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In this episode of Sound Design Live, I talk with professor of design and production at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, Jason Romney. We discuss theatrical sound design, fighting microphone feedback and the Smurf inside your compressor.
- What are some of the biggest mistakes you see people making who are new to theatrical sound design?
- Potential Acoustical Gain: Why EQ is not the answer to feedback.
- “The tools people use first to combat feedback are really the tools they should use last.”
- What tools are they using first?
- What tools should they use instead?
- “That graphic EQ is no where near as surgical as you imagine it to be.”
- How surgical is it?
- “Gain before feedback is independent of the level of the talker.”
- What?! That’s crazy. You’re saying that it doesn’t matter if I whisper or scream, it won’t change the potential acoustic gain of the system?
- “Microphones do not exhibit the same directivity at every frequency.”
- How does this affect gain before feedback?
- “The tools people use first to combat feedback are really the tools they should use last.”
- Tell us about the biggest or maybe most painful mistakes you’ve made on the job and how you recovered.
- Anthony Murano: What separates UNC from other Theater and Design Production programs in the country. What do they do differently that sets them apart.
- Kyriakos Papadopoulos: What is his favorite digital console in terms of advanced cue and macro commands programming for musicals.
- Yohai Zilber: Ask him about the Secret Smurf Army Inside our DAW’s ( he will understand… )
Using an EQ to notch out feedback is like trying to cure the Flu with Tylenol.Jason Romney
- All music in this episode by jplenio.
- Jason’s YouTube channel
- Someone to Watch Over Me acapella
- Potential Acoustical Gain: Why EQ is not the answer to feedback from Live Sound Summit.
- Maximizing Gain Before Feedback flash demo
- Hardware: AKG C414, Meyer Sound D-Mitri
- Books: Digital Sound & Music: Concepts, Applications, and Science, Sound Design in the Theatre
- I want to present my work in a way that allows others to think and feel and react however they want to. I don’t necessarily want everyone in the room to have the same reaction.
- I spend my time watching the audience. I watch the people and see when they react.
- One of the things people are going to pay you for is your taste.
- Kids are the best audience because they are a completely honest audience.
- I made a decision early in my career that my career was not going to be my social life.
- It’s really well executed, but I have no idea what you think about this play.
- The best thing you can do is be proud of that experience that is behind you now, forget that it ever happened, and start over. The biggest problem is that you rely too much on your previous knowledge.
- Using a tool that is unfamiliar to you; it forces you to think about how it works and how sound works.
- I’m a firm believer in paperwork. If you draw it out on paper, you’ll find a lot of these problems really quickly.
- I don’t understand why graphic EQs still exist.
- Using an EQ to notch out feedback is like trying to cure the Flu with Tylenol.
- Feedback happens when the sound from the talker or instrument hits the microphone at the same level as the sound from the loudspeaker.
- You’ve got to get that level differential larger. That’s a geometry problem.
- That one little slider that you re using to remove a sine wave is actually manipulating 1-1.5 octaves. That’s a lot!
- Gain before feedback is a fixed amount independent of the source.
- Microphones are the same as loudspeakers. You just wire it backwards.
- In order to control [low frequencies] you need really big stuff. In order to control 100Hz you need something that is 10ft big.
- You can’t rely on microphone directly to solve feedback problems, which is why low frequencies are always the ones to feedback first.
- We want our students to never feel like they have to turn down a job.
- Our students; we force them to do everything.
- Students will only remember, best case scenario, 10% of what you say in a class.
- I like to imagine that there is a little Smurf inside the compressor. A compressor is just an automatic volume knob. Just imagine that there’s a little Smurf with a hand on a fader.
This transcript was automatically generated. Please let me know if you discover any errors.
So, Jason, I definitely want to talk to you about theatrical sound design and finding microphone feedback.
But before we do that, what is one of your favorite tracks to listen to after you maybe get into a new space and get the sound system set up?
You know, I spend most of my time in my own work outside of teaching, doing primarily musical theater and my main focus, usually when when trying to figure out a system for musical theater is delivering the voice. And so I find playing really complex tracks can sort of distract from the stuff that I’m really trying to figure out. And so years ago, I kind of started this ongoing process with my graduate students of recording. Vocalists singing musical theater stuff a cappella in close to an anechoic environment as you possibly can, using various live mikes at different parts of the head and a little I actually have a earthworks mic we use for it.
We started by doing that in a film soundstage here on campus of the arts. And actually, just this last December, we did kind of phase three of this thing where we actually got into a real anechoic chamber at North Carolina State University and did a bunch of these recordings.
So I have a whole slew of anechoic recordings of vocalists singing a cappella into actual musical theater mikes, and that’s what I play. So when I think I’ve got the system tuned on, it’s what I think it’s going to be. That’s what I put on. And I can hear a voice coming out of the system in a way that it will sound like what it should sound when we really do the show. And that way I’m not worried about things or trying to get distracted by things that don’t matter for what we’re trying to do know.
I don’t have to worry about how the subwoofers are interacting with the voice because I’m never gonna put the voice. So, so. So that’s what I play. That’s my I’ve got my own track, basically, but that’s that I do the one I use the most as an opera singer actually. But she’s singing someone to watch over me. And it’s it’s one of my favorite ones and I know it really well. Now I play it all the time.
Siegel says that love is blind. Still, we’re often told she can usually find. So I’m gonna see a certain man I’ve had in mind looking everywhere. Haven’t found him yet. He’s the big affair. I cannot forget. Oh, my. As you’re talking, I’m just realizing just published this interview with Alex Wannna from Audio Test Kitchen, and he has all of these recordings that he did of different instruments in anechoic chambers because then that’s what he used to, then play them back and basically rerecord them through different mics so he could get all these tests for his database.
And I should ask him about that, too, because it would be cool to have some of those, although those aren’t really those are recorded with, like, really nice studio microphones.
And we probably four live sound want things that we’re actually going to be using in the field, but would still be cool to have some of those recordings because those would be totally clean and reflection free as well.
And you could put those back to the system and see what those sound like.
Yeah, because I mean, the idea that well, the original idea that got this started was, you know, of course, everyone likes to play tracks through the system. That’s what you got. You don’t have the performers there yet. But I’ve always worried about bringing in recordings and then listening to them to the system where those recordings sort of have their own acoustic signature that they’re bringing with them. That then gets coupled with the acoustic signature of the room I’m in.
And sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference between what is in the recording and what is happening in my system and in my room. And so trying as much as I can to kind of strip out all of that bias from the recording so I can focus on what I’m doing as opposed to what somebody else did in a recording studio. It helps a lot, I found, because then I can experiment with reverb. Right? If I if if it’s already dry, I can start playing around with my reverb programs and things like that and know pretty quickly if I’ve got what I need.
I think everyone has that first experience when they start out and audio and you do some recording in a small room, like most people start out in a bedroom and then you do some mixing in there as well. And things sound pretty bad. And you discover that sort of the problems of your room that you recorded in or then exacerbated when you listen to it again. And I hear that all the time in this tiny little office that I have with doing the podcast.
And it never sounds very good. And then later, I just learned that later I listen to it on headphones and I’m like, oh, it’s actually fine. It’s just all these problems where I’m hearing them on top of each other stacked, right?
Yeah. OK, so Jason, we’ll get back to talking about some technical audio stuff. But before we do that, let’s talk a little bit about your career journey. So how did you how did you get your first job in audio?
So I the first job I would say that in audio was when I was in high school. A friend of my father’s, a work colleague of my father’s, owned a kind of a side business as a sort of like a deejay business where you would send out somebody like somebody young with a sound system at the time, a big several sort of cases of CDs and jewel cases. Right. And need to go out and you provide music for a party or a wedding, whatever it was, high school prom or something like that.
And I growing up, I was always the kid that was taking everything apart around the house. And I studied music and played the piano and all these things, and it was right up my alley. And so anyway, my father arranged an introduction with this guy and he hired me on to start deejaying for him. So that’s when I learned sound systems. I learned how to put a system together because we had to like, you know, take it somewhere, unload it and put it all together.
I learned that was when I learned what power amplifiers really were. I was like, why is this?
What is this big, heavy thing that I keep having to like all year and nothing works without it?
