Recently I have found myself in somewhat of a plateau in reguards to my sound design abilities. It seems I have hit a little wall with creative implementation, propelling story, and believability in general.

I have this idea that I got from a book, The Art of Learning by Josh Waitzkin. Josh Waitzkin is a World Class Chess Champion, the movie Searching for Bobby Fisher was about him as a kid. Well once the movie came out he ended up leaving the competitive chess scene and picked up Tai Chi Chun, in which he then became a World Champion in that. The book is an autobiography in which he analyzes his methods for learning. Highly recommend this book, it is a quick read.

Anyways, one thing he mentions is going back to the basics to propell your high end skillset. It directly applies to competitive fighting in which he would go over the basic forms until they were so ingrained in his muscle memory that they ceased to be a conscious thought process and instead became a subconscious, an instinct. He found that when he reached a plateau, he would work with the basics and then after much practice on the basics, he returned to high level fights, his skillset had increased dramatically.

So this is what I am doing. The basics of Sound Design/Editing.

This has been hard to try and figure out what the basics neccessarily are. I am ignoring basic editing skills as in cuts and crossfades but have decided to work on individual plugin basics. My plan for this practice is to completely remove the creative utilization of these plugins and instead focus on implementation of reproduction.

Here is what I mean and where SSD could lend a hand. I have chosen to work with reverb as my first plugin, basic ole D-Verb. Yes there are other better reverbs, but the purpose of this is to use a basic plugin, that almost everyone has, and work with only that. If someone has another plugin that is free that could be used I am all ears for it.

What I am looking for is a set of files files, 1 being dry source sound, and the 2nd being end product using Dverb, and lastly a listing of the settings used. My thought process is to try and match the sound/settings of the 2nd file using the dry source material.

I believe it will help out a few things, first being a better understanding of reverbs, two, it will excercise my critical listening, and 3 it will start a foundation in which I can figure out how to start implementing more complex and realistic reverbs when an impulse is not present, like creating an alley with multiple brick walls, moving from large rooms into small during a scene etc.

I am posting here so that hopefully some of the more experienced could grab something dry, throw some simple reverb on it and print it along with listing the settings, and then maybe over time build up into more complex situations. That way I have something to replicate that I did not originally create. I also invite anyone else who feels like participating in this to please join in.

I am currently editing a handful of different projects, my time is limited, so I am trying to have small simple practice sessions where a little bit of time per day/week practicing on it. The more time I end up having free, the more I will work with. I believe doing something like this, a little regimented non creative practice, while a little boring, will pay off down the road.

Let me know if you all have any ideas of a better way to approach this and maybe what the next "basic" thing to work on should be.

Thanks in advance

Mike G

  • 1
    I like this idea. A lot.
    – Miles B.
    Apr 12, 2012 at 13:26

5 Answers 5


Well, I'm not one of the more experienced, but I wanted to congratulate you on this terrific idea. I think we take everything we know for granted too often, and we may have learnt things that aren't quite correct. And I am talkking about the self taught people such as myself, who learnt sound design by trial and error.

Anyway, I will try this approach of going back to the basics myself, once I get some spare time. I was already aware of the fact that it is really easy to use a host of plugins to obtain a desired effect, but at times I would find myself presented with so many choices that I simply don't know what to pick, or don't hear the differences in sound right away..

So congratulations again, and thank you for spreading the word about The Art of Learning.

  • Thanks, another cool place to look into is the99percent.com it is a great site about the work people put into making their ideas happen. I am trying to develop a small learning system, as I go through it, that others can use and I can return to it years later and still work on some basics. Apr 13, 2012 at 18:19

Two more ideas:

Clean up short clips, like noisy location sound (planes, ACs, etc.) No Izotope Rx :) That should help brush up EQ skills

Also, effect recreation. e.g. recreating a unique sound effect from a film/show/game that you like. It's a bit more like a compound skill, but it would improve listening skills and expand your creativity in a focused manner.


For a more objective EQ workout, instead of cleaning up noisy clips, one could take your approach to Dverb (dry clip, wet clip, list of settings) and do the same with 4 or 7-band EQ.

  • @Miles Yeah i've been trying to work out a plan/ method for approaching the use of eq. Working on eq and then using it in conjunction with reverb to match Lav/Boom as Roger had mentioned may be a nice systematic approach Apr 13, 2012 at 18:23
  • @Michael What about taking a clip of white noise and applying different 4-band EQ settings to it, then trying to reverse engineer them (again, your Dverb approach). I like the white noise thing because it keeps the exercise simple and consistent, and using 4-band strikes a good balance between complexity and feasibility (I think 7-band has too many variables to offer a consistent chance of successfully matching the actual values)
    – Miles B.
    Apr 13, 2012 at 19:26
  • That would be a nice consistent test, but we may go insane. :P Apr 16, 2012 at 6:11

I'm feeling the same plateau, and this is a great idea. I'll have to check out that book.

Also, IMHO, D-Verb is actually pretty good for sound post. I think it gets vilified by music people because it's not very beautiful, but i always use it for basic rooms. It's light on the DSP too, which is great when you have a big fat mix session.

Do you have a convolution reverb? I think a good idea would be to take IRs of common rooms (like bathrooms, cars, various exteriors, small bedrooms, etc.), print it to some dialogue, and then replicate it with D-Verb. I've got IR-1, so hit me up if you'd like me to print for you (once i find the IRs!).

Something else that might be useful is eq matching. Take a line that was recorded with both boom and lav, and match the lav to the boom - eq and reverb. I know this is stuff that we do often, but whenever i do it, it's under a tight deadline and usually ends up being "good enough".

Well, i'm inspired. Great question!

  • @Roger The only convolution reverb I have is REVerence which is in nuendo5. I like the idea of printing with convo verb and matching, I would love some prints to practice on. With convolution reverb, it will still be a guessing game in the end. There is something gratifying and grueling about having finite settings to check against, like math homework, you move on and feel good when its correct, and stay and work on it when its not. Apr 13, 2012 at 18:17

To all those interested in something like this, I am finishing up a project in nuendo, following that I am back working in pro tools so I am going to make a handful of different practice sets using reverb, and varying the number of settings modified. First set probably just starting with reverb time and mix, another set using a few more settings, and the final set having all of the settings adjusted and modified.

Ill post links to all of it and places to get the files once I have dont that, probably some time next week.


I think this is a fantastic venture and it makes me think of a challenge project I recently completed that's meant to build up recording, editing and design skills. It was dubbed "Guerilla Sound" and the terms were this:

Have someone else (preferably someone who can understand what you are trying to do) find a very engaging photograph, something with a clear tone —— for instance, a painting by Monet or a photograph from the great depression. The more interesting the photo, the more interesting the project. Your goal is to design a soundscape that you feel is evokative of the elements in the picture. You are allowed only a simple stereo field recorder and a laptop (we were actually forced to use the mic on an iPhone or iPod). When editing, you are allowed only 2 EQs and 1 reverb —— no auxes, but you can use a master fader. Basic processing like gain changes and time/pitch shifts are ok, but nothing more.

And the biggest rule of all: You have 10 minutes to study the photo, then from the first moment you pick up the recorder to the bounce of the final mix, you must not exceed 2 hours of work.

This challenged me to harken back to the very bare necessities of sound design —— kind of an homage to the early "musique concréte" style if Pierre Schaeffer and the like. Of course, Shaeffer didn't use an iDevice... but that part of the rules is totally up to you ;).

I love your ideas, I hope this gives you another springboard.

Best! ~Matt

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