My Life as a Sound Designer

In my previous post about doing many different music-related jobs, I had a huge list of roles that I’ve assumed for various projects in the past, both my own and other people’s. One of those roles was sound designer, and I thought I’d talk a little bit about that in this post.

I’ve done a few sound design gigs over the years, the first of which threw me into the deep end – doing the sound design elements, re-recording dialogue, and recording foley for The Girl Who Lived, an independently produced feature-length film. I got onto the gig through friends at Main Street Studios and spent the best part of a few weeks building the sound-world of the film from the ground up, scene by scene.

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve Pencilsbeen working with a friend of mine, a visual artist, on creating the first scene of a stop-motion animated film called Geschöpf. Matt Murchie, the friend in question, won the ‘experimental’ category of the National Campus Film Competition last year (watch the winning film, ‘The Short Life of Eksiliksi’, here), and is continuing his animation work in his own distinctive and unique style with this new project, which we hope to work more on over the Summer, maybe even finishing it before the new year.

I used a combination of creative-commons-licenced and self-recorded sound effects to accompany the creature from its humble beginnings and evolution. Sounds that you might not think would be suitable, such as dripping water, cupboard doors squeaking, or unwrapping a slice of processed cheese managed to find their way into the project. The music is, at present, a temporary idea. Because this is the first scene of a larger project still in progress, I am expecting the music to evolve over the course of production into something more cohesive to the film as a whole.

Check out what we’ve got so far on Vimeo:

The Many Hats of a Contemporary Musician

In the beginning, I wanted to be a songwriter. Well, I say “the beginning”, but really this was after I’d gone through a few musical phases and had spent a little time studying music at TAFE. But being a songwriter was my first real idea of what I wanted to do with music. So, for a few months, I spent hours and hours every day studying and analysing what I considered to be “great” songs – Motown classics, tin pan alley, Duke Ellington, Nat King Cole, The Beatles, and Van Morrison. I wrote as much as I could, but I found that my own limitations as a player were holding me back. So I kicked my practice regime up a few notches and learned how to play all the scales, chords and rhythms that I felt like I needed to better my own writing. But by that point, I had become so focussed on becoming a great player of songs that I had lost some of the spark of interest that I had when it came to writing songs. I had moved on. I passed through several phases or focuses over the next year or so in a similar fashion until I realised that there was no point in limiting myself to just one aspect of being a musician. I needed to do it all, and more.

I am a full-time musician. I don’t make nearly enough money to support myself through music, but being a musician takes up my entire working week, often up to 80 hours in a “good” week. Some of the stuff I do is paid, but a lot of it isn’t – or in lieu of payment there appears a six-pack of beer or an IOU for a favour down the line. While sometimes frustrating, this is totally fine – most of the people I work with or for are also musicians, trying to make the most of the same struggling industry as I am. We spend years working for free and rationalising it to ourselves by saying that it’s all worth it – everything I do now is helping to create a better, more sustainable career for myself in the future. The truth of this statement remains to be seen, but it’s certainly true that friends and contacts made now and into the future are one of the key aspects to developing and maintaining a musical career.

I learned pretty early on that I was going to have to develop a wide range of skills in order to support myself in the music industry. Over the past six-or-so years I’ve taken every opportunity I can to acquire new skills and experience, broadening my palette of possible income streams. At various times in the past, I’ve been a sound designer, live sound engineer, performer, photographer, composer, arranger, musical director, writer, theorist, teacher, tutor, proof-reader, music copyist, web designer, recording engineer, booking agent, graphic designer, brand manager, session musician, and producer. I don’t claim to be an expert and all or any of these things, but I’ve always been willing to put in the effort and get things done to the absolute best of my abilities.

I’ve met plenty of musicians that do things differently, focussing on just one aspect of their musical life over any other – becoming a virtuoso player, a great songwriter, or an expert recording engineer. For me, I love being able to do as much as I can. So many of the facets overlap and enhance each other, and as a composer I feel that I can incorporate much of what I’ve learned in other roles into my composition work, and I find the knowledge gained from every area really invaluable and personal to me.

If you’re a musician, you might find yourself thinking in a similar way. The “jack-of-all-trades” thing doesn’t suit everybody, and I’m not suggesting that this is the only way to make a solid living out of music, but it’s just my story so far, and I’m enjoying every minute of it.

The Button Collective, Part 2


The Button Collective at the QLD State FinalsTwo nights ago The Button Collective made the trek up to Griffith University in Southport to take part in the QLD state finals of the National Campus Band Competition. A fair distance to travel, but it was worth heading up there because we had a great time! Despite the fact that I was feeling a little under the weather, we played well, even with a couple of difficult and unforseeable moments (broken strings), and ended up getting third place in the competition!

Friends and uni-mates The Swamp Stompers also played, and got second place!


The Button Collective

Earlier this year I joined a band with some friends called The Button Collective. A few of them had been playing together for a while as a previous incarnation, Button Tea, but most of the material was new to me. The band is centred around songwriter Brodie Buttons, and we play songs about love, misery, and everything in between.

The Button Collective is a kind of mish-mash of several styles. We play folk, country, gypsy, pirate ballads, and bushdance ditties depending on what takes our fancy at the time. For the last few months, we’ve been working towards a full-length album release with DIY recordings of many of Brodie’s more recent songs.

Last night, we were lucky enough to get to play the SCU final of the National Campus Band Competition, and what’s more, we won! Apart from all the excellent prizes and opportunities that come out of winning that level of the competition, we also get the chance to try our luck at the next level, the Queensland state finals to be held in Southport next week. It’s very exciting to be involved in this band with some of my best friends, and it’s exciting to think of what the future might hold for The Button Collective.

We’ve got a few recordings online. Live tracks, demo recordings, and our first music video. Check them out:

The Button Collective on Soundcloud

Gracie Hughes

I have recently had the pleasure of playing bass for the debut EP of songwriter Gracie Hughes, winner of the 2013 Lismore Young Songwriter of the Year award. Chrissy Langham, who plays drums in The Button Collective and Ben Wilson & The Job Seekers with me, was also asked to play drums on the recording.

Last Saturday we headed up to Lovestreet Studios in Currumbin and spent the day recording the four tracks under the guidance of engineer and producer Scott French. It was a great day working with all involved; Gracie, her mother Melanie, pianist Nerida, Chrissy, and Scott.

Very glad to have opportunities like this in and around the Northern Rivers region. There is such a huge community of interconnected creative people.


Ben Wilson and the Job Seekers

I’ve been playing with Ben Wilson since March this year, and we’ve come a long way since our humble beginnings. I’ve always really liked Ben’s music – he used to run the local open mic night, where I heard most of his songs for the first time – and it’s great to be part of the band.

This year, Ben was the winner of the Lismore Young Songwriter of the Year, and one of his prizes was some time recording at SAE in Byron Bay. We (Ben, Gene, Chrissy, and I) have a five-track EP just around the corner which we recorded there with Patty Preece.

We also had the chance to play at Splendour in the Grass in July.

I’m really looking forward to doing some more playing and recording with this band, however in just over a month, Ben will become a father, and I’m expecting him to have significantly less time to dedicate to the band and music in general.

Happy Family