The Value of Audio Sketchbooks

  • Oliver Nash

It is always tempting to polish a presentation to within an inch of its life, sometimes in the hopes that the wow factor will help to win over a client. And, that can work. The problem is that what is presented might not really be what the client wants or needs, but it could be of such high quality that they think they should say yes because they feel impressed. We advocate audio sketches as an alternative to this because sketches are rough ideas. The idea is the focus rather than the quality, so clients make decisions based on the core material, not the impressive polish. This approach has issues. If you are pitching, you are almost certainly not alone; you will be pitching against others, and you won't know who they are or what they are presenting, but you can be fairly sure whatever they present will have plenty of polish. So, in this situation, do you spend hours tweaking dynamics, enhancing realism, and mastering your audio to perfection? Maybe. After all, today's technology means you can, whereas thirty years ago it was not so easy. Yet, there can be something a little bit... 'false-feeling' about audio that has been refined to perfection. It can also come across as homogenous. Partly, I think this is because if you get carried away in the process of perfecting audio, you run the risk of polishing off all the edges that make it interesting and different: the, hopefully, unusual idea at the core of it can get lost in the attempt to make the primary impression one of quality. An artist usually makes a preliminary sketch before embarking on a more complete and detailed piece of visual work - why not do the same with audio, and why not let the client in on that stage of your process? The pitching stage aside for now, if the client is not so keen on a sketched idea, we can start again, and using a sketch will have saved us many unnecessary production hours. So, why are we putting examples from our sketchbook here? It's certainly not a portfolio. They are here more as an example of a potential working process, one that we find particularly time-saving, but also one that helps keep our focus on the ideas at the heart of the audio. The sketches we post here are ideas that, for one reason or another, didn't make it to the next production stage, or they were to demonstrate a potential style direction to a client. They are rough (because they are sketches) and usually entirely digital. No real instruments or musicians were harmed in the sketching process, though some dodgy instrument samples were dragged out of hiding. In this first sketch, to protect client privacy, two spoken sections have been replaced with the voice of Siri.

This second audio sketch is the audio design equivalent of how a graphic designer might use a mood board or stylescape. These things are not so easy to construct when it comes to audio. Rather than stitch together existing sounds and pieces of music to present a potential 'mood' or style for how we might proceed with design, we write a piece of music for the client instead.

The potential 'mood' is contained within the instrumentation choices and overall style. It's not a final piece, but it is capable of representing a potential direction for audio design, enabling a client to make a decision as to whether or not they approve of that direction, and if not, what needs to change before we proceed any further.