Winner of the 2010 Association for Recorded Sound Collections' Award for Excellence in Historical Recorded Sound Research for the BEST RESEARCH in GENERAL HISTORY OF RECORDED SOUND
for his most recent book, How Does It Sound Now?
Available for Speaking Engagements on topics including:
Dedicated to his craft.
When we consider the future of the audio industry, we look to audio students and other young audio professionals. What are the lessons they need to draw from history? Let’s take a look at history ourselves in an attempt to understand the lessons that are available.
One day Chet Atkins was playing guitar when a woman approached him. She said, "That guitar sounds beautiful". Chet immediately quit playing. He asked, "How does it sound now?"
The quality of sound in Chet’s case clearly rested with the player, not the instrument, and the technical and aesthetic quality of our product lies with our engineers and producers, not with the equipment. The dual significance of this question, “How does it sound now”, informed my research from 2007 - 2010 and will inform our discussion, since it addresses both the engineer as the driver and the changes we have seen and heard as our methodology evolved through the decades. The book that resulted from this research, “How Does It Sound Now?” received the 2010 ARSC Award for Excellence in Historical Recorded Sound Research for the Best Research in General History of Recorded Sound.
One of the most interesting facets of the research, comprised of interviews with top engineers and producers, was the way the conversation kept returning to the thread of quality. They loved to talk about how they strived for quality then, and still do.
Let’s talk about how engineers and producers retain quality and create a product that conforms to their own high standards. This may lead to other conversations about musicians, consumers, and the differences and similarities between their standards and our own. It will certainly lead to a discussion of methods to empower young engineers to challenge their clients to strive to create the highest quality product possible.
It will also touch on internships and mentorship, and what young engineers need to know to survive in the changing job market.
Audio educators have spent countless meetings trying to figure out how to insure quality in audio education and quality recording among young engineers. After decades as a successful engineer, producer and audio educator, I have come to the conclusion that there are two fundamental flaws in our current system that prevent us from reaching that goal. Specifically, we reach too few students and we reach them too late.
Today, students often begin recording at 13 or 14 years old. After four or five years of making recordings that lack quality, some of these students end up in a quality recording program. Most do not.
In order to address this issue I created the St. Louis Audio Project. Let's investigate some methods to reach more students who are recording at an earlier age, both those with aspirations to become a professional and those who simply record for fun. In the process we will create a career path for at-risk and high-needs students.
The gravest concern of many students regards their first professional position. Whether it is an internship or a job, studio or live, many students express nervousness regarding this leap from the relative calm of education to the vast unknown of the professional world. In this workshop we will discuss the traits and characteristics most sought after by potential employers, and will share tips for success at the entry level of the audio profession. This workshop typically includes a lively question and answer period.
Mixing is hands-on endeavor, and no one will truly learn this art by listening to a lecture. To make the situation worse, there are few absolute truths in mixing . One mix's superiority over another is often a matter of personal taste and other subjective criteria. Nonetheless, in all forms of audio production the mixer attempts to balance the elements, effects or instruments such that they can all be heard and are all at appropriate levels in relation to each other. There are certain aesthetic and technical issues that can be viewed in absolute terms, and there are issues such as masking that we can address in an attempt to help students indentify and cure problems in their mix. This is normally done as a n interactive workshop, but can be modified to a lecture with questions and answers.
Why bother concerning ourselves with quality? We live in an era of mp3s, lossy storage formats, heavy compression, and earbuds, with most of our end-users suffering from hearing damage and few who even remember what dynamics sound like. Research shows a substantial number of listeners who are conditioned to prefer mp3s to 24/192 recordings. What about the talent? Work with a singer, two passes then off to the clubs, with a shout over his shoulder, “Fix it, see you tomorrow”. Is this the best quality we can expect from our artists? Is this the best we can expect from ourselves? Is fixing a wrong note in Autotune or Melodyne any worse than punching in?
What if you do not want to abuse pitch correction? Can you get away with it? Can you make your client understand that their product will be better if their performance is better? Let's identify the problems and discuss some strategies that audio professionals can use to improve the quality of their work. We'll also talk about some organizations that support the return to quality, and how young engineers can make quality part of their everyday activity.
Similar to the discussion about quality in our everyday work as audio professionals, how do we incorporate that message into our teaching? Do we have a chance, as our students saunter into the classroom with Ipod connected to earbuds? In a discussion aimed at audio educators, let's discuss some curricular approaches to helping our students understand the difference. We will establish measureable outcomes for our students incorporating quality, better preparing them to do more than just pass signal upon graduation. I often have this conversation over dinner with fellow educators before or after other presentations; it does not need to be anything formal.
The field of audio, in all its forms, bridges the gap between aesthetics and technology. Audio engineers and producers are constantly combining their aesthetic approach with the technology necessary to make it work. Neither the aesthetics nor the technology stand alone, each one requires the other to be implemented. My intent, as both an engineer and as an educator, is to close that gap. After a brief presentation about the history of talent, producers and engineers, let's have an open discussion regarding the relationship between the technical knowledge necessary to produce and execute audio: how to place microphones on instruments and record them and find the shortcomings and advantages to a variety of sound environments, and the aesthetic criteria for a variety of applications. This discussion will benefit both the professional producer/musician working in commercial studios, as well as those who, due to the reduction in cost of home computers and programs for recording audio, consider themselves recording engineers in their own homes and offices. This group of people has access to the tools, but they may lack some of the basic knowledge required to get the most out of their equipment. Hopefully this discussion will help engineers, musicians and producers communicate more effectively and understand each other's changing roles.
Your Regional Vice President will be your best resource when starting a section of the Audio Engineering Society. While your Vice President will provide you with all the necessary paperwork and help guide you through the process, perhaps I can help too. Do not bring me out to visit solely for this, but if I'm there already I will be happy to share my recent experiences while starting two successful AES sections, one professional and one student.
©2008 Gary Gottlieb