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New Talent

12 Up-and-Coming Sound Designers to Listen Out for

Keep your ear to the ground for these names, because they could be the future of audio post production

12 Up-and-Coming Sound Designers to Listen Out for

Sound design is often one of the most underappreciated aspects of the filmmaking process. Sometimes it takes dozens of pairs of specialist hands working to bring out the best in a piece of moving image. And understanding what it takes to make sure the audio part of an audiovisual project is firing all cylinders is one specialist job that people frequently misunderstand. You can’t just point a camera and a boom mic at a car chase and hope that it will sound like it does in Bullitt. Tucked away in comfortable sound studios around the world, sound designers are toiling away to make sure they films they work on pop like they should.

LBB’s Alex Reeves scouted out some of the most promising pairs of ears out there. Here they are in alphabetical order.

1. Charlie Cooper

Clearcut Sound, London


LBB> What first attracted you to sound design? When did you decide you wanted to do it?
 
CC> I first got interested in sound design through music production and sampling. I started making Techno and loved building tracks using existing/recorded audio, as opposed to using any sort of instrument. Once you start playing with samples and manipulating them you can create incredibly unique sounds.
 
I would also listen and pick apart tracks to try and understand what the producer had done, which actually started to take the fun out of listening to electronic music. I therefore became intrigued by the mystery of the unknown sounds and would try and work out how they were made.

I would say I decided sound design and audio post production were for me during a particular university assignment. We were asked to analyse a film to understand how the sound enhances it. We chose ‘Sinister’. If you’ve not seen it, watch it. By far the best horror soundtrack I’ve ever heard. The burning car scene, with music and sound design best described as haunting, sends shivers down my spine. 
 
LBB> What’s your favourite part of the sound design process and why?
 
CC> Time stretching, 100%. You can find so many more sounds by lengthening or shortening a recording, especially if you mess about further with the pitch and EQ too.
 
LBB> What piece of work are you most proud of and why?
 
CC> Probably my sponsorship idents for Rabbit and Bear on Boomerang. It’s just very simple, effective and fun. The spot was mute and we built a rhythmic track out of the woodland sounds you might hear in each shot, creating slight melodic interest by altering the pitch of at least one element in each section, such as the birds.


LBB> What is your favourite sound? And is there a sound that you can’t stand?
 
CC> Difficult to say really. Off the top of my head probably heavy rain (preferably when you’re dry and warm), I find it so relaxing. I’d go to sleep with earphones in playing rain and thunderstorms every night if it wasn’t so uncomfortable (I’ve tried!).


2. Dean Covill

Rabble Post, Manchester


LBB> What first attracted you to sound design?  When did you decide you wanted to do it?

DC> Sound has always been a fascination of mine from an early age. I remember to this date filling up glasses with different levels of water to create different sounds. This fascination continued into my university years. After graduation I completed an Avid training program where I mastered Pro Tools. It was then when I decided to peruse this as a career.

LBB> What’s your favourite part of the sound design process and why?

DC> Building a soundscape that is simply believable for the audience. Most viewers perceive things as a whole so it’s always nice ironing out the inconsistencies when in the initial build. I also like bridging and rhythmically placing sounds that link in with the other elements such as the music.

LBB> What piece of work are you most proud of and why?

DC> There are many pieces that I'm proud of. The Virgin DS Season 4 launch film is one of them as it was clean yet complex. Every single sound was carefully crafted around the ‘E’. 


Another project from a sound design point of view would be the Thorpe Park Walking Dead adverts. Anything with zombies in is a winner in my eyes!

LBB> What is your favourite sound? And is there a sound that you can’t stand?

DC> Rather strange but my favourite sound is the descending sweeps of a Weddell seal. I love the frequency range especially the final low end drops. The sound that I can't stand is the classic ‘titlewhoosh.wav’ or the flash version of this. 


3. Ben Darier

SNK Studios, London


LBB> What first attracted you to sound design? 

BD> One of my teachers at school showed us how sound and picture can work together, and how sound can tell a story in a way I had never even imagined before. 

LBB> When did you decide you wanted to do it?