I don’t really understand what this thing does. So that’s that was my first real job and where I was getting paid to do something with sound. And I think it really started the wheels turning for my interest and ultimately become a sound designer because I was obviously I was interested in the equipment side of it was like that was kind of fun. I could make really loud sounds and all of that. And that was cool and with lots of buttons and knobs and stuff like that.
But as I kind of the first few gigs that I did, of course, I was sort of shadowing somebody and this guy that I’ve been doing it for a few years, he sort of took me under his wing and showed me the ropes. And we did a few gigs together and he started showing some really interesting stuff.
He said, OK, look, I’m going to he would sort of point to like some people over on the wall that weren’t that weren’t out moving or talking, they might says, I’m going to get them off the wall and he would do these things right.
And or he would sort of play certain types of tracks in a certain order that he had kind of learned that he could slowly coax somebody into the party. Right. And I was fascinated by that. Or I thought, whoa, like, you just totally manipulated those people. That was fascinating to me, like, I love that I just couldn’t get enough of that, and I think that the part where I really started thinking about what it means to be a sound designer who’s not who’s designing the content and telling a story, I was like, oh, I can actually say something.
I can use the things that I create, the music that I that I create or choose or play or the sound, the sounds that I create or choose or play to really communicate something and affect people in what I now believe is a somewhat unethical way. I prefer not to manipulate people anymore. I prefer to let people react. However, they would like to react. But at the time, you know, I learned really quickly that I could manipulate people.
This is so interesting because it can be so hard as a sound engineer sometimes to get feedback and know if we’re doing a good job or a bad job. And what does that mean, like in the in the short term or the long term and how do we get hired again and be successful in our career?
So you’re a comedian and people are laughing and you’re like, it’s working, I’m doing it and you’re a deejay and people are dancing. You’re like, OK, things are going well. I’ll probably get hired again.
But as a sound engineer and it’s a little bit harder to tell if things are working, obviously if you come back and if people are coming back and complaining like, hey, I can’t understand anyone and I’m sitting over here or it’s too loud, people kids are covering up their ears or something.
That’s how we used to tell in the circus that it was too loud.
But you’ve just done another variable in there, which is, you know, I want this to be working, but also I don’t want to be manipulating people. So I don’t know.
We didn’t discuss this beforehand. But what do you tell your students about?
How do you know if if you’re doing a good job as a sound engineer, like what is the feedback loop so that you put something, you do your work and then how do you like make changes and make improvements now and now?
I will also say that there are a lot of people who disagree with me about this, a lot of Sound Design Live who disagree with me about this. But my my feeling is that I think it’s fine to say whatever I want, whatever I think and feel about the piece through my work. But I also want to present my work in a way that allows others to think and feel and react however they want to. And I don’t I don’t necessarily want everyone in the room having the same reaction.
I don’t want everyone in the room crying. And I know I know a lot of sound designers who that’s what they want, right? It’s like I want to make everybody in the room cry or want to make everybody in the room laugh. That’s not my goal. I’m interested in everybody having a natural response based on their life experience and what influences them and all of that. So the way that I know and what I tell my students is, you know, in theater, hopefully you get some previews where you get to try this thing out on an audience while you still have time to make changes and tweak it.
And I love that period of time. When you think you’ve got something, you bring in a small audience, you do it for them. And I spend my time watching the audience because I know the show backwards and forwards. I mean, I can add every minute of it so I don’t watch it. I watch the people, I watch the audience. I see when they react. And when I start seeing everyone react the same way, I think, am I imposing something here?
Like, am I doing something that’s making them feel like they have to react that way? And if I am, I want to fix that. Right. I want to make sure that I can. I’m not imposing that that maybe maybe everyone’s having a natural response and there just happens to be the same. And that’s fine. I just want to make sure that I’m not the one doing that. But when I see a person over here laugh and a person over here sort of get uncomfortable and a person over there scream or something like, you know, those are dramatic examples, but that’s when I’m really that’s when I get excited.
I think, OK, great, we’re doing something real now. People are reacting based on their own life experience and their own biases and their own whatever. That’s what’s. So that’s what I look for is those previews. If you don’t get the previews, gosh, that’s hard because you just don’t know. Right. You’re you’re in the show, you’re doing rehearsals. And the jokes stopped being funny like two weeks ago. And no one knows for sure.
It’s really hard to know.
Will this work? And then what is your definition for work? And your definition now is yes. Sometimes I want everyone kind of reacting the same and we’re having a community experience. But in general, I want people to kind of be reacting in their own unique personal way that has to do with their life experience. And so there might be a cue for thunder in there. And then you put in thunder and everybody’s like, it’s really loud. Everyone sort of shocked.
And I’m putting thunder in here because I know you have a recording. You have you have many recordings of thunder that are about on your database.
You know, then you might also try like what if there’s an obvious cue for thunder? And I put in the sound of a chicken and then like a few people are confused, but then a few people laugh and a few people are discussing or whatever, and then everybody’s kind of having a personal experience for whatever their relationship is with like chicken and surprises and whatever else is going on on stage.
Yeah, well, I mean, for example, for a lot of people, the sound of crickets is very relaxing and soothing. It’s, you know, it reminds them of nighttime and going to bed and all of that kind of stuff. For me, it’s very unnerving because as a child, I would be my mother would put me on time out in the laundry room that was next to the kitchen, our house. And my sister and I called it the cricket room because this room, there was crickets in it.
And when we would go and sit in this room and she’d shut the door, we’d sit in this room, it sounds way more abusive than it actually was.
But, you know, it was it was a bad kid. We get it. It was just a time out, you know.
But we’re sitting there and we’re hearing these crickets chirp in this room and there’s little kids. You know, you start your imagination starts going wild and you start seeing the coathangers come alive.
And so to this day, you know, the sound of crickets does not relax me the way that it does with other people.
And so whenever I have a director says, oh, we should put some crickets here to sort of like calm down the mood and everything. And I’m like, OK, let’s try.
It’s not gonna work. And so I think that you can’t control that stuff, right? You can’t you can’t control the way people are going to react. And I know a lot of people who try to control the way people react. And it is possible to some extent. But I just think that’s the easy way out. I think the the much harder way is to just do something that’s true and honest and and open and let people have that whatever that natural response is and whatever their natural response is, is fine.
So I guess the non manipulative, honest way to do it is just to do whatever you think works for you.
And I’ve had this discussion with other colleagues about why some people are good mixers. And there’s this idea that that sounds true to me, which is that you will be a successful mixer if you’re hearing is somehow similar to other people. So there’s a large enough group of other people that hear your results that agree with you. So if you just make something for yourself and it sounds and you’re not trying to be manipulative and you just make it sound good for you and other people agree with you, then that seems to be one of the attributes of a good mixer’s.
They seem to have like a a taste that is right down the middle with some category of people. Yeah, and I do talk about that with my students a lot. I say, look, ultimately, one of the things that people are going to pay you for is your taste.
I mean, hopefully one of the reasons people bring me back is they like the way my show’s sound. And there are times when my style is not right for a particular show. And I either have to evolve my style for that particular project or I find somebody else to take the gig. But yeah, I think you’re absolutely right that I try not to overthink what the audience is thinking and feeling. I try to just be honest, tell the story and then be completely OK with however they react.
I do a lot of theater for young audiences and kids are the best audience because they are a completely honest audience. Open book. Yeah. And you can tell, you know, exactly when you’ve lost them, exactly how they’re feeling about any moment.
And when I first started, it took me a while because there were times when we were trying to be really serious and have this dramatic moment. And then a kid would like shout out from the crowd is like, hey, that’s not whatever, you know, that’s not right. You shouldn’t do that or whatever. And at first I was getting really like somebody tell this kid to stop yelling out there.
And then I realized, you know, actually that is exactly what that kid should do, because whatever is happening in the scene is exciting that that kid and and that kid is reacting to what’s being what he’s being presented with in a really great way. So by all means, call out, you know, tell us that you can see the wires, tell us that you don’t like what’s going on. Tell us that you think that’s funny. And all of those reactions are fine and they’re great.
And that’s what we want is engaged, is to engage people, give somebody an opportunity to experience something that excites them in some way.
All right, Jason, so a lot of things have happened in your life, but I was wondering if you could maybe take us to one event. Can you think of something that’s happened in your career that that you feel like was a turning point? So what’s one of the best decisions you feel like you made to get more of the work that you really love?
