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Sound Design & Music Composition

Sound Design & Music Composition

Sound Designers and Composers shape the aural experience of a production. They will work with the rest of the creative team to make decisions about what the audience hears when they watch a piece of theatre, shaping the intention, emotion, atmosphere and tempo of a show through sound.

While these roles traditionally work on slightly different aspects of a production, increasingly they overlap. Smaller theatres and projects may also make having transferable skills from both specialisms helpful.

Sound Designers work on the full aural world of a show. They may create and mix together a number of elements, including sound effects and textures, dialogue and music. Sound designers will generally have strong technical ability, and will usually make decisions on the design of the sound system.

Composers create music which is either part of the action of a production, or underscores it. Musical Theatre Composers will often work closely with a Lyricist or Book writer as the lead creatives for a production.

Music Composition for Performance

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Vocal Transitions in Barber Shop Chronicles

Musical Director Michael Henry assembles the cast of Barber Shop Chronicles to demonstrate vocal techniques used in the production.

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Working with Binaural Sound

Sound designers Ben and Max Ringham talk about the use of Binaural Sound in Cold War thriller, ANNA.

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Composing for Small Island

Small Island's composer Benjamin Kwasi Burrell was inspired by Jamaican mento music to build a world of instrumentation, orchestration and sound.

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The Power of Music in Rockets And Blue Lights

Composer Femi Tewomo explores the use of sea shanties as tools of resistance and longing in Rockets and Blue Lights.

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Composing Hex

Jim Fortune talks us through the magic behind big-hearted and mythic new musical Hex, based on Sleeping Beauty.

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Music for a Broken World

We built nine new instruments with musician Simon Allen for the 2018 production of Macbeth.

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Becoming a Sound Designer

The Association of Sound Designers (ASD) is an excellent source of information on routes into the industry.

Training
Sound Designers traditionally enter the industry following training, however, this isn't essential. You will need to explore and demonstrate your artistic voice, as well as picking up the technical essentials of executing your design in a theatre space. Formal courses include the Theatre Sound degree at Royal Central School of Speech and Drama and the Audio Production degree at Rose Bruford College. The ASD also outlines several ways to train on the job, including Apprenticeships.

Getting started
Sound Design is generally a freelance career. Many Sound Designers will start out designing for smaller theatres and emerging groups. It is also normal for Sound Designers to build their knowledge and industry connections by working in supporting technical roles on larger productions. 

Becoming a Composer

Training
Composers will have some music background, either in learning a particular instrument or studying music in a formal setting. Advanced musicians and those interested in writing classical music or opera might benefit from formal training such as the Guildhall Composition BMus. However, the most important thing is developing your own voice and interests - the qualities that will make you an interesting artist - which does not have to be in a formal setting.

Getting started
You should work on developing your artistic voice so that you have a piece of music or a recording of a production that acts as your calling card for your interests and style. While some theatres will have resident roles, most theatre composers are freelancers. Directors are usually strongly involved in hiring Composers, so developing relationships across the industry is important - Composer Michael Bruce reflects on this here. Composers might also develop their industry experience by working in other roles such as Musical Direction.