7 is perfect in terms of my budget restrictions. I want to go into audio book editing with a good grounding in what I am comfortable with and hopefully with a little time I came build up to more advance levels. As the old saying goes you cant run before you can walk. But I’m confident that I’ll get very quickly.
4.What types of things are you looking into to prepare for this career extension?
As I mentioned Karen I have been working on audio book editing by recoding and editing many different people who are reading from various texts. I work with both men and women to create a wide range of projects from both an editing point of view as well as working with dealing with different styles of literature.
I have asked advice on how to become a freelance audio editor from online sound editing and voice over communities such as the many forums on Linkedin as well as others.
But mainly I have been working hard on projects to prepare to enter the professional world of audio editing for the voice over and audio book industries. I am looking forward to collaborate with other creative professional
5. What’s the best way for people to get in touch with you?
If any potential clients would be interested in hiring me as a remote audio editor I have a drop box account with examples of my audio editing work online.
I can be contacted at [email protected]