Rolling leads

cables

I got my first audio related job a year after I finished an audio course at college. I was working in a cafe, making people coffee, up until then, and recording music in the evenings in my tiny bedroom with an original MBox, a Tascam 4 track mixer, a very old laptop computer, and 2 microphones. In a tiny bedroom, I had to keep my limited gear stored away and keep everything pretty neat and tidy so I would have somewhere to sleep afterwards. I’ve always said ‘You can’t cook in a messy kitchen’ and I think this notion applies to recording as well. If your gear is all over the place, and leads are tangled, you will never get anything properly recorded as you spend half your energy looking for things and untangling cables, when you should be focusing on the music.

Rolling cables correctly is super important. It prolongs the life of cables (and lets face it, they are not cheap!). It also keeps the signal clean when there are no knots or kinks in your cables. And finally, it keeps your room or studio neat and clutter free. There is a correct way of doing it, which enables you to roll and unroll cables, knot free, and really quickly, which is a great skill to have in the studio.

So when I was in the interview for my first ever audio related job, as an Audio Visual Technician (someone that plugs in equipment, rolls cables, and lifts heavy things), the boss asked me if I could roll a cable properly – Yes! Of course I could, I do it all the time in my tiny bedroom! So, I showed him, and I got the job! This little skill got my foot-in-the-door in a very male-dominated industry, and I’ve been lurking around ever since.

I’ve made a little video showing you the correct way to roll a cable. Now grab an extension lead and give it a go! Good Luck!

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Being a Sound Engineer

Becoming a sound engineer.
Being a sound engineer isn’t just a job. It’s a passion, a lifestyle, a hobby, a big night out. It’s a way of life and it’s very consuming. But, if that’s the path you choose, it’s also very rewarding and enjoyable.

Sound engineers are not like rock stars. They don’t get noticed on the street, no one buys you drinks, no one helps you carry your own gear, and no one really gives a shit about you – except when they can’t hear the vocals – then you’ll get some attention!

So if you want to become a sound engineer, here are a few things to consider:

  1. Long hours, little pay

If you are in it for the money, don’t hold your breath! Sound engineering gigs, particularly when you start out, generally pay from $0 to not much. And you will, more often than not, put in more hours that anyone will give you credit for (or money). The budding sound engineer starts off doing free sessions, bedroom recordings, small gigs, sitting at a studio reception, cleaning, making tea, buying lunch, and not getting paid. But, if your heart is in it, you will persevere. Eventually your first paid gig will come and you’ll be proud as punch. If you’ve got the skills, the passion, and a likeable personality, the work will keep coming for you.

  1. Can we go from the 2nd chorus’

You don’t have to be able to shred on guitar, slap the bass, or paradiddle on the snare to be an engineer. But you should have some skills as a musician – and I don’t mean that you need to play an instrument – I mean you need to be able to hear changes, follow a score, hear tonal qualities, identify arrangements, and be able to pick up mistakes and highlights in a take. These are not 100% necessary skills, but they will help you a hell of a lot.

musicians

  1. Did somebody order a therapist?

Sometimes I think that sound engineering is a bit like therapy. Mixing helps when I’m having a bad day, sure. I can get immersed in the music and zone out for a bit. But what I really mean about therapy is the way you are required to communicate within a band. Sometimes you’ll get a gig with a band you’ve never met and never heard of, sometimes you’ll get a gig with a band you know, and sometimes you’ll get the gig for your favourite artists 3rd album after the success you had on the first 2. So you may be working with people you’ve never met, holed up in a dark studio for 15 hours a day, 4 days in a row. By the end of the session, you don’t want to be rolling your eyes or cursing under your breath, and you definitely don’t want the band to be doing that either. The truth is, musicians play better when they feel comfortable to be themselves. Our job as a sound engineer is to help create that environment. Sometimes this is hard – especially if the singer turns up drunk, 2 days late, and everyone is pissed off with him. So how do we turn it around to make everyone perform at his or her best? Interpersonal skills play a MASSIVE part in sound engineering. I think they are probably the second most important part, next to your ears! You can learn tech skills and keyboard shortcuts on the job, but if you’ve got the personal skills, and a good sense of empathy, I’d be more likely to give you the gig.

