October 22, 2021 · 8 min read
User Story: A Day in the Life of a Sound Engineer
Andrea Moleri is a young sound engineer and music composer from Italy. In this interview, he walks us through his creative process and ways to stay productive. We’re very happy to have him as a guest and interview partner for our series of user stories.
How about a quick introduction, Andrea?
Of course! I’m Andrea Moleri, and I’m a sound engineer and music composer for cinema, TV series and television. I fell in love with music since I was a child, and I started writing it at the age of eight. I studied audio post production and sound engineering at the renowned “Civica Scuola di Cinema Luchino Visconti” university in Milan, and I’m currently working on several projects as an audio post production engineer, composer, and mixing engineer.
How do you explain your work as a Sound Engineer at a dinner party?
That’s a good question! My work consists in taking care of the sound aspect of the project I am working on, and therefore acting both consciously and subliminally on the emotions of the spectator or end user. What I do is use sound and music to build a narrative, which can be parallel or totally detached from the source material. The beauty of sound is that it allows you to arouse unique emotions in the viewer or in the end user, without them even noticing. Thanks to the sound one can make the exact same scene tensive or ridiculous, tearful or mysterious. As George Lucas, the creator of Star Wars once said, sound and music are 50% of the entertainment in a movie.
Obviously there is a purely technical, physical and psychoacoustic aspect to the craft. There are many software, tools, physical laws, formulas and reasoning to know if you really want to fully understand the sound design process. For example, if you are curating the Audio Post Production of a Surround System, you cannot rely on creativity alone. You also need to be familiar with concepts like Decorrelation and Haas Effect if you want your work to sound truly professional. It is a wonderful craft in which art blends with technique, in which any acquired knowledge is a treasure that can revolutionize the viewer’s experience.
What keeps you motivated and creative?
I don’t have a source of motivation and creativity other than motivation and creativity itself. I genuinely love the work I do and since I was a child my dream has been to do what I do now. This alone is such a great privilege that it gives me the strength to grow and improve day by day. The greatest driving force is therefore that of personal improvement: not a day goes by without me being stimulated to learn something new, implement it, and grow in the process. This virtuous circle is an almost unlimited source of motivation and creativity.
Like all creative professions, there is a risk of writer’s block. I believe that, although it can happen, the true professionalism is in being able to act even in that state, and having implemented systems to remedy the problem before it even occurs.
Can you walk us through a typical sound structuring process?
Depending on the project, the work and tools are always different. It is essential to know the project thoroughly, be it a movie, an application or a song. If necessary, it is good to do extensive research to fully understand what needs to be represented. Then I put in place a design phase, in which I give a structure to the ideas and tools and the sound character that will be required for the job, through a diagram, a spreadsheet or a text document. When the project structure is well defined, both in my head and on paper, I start with one of my Pro Tools templates (more suitable for post production work) or Logic Pro X (more suitable for musical works), in which I organize and I import the materials necessary to realize the idea in the best possible way. After that, I can finally get to work!
Through tools such as acoustic instruments, synthesizers, samplers, equalizers, compressors, saturation units, delays, reverbs, panners, sound libraries and many more I create the sound world that the project needs. It is very gratifying to watch the work come to life, knowing that every tiny choice can completely alter the final perception of the product. It’s a big responsibility, but it’s also fun!
What technical advice would you give to those who would like to take the same path as you?
Learn your shortcuts!
I cannot put into words how essential work efficiency is. Knowing by heart the keyboard shortcuts of the software you are using allows you to immensely reduce the time dedicated to mechanical processes, leaving more time to take care of the creative and qualitative ones. Any software is nothing more than an intermediary between my mind and the result I want to achieve. When I work, I want to focus on my ideas, not on the middleman!
I advise all aspiring Sound Engineers to take the time to study and deepen the ways in which they can reduce mouse clicks and repetitive actions as much as possible. In all likelihood, there is already a more efficient way to do the same processes with the same quality. You just need to learn how. Almost every program in the industry offers huge user manuals with detailed explanations on keyboard shortcuts and other ways to speed up your workflow. If you have to invest some time and don’t know where to do it, the manual is always a good idea!
What are some tools, apps, or processes you use to organise your day?
I have a series of tools and systems that I could never give up, which help me to maintain high productivity, organization and speed, crucial elements in my work. Let me start by saying that I work on Mac.
The first app I use constantly is Apple’s built-in calendar. Thanks to the integration with Siri and my other devices, it allows me to constantly view and update my program, as well as to give me precise indications on when and how it is convenient for me to move. In a job so full of appointments and dynamism, having a well-structured calendar is essential. I am well aware that there are several third-party calendars, but none have yet won me over with the same immediacy and quality as the default calendar.
To always keep up with all my projects, whether they are personal development or business-economic ones, my trusted task manager is Things. Based on David Allen’s “Getting Things Done” method, this app offers an unprecedented organizational system. Thanks to it, I always know what to do, when to do it, and that I am always progressing towards my goals. The Things URL Scheme also allows you to create JSON-based commands to make the process even more fluid.
Notion is my app for taking notes of trust. I have been using it for over five years, and its modularity allows for various uses. At the moment my workspace is divided into various sections, one for each area of my life. Within each section, you can find notes, cheatsheets, automated spreadsheets, phrases from books (I’m an avid reader) and so on and so forth. Everything is carefully organized, color-coded and just a click away.
Since I consider myself a Power User, I cannot fail to mention Keyboard Maestro. Shortcuts are fundamental in my work, and even more fundamental is to do a lot in a short time. This app allows you to create Macros, automations that can be easily recalled. Paired with AppleScript, there’s no tedious task that can’t be automated. I have a Macro for everything, and I always try to figure out how to improve my productivity system by analyzing the recurring actions of each day and wondering how I can delegate them to the computer. I believe that technology must be in our service, and not the other way around.
There are obviously many other apps I use, but these are the main ones. Generally, at the base of all my organizational processes, there is the desire to build effective, scalable and automatable systems. I am convinced that our most precious asset is time, and that reducing time inefficiencies and distractions is essential. Every weekend I like to take a couple of hours to evaluate how the system has served me for the previous week, observe and improve it. The investment of time to refine production processes always pays off in the long term.
How has Flow helped you in your everyday life?
Flow is a highly effective Pomodoro App. Whenever I am presented with a complex job, I like to divide it into fragments and give myself defined times to complete it (for example, fifteen minutes for organizing the template, ten for Gain Staging and so on). Flow is the easiest way to ensure that I am keeping to those times, and that I always have an eye on them. Other than that, it also reminds me to take breaks! If it were up to me, I would work non-stop: once I start something, it is very difficult for me to stop until the work is completed. Flow reminds me that sometimes a break is necessary to keep productivity high, and it does that in a really engaging way.
What was your latest job?
I composed the music, managed the audio post production and direction of the audiography of five short films in competition in the YLAB category of the Prix Italia, an international award for television, broadcasting, and radio founded in 1948 by RAI, the national public broadcasting company owned by the Italian Ministry of Economy and Finance. The short films were presented live on RaiPlay, the institution’s streaming platform; and on Rai 3, a generalist and cultural television channel with millions of viewers a year. It was a very fun experience, and you can take a look at the works on their website.