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What topics do you think that sound design students should be studying?

Obviously all of the technical aspects such as: microphones, recorders, DAWs, loudspeakers, preamps, sampling, synthesis etc, as well as basic techniques such as: recording, editing and mixing.

I know that this is a very broad area, but would appreciate all suggestions, no matter how obvious they seem.

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Most of your suggested study topics are about HOW - unless the course is intended to be purely practical it would be good to include some study as to WHY ie what are the primary motives of sound design. Story telling, screen writing, analysing a script for sound, picture editing etc and learning to become a good collaborator...
To develop sound design skills you need to have an understanding (& preferably some experience) with all the elements of the project - dialogue recording/production sound, ADR, dialogue editing, foley performance & recording, ambiences, sound effects etc...

  • Totally agree. Nowadays it's just too easy just to throw sounds in the time-line. How to use the sound to convey the story is what is less cared, when it comes to teaching (from my experience, back here in Portugal). – Melissa Pons Dec 27 '12 at 1:04
  • It's surely the key idea of the whole sound design to be able to reflect what one's doing sound for. But I think it's slightly difficult to formalize/theorize it in an educative way (or at least I don't know how it's done), unless the project work is always done from a script/brief and the resulting filming/edits/concept art/such and the student has a direct contact with especially the people whose work/ideas one's reflecting. The creative decisions are partially formed from an interpersonal discussion and not only analyzed from a recipe. But how is this kind of studying implemented? – Internet Human Dec 27 '12 at 6:42
  • @tim I strongly agree. – Stavrosound Dec 30 '12 at 3:47
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Tim hit the nail on the head, big surprise. Recording, Chopping, naming, Processing and the like are mechanical bits of knowledge. They are super important, but no more important than the art of storytelling with sound. How to record sound in the field and the studio, how to edit and mix, and the details of processing, archiving and handling large numbers of files with metadata. Those are all important and detailed topics that require patience and skill, but those are not necessarily part of the "designing" of the sound. In my opinion of course. An opinion which I stole from people smarter and more experienced than myself. :-)

Psycho-acoustics should also be a field of study for anyone interested in designing sound. With my students, we start by actually reading the definition of "design". It always helps to start at the beginning, so things become properly framed. You can develop great story telling with Sound Design without ever touching a sound. How to record sound in the field and the studio.

Even though my background is in Music Production and engineering, and I now work in interactive media and games, I personally reference a lot of Movies. Between the amazing narrative work of Walter Murch in "Apocalypse Now" and Ben Burts amazing audio creation for the Star Wars, Pixar, etc. I have learned a lot! How to support the narrative of the scene is Paramount, and it is a very subjective thing as well. How and when to use silence and Dynamic range are really important as well.

I often practice "Designing Sound" by picking a random 2D image from Google Images that catches my imagination. Then develop a palliate of tones that I want use and try to make sense of it on paper. When working with producers, you have to be able to explain your sound design and how it connects to the story if you expect to be contracted or hired. at the end of the day, we design sound to some kind of visual media, 9 out of 10 times. It is important to know how to use sound to play a supporting role to the aesthetic and narrative of the visual media. Those should be studied to a certain degree also.

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If I were to design a course I'd put a lot of the focus not on playing with noises, but sitting down and listening to noises (of all kinds). What I mean is two hour-long classes a week of just sitting and listening to music, radio-drama, musique concrete, random field recordings, movies with the picture stripped off, the sound of the room itself with nothing playing. I find that I get so wrapped up in making things to hear that I forget to actually sit down and listen to them :)

The other thing I'd make a high priority is human contact. The biggest thing I missed on the course that I just finished was access to our professors for feedback. What I really wanted (I think) was more of a mentorship situation, where I'd go off and do the work, bring it to the professor and we'd sit down and pull it apart to figure out what worked and what didn't. Instead, what we got when they'd finished marking our submissions was a link to an online form that contained the (anonymous) marker's 'feedback,' which consisted of a grade and perhaps three sentences of uninterested sounding commentary. Not exactly encouraging.

A big part of learning (for me, at least) is not putting information into my head, but the brain shift that comes with realising how other people hear that information. So I think the more creative/critical conversation and exchange you can encourage, the better.

Basically, as much facetime with the Prof as possible. Inasmuch as most people will have their thing that they're into, and probably won't care too much about what other people think, it always helps to have someone 'older' and 'more knowlegeable' than you sit down next to you and say "cool! how did you even do that!?"

Having someone show interest in what you're doing is the best encouragement for anyone who does creative work. And I get much more out of a learning/working situation when I have that kind of support.

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Mainly projects/practical work. Projects are the only real way to train what one's really training to do, when taking a sound post / sound design / sound production for media course. Projects can be designed so that there's an increasing level of difficulty/complexity. Group or teacher-student discussions and feedback regarding the results and during the project work are extremely important in giving guidance and further thoughts for the student about his art and thoughts on how he/she can improve himself/herself. Ideally the project work should be done with students stuyding visual arts, film making, animation and/or e.g. game programming, because then the projects can be self-planned and self-executed group projects, rather than given and boring individual assignments on pre-existing media (eventhough that might often be the case when working for real. However, creating something new should still be more motivating than working on e.g. film snippets or trailers.). It's also a great and an important way for the students to form connections.

Only minimal amounts of guidance to mic techniques (including location recording. Emphasizing how the mic techniques apply to capturing sound! Some quick practicals could be useful.) and software and gear operation as it applies to shaping a soundtrack. Formal teaching of technical stuff should be kept to a minimum on an art course, because those things will come naturally and at the required level (which is probably individual for every student) in the project work. I think that for "technical audio" there are acoustics and electronics or software engineering courses.

Additionally or optionally small masterclass-style courses on e.g. foley (to see the vastness of materials, objects and techniques that can be used to create sound effects). Maybe a small course on sound synthesis and sample-based synthesis, just enough so that students become familiar with what kinds of sounds synthesis and sample processing (basic sampler functions and granular synthesis) are useful for. Could bundle other "plug-in based sound design techniques" in the same package as well. Perhaps something small regarding voice recording and acting and VO.

I think that's about it for a sound post/sound design course, not including music composition.

I'm also thinking of something regarding analysis of sound use. I think it's quite common in courses to have at least one write up (or a practical) on some film scene so that it's assured that students have been introduced to concepts such as silence and diagetic/non-diagetic and off-screen sound. Most students will likely be into the subject enough so that they already consume the media a lot and thus understand "how it should sound" quite well, but a brief introduction to critical listening and understanding these few theoretical concepts might be essential for those that might not have thought of the aspects that a sound scene can have. Not sure, if it's essential though, or whether it could be easily integrated to the practical work.

Overall as much as possible should be integrated to the practical work, rather than presenting stuff as separate concepts/modules. Everything is applicable for almost every, if not every soundtrack creation anyways, so why not let the practicing happen there.

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Also, some insight on video editing, because it works in parallel with sound editing, and knowing what types of shots should enhance and convey (in principle) the story and / or some detail, is a great help for the sound designer. Knowing this has helped me to understand better the intentions given in the picture.

I would say semiotics too, even though it's a bit scary. :)

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