You know, I think that I’ve made I couldn’t think of a single one decision, but I can think of a couple of things that have helped me an awful lot. One is that I I made a decision pretty early in my career that my career was not going to be my social life. And I think working in theater or any form of entertainment, I mean, the hours are long. You tend to be working when everyone else isn’t working and vice versa.
And I saw so many people around me where, you know, their work and their and their social life were basically the same thing. And I just decided, I’m not going to do that.
I don’t have to be friends with the people that I work with. And I absolutely want to do good work.
I want to get along with these people. I want them to appreciate and like working with me. But I don’t need to go out to the bar with them after the show. I don’t need to hang out with them when we’re not working. I don’t need to go golfing with them. I don’t. And that has helped me immensely because it allows me to make decisions about the work that I do without having to worry about how that’s going to impact my friendship with the people around me.
I can instead just focus on what do I have to do to do the best work that I can do in a way that is the most collaborative and the most supportive of everything that’s happening there. So that’s sort of a deal I made with myself, is that I’m going to have I need a social life, but my social life is not going to have anything to do with my work. And that has helped me so much. I see a lot of people who struggle a lot because they’re having a really hard time balancing that thing.
Right. Their friend, their best friends are the people that are sitting next to at work. And, you know, that makes you have to make some hard decisions sometimes when you’re doing work. And that is hard for a lot of people.
So that’s that’s one I think the other real another big turning point for me, that it was sort of like an aha moment for me as a as a sound designer was when I first started graduate school, I designed my first show as a graduate student. It was The Crucible by Arthur Miller. And I did what I thought was a fine job with the show and the David Smith, who I had come to study with. He came and watched one of the final dress rehearsals, and he and I sat in the back of the theater with him that night and.
To kind of get his thoughts, and he gave me a couple of notes here and there about some of the cues and stuff, and he says, I think generally, though, I’ve got this is my main note, he said. I just watched this whole show and having watched this last three hours, I, I know I feel like I know what the director thinks about this this play.
I can look at the set and I think I know what the what the set designer thinks about this play. I’m looking at the costumes, and I think I know what the costume designer thinks about this play, and I listen to your sound and you’ve created a lot of really great stuff.
It’s appropriate. It it fits. It’s really well executed and well mixed.
And we’ll edit it. It sounds really great in everything, but I have no idea what you think about this play.
Wow. And that was like a moment where it was just like mind blown and like, oh, wait a minute, what do I think about this play? And because I and he went on to just sort of say, look, yes, I mean, as a sound designer, your job is to tell the story, serve the director and their agenda and collaborate with other people everything.
But ultimately, your name goes on the poster right next to the director and the other designers and and the producers like you’re not even the actors get their name on the poster most of the time.
It’s like you get top billing on this thing, which means you had a voice in creating what this thing is. And if you don’t use that voice or something, then what’s the point?
You know, why are you here if you’re just here to just push the buttons, pull the sound effects, throw the dog bark off stage left, ring the doorbell and get your paycheck and go home, then why is your name on the poster?
It was a big moment for me where I was like, Oh, I am also an artist. Right.
I am a storyteller, I’m not yes, I’m an engineer and a technician and a musician and a designer and all these things, but I am also a storyteller and I am also an artist and I have a voice.
And that was a big turning point for me where I just, I mean, reframed the entire approach that I took to everything I did after that. And so that that is really, really informed to me over the years. Yeah.
And a good example of this is a show that I just did a couple of years ago. I got to do Matilda the Musical at the Children’s Theater of Charlotte and Children’s Theatre.
Charlotte was sort of one of the first two or three professional theatre companies to get the rights to actually do it after the after the Broadway the. And so there wasn’t a lot to go on. I mean, we eventually, after a show has been done a lot regionally, you sort of get a lot of there’s a lot of good research you can do that. You can talk to a lot of other people who have worked on it. I really didn’t have that luxury because there hadn’t been a lot of other people to work on this thing.
And so I read it. I listen to the music and all of this. And the thing that really stood out to me was there’s these two songs in this play I want to call it, once called Loud and once called Quiet. And the song called Loud is sung by Matilda’s mother. And she talks all about how it doesn’t really matter what you think of what you say or how smart you are or whatever, as long as you’re the loudest voice in the room, people have to pay attention to you and it doesn’t meant the substance doesn’t matter.
And this is her whole song. And and then in Act two, Matilda, if you’re familiar, the show has this moment where she sings the song Quiet, where the other kids at school are sort of being confronted by the headmistress and Matilda sort of it has this moment where kind of time stops. Right. And then she goes into the song called Quiet, and she sings a song about how much she’s in these moments in her life where she feels like everything is just being piled on her and she’s getting overwhelmed and buried.
She kind of retreats into herself and finds this sort of like stillness and quiet inside of her own mind and her own body. And that brings her peace and strength and all that. And she comes out of that song. Singing the song with everyone around her frozen in place. And she when she comes out of this song about how she finds power and strength in the quiet moments of life and the quiet, reflective moments of life, that’s when she turns around and discovers that she has telekinetic power.
And and I just thought, oh, that’s just amazing as a Sound Design Live was just like, yes, yes. And I the thing is that and I tell my students this all the time, says, listen, our job is to make stuff louder. We actually don’t have any technology to make things quieter. Every piece of technology that that has been invented, percentage in ears, is designed to make stuff louder. You don’t have anything that can make something quieter.
And so everything we do is just about making something louder. And so if you’ve got a problem, that something is too loud. You don’t have a knob for that right now, it could be that you have made it too loud and therefore you can make it less too loud. Right. But if it’s already too loud all by itself, you can’t do anything about that. And but I realized I have to figure out how to get quiet. Because that was so important to me, right, I mean, that part of the story was so important to me and I said, if that song is not actually quiet, then we will lose the meaning of this moment.
And so I put I play all my cards on this because I said, what do I have to do to get that song quiet? Yeah. How do you do it? Ironically, I opened the pit. What it.
What does that mean. It seems like it would make it louder if I know.
So this was the problem is I figured out the wait because normally at this performance space they cover the pit and we make up the orchestra and we play everything out of the speakers, the monitors and everything. And you would think that that would control the atmosphere of the of the orchestra? It does not, because the second you cover it, that means nobody can hear it.
The audience can’t hear it. The actors can’t hear it, you can’t hear it.
And so you start having to put this sound out of all kinds of sound systems. Right. And it’s coming out of 20 loud speakers on the stage and 50 speakers out of the house. It’s everywhere. You can’t get rid of it. And so even to do something quiet, it has to be coming from everywhere. And I said, that’s the way that’s how I’m going to do it, if I can get them to open the pit. Then I can push my front files back or.
I won’t have all this monitor bleed, I won’t have have to worry so much about putting all the sounds of the speakers. So then when we get to that moment, I can just tell the orchestra to play it quietly.
And if they can play it quietly, then the actor can sing it quietly and then we can mix it quietly and we can write.
And so I had to I played all my cards, all of my political capital.
I couldn’t get them to open. They really had to you really had to do a lot to talk them into this because it didn’t make any sense to do this.
It didn’t make any sense. The thing I was telling was like, we need to open the pit so that we can get the show quieter.
That doesn’t make any sense. I know it doesn’t make any sense, but listen, I’m the expert.
I’m telling you, you’ve got to do it because it did work. It worked. It was amazing. Amazing, right?
I mean, we got to that moment and everyone, like, turned to me and went, oh, you look like.
Yes, I know. And and it was just it was great.
And in the previews when we did it, like the audience got quiet, you know, even even kids got quiet. What is going on? And everyone’s whispering.
And it was great. It was so brilliant. And I would never have thought of that. I mean, that was that was ultimately a technical challenge that we had to overcome. But it would never have been something we would have even considered if I hadn’t decided that I had something that I felt and believed about this story that I wanted to make sure got communicated. And so that’s that’s a really extreme example of this thing where we had to do something really big but actually cost a lot of money so to do.
But it was really that came from me as as the Sound Design Live who wanted to make this point about about this song, about finding power and peace and quiet, that you don’t have to scream. You don’t have to be loud all the time. You know, I just found it so powerful.
