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Are you an artist or a technician?


Cory Kaseman
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So it seems like the #1 justification I get from people offering no pay or insultingly low pay, is basically along the lines of "don't you do it for the love of your art?" or "don't you know artists are supposed to suffer for their creation?" or somesuch along those same lines.  Like I'm some brokeass painter pawning off all his worldly possessions to buy another tube of paint to finish a masterpiece.

It got me thinking, and I decided that no, I do not do this for the love of "my art" or "my creation".  I don't consider myself to be an artist in any way, and I do not do any creating other than "creating" a .wav file on a drive by pressing record.  At least not so far as sound is concerned.  Certainly I like to play music and write and be artistic in other ways, but as far as sound is concerned, I consider myself wholly a technician.  There's a reason they call us recording engineers, right?

Certainly, there is some amount of creativity involved, insofar as dealing with unusual sound issues on set, hiding lavs, etc., but I'd hardly be willing to call what I do an art form.  I spend far more time on set contemplating the geometry and physics of what I'm doing than I do any kind of feeling or emotion.  Because, frankly, how the hell do you convey feeling and emotion by pointing a microphone at something?

It seems like pretty much everyone on set, with the exception maybe of the grips, is absolutely an artist.  Even a DP or lighting designer, whose job has quite a bit of technical knowledge to it and involves even more geometry and physics than sound, is still firmly in what I would consider to be artistic territory.  Considering even relatively subtle changes in lighting can drastically change the way a scene feels.  I think pretty much all we soundies can do to change the feel of a scene is to make it sound closer or further away.  Not much.

Am I wrong?  Do you consider yourself an artist, or a technician?  Do other people consider you an artist, or a technician?

EDIT:  I'm speaking here exclusively of production sound.  Post-sound is, in my opinion, very much artistic.  Mixing, sound design, foley; nearly all of it has quite a lot of subjectivity to its processes, whereas I think production sound is almost entirely objective.

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Am I wrong?  Do you consider yourself an artist, or a technician?  Do other people consider you an artist, or a technician?

Yes, you're wrong. I feel that ALL of the jobs require artistry, creativity, improvisation, some jobs more than others. Sound is certainly up there right along side cinematography, and this applies to production sound (and production cinematography) as well as all the people who work in post.

"Considering even relatively subtle changes in lighting can drastically change the way a scene feels.  I think pretty much all we soundies can do to change the feel of a scene is to make it sound closer or further away.  Not much."

If this is the way you see your job in production sound then you ARE right: you are NOT an artist. If you view your work and your contribution to a project in this manner it should not be surprising that others will view it this way as well; you are just a technician, or an engineer, or a semi-skilled laborer, etc. This notion will, of course, translate into lower paying jobs, less meaningful projects and most probably mediocre sound work. These "subtle changes in lighting" that you think are only the purview of cinematographers demonstrates a very limited view of what can be accomplished with production sound in the hands of artists.

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I consider myself an artist.

I think very carefully about my role in the story-telling.  I try to put myself in the head of the editor and director to map out the coverage for the scene so I can be sure that even if I am having some difficulties with capturing the performance, that I can at the very least focus on the moments and the shots that I hope will be the key moments in the scene.  Even when I know I "have" the scene, I am always looking for something I can do as a mixer or something I can request of my crew to make it even better.  Why not?  Great performances, great lighting, great costumes, great sets, are all about nuance.  I believe great sound to be the same, and it's what I strive for.

While our job is often very technical, if I considered myself merely a technician, I think I would be very miserable.  I am a filmmaker whose contribution to the project is recording the production sound.

Robert

P.S. I will add that if I were offered the chance to record sound on something that I thought was truly an "amazing" project (as we are often pitched), and if I felt that the other players were capable of actually making this "amazing" project properly, then I would consider doing it for the love of the art.  I have yet to be convinced.

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Neither,

just another idiot scratching out a living in an increasingly crumbling workplace. Protocol, wages,unions who have failed in many cases and have sold us out, have all lead to us being survivors. 

