Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Sound Design Themes and Goals

I've written several posts now about learning and practising sound design.  When it comes to practicing, you could just sit down and experiment until you come-up with something that you think is good.  Although this is likely to be a very creative process, unfortunately it is not the way that most sound designers really work.  Sound Designers will generally work from a script or brief, and will only experiment with specific goals to achieve.  This being the case, a good way to practice your craft is to set yourself specific goals for your practice projects.  These should include aesthetic goals as well as technical requirements.  This will allow you to be much more focused in your practising and is more like how you will have to work in the real world.

First decide what kind of project you are going to do: music, soundscape or soundtrack.  (As mentioned previously, if you want to get into sound design for moving image, take a video clip (film, TV or game) and remove the original soundtrack).  Then set yourself a "theme" for your sound.  For visual based content this will be partially defined by the images, but still think about what you want to achieve with the sound and formally define your "theme".  (Remember you can give the visuals a completely different feel with different sound.)  For music or soundscape projects the definition of a theme is even more important and it will give you a clear remit within which to work.  Just to give you a few examples: Summer Rain, City Streets, Jupiter's Moons, Apathy, Sea Breeze, etc.  You get the idea.

Having defined the theme for the project, next you should think about the main, over arching aesthetic/style/genre goals that you want to achieve.  These will inform how you go about all stages of the sound design process and what you are trying to accomplish.  Try and keep this short and succinct, using only three or four descriptive words.  So for something like the Transformers movies it may be something like: powerful, bold, dynamic and clean.  Although movies will have other sound styles in them at different points, these are the overall goals that set the mood of the final piece.   These would be completely different for other projects, but should always define the sound design direction.  Added or combined with this should be the aesthetic goals.  You will have much more influence over the aesthetics if you have full control over the project.  Having said that, at least think about whether you want the impact of your sound to be overt, subtle or subconscious.  This will at least give you a level to aim your sound at.

Once you have defined the main goals for the project it is then time to dig down into the piece and define what you are trying to achieve with each scene, act, movement, section, etc., of the project.  Again this will depend on the type of sound design project you are working on, but think about things like the message you are trying to convey, emotion and listening modes.  It is at this point that you can start thinking about particular sound design techniques that you want to use.  For example, Sound Narrative, Stylistic, Realistic, Hyper-Realism, Empathetic, Synchresis, Anthropomorphism, Leitmotif, Vectorisation, Temporal Linearisation, Counterpoint, Musique Concrète, Contrapuntal Music, etc.  Think of these definitions as a skeleton or framework on which you will hang your sound design.

Finally, you need to define some technical specifications for the project.  If you want to work as a professional you will always have to make sure your work meets the technical requirements defined by the initiator of the project.  Again, some of these will be define for you if you are working with image, but think about things like levels, format, spatialisation, duration, etc.

When you have defined all of these, it is then time to start practising your sound design.  Remember at all stages of the project to reference the definitions and ensure they are being met.  Be critical of yourself as in the real world this will be done by someone else and just because you created something, it does not by default mean it is great!

Doing all of this will give you a more realistic way to practice, you will create content for your showreel and you should be able to clearly explain what you were tying to achieve in the sound design.

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