So I think that has really informed a lot of the work that I do. That’s so great, so I just want to sum up again to say, like, I’m not here to make the doorbell ring and the dog to bark off stage left, I’m here to share this idea or I’m here to share like this transformational moment in this work.
So, Jason, you’ve been teaching for a while, and so you meet a lot of people who are doing things for the first time. And I thought this would be a perfect opportunity for you to talk about some of the the themes you see of people doing things for the first time. And so I use the word mistakes here, but really, it’s just like people doing things for the first time and they think, oh, this is the way you do it.
And that’s ends up not getting the result that they want. So what are some of the biggest mistakes you see people making who are new to theatrical Sound Design Live?
So I give my students the speech every year when they when all of my incoming students in the speech and I say, hey, look, you know, you have had a lot of experience in your life so far that have led you to this moment. Right. That got you to the point where you’re ready to really focus and learn this thing. And that’s great. And you should be proud of that experience and those things you had. But what you need to realize is that a lot of what you think, you know.
Is wrong and or is incomplete or is based on assumptions that you haven’t proved or is based on information you were given by someone who who also did not know what they didn’t know. And I said the best thing you can do is just be proud of that experience that is behind you now. And then we’re going to forget that it ever happened, that we’re going to start over, because the biggest mistake I see my students make is when they rely too much on their previous knowledge.
Because what happens is when when you get yourself into a rough situation on a on a show and everyone’s something’s not working. Everyone’s looking at you, the director shouting at you, and no one gets to work until you can solve this problem. The natural reaction is to just retreat into some sort of process that is comfortable to you, like you find these ways to get through the day.
And, you know, because when you didn’t know what you were doing, when you had no clue and you were starting, you just sort of like discovered these things by accident, like, oh, here’s a way that I can get people to stop shouting at me.
And it wasn’t necessarily the right solution, but it got you out of a mess once. And therefore, it’s like, OK, that’s that’s my go to now. That’s my solution.
And so I, I see my students do that a lot where they’ll they’ll come there for whatever reason.
They’re terrified of me. I don’t know why, but eventually they’ll pluck up the courage to actually call me for help and I’ll come over and see where they are on their show and I’ll say what’s going on?
And we’re having this problem and this and this and that and all these things. And I’ll start looking around and I’ll look at what the system that’s in there and look at what they’ve set up on the board and everything. And in invariably every one of those times I look at it and say. That’s not what I told you to do. That is not the way I taught you to do that. This is not what was drawn in your paperwork. How about we do the thing that was in your paperwork, do the thing that I taught you to do, and then let’s see what happens.
And what had happened is they had retreated into some previous knowledge and ignored the new knowledge because the previous knowledge was comfortable to them. And I think that’s the biggest mistake I see people starting out with, is that you sort of stumble into these quick fixes of things before you really understand what’s going on.
And then you miss forever in the future the opportunity to learn a better way.
So it’s it’s hard it’s really hard to sort of unlearn things, but it’s critical. And hopefully you you have a mentor, somebody that can help you do that. If you don’t, it’s it’s almost impossible to challenge your own paradigms. But I think it’s the biggest mistake I see new people make. And so how do you how do you break out of that? I did an interview with the creator of the Sound Bullett last year, and he sort of talked about forcing yourself to to practice methodical troubleshooting when normally you just want to jump to one thing because you think, oh, I think it’s over here when and then you waste a bunch of time because you’re not being methodical.
And so if you practice forcing yourself to actually go from point A to B to C in the signal chain, then you get better really at figuring that stuff out logically and faster later on. Then if you just sort of like gas and then you end up chasing your own tail. So what is your guidance then to your students to, like, unlearn this stuff or force yourself into better, better habits and better more creative processes? Well, the first thing I do is I.
I exercise really tight control over the tools that they use. Right.
I mean, we’re in a fortunate situation in our program where we’ve got a pretty, pretty good equipment inventory and students will, if left to their own devices, they’ll just use the same thing every time because they know how to use it. It’s comfortable to use the same console in every show, whether it’s the right console for the job or not. And so one of the things that I work really hard to do is I force them to not use the thing that they know.
You know, you’ve you’ve used that Yamaha M7, s.L on every show you’ve ever done in your life today. You’re going to use the Digicom. Well, I don’t know how to use the DiCicco. Well, you’ll know by the end of today.
So that’s one thing, as I sort of is sort of force yourself into using tools that are unfamiliar to you, because when you’re using a tool that is unfamiliar to you, it forces you to think about how it works and how sound works.
And you have to read the manual. You have to ask questions from other people. And so I find that’s the quickest way to overcome your own previous knowledge biases and things to force yourself to use a tool you’re not familiar with. The other thing is I am a firm believer in paperwork. My students do a ridiculous amount of paperwork and they always say it’s like no one does this.
This paperwork out in the real world. I’m like, yeah, and this isn’t the real world, this is school.
And and I say, the problem is I can’t look into your head to find out if you’ve thought about all the things you need to think about, show your work. The only way I know how to figure out if you’ve thought about everything is to get you to write it all down. And so, like, I make them do these ridiculous patch plots where they make a spreadsheet that shows every single connector in the entire system connected one to another. And they say this takes us forever.
I know. But if you do this now, then you’re definitely going to know how that sound system goes together and you’re going to realize before you get into the gig that you need an hour to quarter inch adapter or such and such a turnaround or something like you’re going to find that out now as opposed to five minutes before you have to make sound come out of the system.
So that’s another thing that I find really helps, is to take the time to sit down and do paperwork, draw it out. What am I trying to do? If you can draw it out on paper, you’ll find a lot of these problems really quickly and you’ll realize, oh, gosh, there’s a better way to do that.
So that those are the two things I find a lot. Force yourself to do something new, do paperwork.
Nice. All right, Jason.
Well, let’s go back to talking about tools that you’re not comfortable with and like breaking out of your patterns and your biases. So at this year’s Live Sound Summit, you gave a presentation called Potential Acoustic Gain. Why IQ is Not the Answer to Feedback. So one of the first things you say in that presentation is that the tools people use first to combat feedback are really the tools they should use the last. So first of all, what are the tools people are using first to combat feedback mostly?
Q I see so many folks.
I mean, I honestly don’t understand why graphics still exist to me in the world now.
I understand, but it’s stupid, right? And it’s because people buy them.
But, you know, that’s it is people use this graphic to combat feedback. And I get why it’s and if you don’t really understand why feedback happens, then, yeah, it makes sense to sort of like whip out an HQ and fix this because you’re realizing there’s this problem, right? There’s this frequency in my sound system that is running amuck. And now I have this tool here that allows me to remove a frequency. So if I have frequency that’s misbehaving, I can just get rid of it.
Right. It’s reasonable. The problem is that you’re treating a symptom there, you’re not actually treating the problem. And so, like using any cute and not sharp feedback, it’s sort of like trying to cure the flu with Tylenol.
It’s like, OK, that might make you feel a little bit better. Your sore throat will go away, your fever might go down, but you still have the flu.
Sure. This is interesting because what they teach you in sales and marketing is that people buy vitamins and they buy aspirin. They don’t buy cures as much. Yeah, exactly.
And so that’s why the graphic here still exists, because people buy them. It looks like a solution that gets them through the night and that’s fine. The problem is that, you know, you can do a lot of harm to a lot of things that are important to you by immediately jumping over that gravity cue to solve that problem.
And this goes back to what we were talking about earlier, is that you get into a challenging situation. There’s feedback. It’s a scary thing. It’s something that pisses everybody off. It’s a sure thing to make you not get hired again.
And so you want to go to so you end up falling back on whatever your previous experience was, your preconceived notions. OK, so we’ve talked about this tool. This is what people are jumping to first. So what tools should they be using instead if it’s not EKU?
Well, I think to understand that, you have to first understand what is causing feedback and what feedback happens when the sound from the talker or the instrument or the whatever that’s making the sound when that hits the microphone at the same level as the sound from the loudspeaker, that is amplified when those two things hit the microphone at the same level. That’s when feedback happens, because when you have two identical sounds that are arrive at the same place, at the same level, but slightly out of time, then we know that creates some calm filtering.
