Being Creative and coping with mental illness

In the spirit of the Coen Brothers, I’m writing about my current creative block. Today I am supposed to be writing music for a short film for an old friend. Alas I have given up as nothing is flowing from me. But why?

I make no secret that I suffer from depression and have been on medication for it for many years now. My depression is managed by using an SSRI which stops any serotonin being reabsorbed back into the brain. However, some of my symptoms are never far away, the main one at the moment is a general feeling of fatigue. This is manifesting physically and mentally at the moment. There’s only so much one can do to lift your own spirits and sometimes it’s impossible. This is particularly tough when we work in the creative industries and we need to have that creativity on tap.

Today is one of those days where nothing is working and I’ve given up. I feel bad, I want to get this music written and the film finished. Thankfully this is a freebie and there’s no delivery date or deadline to meet. It’s incredibly frustrating. Is there any I can do? That’s a genuine question as I don’t know of any technique beyond the usual ones books and doctors will suggest to people with depression.

This Wikipedia page looks at the link between being creative and having a mental illness. It’s something that I’ve wondered for a long time as all the people that I know with any form of mental illness appear to be of a creative temperament. This is, of course, anecdotal. However, it does look like some serious research is being done to explore this link.

As Winston Churchill said, I need to KBO (Keep Buggering On).

Grouping tracks for display only

This post isn’t about the groups function in ProTools, but rather a workaround from someone new to ProTools, coming from Pyramix. My friend wanted to use his Pyramix control surface with ProTools via HUI, all was fine until it came to selecting tracks not displayed on his 24 faders. Cue, crashes and hanging.
His work around is rather simple and has shown me a new feature in ProTools that I think is rather useful. Firstly, you select the tracks you want in your display group so they are the only ones displayed on the Edit screen. Then you add a marker. The clever bit is removing all time properties, then it wont be shown on your timeline. Do this by selecting “none” from the Time Properties section.


Under the General Properties section, make sure that “Track Show/Hide” is selected and click OK. Now on your memory locations window you can select tracks to display on your Edit, Mix screens and also on your control surface. This is rather handy for large track counts where you might want to quickly access your Foley, ADR or Atmos tracks for example.


Online Mixing Webinar

I’ve been asked to be part of a panel discussion about mixing for online only distribution by Shaun Farley (AKA Dynamic Interference). As readers of my blog will know I recently did two episodes of an online comedy series called The Clandestine. Hopefully I’ll get to talk about my experience on that series and also learn more about this new platform for mixing from the illustrious company I’m with .


I’ve copied this from the Designing Sound website.

We’ve got a new Film Sound Discussion Group lined up for you. I thought it was time we started having some in-depth discussions centered around the growing omnipresence of internet streaming as a distribution medium and how it impacts our jobs as audio professionals. This one is going to be set up as a virtual panel, and there are some great participants lined up. We’ve got:

  • Michael Coleman of Soundworks Collection
  • Paul Fonarev of Miso Sound
  • Lew Goldstein of Parabolic
  • Cheryl Ottenritter of Ott House Audio
  • Ian Palmer (Freelancer)

The panel will take place on Saturday, June 23rd, at 1PM (U.S. Eastern Time). The discussion is scheduled to last one hour, including some time for Q&A. You can register for the panel here.

Yes, the discussion will be recorded. A link will be posted here on Designing Sound once it is available.




Workflows – sending work for review as a QuickTime

Working remotely is something that I’ve had a few discussions with other people recently. I also wrote a post here.

I said that I have been sending my clients an mp3 for them to review. This is under the presumption that they are either editing the project themselves or at least working in the same building as the Editor. It’s easy as an mp3 is quickly uploaded, copied and imported into the edit suite. I have been wondering if there’s any other easy way to review work, especially if a client isn’t in the office or working away and needs to listen to my work. I used to upload work as a QuickTime, it has the drawback of being much larger than an mp3 but the benefit of including the video. I just did a play and below is some specs I worked out that will give me a 30Mb file for a 6:15 duration video.