As a sound engineer, I believe my main role is to capture the best performance. Sure, it helps if all the mics are in phase, the drum kit is tuned, and the room is sounding good, but if the band doesn’t perform with energy and passion, you’re starting on the back foot. So, spending the time to get to know their names, have a beer, and understand the songs is going to help you immensely. Don’t try and be the know-it-all and wank on about all the gear you are going to use. Chances are – they don’t care anyway. Take the time to understand their music and their energy as a group, capture a great performance and the music will almost mix itself. (almost).

 

Capturing the energy of TWO drumkits at once!

Capturing the energy of TWO drumkits at once!

Mental Health in the Entertainment Industry

Recently I have been thinking a lot about mental health. Last week was Mental Health week across Australia and over the course of the week, I heard some interesting radio programs and watch some TV programs and comedy shows that were raising money and awareness for Mental Health. The thing that really interested me was that, as a big music and comedy fan, there are a LOT of musicians, comedians, and creative arts workers that suffer from Mental Illness. There are also A LOT of behind-the-scenes workers – audio engineers, roadies, lighting technicians, stage managers etc – that suffer from Mental Illness.

I recently came across this article. This article shines a light on the enormous number of industry workers that suffer from mental illness with 40% of performers and 60% of entertainment industry workers diagnosed with mental illness.

I also watched a documentary called ‘Felicity Ward’s mental mission’  which also highlighted the huge problem with mental illness within the entertainment industry. Many comedians suffer mental illness and the stigma has prevented many people talking about it – comedians are funny, so how can they also be sad? But they can, and many comedians suffer from depression, anxiety and a range of other mental illnesses.

And that’s what it is – it’s an illness. It’s not someone having a bad day because no one laughed at his or her joke. It’s a feeling where you struggle to get out of bed, where you have panic attacks, or moments of total helplessness. All these things are real – even for funny people, talented singers, or giant tough blokes that carry PA speakers and rig up lighting trusses. This is totally real. The article went on to say that 10% of professional singers have attempted suicide – WHAT? That is one in ten! And 36% of roadies had ‘suicide ideation’ – one in three roadies have thought about taking their own lives.

WHY?

Because mental illness is real and probably quite misunderstood and shoved in closet somewhere to fester and grow. The industry is full of creative people – thinkers, talented extroverts, hard workers, introverted deep thinkers, and passionate hard working individuals. Most of these people earn under the minimum wage. We hustle for gigs, we lower our prices for any opportunity, we thrive on the stage when things go well, but we get let down with noise complaints, a bad gig, a dodgy sound system, poor ticket sales, a manager that refused to pay up. The industry is also ripe with drug and alcohol problems – a lot of gigs are in bars, the alcohol flows, things get messy. Late nights and lack of sleep also don’t help.

This is a huge problem that we need to draw attention to. I encourage everyone to make a promise here to improve your mental health or your awareness for others’. It’s a small step, but awareness can go a long way into identifying people that may be in trouble. Let’s look after each other and keep the industry alive!

mental illness

Why is Sound Engineering So Interesting?

Have you ever thought about how music is recorded? Have you ever wondered why some songs can make you feel something, and others just fade in and out without effect? Maybe it’s the lyrics, or the melody, or maybe it’s something you can’t quite identify.

I feel like this sometimes. And sometimes I think it has something to do with the way a song was recorded or produced.

The first time I started learning about recording music, I learned that to record the sound of drums, you need to put a microphone in front of every single drum. I couldn’t believe it! Most recordings had over 12 tracks of drums! Now, this seems super obvious to me now, but the first time I learned about this, it was like I was opening a door to a whole new world – something I had never even thought about before.
So how does sound engineering affect the way songs ‘sound’? Lets have a look at a couple of different recordings.

 

Nine inch nails – Hurt

This song sounds pretty dark. A big bottom end (bass sounds) in the guitars, coupled with a thin, vulnerable, lonely sounding vocal. The big drums make the song sound pretty huge, which also makes the voice sound like he is drowning in a big space – adding to the vulnerability and loneliness of his voice and the anger of the space.

