The Audio Producer's Guide to Loudness

I've been dealing a lot with this topic lately, as I'm working on my second feature-length film mix in as many months. When you're working on mixing levels for a project that's 90 to 100 minutes long, over the course of several days or even weeks, it's easy to lose track of the loudness of the mix over time. Having a properly calibrated listening environment is key, but having tools to help you keep track of your overall loudness levels over time can be a great tool.

Today as you mix audio productions you most likely monitor levels with a peak meter — those two little bars that jump up and down in tandem with the waveform — and you know those meters don’t always line up with what you hear! You look at two very different pieces of tape on the meter (say, your studio-recorded voice against an interviewee on the phone), tweak those two voices until they appear the same on the meter, and your ears tell you they play back at quite different volumes. You might decide to forego the peak meter for the RMS meter, which can provide a small advantage over a peak meter, but they too do not take perception into account. This is a problem that a new audio measurement method, loudness, can help you solve. Finally there’s a way to simplify levels.
— Rob Byers

Using Logic Pro to generate "air"

A while back, I linked to a Designing Sound article by Doug Murray (whom I later would go on to work for on Dawn of the Planet of the Apes!) about using convolution reverb to generate room tone to fill holes in dialog tracks.  At the end of that linked post, I speculated on using Logic Pro's Space Designer plug in, since I didn't (and still don't) own a convolution reverb for ProTools.  Well, I finally had a reason to sit down and try it out, and the results were pretty great.

 Using Space Designer to generate endless room tone!

Using Space Designer to generate endless room tone!

I was really pretty happy with the results. The general process:

  • I cut in ProTools, so when I needed a piece of fill, I'd copy-and-paste a clip of room tone onto a new track that I had labeled "FILLSeed", and consolidated it (OPTION+SHIFT+3) into a new file, and named it according to the character, room, and reel, i.e. "FILLSeed_Chris_BR_R1". I called it "FILLSeed" because I didn't want to confuse this short clip of room tone with the synthesized version that will come out of Logic later.
  • Switching over to Logic, clicking on the disclosure triangle next to the IR Sample label in Space Designer brings up a menu for importing a sound file as your new impulse response.
  • Make sure to set the Dry level to "0", which in less confusing terms would be -∞, and setting the "Rev", or wet signal, to "max." Space Designer is also a multi-channel plug-in, so it will always come out as stereo, so I set the Input slider to the mono setting, over on the left side of the window.
  • Turning on the Test Oscillator insert plugin (with white noise, output at around -50 to -60 dB) on my AIR SOURCE track in Logic, white noise starts pouring into Space Designer, which gets convoluted with the impulse response of room tone that I just imported, and sweet magical room tone comes pouring out!
  • Space Designer does have built-in EQ, so if you need to tweak it a little bit with some high or low-pass/shelf, it's really easy to do that right in the plugin window.
  • I set the input of a second track to be the bus output of my SOURCE track, put it in Record Mode, and record a chunk of fill! Drop that new recording into your ProTools session, and cut it in. Huzzah!

So, there you have it. For about 1/5th the cost of Altiverb, you can buy a copy of Logic Pro and have your own capable convolution reverb. And, you get a pretty nice DAW with some great features of its own, to boot! With the improvements to Core Audio in OS X, having two DAWs open at the same time, using the same hardware, is actually possible, making this type of workflow far less painful.


POST SCRIPT (11/09/2015): While this process has been rendered less useful due to features in software like iZotope's RX and the Ambience Match algorithm, this is absolutely still relevant if you a) don't own RX or 2) don't have it available immediately.

Pro Tip: Comb Filtered Audio

I'm not going to name names, but I'll just say that what I'm about to show you is actually destined for a real live actual television show, with actual famous people on said show. However, if you've ever wondered why sound people are special, it's because we do our best to avoid things like this:

 This is bad.

This is bad.

This is a spectrogram of a clip of dialog. See all those shadowy spaces that make lots of horizontal lines? That's what audio people call "comb filtering," and it sounds terrible. This is most likely the result of a mic going into a mixer (or camera) and being combined with itself, but the 2nd signal had a slight delay - like a millisecond or less. Headphones, people! Listen to your sound before you hit record!

