Since I started Silence+Other Sounds, I’ve been frequently receiving messages from people who are new to the world of sound design and ask me recommendations about how to start making their first steps in this world, from choosing the right equipment to sound-mangling techniques, or how to ‘self-promote’ and pursue a long time career in audio and sound. It’s something that makes me proud and humbles me at the same time, and I’m more than happy to share ideas and tips about making the most out of a sound investment or which is the granular engine that I prefer (FYI, UVI Falcon and Reaktor, with very warm expectations for Kyma).
However, sometimes the question I’m asked is just ‘how can I make it in audio and sound design?‘, which I confess is the one that I fear the most as it instantaneously triggers my impostor syndrome, and I’ll explain you why. Apart from where my professional self confidence is located on the Dunning Kruger behavioural graph, the reason why I struggle to find good answers to this question is very simple: I have no idea. Personally, my own definition of making it is pretty simple: being able to sustain family by doing what I do best and love more than anything else, having the freedom to self manage my work. I see it as a sort of personal mission, I take it very seriously and I’m all about improving, learning and serving the sound community with the best work I can do, period. So, dear young aspiring sound designer friend, I’m afraid to tell you that I don’t know much more than this. I don’t know what’s success for you, I don’t have golden career suggestions, I don’t know where the audio-industry will be in 5 years and I don’t know if going to the audio school is a wise decision (in case you’re wondering, I’m totally self-taught). Do I qualify to give suggestions and potentially affect your choices? I don’t know, but what I can tell you is that every journey starts with a step, which in our case is a little button with a red circle printed on it. Which brings me to the next point.
JUST HIT THE RECORD BUTTON
Yes, this is my evergreen suggestion. Just hit the record button, that’s it. Grab a portable recorder and start recording whatever happens around you. It can be the squeaky door in your basement, a car engine shutting down, a kitchen sink dropping water, your dog barking, it can be whatever. Don’t think. Don’t question. Don’t guess. Just record. Use what you have and start recording something NOW. I beg you, RECORD-SOME-SOUNDS-RIGHT-NOW.
I always like to tell this little story about the origins of the word ‘record’: it comes from the word the ancient Romans used for “heart”. ‘Recordor’ is the Roman Latin translation of ‘remember’, and its etymon comes from ‘cor’, or ‘cordis’, which means ‘heart’. That’s because the ancients believed that memory resided in the heart and not in the brain, so essentially the deep meaning of recording is to keep something in your heart. And I can totally relate to that: each field recording you do is a piece of your life, it literally corresponds to the time of your commitment. Which is the most important asset each one of us will ever have.
EVERYONE RECORDS EVERYTHING ALL THE TIME
Speaking of ancients, there’s a quote from the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius from his book “Meditations” that couldn’t fit more what we’re discussing.
What we do now echoes in eternity.
– Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
Think about it: a human being from year 4500 might accidentally discover our field recordings. It’s reasonable to think that the civilities of the future will have a more intimate connection with their past (us), thanks to the massive amount of multimedia we produce everyday. My kid will have a more direct awareness of who was his dad in his twenties, there will be a video on Youtube or a sound recording rather than a blurry black and white photo. It’s very likely that the future generations will be able to reconstruct and ‘touch’ the everyday life of their parents, it’s like time will ‘relax’ and the inexorable interconnected web of information in which we live will extend from space to time.
Right now I’m waiting for my flight in a busy airport: there’s a teenager with his family doing a video-selfie about what I presume is their holiday. CCTVs are recording everything happening all around the place. Pre-recorded voices come from the speakers to announce delayed flights. Everyone is recording everything all the time. Everyone except you, my friend, wrongly spending your precious time and wandering between thousands of what-ifs. Come on! Let your curiosity take over. Record today, record tomorrow, record everything and record it a lot. No excuses. Until this will happen, tips, suggestions, advices and tutorials are worthless. Seriously, they don’t matter. What matters is the eternal echo of your daily actions.
RECORDING IS UNDERSTANDING
There’s another world disclosing to yourself every time you listen to your field recordings. Lots of things you expected are not there, others seem to pop out of a sort of acoustic nowhere. Once the reality you have recorded is trapped in your hard disk or memory card, it becomes a sort of separate object, which doesn’t belong to anything anymore. Its semantics are often lost, it cuts its ties from the material object that generated it. Recording means awareness: as Murray Schafer pinpoints in his book “The Soundscape”, industrial revolution created a cluttered sound environment where there’s only presence and no distance. Our ears develop the condition of only being aware of what happens in our strict proximity and neglect everything else, however nuanced. As sound designers, we have the immense privilege to detach from this sort of information harassment and examine things after they happen, a posteriori: recording frees ourselves from the condition of being only in the very present and let the sounds we record educate ourselves to learn, to listen, to accept.
This, to me, has a lot to do with making it.
Good luck (and glad to have you onboard 😉 ).
Aurelius M., Hays G. Meditations. Modern Library, 2003. ISBN-10: 9780812968255.
Schafer, R. Murray.The Soundscape: Our Sonic Environment and the Tuning of the World. Destiny Books, 1999. ISBN-10: 0892814551.