It gives a pretty small screen size but the image is still quite crisp and certainly enough for people to view with regards to the sound, which is after all the reason for the video’s existence.

I like to use QuickTime Pro as it is very easy to add it onto the end of my workflow, especially as I re-record my work within Pro Tools. You can simply copy an audio file and paste it onto a video and export. Much simpler than using editing software. I know that QTPro isn’t easily available these days and wont be around too much longer as it’s been replaced by QT Player, but it’s worth the small cost (£20/$29) to have this speedy workflow. Still, whatever your weapon of choice these specs should give you a nice balance between picture/sound quality and file size.

The Clandestine

I thought I’d write a post about my experience on an online series called The Clandestine. It’s the first online only project I have worked on and I have to say I had a huge amount of fun doing the sound on the project. I had a simple remit, to make the sound exaggerated and over the top. This is clear cue to have some fun.

However, the first job to do is to create a nice clean dialogue track to work with. Out came iZotope’s RX2 to remove or at least reduce the background noise and atmospheres. I will admit that editing and cleaning up dialogue is one of the most satisfying things in post-production sound. While there’s some parts that I was unable to clean to my own satisfaction I am quite proud of what I done. I appreciate that a “bad workman blames his tools” but however amazing RX is, it cannot do all the work. I would love to buy Waves’ WNS or even Cedar’s DNSOne but like any freelancer I need to be careful about spending my money. The dialogue was nicely recorded and the clean up was fairly easy so please don’t infer anything negative from my thoughts.

So, with a nice clean dialogue track, the first thing I like to do is to put in all the atmospheres. The story takes place in Belfast, although it’s not referenced in the dialogue, but the accents of the characters. I used some generic city atmospheres and nothing specific to Belfast. I spent four years living there and it sounds like any other city. Please correct me but I can’t think of anything to separate Belfast from any other city in the UK. The atmospheres were picked for two reasons; 1) to create the background noises from the locations seen and 2) to help cover up some of the dialogue cleanup. The trickiest part was in Episode 2 where the two central characters have a conversation in the harbour in Carrickfergus. Not only was there the traffic and the waves but it was quite a windy day. Ironically I removed most of those noises but then put them back in with the atmospheres. That said, it really worked as the dialogue balanced much better than the original recordings.

The next phase was to add in all the spot sound effects. Most of these are often mundane but thanks to the nicely recorded location sound I didn’t have to add in too much in the way of Foley. The main job here was to liven up the soundtrack with some phone and motorbike effects. What I love about post sound is the ability to do new things. I’ve (sadly) never had the opportunity to do animated titles before so this was a real treat.

The final phase is obviously the mix. I mixed this project like it was being done for TV. The only change to that was I allowed peaks to hit -6 on the meters. I think it would be a great idea to have some form of standards for online mixing. Perhaps ones that mean any mixes done for online playback will easily translate to either cinema or Television. I do wonder if this unification of media will become a reality? Especially considering the already emergence of online television playback with the likes of LoveFilm and BBC’s iPlayer.

Joseph has created a Kickstarter page as he is hoping to be able to make further episodes. Please visit it, check out the clip of the series and (hopefully) contribute. Click HERE.

Remote Working

I wanted to write up my thoughts on remote working after this post on Social Sound Design. I have worked remotely a lot in the last five years and in a few different ways. I guess the most common method that people can identify with nowadays is simply sending ones work to the Director/Producer for review via the internet. I work from home and for numerous clients based in another countries, they send me QuickTimes and an OMF/AAF for me. I do the tracklay/mix, re-record the sound within the session, export as a 320Kbit/s 16Bit mp3 and upload via FTP or DropBox. I then await notes about the work, once addressed I send another copy. Once the sound is done a full quality 24Bit/48KHz WAV is sent.

