Education, Sound

The Language We Use

I’ve been thinking a lot about language we use over the past couple of weeks. This has been prompted by conversations I’ve had with my students and its come up in two ways. Firstly, the type of language we use within our industry and secondly, the language we are using when discussing our learning. It has really struck me on how much impact the language we use impacts what we do.

One of the big questions we get asked about is mastering. In the context of audio production, this is the final stage of preparing any sound asset for it to be used elsewhere or ready for distribution. Conceptually, that is pretty much it. But you often hear everyone talking about it as some of “dark art”. I’ll agree that you need to have a keenly trained ear to be able to be an effective mastering engineer, but making it sound like magician’s work feels like it lowers the professionalism of the industry as a whole. Its the same when we talk about “tips and tricks” of mixing or recording. If we refer to the skills and knowledge that we have spent years of time and mountains of money learning about as a set of life-hacks then we aren’t doing our own profession, and ourselves, any justice.

Would you pay $2000 for someone to do some “tips and tricks” on the sound of your TV commercial or for someone to apply years of practice, experience and skills to create an engaging soundtrack that meets the needs of the product you are trying to sell? One of those options gives you value for money, the other one is way over priced.

When discussing with students about the work they are completing, they way in which we are discussing the work changes depends on the context of the subject. In one subject, we are working on the development of a major large-scale project. In the other (with essentially the same set of students) we are working on a series of creative projects in the studio for short-turnaround completion. When discussing the development unit, this unit has “assessments” and “due dates” for the “students”. When discussing the studio projects unit, we use the terms “projects”, “deadlines” and “team members”. In the development unit I get asked about “… what do I need to have for the presentation … ” and in the studio projects unit I get ” … how does my mix sound …”.

Admittedly, one unit is more about documentation and prep and the other is about production, but the style of questions shows a difference in cognitive approach. One is asking about what they need to do to get through the assessments, the other is about how can they be better at what they do. What I find interesting is the difference in approaches the students are taking. Because one is using typical “school” language and the other is using professional language they seem to be thinking about them differently. Both subjects are looking at the creation of creative works, so I think the difference is in the way the brief is set, which influences the way they are thinking about it – or at least discussing it with me.

The institute I teach at has recently undergone some changes in its teaching philosophy. One of those changes has to do wits modeling the correct behaviour that we expect of our students. If I write blogs, then they will write blogs (hence the blog writing). I’m a big fan of this pedagogical approach. So if I use the type of language I’d like the industry to use, then hopefully I can get my students to use better language, which means they will think better about their productions, which means they’ll be better as professional practitioners and use better language in the industry, which will hopefully means there is a new way that everyone will look at the creative arts because we won’t be referring to what we do as “tips and tricks”. Am I too egotistical/ambitious/delusional to think that my teaching can have an impact on the industry?

I guess I have to be.