Not good.

Post Post Mortem

Heya folks! I'm out the other side for a brief moment, so I thought I'd toss a few words up on this screen, and catch up with the past few weeks.

As you may have noticed from my last post, The Nightmare was accepted to the Sundance Film Festival, and will be screening in a matter of weeks! We finished up audio post-production for the Sundance print just this past Sunday (January 11th). I've still yet to edit the dialog for the M&E mix (Music and Effects, a no-English mix for international distribution), which should be completed this week.

Next, a bit of a blast from the past: The last indie feature that I completed work on, Excess Flesh, has been through a re-edit, and as a consequence has been accepted to the SXSW Film Festival! What this means for me is I'll be getting an updated version of the film from the editor, and the previous mixed version of the soundtrack will need to be edited to match the newest version, and re-mixed with new and old material to patch it all back together.

I've also been in talks about two more potential projects in the coming weeks and months, so stay tuned!

THE NIGHTMARE at Sundance!

So, I'm wrapping up the dialog and ADR edit on The Nightmare this weekend, while my cohorts are finishing up music and sound design cues.  Monday morning, we start the mix process, wrapping up (hopefully) on the 10th or 11th of January.  We'll have to be efficient, as The Nightmare is going to be shown at one of the world's most popular film festivals - The Sundance Film Festival!  Check it out on the schedule, and if you're in Park City, UT at the end of January, go see it!

Freelancer's Union

As a freelancer in the entertainment industry, sometimes it's hard to think about benefits and providing for my family. As a member of IATSE Local 700, the Motion Picture Editors Guild, as long as I keep working and accrue enough hours, I have a great benefits package available to me for an almost ridiculously low cost to me. But, as my 10th grade English teacher might say, "the fickle finger of fate" sometimes conspires to keep me off of Union crews and projects.

So, it's very interesting to me to read about the Freelancer's Union (click on the title of this post to check it out). Currently there are no health benefits available in Los Angeles, but Dental, Life, Disability, Liability and Retirement accounts are available at group rates through the Freelancer's Union, which has no cost to join.

Like I said... Interesting.

Mac OS 10.10 Yosemite

Just a quick note to say that I've installed OS 10.10 on my laptop (MacBook Pro, Late 2011), and so far my sound tools (ProTools 11, Logic Pro X, QLab 3) are running with minimal problems. No, Avid has not certified ProTools to run on Yosemite yet, but since my studio Mac Pro is running Mavericks with aplomb (and will for some time to come), I was willing to jump in and make the switch to Yosemite on the MBP. I had been running the beta versions of 10.10 for a couple months on a separate partition, so I had a good idea what I was getting into.

Your mileage may vary. As always, if you're currently in a project, wait until it's finished to upgrade. And, back yo self up!

Catch up

Oof. So... October happened.

Quick recap:

  • The play for which I did sound design and original music has opened at the VS. Theater in Los Angeles. It's called Completeness, by Itamar Moses, and it's a Los Angeles premiere! Go check it out, it runs until Dec 7th.
 Believe it or not, there are 6 speakers hiding in this set!

Believe it or not, there are 6 speakers hiding in this set!

  • I'm just over halfway through my first quarter of teaching an Audio Production class at Cal State University, Los Angeles. It's going pretty good so far, at least based on the test and homework scores I'm seeing.
  • I'm getting back into some more freelance editing for ASAP (Amalgamated Sound And Picture), cutting FX and dialog for animated shows, in particular an educational web series called "ABC Mouse."
  • This month, I'll begin working on a documentary feature called The Nightmare, directed by Rodney Ascher (directed Room 237). I'll be co-supervising the sound post production with Jonathan Snipes, who you may remember helped me complete the post on Excess Flesh, my last indie feature.
  • Also, looking for projects that are getting started in late December/early January. Let's talk!

More to come soon. Stay tuned...

