Raising the Sound Bar
More sophisticated storytelling calls for more complex audio.
If you struggle to hear dialogue on scripted shows but then get blasted by the louder volume on commercials, Jonathan Greasley feels your pain.
A rerecording mixer and sound designer for audio postproduction house King Soundworks, Greasley has written articles for trade publications in which he decries those amped-up ads.
They happen because agencies inconsistently observe the so-called "perceived loudness" guidelines for programming and commercials. First established by engineers, the guidelines became federal law in 2012 as part of the Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation (CALM) Act, which the FCC enforces.
"If the industry followed the guidelines, they do work," Greasley says. "But 90 percent [of networks and streaming services] don't follow them."
Greasley has worked for almost eight years at King Soundworks. Founded in 1991 by rerecording mixer and sound designer Greg King, it is one of the few remaining independent post facilities, with locations in Burbank, Van Nuys and Santa Clarita, California.
The company's credits include The Orville, Jane the Virgin, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Friday Night Lights, the Charmed and Dynasty reboots and Cosmos: Possible Worlds. One movie client, The Insider, received an Oscar nomination for best sound.
"Technology informs the equipment we work with and also that of the end-user, and it drives the changes in the way sound has evolved," Greasley says. "This company was at the forefront of adapting to digital sound from analog. We've tried to incorporate all the formats and all the ways content is seen [and heard]."
King offers mobile mixing and ADR (automated dialogue replacement) services, as well as remote ADR that connects an in-house studio to other locales, in addition to the more traditional sound services.
Television audio post (rerecording, mixing, sound design and other functions) is done on equipment similar in scale to a home set-up, rather than on the giant screens and speakers used for feature films. Yet when it comes to sound design specifically, which helps set mood and incorporates audio special effects, television and film are more similar.
"Digital tools and sound libraries have upped the ante, and with the creative scope of streaming, you have to follow suit and tell the story with greater complexity," Greasley notes. "Television has become more cinematic."
Even before streaming, it was a network series that introduced advanced visual effects, punched up by equally sophisticated audio. "Lost was a game-changer," he recalls. "It raised the bar for what you could do on television."
One episode of Seth MacFarlane's sci-fi series The Orville — which moves from Fox to Hulu next year — "conceptually was like a Star Wars movie," Greasley remarks.
"There was a nine-minute sequence of thousands of spaceships crashing around and shooting at each other. It was designed to sound chaotic — the fate of humanity was in the balance. Every single ship can't have the same sound. You should be able to tell when the good guys are shooting."
The sequence required hundreds of audio tracks, thousands of sound effects and several days to complete.
t's just one example of how King Soundworks pursues its mission. As Greasley says, "You really have to serve the story through sound."
This article originally appeared in emmy magazine, Issue No. 9, 2019
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