I find this way of working fairly straightforward and does lead to a more relaxed interaction between me and the Director/Producer. Plus it has the advantage of being mostly in writing so mistakes and missed information is seldom. However the fact that I don’t know what room and equipment the Director/Producer is listening in/on I cannot know if the work is being fully appreciated. This has lead to a few minor issues of a Director asking for a bigger sound when it already sounds huge in my studio and they were listening on small PC speakers (this is a made up example by the way). Another advantage is that this system works wherever my client is in the world. I can just as easily work with a client in LA as one who is in Cardiff. Like a lot of systems, this one has advantages and disadvantages.

One other disadvantage is that the feedback and changes take a while to get through. In my previous job I would review work via ISDN to LA and be able to speak with the Director just like being on the phone. The added bonus being that after an hour or so the show was finished. This system is obviously a lot quicker but can be quite costly. ISDN and now IP boxes to do this sort of setup are pricey and for a freelancer too much of an investment to warrant. I have looked into other similar systems such as Source Connect which streams the audio out of ProTools to IP as an RTAS plugin within your session. I have used it before but again it’s too pricey for me at the moment, it’s a shame as it now has the ability for a Director to review the stream via an iPhone or online.

I am hoping that live online streaming is something that becomes easier and cheaper to do as would make the review process easier for smaller facilities and individuals who cannot afford large hardware expenses. Whatever happens I like working this way as it suits me to work from home at the moment and also means I can be cheaper to hire than a large post facility.

Workflows – how I mix

I thought I’d continue from my previous post about post production sound workflows. I used to work for a large company as a mixer. Although I did get involved in other areas my main work involved mixing other people’s tracklay. I found it quite a shock to start with as I’d done a little sound editing for others occasionally but I had mainly done all the design, tracklay and mix myself. It’s interesting to mix someone else’s work as it really highlights how different we all are in what we think should be done for a project.

In my previous post, I tried to stress how important it is to keep your work organised. Working with other people can really pay off. The first thing I did when I got the tracklay from someone else was to re-organise their work. Partly as I wanted it to fit how I mixed, but also to speed up my mix in the first place. On the whole though this was a minor thing and I’m certainly not implying that their work was disorganised.

My mix session template is a fairly complicated affair. Although quite elegant and efficient when you get to grips with it. The most complicated things I mix are normally animated series. So, for this post I will only discuss how I mix animations. My audio tracks are divided into sections (that I also colour code).




Stereo SFX



The first thing I do is mix the dialogue. It means I can concentrate on ensuring that the dialogue hits whatever broadcast specs I am working with. I can also tidy up the edits made by the editor. At this stage I also add any reverbs needed as a send effect.

There is no right or wrong way to mix really. I could pre-mix my sfx but for the animated shows I have worked on I have never found a benefit as the track count is too small and the sound edit is not that complicated. The only thing I do do is reduce the amount of sfx tracks to a minimum. I prefer this method as I only normally have 8 faders to work with and it saves time not having to constantly be scrolling through banks of empty tracks. I don’t find grouping the same sort of sounds together advantageous as again my track count is small and the simplicity of the animations. This isn’t a large feature film with lots of similar groups of sounds that need premixed. I also mix the music and effects together at the same time, again as it’s simpler to.

A quick tip here: For a series that uses the same locations I always spend time on the first episode to get the atmos tracks pre-mixed. Once done you can import those tracks without having to re-mix them again and again for each episode. Very handy too is to setup a session with a very long version of the pre-mixed atmos tracks. This is preferable than bouncing down an audio of the atmos mix in case you need to alter anything for a specific occasion.

Once I have finished mixing everything with the dialogue the show needs to be exported and sent to the director and producers for review. As previously stated I like to re-record my work within Pro Tools. It’s then easy to export the region as an mp3 to send to for review. I have worked a lot with people in a variety of countries and this remote method of working is quite nice once you get used to it. It’s also nice not having directors and producers having discussions (or arguments) about the mix while in the same room as you. Even with broadband internet speeds I still send a 320/kbps 48KHz mp3 as it still sounds good and takes a fraction of the time than a WAV.