Walter Murch on Dense Clarity - Clear Density

In conversation with Andy Kirshner, friend and U of M Professor, and his wife, the topic of mixing came up, and how modern films have hundreds, sometimes literally 1000+ tracks available, and how these colossal projects get mixed, and this article from Walter Murch at came up, which I had never read. I'm so glad I have, now. I'm going to quote a rather large section from the article, which I hope will lead you to click through and read more. It's certainly worth it:

The general level of complexity, though, has been steadily increasing over the eight decades since film sound was invented. And starting with Dolby Stereo in the 1970’s, continuing with computerized mixing in the 1980’s and various digital formats in the 1990’s, that increase has accelerated even further. Seventy years ago, for instance, it would not be unusual for an entire film to need only fifteen to twenty sound effects. Today that number could be hundreds to thousands of times greater.

Well, the film business is not unique: compare the single-take, single-track 78rpm discs of the 1930’s to the multiple-take, multi-track surround-sound CDs of today. Or look at what has happened with visual effects: compare King Kong of the 1930’s to the Jurassic dinosaurs of the 1990’s. The general level of detail, fidelity, and what might be called the “hormonal level” of sound and image has been vastly increased, but at the price of much greater complexity in preparation.

The consequence of this, for sound, is that during the final recording of almost every film there are moments when the balance of dialogue, music, and sound effects will suddenly (and sometimes unpredictably) turn into a logjam so extreme that even the most experienced of directors, editors, and mixers can be overwhelmed by the choices they have to make.

So what I’d like to focus on are these ‘logjam’ moments: how they come about, and how to deal with them when they do. How to choose which sounds should predominate when they can’t all be included? Which sounds should play second fiddle? And which sounds – if any – should be eliminated? As difficult as these questions are, and as vulnerable as such choices are to the politics of the filmmaking process, I’d like to suggest some conceptual and practical guidelines for threading your way through, and perhaps even disentangling these logjams.

Or– better yet — not permitting them to occur in the first place.

Oh, and by the way, in this one instance, READ THE COMMENTS. Murch himself engages the readers and goes into more detail about many points. Who knew a comments section could be not only readable, but informative and enjoyable!

*article thumbnail photo of Walter Murch mixing Apocalypse Now from

Catching up on August...

...And yes, I realize we're already well into September.

So, the past month has seem many interesting items and developments. I've wrapped post-production on the indie film Excess Flesh, for which I was supervising sound editor and re-recording mixer along with Jonathan Snipes (also composer, sound designer). A very dynamic film, in terms of the sound track, and very non-traditional in a lot of ways. I had a great time mixing the film, which we did over 6 days thanks to Scott Jennings at Listen2 Sound. I'm confident the film can find its way into some festivals, so I'll let everyone know when that happens and where you can see the film.

Second, I'm going to be teaching a class this fall at Cal State LA. A fellow TFT grad from UCLA is an assistant professor at CSULA, and asked me if I would like to teach their Intro to Sound class for their TV, Film and Media Studies department, and I obviously agreed! This will be my first foray into teaching a full course, so wish me luck! Lots of information to cover in what amounts to 10 weeks of classes, so I'll certainly have no shortage of material, as long as I've got willing students.  I'm looking forward to the challenge!

Third: I'm currently sitting at the loverly Sweetwater's Cafe in Ann Arbor, MI, waiting to head over to the Music School on U of Michigan's North Campus, where for the next 2 days I'll be helping out friend and professor Andy Kirshner with his film sound class, as they embark on the post production sound for Andy's film Liberty's Secret. I'll be spending my time showing the students how to start the process of editing the sound for a film, going over tips, tricks, and techniques, and setting them loose. It's always nice to be back on campus here, and my stay will be too short.

More news to come, so come back for a visit!

Testing, 1-2-3...

So, a while back I signed up for a free Apple Developer account. Why, you might ask? Well, I had some ideas... None of them have come to fruition yet, but I'm working on that.  Anyway, one of the new benefits of having a Developer account is access to the Yosemite (aka Mac OS 10.10) beta program. So, I've got it installed and running on a partition on my laptop. Here's what I discovered today:

Good news, fellow Assistant Sound Editors! Titan 4 runs under Yosemite! Woooo! So, relax, and know that you can assemble dialog to your hearts content under 10.10.