Artist? Tecnician? At least those terms garner SOME respect. VERY few producers or crew persons give a crap about us or our "artistic" problems...

I know it might be fun, but this ain't no "art". That's for sure.  More survivorman than Rembrandt..Problem solver, maybe......

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This one strikes a bit of a nerve. I went to art school, and left to pursue sound.

I absolutely consider my contribution on set to be an artistic one. Every time a microphone or mic placement is chosen for a scene, a creative decision is being made. Every time a live mix is made to the action on your monitor(s), a slew of creative decisions are being made on the fly.

I've met mixers, who in my opinion, are more technician than artist, and I don't consider myself in the same camp as them. When your outlook on what you do steers toward there being only one way to achieve the end result, then I think YES, you are in danger of becoming a technician. I think the best mixers are those who refuse to "paint-by-numbers", whether consciously or not.

If mixing sound did not fulfill me creatively, I wouldn't continue to do it.

I feel like saying that lighting is artistic, but sound mixing isn't, is a bit like saying that (to cite a previous reference) Rembrandt was an artist, but Calder, Rothco, or Monrian weren't.

I hope to never become so jaded as to let the more frustrating, mundane, or political aspects of this industry convince me that my input is no longer creative or artistic... I'm not concerned, I value my work and contributions.

Wyatt

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Q: " "don't you do it for the love of your art?" "

A: No, I do it for money!

but that does not mean I am not an artist at my job, though I prefer the word craftsman, just as Crew said: " I have always considered myself a craftsman who brings/applies his craft to a larger artistic project. It is both artistic n technical recording sound for picture, but it is filmmaking, a collaborative art. "....

Artists get hired, and paid, all the time!  I guess I', that kind of artist!

When I think of all the wonderful, artistic movies, I also know that everyone, everyone,  working on them was being paid, and in some cases, paid handsomely!

How about this one:  "it is a first time director, so there is no money..."  another non-starter! I have worked on some "first time directors" projects, and been paid union (basic) wages!!

and what Robert said: " if I were offered the chance to record sound on something that I thought was truly an "amazing" project (as we are often pitched), and if I felt that the other players were capable of actually making this "amazing" project properly, then I would consider doing it for the love of the art.  I have yet to be convinced. " me either... most of them, almost all of them, are POS, by wanna' bee's who have no clue!

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Yes, you're wrong. I feel that ALL of the jobs require artistry, creativity, improvisation, some jobs more than others. Sound is certainly up there right along side cinematography, and this applies to production sound (and production cinematography) as well as all the people who work in post.

"Considering even relatively subtle changes in lighting can drastically change the way a scene feels.  I think pretty much all we soundies can do to change the feel of a scene is to make it sound closer or further away.  Not much."

If this is the way you see your job in production sound then you ARE right: you are NOT an artist. If you view your work and your contribution to a project in this manner it should not be surprising that others will view it this way as well; you are just a technician, or an engineer, or a semi-skilled laborer, etc. This notion will, of course, translate into lower paying jobs, less meaningful projects and most probably mediocre sound work. These "subtle changes in lighting" that you think are only the purview of cinematographers demonstrates a very limited view of what can be accomplished with production sound in the hands of artists.

Dear friend Jeff,

Artist vs Technician... I like craftsperson better than either (no food intended.)

Artist puts you in peril of being considered someone who is subject to hissy fits when you don't get your way. Or who cuts their ear (pinna actually) off in the pursuit of art.

Technicians calibrate machines and operate machinery. We all do that, but a lot more.

Thanks for all you do.

Regards,

Ty Ford

I hear you're for a CAS lifetime achievement award. Yahoo for you!

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I prefer the term Engineer.  I feel like in any form I've seen this term used it usually applies to some form of technical artist.

