So, you have a great idea for a film, tv show, video game, or animation. everything is starting to come together, but now you need a great audio team to help your vision come to life. However, you are having trouble locating the individuals, or unaware of the type of people you need. Before we get into the topic of where and how to find them, let us first have a look at the overall importance sound and the impact it has on a production.
SO HOW IMPORTANT IS SOUND?
Let’s face it; you spend a lot of money and hours crafting this cinematic masterpiece, but what’s the point spending all that money and time making the visuals look great, only for the sound to let it down, or worse; distracts your audience away from the performance.
If you are someone who spends a lot of time thinking how your production is going to look and not on how it will sound. I am afraid to say you have already made your first fatal mistake. I am no filmmaker, but I have spent many years working in a variety of sound departments. I am often approached by panicked film directors begging me to fix the audio in their film. A lot of the time it’s too late, the damage is done and it’s now the case of getting the sound to an acceptable level. The issues I often face, could have easily been avoided with proper planning and preparation. A little more thought in how your production is going to sound at the start may save you a lot of money in the future.
Sound will make or break your production. Not only will it help with the emotional context for an audience, it will also help enhance the story/message you are trying to tell. Some festivals are even known to withdraw productions from their screenings if the sound is not up to scratch.
HOW MUCH SHOULD I BE SPENDING ON SOUND?
Having discussed how important sound is to your production. It is now time to talk about how much you should be budgeting towards your sound cost. I will keep this section brief as it will depend on your total budget, the timeframe, and the level you are at. If you were to check online you may find the statistic that productions with over $50,000 budget roughly allocates around 10% of their budget towards the sound. Some will offer more, some will offer less. However, It is extremely important to set aside a budget dedicated to the sound in your film as early as you can.
UNDERSTANDING THE DIFFERENT ROLES OF AN AUDIO SPECIALIST
Now it’s time to put a team together, and it’s important to understand, and identify the variety of roles that may be needed to construct the core of your sound department.
Sound Supervisor – The sound supervisor has a close relationship with the director and other senior members in the production. Their primary job is to oversee the entire sound of your production. They are a vital team member during pre-production and will attend planning meetings and help specify sound requirements and give you advice on the staffing and equipment needed.
Production Sound Mixer | Sound Recordist – This member of crew is responsible for capturing and recording all sound on set, later to be used by the post audio team. Usually, will have his/her own equipment and is often considered the head of department for the onset sound team. Their responsibilities include the hiring if the boom operator and the technical setup of the sound equipment. They also discuss any sound-related problems with the rest of the crew.
Boom Operator – The Boom Operator is the assistant to the sound mixer. Their main responsibility is the placement of the microphones. (Normally the boom pole called a boom mic) They aim the microphone as close to the action as possible without the microphone entering the camera frame.
Sound Editor – The main responsibility of the sound editor is to prepare the sound for the mixing and mastering engineer. A sound editor works with a DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) They help fix any mistakes made on set, and use a variety of techniques to help the transition of a shot to shot dialogue sound a lot smoother, so the listener does not hear any interruption in sound. You may have a team of sound editors working specifically on dialogue, sound effects, or music.
Sound Mixer – The sound mixer will adjust the levels of the dialogue, sound effects, music, ADR, and even the ambience of your film so the volume throughout remains consistent and clear. They will add effects when needed such as reverb for example. They help enhance the production audio that is appealing to the listeners.
Mastering Engineer – The mastering engineer is responsible for the preparation of audio. This role requires critical listening, they apply corrective equalisation, and compression for playback on a variety of systems. They are in charge of polishing the audio and making sure the audio is at an appropriate volume for playback.
Sound Designer – A sound designer is responsible for creating original sounds which they then manipulate and edit using a variety of techniques and production tools. They are responsible for creating sounds that are unable to capture through traditional methods. For example, they may be asked to create the sound of a UFO landing, or the roar of a dinosaur.
Foley Artist – Similar to the role of the sound designer, but with the main difference being they help reproduce everyday sound effects such as footsteps, breaking glass, closing doors, and maybe even the flapping wings of a bird. They are responsible for a sense of reality for the audience by enhancing the experience of the movie. Good foley goes unnoticed, but without it can make a production sound unnatural and uncomfortable.
Music Composer – The music composer is responsible for writing original music specific to a production. The music forms part of the soundtrack and compromises of a variety of instrumentation to help enhance the narrative and emotions of a particular scene. The music can take on a variety of different style and genres depending on the nature of the production they accompany.