But the other thing that will happen is that there will be some number of frequencies where that difference in time corresponds with a certain period or wavelength for a given frequency. Therefore, those frequencies are coming together perfectly in level and at some zero degree phase relationship. And whenever that happens, it gets louder. Right, 60 boost foom for that frequency. And so now that frequency comes out of that loud speaker again, six dB louder hits the mic, six to be louder again.
Boom, boom, boom, boom. It loops, loops, loops, and it gets louder and louder and louder, which is why feedback gets louder the longer you let it go.
And so that’s what’s actually happening, is that you have sound coming out of the loudspeakers that’s making it back into the mic at the same level as the sound of the thing that the mic is pointed at. So if you really want to solve that problem, you’ve got to get that level differential larger. And that’s a geometry problem that is not an EU problem solving, that is geometry, it’s the reason that you have that problem is because things are in a physical relationship in the room that is causing the sound from the loudspeakers to hit the microphone at the same level as the sound from the talker or the instrument or whatever.
And if you understand that, then you’ll understand that, oh, well, I could make the sound from the loudspeaker quieter the microphone if I could get the loudspeaker farther away from the microphone. Right before I could make that, I could make those two things different, if I could get the microphone closer to the thing that’s making the sound, then that thing would be louder there. But the the level from the loudspeaker would not have changed. And so now there’s some differential there.
So there’s various things that you can do to create that differential. It’s not that you can’t have any sound from the speaker hitting the mic. It’s that you need a significant difference in level between the natural sound and the amplified sound hitting the mic. And if you can do that, you won’t have feedback.
So let’s just take an aside here related to level and time arrival. So is this why don’t we take a step back? So I studied studio sound and I remember one of the things we learned in Studio Sound since we had a tiny bit about live sound is just like some tips and tricks. One of the first things I heard is that if you add some delay to a signal, you can reduce the feedback or try inverting the polarity. And so from what I’m hearing you say now, it sounds like maybe that won’t actually help, because if I add delay, the signal’s still arriving at the same level.
And so what’s going to happen is that I won’t eliminate the feedback. It’ll just change to a different frequency.
So, yeah, if you invert the polarity. Yeah, that frequency that was feeding back won’t anymore. But now an octave above that will.
And it’s likewise if you change the delay, that’s that just means that now there’s a different frequency that’s going to lock into some zero degree phase relationship because of its wavelength period. So it might solve your problem for that specific moment. But I guarantee you 10, 15 seconds later, you push the fader and some other frequency locks in and feedback guarantee. So then coming back to the question, you were saying that IQ is not the first tool you should be reaching for when you have dealing with microphone feedback and instead the tools you should be reaching for are placement, aim and activity of your your receivers and transducers, your speakers and your microphones set the case, right?
Well, and I think the the reason that people are reaching for the cue is because they didn’t do that work ahead of time, that if the system’s already up, everything’s in place.
You’re doing the show and it’s feeding back. At that point, you don’t have a lot of options, but feedback can be predicted. There is math that lets you predict this. You can plug in the system configuration and the distances and everything into a mathematical equation, and it will tell you exactly how much gain you’ll be able to get before it feeds back. And now there’s a lot of variables that are being considered and all that math. And so, you know, it’s give or take a few dB, but you can get pretty good idea of whether you’ve got a problem or not.
And so if you can figure that out ahead of time, then, yes, then it’s easy to move the loudspeaker if you haven’t already hung it.
But if you’ve already hung it up in the air and you’ve already checked this show and there’s already the mikes already in place and everything, and the show is going now and you and that’s now the time you’ve started worrying about feedback. Yeah. Your only option is going to be to reach for that too. And then you obliterate your finely tuned frequency in phase response.
So to illustrate this, you have these really great flash demos on one of your sites that people can play with.
And and just to describe it to them, you have a few different variables that you can change. You can change like the talkers distance to the microphone. You can change the speaker placement. You can change the what’s the other thing you can change well, so you can you can move the listener around.
You move the talker around, you move the microphone around and move the loudspeaker. Right. And then you can also also play with the activity of the microphone. And then you see the result is very, very cool.
You see, like how much what is the potential gain of the system? So I don’t know. It doesn’t really do great justice to it for us to I don’t know, describe that too much more right now. But it just so eye opening to be able to see that. So if people want to play with that again, I’ll put a link to that in this in this podcast. But during your presentation of on it, it was just so cool to see you just in real time, being able to change these factors and see how the potential gain would change in the system.
Yeah, and I have to I have to admit that I did not create that that flash demo that was created by a colleague of mine. I published a book I wrote a book with two other people, Jennifer Berg, who is a computer scientist at Wake Forest University, and Eric Schwartz, who at the time was a graduate student of mine. And Eric is one of the smartest people I know. And I kind of hired him. We had a research grant write this thing and and I hired him on the grant to kind of help us out.
And he learned programming as part of that. And I had been talking about that. I mean, I had this idea for a long time. I was like, you know, like if there’s these mathematical equations you can read in the books that tell you, well, you plug the Senate, you can get your game feedback, but it’s kind of cumbersome math and it takes a little while. You want to change your variable, you have to go back and write it all again.
And I was talking to Eric one day and I just said it’d be really cool if we could somehow, like, just plug that MAPP into CAD or something and be able to move the speaker and move the mike or something and have it recalculate the results. And he’s like that in Flash. And I said, well, let’s try it. And so he did he put it together and he made and it was great. So we put it into the book and it got to the point where Eric had contributed so many of those kind of just amazing tools to the book that we eventually had to credit him as a co-author because, like, we can’t in good conscience take credit for all this work that he did, you know?
So I think that the I will take credit for the idea, but I did not make that Eric. That was absolutely his work. But and it is really, really useful as a teaching tool and a learning tool just to kind of really understand what can I do to combat feedback doesn’t involve obliterating my frequency response lithographic to.
Well, let’s talk a little bit more about that in your presentation, so I just picked out some moments that were surprising for me and that I thought would be fun to talk about. So you say the graphic IQ is nowhere near as surgical as you imagined it to be. And this is such an interesting moment for everyone.
The picture that you have in your head of what you think a graphic IQ does, what you think it does is pretty different than the first time you actually measure one and you see the results. You’re like, oh, wait, so how surgical is it?
What is a graphic IQ really doing?
Yeah, I mean, of course the answer is it depends. But if it’s a third octave graphic, which is probably the one you see the most you’ve got, I mean, the great thing about a graphic here, the reason people like it is that you can look at it and get some idea of what’s happening with rings.
Your response, right. You’ve got your low frequencies over here, your differences over here, and you move around.
And that’s great that that one slider that has that one frequency on it. But you’ve got a slider that says one kilohertz and you can move that up or down. And if it’s in the middle, it’s it’s not changing at that frequency. If you put it up, it makes louder, but it makes quieter. And the screen printing on that fader has a single frequency. But in reality, that’s that little slider. That fader is manipulating a lot of frequencies.
It’s called a third octave graphic Kikue, because that slider represents a third octave filter. And what that means is that it’s a third octave filter because it’s a third of an octave between the six dB down points of the filter. So you’ve got a peak and that’s where that’s the frequency that is labeled on screen printing. And then you measure the distance between the frequencies on either side of that that are 60 below that. And that’s the defined range of the filter.
OK, the prop. So first of all, you’re not just knocking out one frequency, you’re not out a whole range of frequencies and a third of an octave then. But that’s just between a sixty down point. You also have a whole lot of other frequencies that are also being manipulated beyond that sixty down point. So that one little slider that you are using to remove a sine wave is actually manipulating. An octave, octave and a half worth of frequencies to some extent.
That’s a lot.
And to sort of help people visualize this, I find it helpful to sort of imagine keys on a keyboard if you’re familiar with what a piano looks like and you can sort of like reach across an octave, which is 12 keys with like one hand, as if you imagine a third of those. That’s already four keys. And now you’re saying it’s even larger than that. So now you start to get a sense of what the size of this is, if you think about keys on the keyboard, right?
It’s way it does way more damage response than you imagine it does. You are taking out a big chunk of your frequency spectrum in order to remove a sine wave.
OK, all right. We killed it. We kill it. So the moment in your presentation that is sort of like mind melting for a lot of people live on the event is when you said gain before feedback is independent of the level of the talker.
And everyone’s like, what? That’s crazy. You’re saying it doesn’t matter if I whisper or scream, it won’t change the potential acoustic gain of the system, is that correct?
