Could you tell us a bit about your career so far and your current employment?

I got started with sound engineering by helping my dad who was doing live sound for a church. I would be plugging mics in from a young age and eventually took over the voluntary role from him when I was about 18. A few years after this I had the opportunity to shadow Hedd Morfett-Jones, a recording engineer who was freelancing at the Royal Scottish National Orchestra (RSNO), recording their concerts in Glasgow for archive. This then led to some regular freelance work with him and even led me to drop out of the naval architecture degree I had no motivation for and apply for the sound production course at Riverside. 

The freelance work assisting Hedd with the RSNO continued until Covid-19 hit and then dried up due to all of the orchestra’s performances being cancelled. Fortunately the dry period didn’t last too long for me though as I was soon freelancing on filmed, no audience, performances for the orchestra and Edinburgh International Festival where I had the opportunity to work and network with other recording engineers leading to me getting freelance work outwith the RSNO. 

In 2021 the RSNO advertised for an audio engineer intern which I applied for and now I am working there full time as the “Assistant Sound Engineer” working under the engineer that I first started shadowing who is now also employed at the orchestra. 2021 saw the opening of “Scotland’s Studio” the RSNOs venture into recording film, TV and game soundtracks which is now the main thing I work on. 

How did you become involved with Orchestral recording specifically?

My musical background is mostly based in traditional Scottish and Irish music and I play the piano accordion myself but I always had some experience of classical music as it is what my dad would listen to around the house. It wasn’t until I actually started working with the orchestra that I properly started to listen to orchestral music more often and now I regularly have BBC Radio 3 on in the car to expand my knowledge of different pieces which makes it much easier when I have to edit orchestral recordings.

How do you approach live orchestral recording in comparison to recording a film score?

When I am recording a live orchestral concert a lot of the mic choices are similar to what would be used in the studio but I also aim to keep the stage as tidy as possible by reducing the number of microphones on stage, especially if the concert is being filmed. I will always start with a main stereo microphone array to capture the sound of the whole orchestra and then add spot microphones on individual instruments or sections to fill out the sound and add in any extra detail that might be missing on the main microphones. 

One example of where I might reduce the number of microphones is in the string sections. For recording sessions in the studio there might be multiple microphones for each of the string sections (1st Violins, 2nd Violins, Violas, Cellos and Double basses), whereas in a live concert I will often forgo string spot mics altogether except for a mic near the double basses to get some extra low end. I still find I can get a pretty good string sound from just an array of microphones over the conductor without having to have lots of extra microphones and cables cluttering the front of the stage.

Film score recording differs even more from classical music in the studio usually featuring even more microphones and often much closer than we’d put them for recording classical music. While for classical music a “close mic” generally doesn’t come much closer than 1m from the instrument, film score recording is much more like a hybrid of classical and pop recording techniques.

How did Riverside Music College prepare you for your career?

All of the classes taught at Riverside have been useful in different ways for my career but there are a couple of standout examples that I credit with helping me get my current job. The first being the ‘Skills for Business’ class where I learned how to create a job specific CV and gained job interview experience. Secondly, ‘Audio Skills’ where I learned about microphone construction types which allowed me to give a detailed answer about how different types of microphones work when it came up in my job interview.

What lessons from the course have proved to be the most effective in your work?

The vast majority of classical music recording sessions that I have been involved in have been recorded in a DAW called Pyramix which has lots of features that make it useful for editing classical music but film scores on the other hand are almost always recorded in Pro Tools. As the RSNO’s studio has transitioned to recording mostly film scores, the skills I learned in the DAW classes and the experience gained using Pro Tools during recording sessions in ‘Recording and Mixing’ classes has been invaluable. 

Control room talkback etiquette Is another skill I learned in the ‘Recording and Mixing’ classes. It is an often overlooked skill but the experience I gained learning how to communicate with musicians has been incredibly useful especially when talking to the high calibre musicians of the RSNO.

Any advice for current sound production students looking to get their foot in the door?

Take every opportunity for experience you can get! One of the advantages to studying at Riverside is the amount of opportunities to learn from industry veterans and gain experience though recording students on the music performance courses which might even lead to future work recording and mixing bands and musicians that you first met at Riverside. There are also frequent opportunities to meet and network with industry professionals who come in for guest seminars. I recommend seeking out local sound engineers and asking for opportunities to shadow them, not everyone will have the time to offer shadowing but I have never met an engineer who wouldn’t be keen to encourage new people in the industry and who knows where it could lead, you might just end up with a job! 

What can you tell us about your plans for 2024?

2024 is already shaping up to be a very busy year! Some of the projects I have worked on already this year include the films ‘Argylle’, ‘Abigail’,  Kevin Costner’s new film ‘Horizon: An American Saga’ and the upcoming Ubisoft Star Wars game. In April this year the RSNO also finished construction of a brand new control room featuring a 96 channel SSL Duality and Dolby ATMOS 7.1.4 monitoring which should hopefully lead to even more big projects coming our way.

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