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What do you want students to learn?


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Hi Folks,

 

It's the time again where I stop through to ask... what do you want students to learn? A loaded question I know. While I specifically focus my teaching on location audio we're expanding the program to Audio Production for the Field, Post and Studio Recording. The academics have all sorts of ideas of what audio curricula "should be", but I want to know as a collective of professionals what do you want those coming after you to know? What can they learn to help you, support you and to help round out the field so that you can do your job knowing there's a legacy behind you to carry the tone?

 

Share your thoughts, ask any questions and I'll pass it along to our summer faculty meeting.

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First and foremost:  How to listen.  How to listen technically, and break down what they are hearing to identify what they are hearing (and narrow down possible causes of why they are hearing it).

Less importantly:  A good technical background on how both analogue and digital audio work, including principles of electronics and data theory.  This is the information that is best suited to academic study, and which is hardest to pick up in the field.  It may not be as important as it once was in day-to-day recording, but it's invaluable in understanding how to use unfamiliar gear and in diagnosing problems.

There's a ton of essential skills that aren't easily teachable in the classroom (boom technique, lav hiding, set etiquette etc.) which students should know exists, but the only way to teach it to be on set.

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In my controversial opinion, you should not have to teach anyone to listen.  They should not be interested in sound if they don’t know how to listen.  If they are interested in sound (not working in sound, but just sound), they are already fine listeners that just need that skill honed.  I have attempted to work with people who are “really into doing sound!” but clearly had no listening skills. It is baffling every time.
 

How to tolerate ignorant nihilists, ego maniacs, and well-meaning (but full of venom) divas, and still get what you want.  In my opinion this is the hardest part of the job.
 

Be prepared to be the only one who understands what you’re doing.  If you understand this, you can explain things as you’re asking for them and have a higher success rate.  And sometimes make friends.  Anyone who does favors for the sound dept. is almost always doing a favor for a friend, not for a sound recording.

 

Working the gear and having an understanding of how it works is yes, important, but not essential.  That’s the simple straightforward stuff.  If the person listens and is smart, it’s easy to teach that stuff in a short time.  Some of my best trainees had never touched a Lectro but after a few months became highly sought-after soundies.  Conversely I’ve had folks who knew all the gear but once on set, just froze and had no idea how to handle themselves.  Those people did not work out for me.

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20 hours ago, The Documentary Sound Guy said:

Less importantly:  A good technical background on how both analogue and digital audio work, including principles of electronics and data theory.  This is the information that is best suited to academic study, and which is hardest to pick up in the field.  It may not be as important as it once was in day-to-day recording, but it's invaluable in understanding how to use unfamiliar gear and in diagnosing problems.

Agreed, teach physics (electromagnetism / RF theory), electronics, data management.

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On 6/16/2022 at 5:28 PM, Izen Ears said:

In my controversial opinion, you should not have to teach anyone to listen.  They should not be interested in sound if they don’t know how to listen.  If they are interested in sound (not working in sound, but just sound), they are already fine listeners that just need that skill honed.


I disagree with that. Critical listening is something that can and should be taught. Just like musicians learn how to identify chord progressions for example, it is equally useful for sound recordists to learn what to listen for. I would say that trying to identify problematic set noises while other things happen on top is a usefull skill that comes with experience, but can also be taught and praticticed. 
Also what differentiates microphone polar patterns and mics. It’s good to have this experience before walking onto a set for the first time. 

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I agree with Constantin here but would add that I feel it is vital that the sound mixer already has some feeling for the art of listening, something which aspect of which can be taught once there is a fundamental love for our ability to listen. For me personally, I can remember so many indicators even back to about the age of two, of the joy and interest I had experiencing the world around me using sound. Not to say I am not a visual person but I think it is safe to say that I often favor the listening experience.

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6 hours ago, IronFilm said:

Agreed, teach physics (electromagnetism / RF theory), electronics, data management.

I should add (to IronFilm & my original comment):  Teach the physics of sound!  What it is, how transducers work, and how it propagates.  It's all too easy to get caught up in what happens after it's an electronic signal, and easy to forget (as I did in my first comment) that before it ever becomes "analogue", it exists as oscillation in a medium.

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One thing that so school seems to teach is how to navigate the world as a freelancer/business person. 
 

Everybody that wants to get into media makes the exact same mistakes, which is to make no effort into learning what going rates are, how to ask for them, and charge less than everybody else due to their lack of experience, even after working in the field for many years. Knowing how to do the job is important, but knowing how to run a business may be even more so, because it affects the industry for others as well. 