I would be comfortable with the term "engineer' if I WAS one, but like many if not most production soundies of my generation (class of 1951) I learned my job by doing it, so my basic tech knowledge has some holes in it.  (OK, a lot of holes.)  What we do is kind of unique in the working world today, and the job requires an interesting set of skills and talents to be good at it.  I often find myself being the go-between between "creative" people (directors, producers, musicians) and purely technical people (real engineers).  Our job CAN be very technical (but is often not), but it also requires a lot more "people skills" than most purely engineering types have or will make the effort to have.  Many sound people I know do have backgrounds in art and music, but probably no more so than people in other dept.s of a crew.  I would say that the most interesting unifying characteristics of production sound people would be independence (of mind, of lifestyle, of business) and a tendency to be easily bored....

phil p

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I AM an artist, as much as I would like to be, and as little as production, director and others MAKE me be.

I dont just RECORD audio, I record DIALOG. This is a part of PERFORMANCE. And in there is ART. And i dont just RECORD, I MIX - which is a wholly ARTISTIC pursuit.

If that guy who cut his "pinna" did not know enough about his canvas and colours, he would not be able to do what he did.

ALL forms of ART need skill, technical and otherwise. If as a a writer, you did not know the TECHNICAL MECHANICAL BASICS of language, and its usage, you would not fare too well. An understatement. Look at Kurt Vonnegut, Marquez, DeLilo, Mann, Goethe...

This is a redundant discussion. There IS art in what one does, only if one FEELS there is. HOWEVER, there is art in everything one does, only that some or most of it is not good enough to be recognized - now or later in the future.

Van Gogh did not get his recognition when he was alive. That does not reduce him to a "technician" or a "guy who just did his thing".

It is another thing that most of the time nowadays, one is FORCED to work in situations where ARTISTRY of ANY kind is ignored - while it is happening and after it is done.

-vin

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Oleg, you will never understand what I am writing about, so don't try to make a attempt at it, because any attempt you make will be as feeble as you are doing now. In any case, it does not matter to you, so it is not a problem. You live life as you do, and let me live mine...

you can do your xbox. I dont have a problem with that.

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  I'm a artist who uses technology to get my product.  The fact that we all go about our jobs with our own slightly different methods, gear, and preferences is an indicator that we all make creative decisions!

  Just because you can't "see" the creative decisions doesn't make them not exist.  Craftsmen are artists.

  Dan Izen

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I like this idea of "craft" and "craftsman".  I'd never considered it before, but I think it strikes a happy balance between the two worlds.

I find it interesting that a lot of you guys are looking on the word "technician" as some kind of negative term.

As JW said, a technician is "a semi-skilled laborer" who can't get a decent wage or an interesting gig.

As Robert Sharman said, "if I considered myself merely a technician, I think I would be very miserable."

There are a few more examples in today's replies.  I wonder why "technician" is a bad word to you guys?  Brain surgeons, structural engineers, master mechanics, astronauts; they're all technicians.  So are the guys who design our mics and mixers.  So are many other people in this world who constantly accomplish amazing things for a living.  Do you think their jobs are miserable and unfulfilling?  And I'd wager a bet that the average A-list brain surgeon makes more money than the average A-list Hollywood sound mixer, artist or not.  What's wrong with being a technician?  Technician does not equal devoid of creativity.  Certainly strong problem-solving skills are a form a creativity, and they are a requirement in nearly every technical field.  But finding a new and interesting way to hide a plant mic is not a work of art.  Riding down when an actor yells and up when he whispers will never be framed above someone's fireplace.

I still don't really see what's artistic about production sound.  Someone mentioned the mix.  How is that art?  What is being expressed?  To me, the point of a production mix is to capture the clearest, cleanest, most intelligible dialogue possible, using the tools at hand, within the parameters set by my schedule and environment.  Clear, clean, and intelligible are fairly objective terms.  Time and environmental factors are objective.  Art is about emotion, and is subjective.  How can your mix evoke or invoke emotion?  How do you mix a scene to sound sorrowful or joyful or lustful or angry?  Again, I'm speaking of production, not post. 