Often these days you will find people with a versatile skill set who can work in more than one department. For example; depending on the size of your production and your budget, you may hire a sound supervisor who is happy to take on the role of a sound recordist and boom operator. However, do not see that as a way of cutting costs. That method of thinking can often lead to negative results. Ideally you want a variety of people working in different departments, but if you do decide that hiring someone to take on more than one role is a benefit to your production, make sure they are well compensated. Do the research of that particular person you are hiring, and make sure that they are up to the task. Do not ask people to do more than they can handle, or make them do work they feel uncomfortable doing to try and cut costs. The results will not justify that decision. Remember, sound is crucial to your production! The more talented people you have in your sound department, the better your production will not only sound, but also look.
The sound may be that extra step you need to take to transform your production from looking/sounding amateurish to having a more professional quality feel to it. Now that we have identified the roles, the next step is to get in contact.
WHERE DO I FIND MY SOUND DEPARTMENT?
In the previous section we discussed the variety of roles. Depending on your production you may only need 1 or 2 from the list above, or the whole team. A good starting place is online. If you are a student, there are facebook groups set up by students and members of your respected university. If you need a sound designer, search for a ‘music technology’ course group on facebook, become a member, and advertise your production; stating you are looking to work with a sound designer. These groups are a great source of networking! Even better, get in contact with a course leader and politely ask if they can spare 5 minutes at the end of a lecture for you to come in to make an announcement that you are looking to collaborate on a project, and that you need a sound team.
Follow audio specialists on Instagram, facebook, twitter, and LinkedIn. Google; freelance sound designers, composers, sound recordists, and bookmark their page for future reference. crew.mady.com is an online platform where you can post opportunities, and network with a variety of departments to help construct a crew together. Freelance sites such as Upwork and Fiverr could also be beneficial in your search. Check the credits of your favourite film, animation, tv show, or game. Make a note of their names, and look them up! Ask your colleagues, and friends. Do you know a director who had really great sound in their production, ask if they can put you in contact? Even better, get in contact with myself and see if I can help!
There is a popular saying that we are all connected by six degrees of separation. Take some time to make a short-list of potential crew member you would like to work with. Once done, it is now time to communicate.
HOW TO COMMUNICATE
A lot of people I know are put off this part, due to the awkward topic of money. If you have not set aside a separate budget for the sound at the start of your production then this may make it even harder for yourself. The money spent on the sound of your production should be seen as an investment, and if you have prepared for this from the start then this will make negotiating a deal that is great for both you and the audio specialist you are contacting a lot easier.
Be polite, informative, and get to the point. Why waste time sending multiple emails back and forth when you can cover all the information in one email at the beginning. Always include the total run time of your production, the genre of production, your ideas and expectations, deadline, and budget when requesting a quote. If the audio specialist is not available or outside of your budget, always respond back and thank them for their time, be honest! If they are expensive, just tell them you can not currently afford them with the budget you have. Politely ask If they are happy to negotiate. They may just send you a message back saying that is fine. You have a lot more to gain if you were to send a quick response back, instead of disappearing into the abyss.
If you can not come to an agreement, keep their details anyway who knows when it will come in handy. Never insult the prices of someone because it is more expensive than you expected. These people are making a living and most likely providing for their family, so they value their time. Just because their price is not right for you, doesn’t mean it is for others. Do not use bad language or slang. Remember that first message/email you send is equivalent to a first impression and if you are trying to convince the best to come work with you, make sure you doing yourself justice when representing yourself. Incentives such as working for free for experience, or exposure does not cut it I am afraid. Respect the craft, the people who work for free from my own experience invites a variety of risks such as; dropping out last minute, poor results, a bad work ethic, and much more.
Check out the following links for a rough guide on the rates:
To some of you, these prices may be a little more expensive than you originally thought, but remember a lot of people would be happy and more than willing to pay these prices. However, it should give you an idea of the amount of experience, and time people value themselves.
TIPS AND ADVICE
Finally, I would like to end this article with a list of tips and advice I constructed together to help summarise some of the points discussed:
- Poor sound can result in your film be withdrawn from a festival.
- Poorly recorded sound can be very damaging to the visuals.
- Do not have the mindset “we will fix it in post” – You cannot bring back frequencies that do not exist.
- You do not want to be spending more money and time paying someone to try and fix poor sound in post.
- You want to be spending money on enhancing the sound to advance your vision!
- Sound starts with the director. If the director cares about sound so will the rest of the team.
- Make sure you give enough planning and preparation to sound before you start shooting.
- Make sure you get someone with the confidence to speak up.
- Make sure you include sound in your budget!
- Keep the details of all sound specialist you meet for future productions.
- Do your research.
- Be polite when communicating and negotiating fees.
- Also check out the video I created about this topic on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ws3JpNb4B_U