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  • Calum Paterson

What the heck is Sound Design? And why do I do it?

I get asked this question a lot. Mostly, from my non-theatre friends, or as they like to refer to themselves: the ones with "real" jobs. I find this entertainingly ironic, as I actually make more money than most of them, and the time I spend actually "working" is a lot less too.


The point I am making is that up until recently, sound design, along with the art of composing sound and music for performance wasn't always viewed as a necessity to the creative or artistic process. This was made clear by a host of Award Ceremonies omitting the Sound Design category from their awards: most notably, The Tony's and The Whats On Stage. But that is a grudge for another Blog.


For me. Quite simply, sound design is storytelling with sound and music.


I am storyteller first and foremost. It's what I love. It's what I've always loved, without knowing that I loved it.


I'll expand. People often ask me, "what's your style?" ... "You know, when you write music, what's your style? what makes this music yours?" I find this a really difficult question, because the honest answer is: I don't have a style. I believe that 'having a style' is a quite a dangerous thing in my line of work, as creating or doing the same thing can potentially never lead to anything new and exciting. I guess what I am saying is: every show or project is different, so therefore, the sound and music will be different too. As I said, I am a storyteller, and sometimes I tell stories with sound effects, and sometimes I tell stories with an orchestra.


I find myself increasingly having to tell people, that as a theatrical sound designer, I don't actually write music at all. (Stay with me). I argue that I write the sonic accompaniment to human emotion (now that is a W*** statement). In real speak... sometimes that means I write Tone, Mood or Atmosphere. And each can have a varying degree of musicality to it, dependant on the needs of the story.


There is no science behind what I do... there is no formula to guarantee good results. What I can tell you for certain, is that it takes a lot of time, a great deal of patience and heaping helping of trial and error. I actually enjoying making mistakes, because making a mistake is putting you one step closer to finding the answer.


I love what I do. Genuinely. I can honestly say that there is nothing else, in my working life, that brings me as much joy as being a sound designer.


I think I'll leave this blog post there. Thanks for taking the time to read it. Hopefully it gives you a small insight into my mindset, and into the inner workings of my brain when I think about sound design.


Calum x

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