Discover Your Personal Filmmaking Audio Journey: The Sound Advice Tour Review
- June 19, 2015
- Shane Hurlbut, ASC
When I got a call from my buddy Dave Weldon, Hurlbut Visuals Creative Director and Technology Strategist, about attending the Sound Advice Tour with Frank Serafine, I was totally thrilled. I’m a fan of Sci Fi and many of the movies Frank has worked on over the years. For many of us, they were part of our childhood and film education.
The tour has been a great success, and you can use coupon code SATHV15 for a $15 discount. There are about seven cities left, but don’t worry, if you missed it in your city, the tour will also be available as an HD download. You can purchase the download starting on June 30th here- http://soundadvice.mzed.com/download
If I could sum up the Sound Advice Tour in one word, it would be “exhilarating.” The presentation is in 5.1 and is tuned for each presentation room on the tour, so as an attendee, you really feel the love put in to make the course great. Frank and Mark’s nuanced and dynamic sound design plays clean on the thousands of Watts the Samson speaker set pumps out. It felt immersive.
The Sound Advice tour is an event where you can let out your inner audio geek and just bask. Here is a little background on me. I grew up in a musical family and had delved into analog and digital audio production on my own, using custom built PCs, with the help of some friends. By 2001, I was working in music production at a pro music studio in Pro Tools but soon my love of film took my career in a new direction. I found that most of the concepts, tricks, and skills I had learned in music production transferred over to filmmaking. Recently, I found myself guest lecturing at UC Riverside opposite Dean Cundey, ASC and preparing my lectures lead me to cull the most important knowledge I’ve accrued over the past 15 years. After the Sound Advice Tour, I can say it’s well worth the money and time. As a filmmaker, it’s something that you simply shouldn’t miss. Sound Advice covers everything you need to know to start or continue your personal audio journey.
I arrived early as suggested to talk to the sponsors and was glad I did, as the course packs in so much info, you may need to take the full time on each break to decompress for a moment. Or if you’re in the zone, network, you never know who may be sitting next to you. The sponsors on the LA leg were great and in your city, they will vary. We were visited in LA by Rode, Trew Audio, Sony and the Los Angeles Post Production Group.
The mood and pace is set from the beginning with an intense and tantalizing sizzle clip that plays on two big screens, featuring an audio track that soars and envelopes. To the side, all the fun toys for the day. Tons of Rode mics, Zoom devices, Artura keyboards, a green screen with sweet Westcott flex lights … I’m thinking this is gonna be fun. A lot of fun. And hands on.
Mark is great, enthusiastic and pumps the room full of good energy. It’s clear how much fun he’s having and that he wants you to feel the same. His mantra fun, learning, and funny. An audio badass. That goes for the rest of the team as well. Joe, Andreas, and Ross Dog. Unfortunately, on the day I attended, Frank was unable to be there. On the upside, I’m looking forward to seeing the course new all over again with Frank since Sound Advice tickets include an HD download of the course.
Here are a few tips when attending the class. Do bring your best headphones. Don’t bring noise canceling headphones or earbuds. Due to the way noise canceling works, you won’t get the full effect of some of the surround demonstrations. And earbuds still don’t typically give the type of response and rich sound as a decent set of cans. If you don’t yet have a set of good studio or recording headphones, you can rent them from Sound Advice for a small fee. If you are lucky, you may even win a great set of Sony MDR-7506‘s by the end of the day. Do bring snacks, but maybe not stuff that’s loud to eat. Lots of live audio examples will be recorded and so you don’t want to ruin it with loud crunching or crinkling. Or save it for the Foley section.
Attendees are encouraged to take pics of slides and take notes. Again, there’s a lot of information presented and even if you’re not new to this stuff, it’s a good idea.
Camera people can rest assured that lots of great visual counters are given to help ground audio concepts with ideas you may be more familiar with.
Even beyond sound, this workshop covers some essential concepts and tools to good filmmaking. It’s sound centric, but it really expresses how integral sound is to successful films. Much like Shane demonstrates in the Inner Circle, Mark shows multiple techniques for audio situations including some DIY as well as high end tools that are surprisingly affordable. Beyond the technical, this course gives a great intro to the hypnotics of film and suspension of disbelief, and these concepts remain a strong thread throughout the course. I’ve found students and lovers of film are always trying to reverse engineer what they saw another filmmaker do. It’s no different for audio. Sound Advice’s exploration of stems is extremely useful in learning what elements are needed to sell a scene. On top of that, you’ll get a great introduction to common terms, audio engineering psyche, recording prep and technique, basic equipment, radio mics, the nature of digital audio, effective use of sound effects, critical mixing tips across multiple DAW platforms and more.
Overall, it really feels like the Sound Advice Tour is about fun. It’s about the pure joy of audio in filmmaking. It’s a celebration of the melding of audio technology and creativity. The comedic elements of the presentation really kept me engaged and on my toes. There’s lots of audience participation encouraged, both in the yell it out and the raise your hand fashion. Ultimately, it really gives a fantastic overview of everything that’s taken me years to learn and perfect on my own.
A big highlight for me is Spatial Audio Designer – it’s a fast, sleek way to manage your surround mixes from 5.1 up to 22.2. Sound crazy? Nope, it’s not coming; it’s happened. The headphone feature needs to be heard to be believed. Astonishingly accurate, truly immersive surround sound in your stereo headphones. It’s above, below, in front, back, all around. It’s the future, but it’s not the future; it’s right now on your videos.
Sony’s Spectra Layers was another bright star in the lineup. As all location recordists know, being faced with a less than ideal situation is part of the job. You do what you can to capture the best that you can, but even with the best problem solving, you can’t control everything. In a way, Sony’s software lets you. With revolutionary tools, broad spectrum sounds can be removed and precious performances that were once lost can be saved. The 3D spectrogram feature is mind blowing and the implications for audio restoration astounding.