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On 6/16/2022 at 8:28 AM, Izen Ears said:

If they are interested in sound (not working in sound, but just sound), they are already fine listeners that just need that skill honed.

Honing that skill is exactly what I (and I think others) have in mind when we say "teaching listening".

In retrospect, I can look back and identify all the ways I would prioritize listening (as Jeff describes) well before it became my profession, so yes, I had the "interest" when I got started, but it took years for me to recognize that this was so.  That interest is something different from the process I went through to "hone" that skill:  I spent years in a job listening to and analyzing the sounds that computers make (mainly, fans, hard drives, and the many, various resonances of computer cases).  That taught me to think of sound in terms of frequency and amplitude, and, critically, helped me recognize the dynamic, psychological relationships between sound and listening that can't be captured in a "spec".  It helped me understand why one sound was particularly noticeable in a given circumstance, when another (that might measure identically) was not.

So, for me, teaching listening is about teaching how to think about sound in a technical way which isn't the default mode of listening, even for a passionate and interested student.  Having a mental framework to describe "what am I hearing right now" is critically important, and that framework has to be learned.  Equally important is the ability to step back from critical listening and describe what you are hearing holistically and emotionally (this is probably closer to our "default" mode of listening).  If we *only* listen technically, it's easy to lose sight of how our recordings will be experienced by ordinary people.

 

Ideally, we should be listening "holistically" to get a sense of how our recordings will impact other listeners, and listening "technically" to identify ways that the recordings can be shaped and sculpted to suit the needs of our recording.

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I agree that business skills are critical and need to be learned; I'm less sure they belong in a program called "Audio Production for the Field, Post and Studio Recording".

I would rather see business skills taught as a requirement to take x number of courses in business, sales & marketing.  I'm not so sure a specific "business of being a PSM" course belongs in an audio production curriculum.

And, like on-set skills, I think there's a certain aspect of being a freelancer that you can only learn by doing; until you actually start looking for jobs and negotiating rates, you don't really have a sense of the challenges involved or how to solve them.

So, I would suggest requiring students to take small business courses in programs that already exist as a requirement of graduation, but not try and develop a curriculum specifically to teach business skills.  Students need to understand that, as audio professionals, they will likely also be running a small business; how they prepare for that should be up to them.  There are *many* types of audio businesses, even within the PSM world.

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6 hours ago, The Documentary Sound Guy said:

I agree that business skills are critical and need to be learned; I'm less sure they belong in a program called "Audio Production for the Field, Post and Studio Recording".

I would rather see business skills taught as a requirement to take x number of courses in business, sales & marketing.  I'm not so sure a specific "business of being a PSM" course belongs in an audio production curriculum.

 

I agree, they should take the same core first year courses as a BCom student does. Well, perhaps not all of them, but a good sized chunk of them?

Here is what they have to take at University of Auckland for all BCom students:

BUSINESS 111 Understanding Business

BUSINESS 114 Accounting for Decision Making

BUSINESS 115 Economics, Markets and Law

INFOSYS 110 Digital Systems

BUSINESS 112 Name: Managing Sustainable Growth

STATS 108 Name: Statistics for Commerce

 

I'd say ditch INFOSYS 110, STATS 108, BUSINESS 112, as being the bottom half of those six papers with the least relevance.  

 

So a student studying a degree in audio still takes these three:

BUSINESS 111 Understanding Business https://courseoutline.auckland.ac.nz/dco/course/BUSINESS/111/1210

BUSINESS 114 Accounting for Decision Making https://courseoutline.auckland.ac.nz/dco/course/BUSINESS/114/1223

BUSINESS 115 Economics, Markets and Law https://courseoutline.auckland.ac.nz/dco/course/BUSINESS/115/1225

 

That would give the student a broad grounding in business, then I'd suggest perhaps a 2nd year course (maybe even a 3rd year course too) jointly taught by people from the Arts Faculty with staff from the Business Faculty, focused on the unique challenges of freelances in the creative industries. 

 

6 hours ago, The Documentary Sound Guy said:

And, like on-set skills, I think there's a certain aspect of being a freelancer that you can only learn by doing; until you actually start looking for jobs and negotiating rates, you don't really have a sense of the challenges involved or how to solve them.

 

True, having personal experience is usually best. But college could still prepare the students, give them a map of what lies ahead. They still have to travel those roads themselves, but at least they'll be prepared. Rather than just releasing students out into the world with no clue of what is coming and completely blind to what to do next. 

 

6 hours ago, The Documentary Sound Guy said:

So, I would suggest requiring students to take small business courses in programs that already exist as a requirement of graduation, but not try and develop a curriculum specifically to teach business skills. 


