Im currently working on a theatre production where the Director wants me to create scene transitions, however they are not really sure on what they want/have anything for me to reference. So i'm planning on creating a number of different versions and variations of a few of the transitions to see what they like.

As with most projects, time is pretty limited. I just don't want to spend too long creating sounds that will ultimately not be used (although i understand this is just part of the process of realizing the directors vision). Or create too many variations and not have enough time to make sure the quality is the best it can be before I present them to the director.

My question is really i guess-

How do you approach creating multiple versions/variations for a client, and effectively manage your time?

  • @noisejockey @colin @shaun @joe - Thanks for all your replies! There was some really good advice in there, have met with director a few times now and everything is going well. :)
    – deleted
    Aug 12, 2010 at 13:49

4 Answers 4


+1 with Colin and Shaun: Too many options at once will fail, unless it was specifically requested. The golden rule of psychology is that most people can only hold 5 items, ±2, in short-term memory at once, and fewer choices leads to less "choice paralysis." In other fields of design, one almost never shows more than three options at once.

It's important to first describe how the approach and ideas behind each are different. Don't describe the sounds themselves - that's what the director's ears are for. Instead speak to the approach behind each one before they're played. This allows you to help the client (your director) separate whether or not, if you need to make revisions, your thinking is flawed or whether your execution falls short. Not knowing which needs fresh thinking will lead you back to the drawing board unnecessarily and lead to unneeded rounds of revisions. If the concept or thinking needs revision, then it's the perfect time to have that chat with the director and get on the same page. If it's the execution, then it's a more tactical sound design problem and the director at least gets the sense you're on the right path, but it's just not the right specific sound.

Follow this up so that every round of critique starts with a recap of what you and the client discussed the last time. This lets you be a cool cat if the client starts giving you conflicting feedback: You have a record. This is a classic tool to have a direct and emotionless discussion about change orders or increased fees as a result of trying to design against a moving target...as well as a tool for the client to be held accountable AND try to give you ever-narrowing feedback to get everyone to the right sound.

This is just one of many techniques that should always help to ensure that even if you must do revisions, that the shades of difference and amount of disconnect in each design round get ever smaller and smaller, until a single result is arrived at.

  • Great comment, NJ - very insightful. Jul 28, 2010 at 6:51

I personally don't think it's a good idea to offer too many versions for a client to choose from. In my experience clients often either don't really know what they want (seems to be the case for you) or they know what they want but are unable to explain it. On most projects I've worked on the client has said 'I want this or that', so I've done what they wanted, then they've said 'actually it was better before, lets change it back'. The key is to make sure you are given a clear brief to work from. You are there to use your creative skills and come up with a result. By all means create different versions but I would present the one you think works best and, more importantly, the one that best meets the requirements of the brief. If they don't like what you've done you can offer them one of your other versions as an alternative.

In terms of theatre it's important get as much info from the director and the production team. Familiarise yourself with the script and try to understand what type of emotions the audience are expected to feel at the end of each scene. Also try to find out how long each scene change will be, giving you some kind of template to work from. Establishing all this early on will help in your time management and ultimately help make the job go smoothly.

Good luck!


I agree with Colin here, don't offer too many versions. You're more likely to create a headache for yourself.

I'm assuming that when you say they aren't really sure/don't know what they want, you're referring to specific sonic ideas. If that's the case, I'd have another conversation with the director and talk more conceptually. What sensation do they want? What are the important or key ideas that are represented by the scene change? If they don't know what sound they want, they probably know what ideas they want the audience to hold in their mind across that transition. Or maybe they just want something to cover the noise of the set change; which makes your job really easy.

As a related aside, this approach has really helped me in the past when a producer wants to put in a cliche or inappropriate sound for the piece we're working on. I'm usually able to find a better sound, or at least something that I'm happier about, by talking about ideas, rather than the sounds themselves. Sometimes, though, they want that historical cultural connection, which makes that hackneyed sound the appropriate one (no matter how much I hate it).


+100 on what's been said, especially about option paralysis. It occurs to me that if the director is "not sure" what he wants, and has no reference material to provide you, he may be looking to you for the idea. Much of the time that's how it works in theatre. Very occasionally I'll work with a director who specifically says "I want Brubeck-esque jazz here" or "I want bluegrass," but most of the time it's up to me as a designer/composer to develop the ideas and present them. The director may hate what I bring in but at least then we have a starting point for conversation.

Theatre directors are often more adept at expressing what they want from the lighting, prop and costume departments than from sound. I think that's because they tend to have studied those disciplines as part of their theatre education--sound lags behind the other departments in many theatre programs. It might be a good idea to listen to what the director is asking lights and costumes to do, because that may give you clues that you won't get directly from conversations about sound.

As far as creating sounds that will not be used: I go into each tech week with the idea that, for one reason or another, 10% of my cues will end up cut, and another 10% will need to be revised. It's never that bad, but being set up for it mentally means I don't feel bad cutting a cue I spent hours on if it's honestly not working.

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