More news as it becomes available.

Carry on.


Well, I'm back. That took a bit longer than I thought. What was originally going to be a 2-week stint as an Assistant Sound Editor turned into a 2-month gig!  But now I'm on to... different things.  I'm co-supervising the sound edit on an independent feature film with my friend Jonathan Snipes (who is also composing score/music), directed by Patrick Kennelly.  We're shooting for a late-August mix, which means I'm getting into dialog editing now.  So, posting will hopefully be more frequent than the previous couple of months, but most likely sporadic.

Write soon...


Whew! So, lost in the hubbub of 6-day workweeks and bouts of stomach flu has been almost 2 weeks! So, here's a brief recap...

You might remember that I've been working over at Fox as an Assistant Sound Editor on the upcoming Dawn of the Planet of the Apes pre-sequel (sprequel?) on the 20th Century Fox lot.  Last week, we got to nab a Land Rover Defender, good and seasoned, from some on-set reshoots taking place on the studio lot, and do some quick recording.

 recording with fellow Apes editors Scott (L) and Jack (R)

recording with fellow Apes editors Scott (L) and Jack (R)

We strapped a trusty SM58 into the engine compartment, carefully tied a DPA lavalier mic on the rear bumper right above the exhaust pipe, and strapped a stereo pair of small condenser mics to the interior roof above the backseat, all running into a Sound Devices 788T. I also ran an Scheops M/S handheld pair inside for the onboard takes, while Scott and Jack, pictured above, had their own M/S pairs for capturing exterior passby's, doors, handles, latches, and other miscellaneous sounds.

We did run into a small problem, though. There's an auxiliary fan that kicks on intermittently under the hood to keep engine temperatures in check, but it makes for a lousy sounding recording of a great sounding engine. So, towards the end of a mildly frustrating recording session (it's tough to get good exterior recordings on a busy studio lot in the middle of Los Angeles on a Friday), we convinced the transportation department teamsters to disconnect the aux fan for another quick run-around with the truck.  Well, that went about as well as could be expected...

 our intrepid driver and a steamy Land Rover

our intrepid driver and a steamy Land Rover

Yeah, that thing overheated in a matter of minutes.  We did manage to get some decent onboard engine sounds, and some good doors and such. Hopefully enough to cover what the effects editors need.  And yes, the SM58 made it out of the engine compartment just fine. Of course!

Regardless, it's almost always more fun to be out with a few microphones and recorders than be stuck in front of a screen at a desk, so there weren't too many complaints heard (except to swear at the helicopters passing overhead).


Just a quick little note before too much time passes here...

I've been on the 20th Century Fox lot this week as an Assistant Sound Editor on Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, covering for a friend of mine who's off getting married this weekend. We've been doing a lot of ADR this week as we get set to start pre-dubbing tomorrow, and final mix later this month. I was sitting behind the ADR mixer yesterday while the session was going, and made this:



Like I said, doodles. It's funny to listen to a guy make chimp noises for an hour, but when played back with all the other elements, it sounds great. I'm looking forward to the finished product. 

The Details That Matter | Designing Sound

Randy Thom (you know of him, I guarantee it) wrote a guest post for the website Designing Sound (click the title link above), in which he discusses the art of sound design, and how practitioners of this art have to make choices when it comes to how much, or how little, detail to provide with sound.

I find this an interesting topic of discussion given my main source of work the last 6 months or so: animation. In animation, the sound editor has to provide all the sonic details, as there is no production audio that was recorded along with the images. Therefore, it's a continuing set of choices regarding what sounds need to be there to make the story clear and focused, what should be there to make the "world" a lively and active place, and what sounds might be there to highlight and enhance the mood, action, or other emotional elements.  Working in animation has definitely improved my decision-making skills in this area, and I will be the first to admit that I'm still developing, learning, and honing my skills as a sound editor and designer with the help of my employers and fellow editors.