Next, Zynaptiq’s Unfilter harmonics plugin proves it can save the day if ADR isn’t an option and a lavalier had to be placed in a less than optimal spot. It brings color presence and life back into what was muffled and mumbly.
Adobe Audition‘s exclusive automatic speech alignment feature is worth the price of admission if you need to do lots of looping and ADR. Matching dialog is now a few clicks away. Hours of your life reclaimed. Check.
(Additional blog coverage of this feature: Blogs.Adobe.com and NoFilmSchool.com)
Izotope’s RX series has long been a fantastic tool for audio restoration. Sound Advice introduced me to Insight, which ended up being another favorite of mine. True monitoring of levels and handy tools like spectrogram, surround scope, and meter taps help you masterfully analyze your mix so if you aren’t sure where your mix needs to go with your ears, you can visually see what needs to be tweaked. It’s also available as part of Ozone 6 advanced, another incredible tool you’ll see demoed and then want immediately as part of your arsenal of software.
Moreover, for beginners and intermediates, Sound Advice will help prepare you for the future of audio production with the latest and tried and true techniques. In addition, they cover what’s coming in deliverables in the near future and finally what you need to do to make your post mixes shine and take them to the next level, even if you are new to the game.
Early in the day, I realized how flexible the course actually is. It’s designed for all and yet tailored for the people in the room – something a download just can’t match. Attendees are encouraged to participate and ask questions. Mark didn’t want to move on until everyone really understood each section or concept. My advice is don’t be intimidated. A lot of information will be covered. Some of the people in the LA class were just starting their journey and Mark kept comically teaching concepts until everyone had a firm grasp. Tangents from audience questions and comments lead to some great discussions. There’s an open dialog, which is fantastic.
Even if your favorite bit of kit may not be the gear featured, there’s a selection of great products across price points introduced and demoed in the course. But attendees are still encouraged to love the gear they love.
The Triad-Orbit stands and their quick release system are a welcome addition to any studio. I haven’t seen their flexibility and ease of use in any other product out there. Articulated legs, orbital booms — you’ll want to get more mics just so you can get these stands. But they aren’t just for mics. Whaaaat?! Super cool.
Of the Rode Mics featured, I really connected with their studio condensers. They sound really fantastic for the price point. I wish the NTR and the i-XY had been demoed, but there’s only so much time in the day. So, like me after the course, you will find yourself doing some research and further gear exploration on your own. I was also really impressed with the Rode Blimp. Even without the Dead Wombat accessory, it successfully deflected significant wind, something many competitors simply can’t boast.
I’m not super familiar with the Zoom products, but by the end of the day I was certainly considering them. They have come light years in just a short time and with a broad product line, you’ll probably find something that peaks your interest.
I was so glad to see Roland recorders featured since the R-44 is the first 4 track digital recorder I spent extended time with in my career. The big brother R-88 is an awesome way to get into higher track counts and not break the bank. Over the years, I’ve even used some friends’ aftermarket upgraded/modified 44 models, which actually took their great circuitry to a new place.
The other real star piece of gear for me was the Holophone H-2 series, which Frank uses to get sublime 5.1 and 7.1 recordings. There wasn’t a live recording demo of it on the LA stop, but maybe you can get them to do it for you in your city. It’s one of the pricier items on display, but it’s so cool and specialty, it’s hard not to imagine all the cool stuff you could capture with it. If you’re not there yet in your gear budget but want it now now now, there are more affordable options such as the Porta Mic Pro which allows you to record 5.1 Dolby Pro Logic II straight into your camera’s stereo inputs for a little more than a Grover Cleveland.
There is that pressure to upgrade and spend when it’s all right there in front of you and so sweet, but the pricing discounts at the workshop are amazing and are to be taken advantage of. Moreover, the products featured feel attainable, except maybe that Holophone H2-Pro. For now. Keep chipping away at those upgrades when you can. Increase your challenge, increase your skill, and increase your tools. Don’t just peruse; Pursue.
Sound Advice is very comprehensive for beginners, a great refresher and skill builder for intermediate enthusiasts and hobbyists, and even at the pro level, you’ll benefit and maybe even be blown away by some of the exercises. Peppered in are lots of great tidbits on workflow, special techniques for selling looping, adr, etc.
It’s a hands on course. You’ll be thinking critically, focusing and honing your sense of sound all day, so it’s a good idea to take it easy on your ears a few days before if you can. By the end of the day, if you don’t already, you’ll be thinking like a creative sound engineer with a solid base of knowledge fueling your new experiences and projects.
One of the best parts as well is the exploration of the experience of sound and how human anatomy works and adapts. It’s a crucial concept in successful design and mixing, which with practice, becomes a skill and then a second nature or a muscle memory.
Some folks left early and I hope you don’t. It would be shortchanging yourself. The last few minutes after dinner are some of the best and most important parts of the day. So stay until the end. You’ll leave feeling empowered and refreshed if right now you’re feeling stuck in a waveform trough. At the end, even if you don’t have mastery of every detail of what’s covered, if you keep your study of sound up, the information you get from Frank and Mark will get you to those “Ah-hah!” moments that feel so great. You will get Sound Advice and sound advice. It’s not just valuable; it’s priceless. It’s not just priceless; it’s dope. When you go, you’ll hear what I mean.
Stay tuned! If you still aren’t convinced this program will supplement the vast goldmine that is Shane’s Inner Circle, in the coming weeks I’ll be covering some of the bonus materials included with this masterclass, such as the Sound Advice HD Download, Franks Essentials SFX collection, and Pro Pic.
Sound Advice Tour with Frank Serafine