I’ve taught a Pro Tools: Editing and Mixing class at Cincinnati State for a few years now, and it really gets me thinking about how people approach audio. Each of my students learns and thinks a little differently, and so I find myself constantly approaching a subject from a different angle… which is great! It forces me to think about concepts in a way I wouldn’t ordinarily. Once I go through the shifting of perspective necessary to get a student to understand something, I find I understand it better myself, and am able to fluently work and improvise on those ideas. It increases my speed and the quality of my work.
I’ve long believed any complex subject could be learned by anybody, as long as the steps were small enough. Any time I’ve gotten confused about something it’s been because I was missing a step… either I had made an incorrect assumption, or the teacher (whether in school, or in a book, or on YouTube) had left something out. It’s a very discouraging feeling when you can’t connect the dots, especially when it’s something you’re really passionate about. Music, woodworking, coding, photography… I’m sure we’d all love to make our art faster and easier.
So although it’s pretty geeky, I find myself thinking more and more about charts, graphs, and even – Lord help me – flowcharts. Anything that helps me avoid missing any steps as I teach and work is a fascinating subject to me. I’ll spend more time than I thought possible writing a paper on digital audio theory, or putting together a Pro Tools session that demonstrates how to do seamless looping, or rearranging a flowchart that steps through the audio processing decision tree. Usually I wind up adapting or refining my approach in some small way as the concepts rearrange themselves into an ever more logical order. I haven’t found the grand unified theory that unites all students, but it’s getting there.
I’m sure some of my students (and readers!) would say that audio theory (or any theory!) can be pretty dry, but that’s only when you stop thinking of it as existing for a reason. Why do I make all these charts and graphs about EQ or compression or reverb? Because when I have what I think is a great melodic idea, but it’s not coming out SOUNDING like a great idea, I have to figure out how to make it sound like it sounds in my head. Will some reverb smooth out that sample? Can I cut out some midrange frequencies with equalization to clear out the mud? Does the choir need a little compression to push it through the mix?
So I’m beginning to see that the theoretical actually stems from the practical; I made something and now I want to make it better, so I must think about it and make some decisions on what to do based on my understanding of the problem. The more ways you have to think about a problem, the more avenues present themselves as a path to a solution. Not just a theoretical solution, but that moment when you hit play (or compile, or press the shutter button) and your genius blasts you in the face. Or something like that.
In that vein, I’ve been toying with the idea of doing some videos on my process. I’ve thought about it before, but who wants to watch people writing music? It’s mostly bad ideas and goofing around until something catches. But then I happened upon a really talented composer’s YT channel where he shows his results and talks a bit about the decisions and choices he made. It’s not watching him write in real time – thank goodness – but rather breaking down what went into the final product, and it’s fascinating. So I think I’d like to try something like that soon. I even have a piece picked out that might be of interest to some gamers.
Thanks for listening!