That’s correct. And the math, there’s this out.
If if this was if we had video here, I could do the math and show you. But basically you can run the math in a way that considers how loud the person is talking. And then you can run the math in a way that completely excludes that information and you get the same result as far as your acoustical game goes.
So that tells us that it doesn’t matter. Doesn’t matter how loud they talk, your game is the same. And what we mean by that is that, know, we define acoustical gain or game of feedback as the difference perceived by the listener in the audience between when the sound system is turned off and when the sound system is turned on. So if we decide not to show up for work and they try to do the show anyway and the sound system never gets turned on, presumably the audience will hear something.
Right? There’s people on that stage doing stuff and they’re singing or playing instruments and those things are making sound. And that sound will get out to the audience somewhat. They’ll hear something. Hopefully, if you’ve done your job well, you might show up to work that day, turn on the sound system and they hear more. Right. So the difference between what they would hear without the sound system and what they hear with the sound system, then that’s your game.
That’s what you gain by putting a sound system into the room. And that game is fixed, right. The amount of gain you can get before the system feeds back, unless you change some very big system like that, that is a fixed amount that is independent of how loud the sources. So if the source is if you’re game for feedback is 20 dB. That’s not bad. It’s not awesome, but it’s you can get through the night with only 20 dB a game, that just means that if they’re talking really quietly, you can make the audience hear something 20 dB louder than them whispering.
If they are screaming, you can you are able to let the audience hear something 20 dB louder than them screaming, but them changing how loud they are doesn’t change the fact that you can only add 20 dB to that scenario. So your gain is independent of the level of the talker or the instrument or whatever it is.
But what is true is that in some cases in small rooms, if the source is naturally louder, you might need less gain in order for the audience to be able to hear it and understand it. But in a really big room where there’s if your listener is three hundred, four hundred feet away. You know, it doesn’t make me talking really that it really doesn’t matter, they’re not going to hear and understand anything. It’s all on you anyway.
So so that’s where the misconception is, is is that, oh, well, you know, if they get loud to talk louder, wouldn’t be back.
And it’s like, no, it’s not a problem if that’s what’s happening. You’re basically using the acoustics of the space to solve a problem with your sound system. And that doesn’t actually change anything about your game for feedback. OK, one last thing about this, you said microphones did not exhibit the same dire activity at every frequency. So I’m thinking, OK, microphones have this polar pattern and we think of cardio super cardio. OK, I understand that.
But you’re saying that that’s not the same over frequency. So tell me a little bit more about that and then how does that affect my game before feedback?
OK, so the first thing I understand is microphones are the same thing as loud speakers. They’re just a dynamic microphone is just a small, loud speaker. It just it just wired it backwards, just using it backwards. So it’s the same thing. And we know that loud speakers are not directional in the same way for every frequency. Hopefully, you know that if you don’t, you should know that just because the spec sheet of the loudspeaker says that this is a 40 degree vertical does not mean that it’s 40 degrees for every single frequency.
And that is not a laser beam. Right there is. It doesn’t mean you don’t have any sound passed 40 degrees. You still have lots of sound pass 40 degrees.
It’s just at 60 quieter at the 40 degree angle and that 40 degrees at some arbitrarily chosen number by the manufacturer that they put on the back seat. It’s like some sort of average of some range of frequencies that they cared about. But if you really look at what it does and look at the color parts, look at these parts and you’ll see, OK, it’s vastly different from frequency frequency. Microphones are no different. Microphones are different directives per frequency.
And there’s a lot of reasons why there’s some science behind that that we don’t have a lot of time to get into. But it has to do with the size and diameter driver, the way that it’s vented and things like that. So, yes, you could get a cardio in microphone and that will exhibit a certain activity on average. But that’s going to change for for from frequency to frequency. Now, particularly, it becomes problematic at the low frequencies because it’s we know it’s really hard to control low frequencies.
Low frequencies tend to be omnidirectional because in order to control them, you need really big stuff. You know, if you want to control one hundred hertz, you need something that is ten feet big. You need you need either the back to the future driver that is a ten foot diameter driver or this is another reason why we like winery’s is because you can make a lot of speakers act like one really tall one and then you can control one hundred hertz.
But a microphone, the biggest diaphragm on, on and on, even a large diaphragm microphone is about an inch, inch and a half or something, not ten feet.
It’s not going to be not even close. Right. There’s no way that it’s going to be able to control that low frequency.
And so you can yes, you can use microphone type activity to your advantage and gain before feedback. If you can get the the area of the microphone where it is less sensitive pointed towards the loudspeaker than OK. Yes, that’s now the sound for the loudspeaker is going to be hitting the mic and that mic is going to be less responsive to that sound at that angle. But that really helps you mostly at high frequencies. You get down to the low frequencies.
The lowering is these are still largely omnidirectional, even for that cardio microphone. So you still have to figure out what to do about that. You can’t just rely on microphone or activity to solve your feedback problems either, which is why the low frequencies are always the ones the feedback burst.
So I think in a lot of times in practice are on stage. We don’t see this happen immediately. It seems like it’s the high frequencies that feedback first, but that’s because we’ve already taken actions to make sure that it’s not the low frequency. So we have high best filters on our microphones. We have high test filters on our stage monitors. And so we might sort of lose touch with the fact that those would be feeding back if we didn’t have that in place already.
OK, Jason, tell us about the biggest or maybe most painful mistake that you’ve made on the job and what happened afterwards.
I, I can’t think of a specific thing that I do remember early in my career.
I was doing summer stock opera and was put into this position of being the in-house Sound Design Live for this opera company and barely knew what I was doing.
I mean, I was still halfway through my undergraduate college training. I hardly knew anything. But for whatever reason, I mean, it was summer stock. They so happens they bring in college students who work for cheap and they give them responsibilities that I’m ready for.
And I was no exception. I was not ready for it. And they gave me this budget and they solve these problems and do sound. And, you know, I remember a couple of scenarios that those couple of summers where I did that, where I had somehow got into my head, that if I only had this certain fancy thing, whatever it was, then I would be able to solve. Problem. OK, I had heard about cool microphones.
There was this we were doing Carmen and the maestro wanted the six chorus people off stage singing at the end to sound like a few thousand people in the stadium. And I thought, oh, well, if I got a good microphone and maybe some reverb or something in the mixer, I could make that happen. And I made the I made the company rent a C for 14 for what to them was a good amount of money.
And because I thought, oh, that’s a nice microphone, that should sound good. And and then I can do this reverb effect and it’ll be fine and understand what I was talking about. And I’ll never forget the first time I tried to do it, it just sounded awful.
I mean, it was awful for a million reasons. It was awful. But of course, now I know that that’s not possible. Like, you can’t even do that thing. Like you can’t make five people sound like a thousand people live. You can’t do that.
Especially not if if all those if the five voices are coming into one might like it. Just like you can’t do it. It doesn’t work. So now I know that.
But I didn’t know it then.
And I remember the first time we tried to do it, the maestro sort of turned around to me. Are you kidding me?
Oh, no, that’s painful. Yeah, that’s good. And I was like, but of course I was really offended by that because I hadn’t really even on my own. I haven’t I hadn’t come to the realization myself that I had screwed this up yet. I still was attached to my idea. I thought I was doing something right. And it took me a while to realize that I was doing nothing but harm. And so there was that and a couple of situations like that where I read something in an article or something and heard about some cool little Whiz-Bang box.
And if I could get that, then I could solve this problem. And I realized that I didn’t actually notice talking about it. And I made somebody spend a lot of money and didn’t solve the problem. And I lost a lot of credibility because of that. And that is a lesson that I take to heart. And I always I tell my students this all the time. I said never, ever, ever tell somebody to spend money on something unless you know for sure that they will hear every dollar that they spend.
It’s got to be justified.
Can’t visit while you tell them they have to spend a thousand dollars to buy you this fancy box. They had better here a thousand dollars worth of better sound because of it, or you will lose all of your credibility.
Wow. So what’s the end of that story that I might go back? Did you figure out solve the problem? Did you get fired? Well, what happened? I get fired. I mean, listen, they were it’s not like there was anybody else that would do the job.
