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  • Getting The Best From Your Audio Department

    - Elliot Callighan
  •  Communication can be the hardest part of any collaborative creative process. Many times the most difficult part is understanding the other party. This is especially true in art, and it's definitely true in audio.

    Every community and discipline has their own language, their own slang, and their preferred way of communicating. So today, I'll be talking about some of the ways us audio folks like to communicate and some of the ways you can be awesome at talking about audio.

    Now before I begin, I do want to say that any audio person or composer worth a grain of salt has (hopefully) realized that part of their job is to act as an interpreter and translator for non-audio/music people. This is true even within the audio community - composers need to know sound-design and non-musical audio terms just like sound-designers need some basic music lingo. If your audio people aren't trying to find different ways to communicate and understand what you want/need, they're not doing part of their job!

    Alright, let's talk about some things you can bring to the table that will make audio communication easy.


    If you take only one thing away from this article, please make it this! References are incredibly helpful for any type of audio person. Again, so much of the difficulty we're discussing is communication. You can take out a massive amount of potential miscommunication by being able to hit play or send a link and say "like this."

    Phrases like "make it sound heavier" , "bigger" , "higher" , "darker" , "harder" , all make perfect sense to the person saying them, but there are a myriad of ways to make something sound "higher" or "darker", etc. On top of that, it's not only a matter of executing the idea, but understanding the idea of the intended sound itself. Don't be the person that says "it should sound more blue" and think you've effectively communicated. It may make perfect sense to you - but trust me, your audio people have no idea what that means. This is especially true when talking through emotional content and experience for music (there are LOTS of different types of "sad" music!).

    Have some references - know what you like about them - and say "like this."


    Even with references, having some basic terms in your pocket that audio people know will help you immensely. In the game audio courses I teach at DePaul University, we spend a considerable amount of time getting students to talk about audio in a way they haven't before. There are lots of words used to describe audio and music, but below are some of the most common and universally accepted. Use these, and your audio discussions will be much more efficient and productive.

    Pitch - the psychological perception of frequency. AKA, playing different notes on a piano. Don't just say make it "higher." Say "higher pitched" or "raise the pitch." Your audio folks will know exactly what you mean.

    Loudness - how loud we perceive a sound to be. Using words like louder and quieter do a pretty good job of communicating this, but it happens all the time that non-audio people will try to talk about loudness and use terms like "lower" , "higher" or "softer." These words can have lots of different meanings in the world of audio. So, anytime you want to talk about how loud or quiet something is and want to be super purposeful, throw the term loudness in there.

    Timbre (pronounced tamber) - the tone quality or "color" of a sound. If you play middle C on a piano just as loud as playing middle C on a viola, the difference between these sounds is their timbre. Similar to loudness, people use "higher" , "lower" , "softer" to describe timbre as well. This is fine, but you can see how easily these words can be misinterpreted. Want to be extra sure you're communicating what you want? Use timbre into your sentence.

    There are many other terms us audio folks use to be very specific when talking about audio, but if you begin to use the three I've listed above, you will save yourself (and your audio people) so much time and headache!


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