 

 

Johnny Cash – Hurt

Get out the tissues, guys, this one really gets you in the feels. But why? Yes, the lyrics are exactly the same as the Nine Inch Nails version, but the sound and the performance are totally different. His voice is emotional, but the way it has been recorded is very interesting to me. His voice sounds large and really close, like he is singing straight to YOU, telling you a story. Unlike, the NIN version, his voice sounds powerful and wise, though a little broken, whereas NIN voice sounded thin and vulnerable, like he was drowning in a sea of chaos.

 

 

The Tallest Man on Earth – On Every Page

Lastly, have a listen to this one. This song is an acoustic song – similar instrumentation to Johnny Cash. It’s also a sad, reflective type of song, but it sounds so totally different to Cash’s performance of Hurt. The guitar and voice sound a little distorted and thinned out – similar to NIN where it can come across as a little vulnerable. But the addition of distortion on acoustic instruments is what really interests me here – it gives new life and feeling to the traditional campfire instrumentation. And when reverb is applied as it is here, it can give a really emotional quality to the sound – something that is not quite whole and full – something that is gritty, edgy and on the verge of breaking.

 

And that’s what I like about music. I like how a song can make you feel something. And I have an interest in sound engineering because it can shape a sound, shape a song, capture a performance, and contribute to inducing all these emotions and feelings.

 

 

Music and I

Music was my saviour. I was once a teenager – you know, one of those difficult, annoying ones. I got involved in the wrong crowd and, well, you can imagine the rest…. It wasn’t pretty.

I remember hiding out in my room with the music blasting through the speakers. I remember reading lyrics and thinking that someone else understands. I remember thinking how clever songs were. And I remember thinking – I think I can do that.

I borrowed my mum’s old guitar and dialed up the Internet to find out how to play the thing. The Internet turned out to be a pretty frustrating, but consistent teacher (this was the days before YouTube existed). I downloaded hundreds of guitar tabs and taught myself by learning other people’s songs.

Then, one day, in a bit of a smokey haze, I pulled out mum’s old record player and put on Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon. It may have had something to do with my foggy mind at the time, but that album totally blew my mind. I remember thinking – how? How did they make that album? What’s that sound? How did they record a cash register? What? And what is that floaty sound? How do you make a swirly floaty noise? What?

 

I needed to find these sounds. I needed to learn about more interesting music. Not just angsty dark lyrics and heavy guitars, I needed to find feelings and sounds and noises that can make you float to another space.

Years later, after I got over all my teenage angst and substance abuse, I remember sitting out in the bush and hearing the chorus of birds in the morning. I had the same feeling – like I had just heard something that no one else has ever tried to listen to that closely before. Mind blown. Again.

Long story short, from learning guitar, hearing Pink Floyd, Tom Waits, a chorus of birds doing their thing, playing in bands, to recording a bunch of songs and albums as an engineer/producer in various studios, my love of music has taken me on an interesting road.

My interest lies now in capturing the moment – a band playing music together, a song with feeling, a sound with a pulse, a bird in the bush. I’m not interested in making electronic music with samples on a computer, I’m interested in the way sounds float through the air, and how I can capture them best so they retain the energy when they are reproduced back through your headphones or speakers at home. I am constantly learning about sound – recording sound, shaping sound, mixing sounds, and producing music. It is something I will never master but am passionate about continuing to learn.

The Sound Lady Avatar

Avatar image for the Sound Lady

Avatar image for the Sound Lady

I have used an image of my hands operating a mixing console. I asked a friend to snap this photo for me, as I feel it represents what ‘The Sound Lady’ is all about – a practical resource for people who are interested in being hands-on with music production. The blog will focus on the hands-on aspects – the tips and tricks – of production, rather than the textbook theory side. I did not use my face or my real name as I want the blog to become a general and accessible music production resource, rather than something personal.

Who is The Sound Lady?

who is the sound lady?

I am The Sound Lady – A sound engineer, audio educator, musician, and music-lover. I have been recording and mixing music since 2005 and got my first job in a recording studio in 2007. I have engineered in, and managed, recording studios in Sydney ever since. I also teach audio engineering and technical music production at various colleges in Sydney, and play in bands from time to time. I love music and am really interested in how sounds can be shaped to create feeling and emotion. This blog will be the place where I can write ideas, post links, and share resources about all things related to music and music production.