You know, it was a summer stock opera company in the middle of nowhere. The you know, we fooled around with it a little bit more and played a little bit and ultimately just kind of had to punt it. OK, it’s never going to sound like a thousand people. The best thing we can do is just make it sound a little bit farther away. We can add a little reverb to it. And that was about it. And it would never we just it would never sound like what we know nowadays.
What I would do, of course, is I would just record it right. I would record it.
I would double it. I would get a whole bunch of people to saying I would mix it all up. I would make it sound like thousands of people would click, track it and play it out as a recording. But those were concepts I didn’t even know existed.
All right, Jason, I’ve got some questions from Facebook. Anthony Miranda says, What separates you and see from other theater and design production programs in the country? What do they do differently that sets them apart?
You know, I think I mean, I can speak for the sound design program that I run.
And in saying that, there are a few, a handful of schools that I think are trying to to teach sound design at the same level that we’re trying to do. And I think they all have a slightly different approach. And I think the thing that sets us apart is David Smith and I decided a long time ago that we wanted our students to have jobs. Basically the mission statement of our institution, the North Carolina school, the arts is what used to be called and it’s called the University of North Carolina School of the Arts.
But it’s been around for 50 years. It’s the first public performing arts conservatory in the country.
And the mission statement of the institution says we exist to prepare people for professional careers in the arts.
So if we’re going to all this trouble to train these people, send them out, and then they’re not having professional careers in the arts, we’re failing at our mission. And so the thing that we decided early on is we want our students. We want to deliver on that for one. And we looked at what is the typical kind of career path if there is a typical career path or anybody working in Lebanon. And everyone sort of has their own little path they carve out, but the first handful of years, it’s like you’re trying to figure out what that is, you’re trying to figure out what your groove is and what the thing is that you do and you end up having to just kind of take every gig that comes to you.
Right. I mean, if you’re if you have to turn stuff down because you don’t know how to do it or whatever, then you’re going to have a much harder time those first few years, because to just kind of pay the bills, you got to take everything until eventually you start figuring out what you’re really good at and what people will continue to hire you to do. And then you kind of get your your area that you the thing that you do and your special secret sauce and then you get your your career out of that.
But at first you have to take everything.
And we we saw in some cases students coming out of some of the other programs that that study that had put a lot of their energy into training students for a particular part of the industry, a particular skill set within that which meant that the students coming out of there, that was the thing they felt comfortable doing. They sort of had to turn down jobs that weren’t that. And I decided and David, I decided that we didn’t want that for our students.
So we made a conscious decision for our curriculum that we want our students to never feel like they have to turn down a job. And so in order to do that, we’re going to train them as broadly as we possibly can within this area of specialization of Sound Design Live, which means I want if they get offered a job to mix amusical, I want them to feel like they can take that job if they get offered a job to compose music for a play.
I want them to feel like they can take that job if they get offered a job to coordinate RF frequencies for.
First of all, I want them to feel like they can take that job. So I want to train them as broadly as I can within that. Now, that sounds great. And maybe people are listening, hearing it like, well, like, why doesn’t everybody do that? And there’s a reason everybody doesn’t do that because we have to give stuff up in order to do that. And what we have to give up was depth.
So if all I cared about was teaching you how to be a really great music composer for theater shows, then and if I wanted you to be the best of that in the world, then I would have to not teach you a whole lot about mixing shows and coordinating R.F. and tuning sound systems. And I would instead spend that time teaching you more about composing music. And so in order for us to deliver on this sort of broad based curriculum, we had to give up at some depth.
So some of our competitors have the ability to take their students deeper into some subjects than we have the luxury of being able to do, because we’ve made the conscious decision to diversify our curriculum. So our students, we force them to just do everything right. They our students will come out of our program having mix to show, having designed a sound system, having recorded sound effects, composed music, laid table, all of it like they do, all of it.
They could if they had to do the whole show themselves. Now, maybe not as maybe there are parts of that that wouldn’t be as good as somebody else could do for that little slice of it. But they can deliver the whole package at some level of competency. I think that’s what sets our program apart is, is that broad based training.
Kiriakou says what is his favorite digital console in terms of advanced? Q and macro commands programming for Musicales? So I years ago got my hands on a military system from which, if you know the history of that product, it used to be called LCAC, there’s this company I started it that was sort of like matrix panning kind of stuff and evolved over the years and into what it is now. And it’s it’s we’re kind of getting the vibe that maybe Myers seems to be maybe losing their interest and continuing developing that.
We’ll see. I haven’t seen the software update for a good while now, so I don’t know what they’ll what their intentions are for that product.
But what is amazing about it, it’s it’s amazing and terrible, all because, you know, both LCS and then when Meyer bought out the company and took it over, they they had the same attitude about it, is that basically they always say yes. Right.
So do one thing anywhere. Yeah.
I mean I mean, they’re trying to put these systems on big shows. I mean, these are the systems that all the big Cirque shows we’re using for a lot of years. I think they’re starting to transition out of them a little bit, but a lot of big theme park shows are doing it. Jonathan Deane’s, he was involved in the early stages of LCAC and he still uses them on his shows, on Broadway and things. And so you’ve got these big clients that are paying a lot of money and do these big shows.
And when they ask you, hey, can it do this, you’re going to say yes, right.
And so they always just say, yes, sure we can it that we can do anything you want, which is great, but also terrifying because anybody who’s ever developed any kind of tool or product knows that eventually you have to start saying no to people or the thing just get so bloated that you can’t use it doesn’t make any sense to the world and the military and the system is basically that. I mean, there’s only a handful of people in the world.
That thing makes any sense to it all. And it’s I’m one of them, apparently, like, it just made so much sense to me when I looked at him like I could do anything I want.
I could literally do anything I want.
And which means it basically does absolutely nothing. When you turn it on, it does nothing. It doesn’t even know it’s a mixer. When you turn it on, it just thinks it’s a stack of Linux computers and you have to literally tell it every single thing that you want it to do. But it always says yes. So I love it. I love it. I use it. Any chance I can get.
Yohei Zilber, what some people may know from Sound, Jim, and on your YouTube channel, which we should talk about a little bit more, let’s take an aside real quick. So, Jason, Romney has this amazing YouTube channel. I don’t know how I discovered it, but Jason, you put so many of your lessons on there and they are multiple hours long. And so if you can’t make it to Jason’s class and enroll in his school, there’s so many lessons on there about fundamentals, like just learning the decimal.
You have like this many hours, like three part series about the decimal. You have this multiple multipart series about learning to use ese for doing designs and then AutoCAD and like all this other stuff. So not really a question about that. Just want people to know that if they go to YouTube and search for Jason Romney, basically have hours and hours of audio and Sound Design Live content to learn it.
Yeah. And, you know, a lot of people sort of like really kind of look at me funny. A lot of my colleagues look at me like, really, you’re putting all of your classes on YouTube. And the reason behind that is that I read a paper years ago when I first started teaching was it was a it was a research study about sort of like how students retain information that they give in a classroom. And it was the most depressing thing I’d ever read as a teacher because it basically said the students will only remember best case scenario, 10 percent of what you say to them in class.
And one of the occupational hazards of being a professor is you sort of become enamored with the sound of your own voice and you start thinking about every word that comes out of your mouth is the most important thing that has ever been other.
And so that was devastating to me because it was like I never say anything in a class that I don’t want them to something.
So it was like this was devastating to me. And so I immediately began trying to figure out a way to fix that problem, like I have to, that this cannot stand I cannot allow this. And one of the ways the solutions I came up with was, OK, if they only remember 10 percent of what they hear in a session with me, if I can give them the opportunity to listen to it more than once, then maybe the second time they’d remember a different 10 percent and the third time they’d remember it different 10 percent, or they remember the piece that they need today.
But then maybe a year from now they need another piece. So I first I started just like recording them just with a was audio recording. I did a podcast and I would put it out on a little local Web page for my students that they could just get and look after. So when I realized that they didn’t remember something, but they have this faint memory that I said something about that at one point they can go back and listen to it and get it again, and then they don’t have to call me and then feel embarrassed.
They don’t remember it. And then slowly that evolved into doing videos and all of that. And I used to be really worried about I used to password protected and all of my students could only get to it so other people couldn’t. And then I finally got to this point realized, what am I protecting here? Like, what is what is it that I am so worried about people getting a hold of? What’s the worst thing that could happen if someone that is not one of my students gets a hold of this?