BD> After attending these classes I bought myself a Zoom recorder and it would accompany me everywhere. I recorded loads of sounds and atmospheres. I started creating amazing sounds from scratch that I used in different projects. It’s when I saw my own creations give life to visual content that I knew I wanted sound design to be my job.

LBB> What’s your favourite part of the sound design process and why ?

BD> When you find the exact sound that fits an object or a movement perfectly, and observe the visuals coming to life. 

LBB> What piece of work are you most proud of and why?

BD> I worked on a Sodexo film at SNK that promoted an app with an AI that interacted with you. They pictured the AI as a little robot, who was reacting to what happened around him. It was a lot of fun to give this little guy a sound identity. I used the sound of the beep of a camera’s flash for some of his movements. For some reactions I recorded myself and tweaked the sound with a lot of EQ, pitch shifters and tremolos to give it a robotic quality. I was very pleased with the result! 

LBB> What is your favourite sound? And is there a sound that you can’t stand?

BD> Sounds I like: rain underneath an umbrella and ice cracking 

Sound I can’t stand: Nails on a certain type of metal - the stuff the balcony of the apartment I used to live in when I was a kid was made of! That sound makes me very uncomfortable, it gives me goosebumps (not the good type) just thinking about it. Also any loud, high pitched sound like a train’s brakes will usually annoy me a lot too. 


4. Jack Hallett

Factory, London


LBB> What first attracted you to sound design? When did you decide you wanted to do it?

JH> Growing up as a young child, I remember that my dad was always watching Star Trek. I was obsessed with the hydraulic sci-fi sound effect of the spaceship doors opening. It made me believe that the doors were really big and heavy. My dad then told me that the sound effect had probably been added on by someone in a sound studio and that the sound wasn't indeed 'real'. This absolutely blew my mind! It was from this point that my love for sound design began to grow. There's so much scope for what can be created and how it affects the way we see a picture and tell a story. I decided to seriously pursue a career in sound design after completing my time at university. From there, I took the usual starting point and jumped into the industry as a runner.

LBB> What’s your favourite part of the sound design process and why? 

JH> Working with animation is an area I particularly like working in. As there is obviously no pre-existing shoot audio for animated projects, I love being given a blank canvas to create a world of sound for the characters and places that come to life in the animated world. This gives a sound designer a real opportunity to be creative and inform every part of the story. It's especially rewarding see how sound can elevate the image to give it real energy and character.
 
LBB> What piece of work are you most proud of and why?

JH> I am very proud of the work I did for Wieden+Kennedy London and Nike for the Mo Farah 'Smile' film. 

It was full of fast edits with really visceral imagery of Mo training hard. My sound design helped to add lots of detail to each shot, whilst highlighting Mo's emotional struggle.


I am also very proud of Sonnet 'Balloon' which was nominated for Best Sound Design at the  British Arrows 2017. Working with Smith & Foulkes from Nexus, I created a soundscape that comically brought to life the dangers that surrounded our main character, 'Mr. Blue Balloon'. It was great to be part of a project which allowed the sound design to bring a lot of humour to the story.

 
LBB> What is your favourite sound? And is there a sound that you can’t stand?

JH> That is difficult for me to write down in words, but here goes...
My favourite sound would have to be what's called a 'Magical Poof'. It lives in the vaults of the Factory SFX library and it sort of sounds like a 'THWUMP'.

I can't stand hearing the 'wrong' sound. 
When sound and picture don't match, it can be disastrous.
The wrong sound can make the story fall apart.


5. Amar Lal

Crew Cuts, New York City


LBB> What first attracted you to sound design?  When did you decide you wanted to do it?

AL> Guitar pedals were my first experiences with shaping sound, and for me it was always the weirder the better - I love being able to twist and warp sounds from something normal to something unrecognizable. Both the fun of happy accidents and the creative flow of ideation are addictive! While solidifying my knowledge of processing techniques during my Master's work in Music Technology at NYU, it became clear that I wanted to find a way to make a career out of the more creative side of audio engineering, and I'm lucky to be doing it now!  

LBB> What’s your favourite part of the sound design process and why?

AL> I think the "flow" moments are the most enjoyable. Starting or playing with initial ideas is often tricky; once things get moving in a certain direction, though, those moments of creative clarity and using them to work towards realizing your ideas always feels great.

