Sound Design for the Stage

Published by Crowood Press in April 2019.

Composite photo by Gareth Fry from a photo by Dorothy Hong of the set of  Harry Potter and the Cursed Child . Designed by Christine Jones, lighting design by Neil Austin.

Composite photo by Gareth Fry from a photo by Dorothy Hong of the set of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. Designed by Christine Jones, lighting design by Neil Austin.

This is the blurb:
Sound Design for the Stage is a practical guide to designing, creating and developing the sound for a live performance. Based on the author's extensive industry experience, it takes the reader through the process of creating a show, from first contact to press night, with numerous examples from high-profile productions. Written in a detailed but accessible approach, this comprehensive book offers key insights into a fast-moving industry.

Topics covered include:

  • how to analyze a script to develop ideas and concepts

  • how to discuss your work with a director

  • telling the emotional story

  • working with recorded and live music

  • how to record, create, process and abstract sound

  • designing for devised work

  • key aspects of acoustics and vocal intelligibility

  • the politics of radio mics and vocal foldback

  • how to design a sound system and, finally,

  • what to do when things go wrong.

This is the bio:
Gareth Fry is an Olivier and Tony award-winning sound designer. His recent designs include Harry Potter and the Cursed Child and Complicité's The Encounter, building on years of experience designing plays, musicals, dance and opera productions worldwide, including over 20 productions at the National Theatre. He has also created work for exhibitions and events, from the V&A's David Bowie Is exhibition, to the Opening Ceremony of the 2012 Olympic Games. He holds three Olivier Awards, two Tony Awards, two Drama Desks Awards, two Helpmann Awards and an Evening Standard Award. Gareth is an honorary fellow of the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama.


Click below for a full list of the topics covered in the book.

 
 

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Rest of the world

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  • An e-Pub electronic book is available from Crowood here

  • A Kindle electronic book is available from Crowood here

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Additional info

Whilst writing this book I’ve focused on topics that aren’t typically written about. Rather than writing about the physics of loudspeakers, or recording sound effects, I’ve looked at how the industry works, how creative teams are put together, hot to get work, how to discuss ideas with a director, how to generate ideas to form a foundation for your sound design, and how to turn that into a reality. And rather than just talking about, for example, the different types of radio mic’s, I’ve focused more on why and when to use them, the politics surrounding them and the often delicate issue of vocal foldback. I’ve had a lot of successes in my career, but I’ve also had lots of failures, and made many mistakes. Some of those mistakes have been technical, and I offer advice in the book on how to analyse why your show might sound bad and how to fix it. Some of those mistakes have been political or personal, and I offer advice on how to navigate them and how to deal with anger and stress. There are also interviews with sound designers Ian Dickinson, David McSeveney, Gareth Owen, and Melanie Wilson (on page 217).

Further reading

Here are some good books about the physics of loudspeakers, and other specialist topics, and some good general theatre sound books too.

Sound Systems: Design and Optimization: Modern Techniques and Tools for Sound System Design and Alignment by Bob McCarthy
The Sound of Theatre: A History from the Ancient Greeks to the Modern Digital Age by David Collison
The Foley Grail: The Art of Performing Sound for Film, Games, and Animation by Vanessa Theme Ament
The Sound Effects Bible: How to Create and Record Hollywood Style Sound Effects by Ric Viers
Mixing a Musical - Broadway Theatrical Sound Techniques by Shannon Slaton
The Art of Theatrical Sound Design: A Practical Guide by Victoria Deiorio (which includes a great section on styleS of music, and on effective communication, amongst other things)
Sound and Music for the Theatre by Deena Kaye and James Lebrecht (which also includes many great interviews with directors, sound designers and composers, including me!)

Other resources

If you’ve read the book, you’ll know I mention technology becomes obsolete faster than books get printed. So here’s an up to date list of things that are useful for a sound designer to have. Here’s a list of commonly used equipment in the UK theatre sound industry. There are some more resources on this website too, in the Resources section, or in the Schematics section, which has some of the paperwork I generate for shows. I’ve also written many articles for the Association of Sound Designers’ magazine, The Echo. You can read some of them in the back issues section here. Topics include Using Copyrighted Music in Theatre, Tax and National Insurance for Freelancers, VAT, Procedural Audio and VR technologies; amongst many other articles, showcases and interviews with, and by, many other talented sound designers.


Audio and Video clips

Here are some of the audio and video clips mentioned in the book

Here a heart-beat sound effect is being used to open and close a Noise Gate plug-in, which is across a crowd sound effect. Over the course of the track I’m adjusting the noise gate threshold level so it gradually becomes constant crowd noise.


A video showing the logistics of operating The Encounter using a mix of Qlab and Ableton Live

Brian Friel’s Dancing at Lughnasa. Directed by Anna Mackmin

This play is a memory piece, and the narrator talks about his memory of his rural childhood home and music playing on the radio. I created a reverb version (pushed through two instances of a 55-second reverb) of the music that is referenced by the narrator, to use as a preshow tone in the auditorium and as an underscoring motif through the show. I also processed the song to sound as if it was on a radio, using Audio Ease’s Speakerphone. I used the radio tuning module to have it ‘tune out’ into radio static. I also fed birdsong into the same module. I crossfaded the squawks we heard from an out-of-tune radio turned-in into the squawks of bird as if heard on an out-of-tune radio, before crossfading to the naturalistic sound of the birds singing. This gave us the music referenced in the text, an abstracted version to use as a motif, and brought us into the naturalistic world as if it had been conjured out of the same radio the narrator had conjured the music out of.


Errors and Corrections

“Styles of microphoning” - I think one of the editors didn’t like the commonly-used term “mic’ing” and replaced it with the never-used term “microphoning”.

p165, in the illustration caption, “we would add a delay of 2.9m” should be “2.9ms”, and “We might add anywhere up to 25-30m” should be “25-30ms”


Updates

Every now and again I’ll put together some updates to the text, useful audio clips and videos that demonstrate some of the concepts in the book. If you’d like to stay updated, or to tell me what you think about the book, please, fill out the form below.

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