We're kinda saying the same thing, I'm suggesting they could take three first year papers for general business, which already exist. But then on top of that take just one or two papers specifically tailored to their needs. (but still kept very general, applicable to all audio freelancers. Or even applicable to everyone in the creative industries in general. The kind of papers which unfortunately the Business Faculty doesn't seem to teach, as they're more focused on companies with dozens or even thousands of employees, or if they do focus on the needs of small companies... it is specific to startups, which do aspire to become billion dollar companies one day. Not relevant at all to us!)

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8 hours ago, The Documentary Sound Guy said:

So, I would suggest requiring students to take small business courses in programs that already exist as a requirement of graduation, but not try and develop a curriculum specifically to teach business skills.  Students need to understand that, as audio professionals, they will likely also be running a small business; how they prepare for that should be up to them.  There are *many* types of audio businesses, even within the PSM world.

Yes this is more ideal. A requirement for graduating. The problem is that nearly everybody that chooses to work in “media” doesn’t bother to learn the business side of things, and literally go about re inventing the wheel instead of seeking out the right kind of guidance and education to become successful, which prolongs success in their own career, and hurts our overall industry. I go out of my way to coach inexperienced mixers and crew members so that they have a better understanding of how to run their business, because nearly all of them end up making the same mistakes. 

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Just this from an old skool PSM.  They need to know that they can not learn the craft in a classroom, no matter the experience of the teacher, the books, the YouTubes.  They need to know that it is important that they learn how to search out a qualified mentor and spend as much time on an actual set as they can.  There are things from the work environment that just can not be taught but need to be experienced and muscle memorized.  There is NO shortcut to this and neglected, means the student will need to "reinvent the wheel" every time they go out.

 

This vital part of the learning just doesn't happen these days and it sends hundreds (thousands?) of unprepared students into the world with the belief that they can "do the job."

 

Just my $.02.  That and $4.98 might buy you a gallon of gas if you are lucky.

 

D.

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When I was just starting in the film biz I bought an old copy of the American Cinematographer's Handbook at a used book store.  (It was old enough that it had a brown cover, and the famous Auricon "Here they come!" ad on the inside of the cover.)  At the very end of the book was a chapter of just a few pages about how to record simple location sound for motion pictures, written, I guess for camera folks that might be suddenly drafted into the sound department while on location.  It was really well written, very concise, and started with a few paragraphs about learning to distinguish good sound from bad sound, like what makes dialog audio bad.  It had quite a few other bits of still-good advice, among them keeping things as simple and mobile as possible.  I knew one guy who had never recorded anything before who read this chapter over and over on flight from NY to Brussels, got off the plane and began an indie feature as its sound recordist.  He did what the chapter said and got away with it--the film came out and made money!   He emphasized to me the value of what the chapter had said about what to listen for in bad dialog sound, so I'd suggest that newbie dialog recordists get an experienced soundie to demonstrate the diffs (on headphones)!

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Great story, Philip! I remember as a kid thumbing through my father's American Cinematographer's Handbook just because I was fascinated by all that stuff. That book as well as numerous questions I used to ask Pop (which he always answered so perfectly and completely) formed the basis for my  learning how movies are made, how sound is recorded. When I got my first job doing sound (because I wasn't going to try and do camera), I read the Kudelski Nagra manual cover to cover, spending as much time with each section to really understand the machine. It was a very well written manual, not just a simple "push this button to record) type  of manual. There was actually a lot of theory behind the difference between High Pass and Low Frequency Attenuation when describing the filter setting (HP1, LF1, etc).

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These are all great, I really appreciate everyone's thoughts. Hopefully it comes as no surprise that many of these are ideas I focus on in my classes already. Particularly Critical Vs Analytical listening, or Art vs Technical. I always tell my students I don't give a flip if the content is good, that's not my job and that's not what I'm paid for. I'm paid to make sure that whatever the content is the capture analytically sounds good. Even in post it is my job to analytically execute the designer's / director's ear, their notes first and IF there's time / room to add in my own "style" within the critical scope of their ear great.

 

One of my greatest assignments for listening has actually become a recording scavenger hunt. It's my favorite day every semester. They show up, they're handed a basic kit and a sheet of paper with 5 sounds. They get 90  minutes to record and edit and then we listen.

 

I touch on business in my intro class, but in my advanced class I take a feather from one of my mentors in an Entertainment Business class from my school days where they budget a job. How much it would cost to rent / buy the equipment to accomplish a 2 person interview and then I have them make a pitch with a rate card based off of that information provided with some hints about the current market.

 

All great things, here's hoping I can actually teach some of these things and keep the tradition's going so we can all have something to listen to in retirement 😂

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