From Ex Machina and The Legend of Tarzan to Beyoncé and Florence and the Machine, SAE audio alumnus Peter Hanson has worked with a range of global artists and on blockbuster films. In this article, the Pinewood Sound Designer shares his top tips on making it in the industry and getting that perfect sound.
1. Don’t underestimate yourself or be afraid
My first real job was flying around on a jet for Craig David’s world tour, with not a great deal of experence. Sometimes I'm still surprised that I was ballsy enough to take it, but it all worked out.
2. Don't pay too much attention to HF
The dolby curve rolls a lot out at the high end and dialogue tends to be rolled off pretty low most of the time. Mid-range is critical, particularly with foley as it has to fit in with the dialogue. So bear in mind how the mixer might EQ, verb the dial. I remember doing a lot of EQ’ing for the music on Powder Room and it was just a waste of time.
3. Don't aspire to only making beautiful sounds, make believable ones
In post things have to be realistic. Everest had huge sections that were shot on a sound stage with blowers on full. This made the actual production audio literally impossible. Sound24 had to rebuild all of the audio. The foley we did on it had to be completely realistic, down to the puffer jackets and snow spray.
4. Learn ProTools, and then learn it some more
When unexpected opportunities arise you don't want to be looking up shortcuts, you need to have that knowledge there in your mind already. Kula Shaker hired me for their recording sessions purely because someone on their team heard that I was fast on ProTools.
5. Pay attention to the music
Is there a lot of sub-join on already, or are there rhythmic patterns that could be relevant? Tim Burton’s Mrs Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children had sections of large creatures and loud music, careful management of the low end on the monster’s feet was therefore really important.
6. Don’t pan too much into the rears
When mixing don't get too stuck in your sweet spot, remember some people will be sitting right underneath the left surround. We had a large crowd come in for Kill Your Friends which added so much life to the music venue sequences, but too much crowd in the rears sounded off-putting when sitting in the back.
7. Bring your positive energy to the job
It was fantastic to see Andy Grier working on Guitar Hero. His energy and enthusiasm got the extra 20% out of the singers we were recording. Having a great time and being positive really lifts everyone and the whole quality goes up, and it’s more enjoyable.
8. Make performers as conformable as possible
Something I do a lot in ADR and purposely set up the mic lower that it should be, then when the actor moves into the position I go and adjust it up. It often has the effect on making the performer feel big and tall and seems to boost their confidence.
9. Transients are the devil
Rich, thick film mixes can be unforgiving to audio with high transient content. Listen to your sounds against loud music and see what pokes through, if you just get ‘tap, tick, click,’ it might be worth another look. We rarely record men walking in smart shoes for that reason, usually opting for softer shoes.
10. Don’t force it
Be incredibly meticulous about everything you do, but also be prepared to throw it all away. Sometimes what you thought was going to work doesn't - don't force it. Move on quickly. If an idea takes more than 30 mins to create it’s usually a bad idea. Fable Legends required a lot of sound design which had to be clear, interesting, unique and fun. If I had worked myself up into a stressed out frenzy staring at a screen at an idea that didn’t work it would have been difficult to regain the sense of fun and momentum required to complete the task.