Activity Recap

Okay, so things have gotten busy. I haven't been able to write as mu-


Hm. Well, here's the quick 'n' dirty:

  • sound op for Geffen Playhouse's Slow Girl
  • Guest lecture at University of Michigan
  • Freelancing for Tom & Jerry and ABCMouse
  • Secured 2 weeks' work post-Slow Girl

Hoh-kay.  Now, the slow and... clean?

Slow Girl at the Geffen is drawing to a close. This will be the last week of shows, with 2 shows on Saturday and the Sunday matinee being our closing performance.  It's been a good, easy run, and the last couple weeks it's been neat having Annette Bening next door with her one-woman show Ruth Draper Monologues. 

Last week, I took a few days off from the Geffen to make a trip back to my alma mater, the University of Michigan School of Music, Theater, and Dance.  My friend Andrew Kirshner is a professor, and has been teaching Sound and Music for Film for the past few years, and invited me out for a second time to talk to the Performing Arts Technology students about what it's like to be a professional sound editor/mixer/designer/journeyman.

 Surprisingly nice Spring day in Ann Arbor, outside the U of M School of Music, Theater, and Dance

Surprisingly nice Spring day in Ann Arbor, outside the U of M School of Music, Theater, and Dance

As usual, the students were great. They asked good questions, and seemed genuinely interested in what I had to say. A few of them even joined me and Andrew at Arbor Brewing Company for some post-class libations and comestibles.  It was also nice to have some time back "home" in Michigan, spending some time in my hometown, seeing my younger sister and niece (who drove over from Chicago for the weekend), being with my parents for my mom's birthday, and catching up with old friends and relatives.  It's good for the soul.

But, these days no vacation is truly a vacation. I did have some work to do while I was away from my Los Angeles home, and that included doing some work on the current incarnation of Tom & Jerry. I've been freelancing as a sound editor for the company doing the post sound work on T&J, and believe it or not, I was working on the 2014 Christmas Special. It's a bit odd to have Christmas carols going through your head in April.

And finally, I had been looking to book some work, what with Slow Girl coming to a close and Tom & Jerry and ABCMouse not providing exactly full-time work at the moment.  Luckily, a phone call from my friend and fellow assistant sound editor 'Smokey' Cloud is providing me with a couple weeks' worth of work on the upcoming Planet Of The Apes pre/sequel.  It'll be nice to accrue some union hours again, and maybe my presence around the offices could lead to more work in the near future.  You just never know.

So, hopefully I won't have to write too many of these epic recap posts, but frankly, things are busy, which is good.

More to come...

Sonnet Rack Mount for new Mac Pro/Mini

This is pretty brilliant:

[The] new xMac Pro Server is a 4U rack-mountable enclosure that holds a 2013 Mac Pro, includes three standard PCI Express expansion slots that hook up to the Mac Pro’s Thunderbolt ports, and has enough extra room leftover to fit two 5.25-inch rack peripherals (examples include tape drives or SSDs used for backup purposes).
— Ars Technica

The same company also makes a 1U rack mount for a Mac Mini that-

uses the Mini’s Thunderbolt port to add support for up to two external PCI Express expansion cards.
— Ars Technica

Seems to me a great solution if you're looking to upgrade to a new Mac that doesn't come with PCI card slots - video/audio pros come immediately to mind. ProTools HD users with existing PCIe Core/Accel cards wouldn't have to trade in for a Thunderbolt Native interface. Seems like a great idea to me.

See the products on Sonnet's website:


Massey AAX Plugins!

I don't know how I missed this, but Massey has released 64-bit AAX versions of their plug-ins for ProTools 11! Huzzah!  It comes with a fancy new Wizard installer thingy...

 Installin' ma plugz

Installin' ma plugz

So far, it looks like the vt3 3-band EQ, ct5 compressor , L2007 limiter, and TapeHead saturator are the only ones to get the AAX treatment so far, with the others listed as "Coming Soon," but if you're a fan of the Massey plug-in suite and a ProTools 11 user, head on over to Massey's site and download the goodness!