R.A.P. Interview: Jay Rose

JV: Let’s talk about your books. You’ve got two of them, and I guess you wrote them both in the past ten years or so, right?
Jay: Well, in ’99, I wrote Producing Great Sound for Digital Video. It’s really aimed at people who’ve picked up a $5,000 video camera and are going to go out and either make the world’s best wedding video and try to make a living doing it, or a training film, or shoot their movie. So most of the stuff in Producing Great Sound would probably be already familiar to RAP readers. A good production guy already has these chops. There’s a lot of film-specific stuff and video-specific stuff, particularly about boom mics, getting good sound in and out of a camera, working on lip sync, restoring lip sync -- stuff that radio guys wouldn’t know, but don’t need to know. It was very successful. It’s been the category leader at Amazon since it came out.

So a couple of years after that, in ’03, the publisher asked me for a new edition… which was fine. I said, “Before I write that, I want to write a little book about everything to do with audio post,” which would include all the techniques of editing voice and of editing music — because those techniques are different. You don’t edit music the same way you edit voice. Even the body movements are different.

“I want to write about processing. I want a whole chapter just on time-based processing, starting with a simple flanger and going through an elaborate reverb. I want a whole chapter on just dynamics processing.” They said, “Yeah, yeah. We think we could do well with that book.” So I wrote it. It’s 400 pages. It’s aimed at guys and gals who know a little bit about audio. It’s aimed at people who have some basic audio, or possibly have done a film, and they want to know, “Okay, what’s going on under the hood in all these processors? How can I make them do tricks? What happens under the hood when somebody’s speaking?”

I’ve got a long chapter breaking down voice editing into phonemes. Because once you understand the little phonemes that make up human words, and you realize that everybody produces them the same way, you can start doing tricks, like taking an S off somebody else’s voice and putting it on the one you’re editing, and nobody would notice. But you’ve got to know the rules for that.

So there’s a chapter with a whole bunch of rules about voice editing — when and where you can cut in the middle of a word, or change a word, and why it works. The idea behind the whole book was that you’d read through it, and you might keep it on the shelf as a reference, but you’d learn enough that you can start making up your own tricks. This book, which I wrote for production people, is called Audio Post Production. Because of marketing, we aimed it at the sound for video guys and sound for film, but a lot of people have remarked that it’s useful for radio and music production, too. That ended up becoming a textbook in Russian and German. It got translated. It’s being used in engineering schools. So every now and again, I get a check for the Russian and German versions, which I can’t even read.

Details on both books are at my website, along with a whole lot of interesting stuff for production people, and tutorials, and the famous Orson Wells frozen foods outtakes. If your readers haven’t heard these yet, about 30 years ago, he was in London doing voice-overs for a frozen food campaign. There were four suits in the control room, and they were giving him a horribly hard time. You don’t tell Wells how to read a sentence, and you certainly don’t tell him wrong. He was not suffering fools that day. The engineer was smart enough to roll the tape for the entire session, talkback and Wells’ mic. That tape has been circulating in the underground from one engineer to another. So I put a copy of it up on my website. Nobody knows who really owns it, or at least I don’t. At one point, they gave him such an absurd direction, to stress a word that there’s no reason on earth why you would ever stress that word in a sentence, and he says, in the mic, “You show me how I could possibly stress this word, and I’ll go down on you.”

JV: [Laughter]. Okay! A little treat for our readers!
Jay: And along with that is a piece I did in 1981 with a bunch of actors on what a radio commercial session would be like in the year 2000. I got some really good people in on the session, and that’s become one of the circulating underground tapes, too. That’s all on my website, along with radio and TV that I’ve done.

JV: I’m on your website looking at the table of contents for your book right now and see quite a few chapters that look interesting, like “Hardware for Audio.”  What’s your favorite sound card?
Jay: My favorite card, back when I was using cards, was the Digigram. Actually, I still have one on my desktop computer, and all it’s doing is being an output. For the past three or four years, every Mac has come through with S/PDIF audio I/O built in. So if you’ve got a digital studio, you’re there. It’s optical S/PDIF, but a $50 box can turn it into coaxial S/PDIF, or AES/EBU. It’s going right into the motherboard, so it’s absolutely perfect quality, and you don’t mess with the sound card.

For my studio, I’m using a 24-channel I/O that has a card inside the computer, but then there’s a separate rack mount unit that actually has 24 digital I/Os and eight analog. But I have gotten into the habit, since the technology has become possible, of keeping analog audio outside of the tower. You don’t want to put it in there. It’s so noisy in there. Even the expensive cards, they’re only three or four inches away from a switching power supply, and a CPU that is generating square waves up in the megahertz… gigahertz! And so there are harmonics all over the place, just from the computer’s thinking. So if you could get the analog audio into a separate box, it’s going to sound better.

JV: You devote a chapter in the book to “The Studio: Acoustics and Monitoring.”
Jay: Yes, the third chapter of the book talks about the acoustics – both how to do it if you’re building a room from scratch, and how to take an apartment space or a rental space and treat that well, without having to go out and buy a meat locker type isolation booth — how to do it cheaply — and if you’re purpose-building, how to purpose-build. So there’s a whole chapter there on the acoustics and the monitoring, which are the most important aspects of production. If you don’t have good monitoring – which also depends on the acoustics, as well as the speakers you’re using – then you can’t do anything at all, because you don’t know what you’re mixing.

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