Oh, I know what it is. Ask me, what is the worst thing that can happen if it’s your own fear about about someone seeing about doing something wrong.
Right, exactly. It’s like maybe somebody think I’m wrong. But you know what? I don’t think I’m wrong. Actually, I’ve been doing this for a while now, and if I am wrong, that’s fine.
But this is the only way to learn it. I mean, I’m sorry I keep interrupting you on all these subjects, but like, this is why I write stuff and it’s terrifying. Every time I publish this podcast, I publish a video. I published an article.
And it may seem like I’m kind of confident sometimes now because I’ve been doing it for a little while. But but that’s why at the end of every one of my videos, I say, hey, if you see me doing something wrong, like let me know or if you knew, a better way to do is let me know. Like this is my learning because I’m just, you know, as engineers were so often just working by ourselves. And so you need some way to, like, speed up that learning feedback loop.
OK, sorry, continue.
So I had to get over that. It was sort of like, look, why am I so afraid of this? I mean, people are literally paying thousands of dollars to come and hear me say these things in a room with them. Why would people not want to hear these things out online? And maybe if they don’t agree with, that’s fine. I’m not doing it for them. I’m doing it for my own students. I have nothing to lose by putting this out there into the world.
The best thing that happens is maybe people discover these videos and they learn something about sound. And is that the worst thing in the world? No, absolutely not. And does that mean they won’t come study with me? No, it means they would be more likely to study with me. It’s not like I’m giving the house away. They’ll watch these videos and they’ll like them and they’ll want to come in all my program. So anyway, long story short, I record pretty much every class I ever do.
I put it on YouTube, but know that I’m not doing it for you. I’m doing it for my students. And I just put a copy of it on YouTube and you can watch it if you like it. If you don’t think that the microphone quality was good enough or that the camera angle was good enough for you, it’s I don’t I’m not going to respond to those comments because I don’t care. That’s not why I’m doing it. I’m not trying to make money off these videos.
So you take what you can get. But I think the information is good and it’s free.
So, OK, so you Zilber says, ask him about the secret Smurf ami inside of our doors.
Yeah. So this goes back so high is one of the people behind him. And we started we’ve moved our training class over to Jim a couple of years ago with my sound like programming, which is spontaneous. It’s a great tool.
And there’s but there’s also it’s a really great community of sound people who sort of like talk and exchange ideas and stuff like that. And I responded to a thread on there. This was now almost a year ago, Santorum had just released a new training game for compression. And there was a lot of people that were starting to play this game and they suddenly realized they didn’t understand compression. They were like trying to guess what the ratio is of the compression.
They had to guess what the attack was. And they start realizing, oh, wait, I don’t actually know what these things are. And so somebody started somebody posted threads like, I don’t understand this. Like, can someone explain to me what these things mean? And there were a lot of things, comments who were making a lot of which didn’t make any sense. And I had years ago had to figure out a solution to how to explain this, because I have to explain it to my students.
The compression is is a really abstract concept that is really difficult to wrap your head around. And David Smith and I who who teach together, kind of between the two of us, it came up with this way of talking about it where and this is ultimately what I shared on Sound Design Live kind of.
So excited, as is said, I like to imagine that there is a little Smurf inside the box, inside the compressor, and what in order to understand a compressor, you have to first understand the compressor is just an automatic volume knob. That’s all it is, is a compressor just rides the theater for you saw does so if you’ve got a sound that you’re constantly riding the fader up and down, up and down to control the level, you can let a compressor do that work for you.
And so to understand how the compressor works, just imagine there’s a little Smurf inside the box and the Smurf has got the hand on a fader and the Smurf is listening to the sound. And when the sound gets too loud, the Smurf turns it down and when sound gets too quiet, turns it back up. And and that’s when we’ll just do that forever inside that box. And then you can sort of take it on to sort of say, OK, well, the threshold is how you tell the Smurf when something’s too loud.
So you say if anything ever gets louder than this, turn it down. That’s your threshold. And then the ratio is all about, well, how much do you turn it down? So so once the Smurf realizes it’s too loud, if you’re ratio’s two to one, then the Smurfs will say, I’m going to turn it down by half as much as it went above the threshold. And then attack and release is all about how quickly it does it.
So it’s it’s just sort of an example that I use to explain compression to my students. But it’s a way it’s a way of understanding it that seems to really click with people like, oh, it’s just an automatic volume knob. And yeah, I can just imagine there’s this little Smurf inside the box that’s just sort of providing the fader for me. And then you can sort of say, oh, well, you can just imagine that every little piece of equipment is a little Smurf that’s doing something for you.
Like a gate is just a Smurf inside a box that’s automating a mute button for you and muting something on MAPP.
And you can sort of keep going. A dynamic queue is just several Smurfs inside of a box that are operating graphically for you. And so that’s that’s the thing. And I had me kind of write that up in a little blog post or sound that they put out. And it’s funny because I’ve been using this example with my students for years. And then one day I was over in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, at one of the many sort of souvenir trinket shops there.
And I, I found this shelf in the shop that had little Smurf figure. And please tell me that put one inside of a compressor.
No, but all the different Smurfs that we’re doing different things. They’re what I kid you not. I found a Smurf that was wearing headphones, holding a boom.
He’s doing the thing. And I was like, oh, there is he’s real. You know, I just I thought I made him up, but he’s real. There is actually a real sound person, Smurf, and I bought it and took it home. And I sits on my desk at work right now that it seems like see, it’s real.
They’re really smart. So I have a picture of that in the blog post first.
All right. Just a few short questions here to wrap us up. So what is one book that has been immensely helpful to.
OK, so this is going to sound really awful, but it is the book that I wrote back, to be sure, and I say that because when I started out teaching, I was just generally dissatisfied with a lot of the books that were out there.
In fact, there was a time when I would actually sharpey out things and some of the books that my students would buy was I mostly agree with this book, but there are a couple of pages in this book that you should not redacted because the information is wrong or really misleading or something. And after that went on at long enough, I just like, man, this is silly. And so I got I told you earlier, I partnered with a computer scientist from Wake Forest University and we wrote this book.
And basically I was trying to write a book that that I agreed with and mostly for my own purposes, I would never cared if anyone ever read it at all.
We got we received grant funding to write it. And I still have yet to make enough money selling print copies of the book to actually buy a copy of the book myself. I just have made of money. But it is it has been incredibly helpful to me because as a teacher, I was able to create all the things I needed. It was like, here’s the thing that I’ve been struggling to teach in a class. Let me now I’m going to sit down and actually figure out how to do it.
And I’ve got really smart people around. We’ve got a computer scientists and a really smart graduate student who can do anything. And and we’re going to really figure it out like Gambo for feedback.
Right. Here’s a concept I’ve struggled to teach. Let’s figure out a really great way of doing it. And I had a couple of really smart people and we would create a very clear and simple way of teaching this concept. And we put it in the book and we had the demos and now it’s like, OK, great, now it’s easy to teach. So. So, yes, my own book.
I know that. That being said, I think the the the first kind of book that really resonated with me a lot when I was first studying Sound Design Live was John Breakwaters book, which is got this really generic title, something like Sound Design Live or something like that. And John was retired by the time I got around to looking at it and he had to like send me he had to print out a copy of the book and send it to me because I found out that it existed and it was out of print and everything.
But what was so fascinating to me about it is that he covered everything like it was it was the stuff we were talking about before about this broad based training. It wasn’t just a book about the creative and artistic side of Sound Design Live. It wasn’t just a technical manual. It was sort of like everything took you through a whole process from what is a sound wave to you. How do you put together a sound system to like how do you analyze a script to what is a sound cue and how does it make sense in the context of a story?
And I really, really like that book. If you can ever get a hold of it. It doesn’t say it’s been out of print for years and years and years, but it’s lovely and quite, quite good.
Where’s the best place for people to follow your work? Probably the best place would be the YouTube page. I do have a website where I post kind of interesting projects that I’ve done here and there, but and you can look at that. But I think the thing that people are most interested in is the YouTube page, where I just put recordings of all the classes I teach.
All right, Jason. Well, thank you so much for joining me on Sound Design Live. Absolutely. Thanks for having me.