Sunday, 11 December 2011

Not Just A Good Idea....

In the world of broadcast sound, we often find ourselves coming up against the same problems again and again. This got me thinking; maybe we should publish a more "scientific" statement of some of the things that affect us?

In the last few months I've been posting some of these on Twitter; although the list is by no means complete or exhaustive, it has just reached its tenth entry, so this seems like an appropriate time to have a recap. Each one of these has a story behind it....

Jake's First Ten Laws Of Sound

Jake's 1st Law: It's all about gain. Nothing else matters.

Jake's 2nd Law: The shortest distance between two points is a taut patch-cord.

Jake's 3rd Law: An estate car full of gear will always find it's own level at the first roundabout.

Jake's 4th Law: A limiter with a 24dB gain reduction meter is a challenge.

Jake's 5th Law: Compression ratios of less than 4:1 are for wimps.

Jake's 6th Law: The limiter on an SQN is the finest ever built by the hand of Man.

Jake's 7th Law: Any show you set up should be only as complicated as it needs to be. And NO more!

Jake's 8th Law: It is the absolute right of every UK broadcast sound mixer to peak all the way to 6 if they so choose.

Jake's 9th Law: A studio audience is a wild, capricious beast, and its fader does not wish to stay still. Indulge it!

Jake's 10th Law: Nobody else cares about sound. Until it goes wrong.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Never leave a man behind....

Not exactly Bravo Two Zero....
Following on from my last article, I ran across this photo the other day. Here you see the sound crew, including myself, from last December's live Coronation Street episode. This was taken on the afternoon before the live transmission, after a week of mostly night rehearsals, so what you see is a bunch of grim, battle-worn and visual-effects-stained veterans who had finally managed to have a wash. And we were all still smiling.

Now what does this have to do with getting that all important start in television? Well, there's a couple of other desirable qualities for a broadcast sound engineer which I didn't mention, and these may be actually the most important ones; the ability to take whatever the job throws at you and still come out smiling at the other end, and the ability to look after yourself and to look out for your colleagues.

Shows like Corrie can only work because they have a dedicated and committed crew who can do this every single day in whatever the conditions throw at them. The live episode was only made possible by a massive team effort by ALL the departments, each one of whom from the director down to the humblest cable-basher had a precise role which they carried out flawlessly in conditions of near-freezing fog and darkness, all the while knowing that their mates were right behind them. And THAT I think is what brings a team together. Even though most of them would never admit it.

Why else would we all be sitting on a pile of fake bricks grinning inanely?

Thursday, 28 July 2011

That's what I go to school for....

A couple of days ago we had some visitors to the Jeremy Kyle studio; a party of work experience teenagers, all of whom were still at school, and who were here under the ITV Inspire scheme. We ran a typical show opening and chat sequence and they had the chance to try their hands at the various positions in a TV studio from director down to cable basher. It was a busy morning, so I didn't get chance to chat with any of them in any detail, but it was clear that they were all very keen, motivated and quick to learn, and quite a few expressed an interest in coming back to sit in on a real show.

Now, this is a little different from our normal visitor profile; our typical guest is late teens or early twenties and is either part way through a university degree or has just completed one. So just how did our young visitors compare to our typical older ones? After all, they didn't have the benefit of several years of Uni education behind them......

They were good. VERY good.

In fact it was quite scary just how quickly they picked up all the different studio roles, and how motivated they all were. Although they may not have had the technical knowledge of a college student, they were all so committed to giving their best that after a couple of rehearsals they ran a show with minimal intervention from us and it worked! In comparison, some (although I must stress not all!) of our older visitors, who should really have impressed us, have had all the drive of a wet lettuce and VERY patchy technical knowledge.

All of which leads me to the real reason for writing this article. When our young visitors come round in a couple of years to looking at THEIR university options, they'll have a lot to consider. Particularly the fact that when they finish their chosen courses and graduate they'll have two things: a piece of paper with "Degree" written on it and a bill in excess of £30,000.

That's a very expensive piece of paper. But of course it will help them get a job in the industry won't it?

Ah. Sorry. It won't. First off, in spite of what many lecturers will tell you, there are hardly ANY actual jobs on offer in TV. There ARE freelance opportunities, but there is a LOT of competition for these.

But you still have to get a degree to get the knowledge to work in TV right?

Oops, sorry again. You don't.

When I chat to our older visitors who are in the middle of these courses, it becomes clear that although they ARE learning useful things, they're doing it in a very long drawn out and expensive way. The knowledge they seem to gain is knowledge which we could teach them in a much shorter period, or they could easily find out for themselves by reading back issues of Sound On Sound. Yes some of them are very keen, motivated and willing to learn, but I suspect they'd be the same if they'd walked in when they were 17 like our visitors this week. Suddenly that piece of paper is looking less useful.

Now please don't think I'm tearing apart the whole higher education system. There's a lot of "serious" degrees which WOULD impress us, such as music, electronics or electrical engineering, but the good sound-based ones seem to be few and far between. Surrey's Tonmeister course (for which you need to be at least grade 7 with an instrument) is highly regarded, as are some from LIPA and Salford University. If you're not looking at a traditional university, then somewhere like the National Film School or Ravensbourne are worth a look. For what it's worth, I'd take a look first at the shorter industry-led courses at somewhere like SSR in Manchester or London ). You'll learn just as much as with a degree and come out with a considerably smaller debt....

It's worth bearing in mind that the standard BBC training, the "A" course as it was known, was a mere 3 months long, yet managed to give you everything you needed to start working in TV the moment you completed it. You were still a trainee for your first three years, but at the end of that period you'd completed all your training AND had nearly three years real-world experience. The entrance requirements to join the BBC as a sound assistant in the first place were O-levels in maths, english and ideally physics. As well as a passion for sound, drive, curiosity and motivation, which were expected even in an 18-year old applicant. If you were the sort of person who took their toys apart as a child to see how they worked, you were perfect.

Hmm. That word "motivation" yet again. It seems to have come up a few times since I started this. And it's worth repeating: our young guests were motivated and keen in a big way, even though they didn't have a huge store of technical knowledge to help them. THAT is what makes a good TV trainee. We'll do the rest......

Monday, 18 July 2011

It never rains...

Actually, that's not true. Especially when you're going in for a Corrie night shoot at six o'clock tonight. I suppose the Great Gods of Sound might one day smile on us and hold off the deluge, but I'm not holding my breath.

Which leads me to think: I'll be working for eleven hours, through the night, come Hell or highwater (both of which are equally likely), and at the end I'll look like I've been rolling around at Glastonbury. So why do I do it? The money? Hardly. The showbiz glamour? See above. The catering? Well that certainly HELPS...

The reason ANY of us turn up for this is very simple, but you've got to promise not to tell anyone. 

Actually, it won't matter if you do because nobody will admit this anyway. Anyone who is successfully working in TV is there because they love what they do. Sorry if you were expecting something more impressive, but that's it. They may not love every single minute, but they have a dedication and commitment to their job which keeps them going throughout the dark hours. 

So for those of you who are aiming to break into the world of television, it's worth bearing this in mind. 

How much do you REALLY want this job? Because if you DON'T, this job will find you out...

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm off to buy some more shares in GoreTex.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Welcome to the new site....

Google sites are great in so many ways, but they don't let you use anything clever like javascript, thus depriving you of loads of nice widgets for things like Twitter and Twitpic. So, after a bit of research I've decided to move this little site to Blogspot, which DOES allow scripting. And which appears to be owned also by Google. Go figure....

Anyway, you'll find here pretty much everything from the old site; just click on the tabs at the top to have a look round. And it should hopefully end up looking a LOT nicer...