Music and Sound Design – Convergence

In recent years technology has bridged the gap between two very separate audio skills – music and sound design.

As technology has evolved, composers and sound designers now find themselves using the same tools in the production of their craft and in many ways the two disciplines have converged; as has the vocabulary both use to describe sonic events. Musicians still insist on calling the frequency 440Hz by the pitch A, but that’s okay, we sound designers know what they’re trying to say!

Composers and sound designers can now utilise digital audio workstations and sequencers on a computer anywhere in the world. They use the same software because they both need to organise, manipulate and tune their sounds over a period of time. This can be measured in beats and bars or as timecode in minutes, seconds and frames. They both need to use multiple tracks to edit, mix and master their work.

Over the past 25 years, the technical knowledge required to operate complex studios has reduced in importance. To write music now you don’t even need to be able to play an instrument – with a little bit of knowledge you can program a computer to play any instrument you like. For sound designers the same is true, every way of manipulating audio can now be done via plug-ins which emulate all the great, expensive hardware of studios of old, and the knowledge of how to operate and maintain them is no longer required.

However, what remains is the ability to, “think in sound” – be that melodic music composition or atonal sound design creation.

The people who commission sound designers and composers are usually looking for a certain style and feel. Now as a composer you may be very good at writing one or two genres of music but it’s unlikely you are good at writing in any musical genre. And sound designers have their own style and preference for certain jobs as well.

All the great composers I know want to write music and all the great sound designers I know just want to make great sounds. Ultimately it comes back to the 440Hz vs A pitch debate. Whilst a composer will always end up thinking in terms of notes, melody and tempo and measure it in bars and beats, sound designers will think in frequencies, movement and pacing and measure it against time code. There’s always the exception, but for this reason my view is that a dedicated musician and a dedicated sound designer collaborating closely will always produce the best work.