Sound Design Process
The following is a basic description of a typical sound design process, however every production will present unique challenges and the exact process will vary. Detailed information about the process will be provided during the weekly meetings with the faculty adviser (see below).
The sound designer will obtain a copy of the script, read it several times, and develop a thorough understanding of the structure of the play. They will also conduct preliminary factual and emotional research in preparation for the first design meeting. The initial meeting with the director will occur during the first design meeting as a part of the “Design Process” detailed above. However, the designer should also hold separate meetings with the director in order to discuss the specific purpose and function of the sound design for the production in detail. The expectations for each of the following design meeting are described in the “Design Process” above.
The sound designer will initially meet with the faculty adviser to discuss the design and technical requirements of the production. The faculty adviser will provide a list of available equipment and information about the budget for the production. The sound designer will then meet weekly with the faculty adviser to discuss the ongoing process of the sound design. The faculty adviser must also approve the proposed design. All design materials should be reviewed and approved by the faculty adviser before they are distributed to the rest of the production team.
The sound designer will prepare a package of specifications for the design. The package will include:
- Sound Cue Sheets
- Sound System Design
- Scale Loudspeaker Plot and Section
- Any other necessary detail specifications including drawings for unusual cable runs or other non-standard installation details
- Rack drawings as needed
The Sound Cue Sheets should first be distributed at Design Meeting 6 with revised cue sheets due on the first day of rehearsal for a production. The rest of the above paperwork is due on the date that says, “Snd Sys Des Due (Show)” in the production calendar. All paperwork will change throughout the design and technical process and should be updated and redistributed appropriately.
After receiving the sound system paperwork from the designer, the sound engineer will create a shop order listing all of the equipment, cable, and power necessary to successfully install the systems described. This shop order is due to the Sound Shop Assistant on the date specified in the production calendar.
By the date specified in the production calendar, the designer will supply to the stage manager a CD of rehearsal cues, complete with updated cue sheets, for every playback cue in the show. The stage management team has equipment for playing the CDs. Cues that affect line delivery, blocking, and stage business are the most important and should be the first priority in delivering rehearsal cues to the stage manager. The sound designer should plan to attend rehearsals after delivery of rehearsal cues in order to ensure that cues are working as intended.
Weekly Production Meetings
The designer and engineer will appear at the weekly production meetings and will be prepared to ask necessary questions and to deal with questions related to sound posed by the director, stage manager, other designers, or members of the technical staff.
Paper tech is the meeting during which all cues are integrated into the stage manager’s prompt script. The sound designer must prepare an updated cue list in advance of paper tech. Generally, only the sound designer will attend paper tech.
System Balance and Sound Levels
The sound designer will have quiet time scheduled for the following activities:
- System Balance: gain structuring, equalizing, time-aligning, and ringing out the system.
- Rough Level Set: setting sound levels for playback cues
Quiet time may need to be shared with other production elements and the sound designer should work to facilitate other areas without compromising their ability to complete their work.
Sound Over Rehearsals
Sound over rehearsals can be scheduled during on-stage staging rehearsals or run-throughs at the discretion of the director and in coordination with the stage manager. Because rehearsal cues have been in use, the actors, director, and stage management team should be accustomed to the cues, but checking levels and timings with the actors in the space may be useful before tech. Under no circumstances should the sound designer interrupt the rehearsal or run through during sound overs. Care should also be taken not to disrupt the rehearsal with unexpected sounds or levels.
Technical rehearsals are meant to integrate all of the technical elements of the production. Because rehearsal cues have been in use in previous rehearsals, timing of sound cues may not pose significant problems, however, levels and other aspects of sound may prove difficult and can require holds. The responsibility of the sound designer in technical rehearsal is to make sure that cues integrate smoothly into the production. The sound designer may ask for a hold when a cue is not properly executed or does not fit as intended in the production. However, time during tech is very short and the designer should not request a hold unless the issue requires the actors, director, and other design areas to be involved.
Immediately following all technical and dress rehearsals, the production team gathers for a meeting. The designer needs to get to this meeting as quickly as possible following the rehearsal. The director’s notes and questions to the director are usually managed first, followed by discussions of problems among the design and technical staff, followed by negotiation of the following day’s work schedule. The designer, sound engineer, and mixing engineer are all required to attend the post-rehearsal note sessions. The mic dresser should check in with the designer and engineers after they have received and secured the all of the wireless microphones. Because they occur at the end of the night, it is important for note sessions to move as quickly as possible. The designer should only discuss items that are important to multiple areas at this meeting. All other notes should be discussed one-on-one with the party involved.
By opening, the sound designer must ensure that the show is archived with a complete set of updated production paperwork, including the following:
- Cue List
- Complete list of audio equipment/cable used
- System diagram
- Loudspeaker plot and section
- Rack drawings, if used
- Pre- and Post-show Checklist for all operation positions
The designer, sound engineer, mixing engineer, mic dresser, assistant engineer, and all members of the sound crew are required to attend strike. Prior to strike, the designer and the sound engineer must prepare a strike plan in coordination with the faculty adviser. The sound engineer will contact the technical director and the shop/electrical supervisor to coordinate the order of strike whenever sound equipment is integrated with scenery or lighting.
Before the End of the Semester
Before the semester ends, the sound designer, sound engineer, mixing engineer, mic dresser, and assistant engineer must schedule a time to discuss the design and the execution of the production with the faculty adviser. No grade for the production will be submitted until this meeting has been completed.