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Education

University. Academia. Creativity. Sound.

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Where does sound fit into the learning system? I believe the common path of most teaching institutions incorporating a long or short form audio course as an academic subject is wrong.

Sound is like painting or music composition. There are no hard and fast rules for the creative part of it. Sure there are technical requirements and standards and there is some aspect of sound that is academic - however it's the technical side that falls into the sphere of academic study. The creative side is by far the most visible (audible really!) aspect of what you do as a person crafting a mix.

If you're connecting fibre cable to digital consoles and remote stage boxes - it either works or it doesn't. There are rules that govern how the communications takes place and over what sort of cable the signals are transmitted. If the 48v is not present for a phantom powered microphone it will not work. Buzz and hum loops can occur when signal earths from different power systems mix. These are all academic things - yes I agree and the information related to these aspects of sound is best conveyed in an academic way.

However most of the time sound is about mixing, microphone placement, eq, compression, effects like reverb or delay, desk routing and configuration setup is a personal preference. There are a multitude of other creative based decisions made and some that quite often seem counter intuitive academically.

The decisions that drive all of these things is creative.

Mixing cannot be academic.

There is no right way to mix a voice and music for a commercial. Small (sometimes considered insignificant by observers) tweaks to eq and compression are often used to compensate for changes in source material such as the position of a commentators head set microphone or a different presenters voice. It will sound better but listeners don't know why.

The process is creative and requires input from the operator to decide what is wrong and what needs tweaking to correct it. The art of mixing is difficult to learn and master - throw in the standards requirement for loudness or having to do a live sport mix with 12-15 effects mics, 4 commentators, 2 sideline presenters, a panel of 5 people, video playback from 3 streams and adding music - all by yourself on the console. You can't just load someone else's console file and bingo everything mixes itself.

Many video editors struggle with sound. I have yet to hear top quality and well produced material leave any video edit suite. I can hear you scoffing and feel your disbelief. Well unfortunately, just loading a plugin and choosing a preset is not enough. "I've got the compressor at 6" the editor says or "I'm using the 'get rid of wind eq' preset" - but those things don't mean anything and surely need tighter changes than the generic plugin rubbish they place on our audio tracks. Like the video edit itself, the process involves creative input to achieve and while the video edit is where they excel, with sound they have no idea. The academic side of this is the operation of the software or edit facility. Something that is usually not that hard to grasp.

Plugging in a large setup and debugging could be considered academic although boundaries are crossed when it comes to mic choices and placement. Everything else including mixing can be learnt, but not from an academic. These are all creative decisions - that academics do not do well.

It is about time that creativity in sound was recognised by all institutions and taught in a way to get the best of a persons abilities. Not just for example "push the fader to -20" to achieve a mix.

Most people fall into one category or the other - they are either really good technically or really good creatively. This is why Im not painting pictures or producing sculpture to place in the Louvre. But it's also why other people should not be mixing sound.