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Sound Designers

As with lighting, a good sound design can contribute vastly to the artistic success of a show despite rarely being consciously noticed by the audience. The scope of the sound design for a show can vary drastically, from a small number effects (in which case the role might be taken on by existing members of the production team), to a full-blown musical with many live sound sources.

Many common sound effects can be found on one of the CDs in the ADC Theatre's sound effect library. There are also several good websites including [www.freesound.org/] where decent effects can be obtained (A list of some online sound effect suppliers is available at Sound Effects). Recording specifically for the production another possibility, but may be impractical depending on the sound required. A test of a good sound effect is to play it to someone who doesn’t know what it’s meant to be. If they can’t tell what it is (it’s often surprising), the effect is probably no use.

Being able to perform some basic recording, editing and manipulation is a big advantage in creating the sound desired, particularly for longer, more complex “atmosphere” effects. This is normally done on computer – even a basic model is capable of recording and playback of sufficient quality for use in theatre. There are some great tools available free of charge, particularly the editor Audacity . Other commonly used (but expensive) editors include Wavelab, Adobe Audtion (formerly known as Cooledit) and Cakewalk Pro.

In the ADC Theatre, the most common method of playing back sound effects is using QLab, a powerful piece of software which allows sound cues to be accurately plotted in a cue stack. The software also supports video and MIDI cues, and can be set up to be triggered automatically by the lighting desk. The ADC has a Macbook and an audio interface which can be used for this purpose. In other venues, it may be necessary to transfer the sounds to another medium (such as minidisc or CD), in which case overlapping effects need to be premixed, or if the timing of the second is important, replayed from separate machines on the night. The ADC also has 2 CD players and 2 minidisc players if this method of playback is preferred.

Musicals generally require live amplification to achieve a better balance or just to make them louder! A sound design for a large musical generally involves organising the hire of radio mics, setting up mics for the band and arranging a system of foldback speakers so that the cast and the musicians can hear each other. During the shows it is usually the sound designer who mixes the show from the sound box. It is necessary to become very familiar with the music of the show and to liaise closely with the show's musical director to ensure the front-of-house mix matches their vision for how the music should come across. Many learn the specialist techniques required for this by working as an assistant sound designer before designing their own shows.

Last edited Sat 13th Aug 2011 by Peter Hoyes

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