Someone else mentioned that simply being there to capture the art created by other people (actors) makes what we do an art.  So is an audience member also an artist, for simply observing an actors' performance, for digesting it and contemplating it; capturing it, as it were, in his own mind?  If a patron takes a snapshot of a painting in a gallery, is he now an artist, for capturing that art with his cell phone camera?  I look at my role on set as that of a documenter.  Yes, I'm there to capture art with my microphones, but how does that make me an artist?  Is a museum curator an artist because he compiles art for display, cares for it, cleans it and polishes it and makes it look as good as possible for the museum's guests to enjoy?  That's what I try to do with my own work.  To make it sound as good as possible for the audience to enjoy.

It's interesting that some people seem to be offended by the mere suggestion that what they do may not be an art form, that other people who do the same thing may not consider it as such.  I guess, if you look at it that way, those guys really are artists, in temperament if nothing else... (joke)

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As someone already mentioned -- and there is a school of thought in the art world pioneered by the Dadaists -- that it's art if you say it is art.

It is artful the way I place multiple mics to record the guy shouting to the girl who stands in the fourth floor window to catch the echo of the lower east side as he shouts his drunken love for her. It is artful because (and only because) I say it is. And that intent is all that matters insofar as this discussion is concerned.

It is artful intent that causes me to place a plant mic near the squeak in the floor for the scary movie when the guy walks down the hall to meet the monster. It's art that the performer notices the mic and knows that I am intently conscious of all the elements of his performance. The performer feels acoustically held by me. And there's plenty of art in THAT.

It's art to place a plant near the candy bars that the fat guy will fondle as he contemplates the beautiful girl and how he will never be smiled upon by her if he eats them. Art to imagine that the sounds he actually creates in that crinkly fondling are as much a part of his performance as his sad sigh.

-- Jan

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Wow! This topic has produced some amazing writing from many of our members, thoughtful, insightful, with passion and at times indifference. I don't think I could express my sentiments any better than what Jan has said in her last post. This is brilliant. I would like to comment on the designation of "technician" and say that it is not a derogatory term that should be avoided in favor of the term "artist", it is just that most of us feel it is a limiting definition of what we do. I continue to question sneakymarco's feeling that what we do in production sound in no way can provide the elements of emotion, conflict, how a character is feeling, relating to others in a scene and so forth. I know that my choices, my decisions (decisions whose goal goes beyond just simply recording clean, intelligible dialog) do impart these things --- not always, not in those situations where I have to utilize techniques that are less likely to contribute these artistic elements. Read what Jan has said and reflect on the conscious decision to use an open mic on someone yelling out a 2nd story window as opposed to putting a mic on the person (of course, we may do both in this day of multitrack recording) --- we must always keep site of the fact that our recordings are unique in the overall world of sound recording as we are doing sound for PICTURE. Just as the DP chooses a certain lens, a certain angle, designed to convey something about the character in a scene, how that character relates to others, to their environment or situation, we do the same with sound. Sneakymarco, if you are NOT doing these things it is your choice --- possibly you have not been on jobs where this is expected of you as the sound mixer. Fortunately, many of us here, those of us who have had long and varied careers, this sort of artistic contribution has been a goal and expectation with most of the principle people involved in the production.

-  Jeff Wexler

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tell me  Jeff did you ever recorded something off mic  as you felt that it doesn't have to be in focus ,or did you thought about ,recorded it properly  and left it to director to decide ?

My basic rule is to always consider how best to record things so that certain decisions in terms of equalization, level, etc., can be made later by the rest of the people who will be contributing to the completion of the soundtrack. I think I know what you are asking but I would not think that something that is "off mic" is the equivalent of something being out of focus visually. If I have made a good recording, on mic, for an actor on camera (in a single, for example) and the scene when cut together needs to obscure that performance (the dialog) for some dramatic reason that is the director or editor's creative choice, this is something that can be done in post. I would not have been serving my goal or the goal of the movie to have recorded that particular line off mic.

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