LBB> What piece of work are you most proud of and why?

AL> I had a lot of fun working on this short piece with Dylan Trieu, a very talented graphic designer at our company. All of the sounds were recorded using an Elektrosluch, a microphone that amplifies electromagnetic fields. It was such a fun process to learn what laptops and fans and certain interconnects in our office sound like, and shaping these totally abstract digital sounds into a concrete composition felt very satisfying.


LBB> What is your favourite sound? And is there a sound that you can’t stand?

AL> Silence is golden. 

Unfortunately, the sounds of people chewing give me terrible, spine-tingling ASMR.


6. James Lyme

Scramble Sound, London

 
LBB> What first attracted you to sound design? When did you decide you wanted to do it?

JL> Audio is and always will be the coolest thing ever. I’ve always loved sound, from pinging a ruler on a table as a kid, to using synths and all the other bits of kit and instruments laying around the studio today. It has always been a passion of mine and I’m lucky enough to have made a career out of it.

LBB> What’s your favourite part of the sound design process and why?

JL> The initial brief is always the most exciting part. Sitting with a director or creative team to find solutions and discuss ideas. It’s the best part of what I do.
 
LBB> What piece of work are you most proud of and why?

JL> I worked on a film called the ‘The Good Fight’. It’s an amazing story about a guy running a boxing club in the favelas of Rio in order to give kids a way out of the cycle of drugs and gang violence. Amazing people, beautiful cinematography, fantastic story. I’m glad I was able to contribute in some way.


LBB> What is your favourite sound? And is there a sound that you can’t stand?
 
JL> Favourite sound is Darth Vader's lightsaber. Worst sounds are…my sister eating Weetabix.. OR… a wet spoon on polystyrene. Agghhhh!


7. Fred Pearson

Machine Sound, London


LBB> What first attracted you to sound design?  When did you decide you wanted to do it?

FP> I was quite musical in my early teens - always playing in bands - so fell in love with sound that way. It was at college where I recorded my car and pitched it down to make it sound like a tank. That really started my love for sound design.

LBB> What’s your favourite part of the sound design process and why?

FP> The experimentation phase. When you can just sit down and start creating a load of sounds - a lot of them don't work, but when you hit that one that does...

LBB> What piece of work are you most proud of and why?

FP> It would have to be 'Wren Boys', a short I sound designed late 2017, which was nominated this year for Best British Short at the BAFTAs. The brief was for a very natural soundscape, which was tricky to achieve whilst trying to keep it sonically interesting. I ended up using quite a few original sounds that I recorded - including one of an interesting sounding bathroom we have here at machine!


LBB>  What is your favourite sound? And is there a sound that you can’t stand?

FP> My favourite sound has to be a Jaguar XK150 starting up - that throaty roar is absolute bliss.

A sound I can't stand at the moment is a carriage clock I inherited from my late grandmother. It plays this lovely chime on the hour, but is running low on batteries so ends up spluttering out this incredibly unique discordant tune which sounds just horrendous. In fact, I should probably go home and record it before I replace the batteries - it might be perfect for a job down the line…


8. Mike Regan

Another Country, Chicago


LBB> What first attracted you to sound design?  When did you decide you wanted to do it?

MR> I have been a musician for most of my life and I think I naturally transitioned into sound design because of that. After college, I moved from writing songs to becoming more accustomed to scoring and sound designing to picture. It’s thanks in part to the creative community in Chicago, which has a very strong film and animation scene that I was able to work my way into.

LBB> What’s your favourite part of the sound design process and why?

MR> I love a blank slate, especially a cut that starts out with a strong rhythm. There’s nothing better than digging in and creating something unexpected. It’s helpful sometimes to reference a rough mix, but I really like being unaware of what might have preceded me in a temp track.

LBB> What piece of work are you most proud of and why?

MR> I’m really proud of the work I did with Cutters Tokyo in 2017 for Sony’s Shibuya City Games. The sound design had to be incredibly fast paced, tactile and dynamic to match the intensity of a professional sprinter rigorously training for the games. I also went to great lengths to foley as much as possible.


LBB> What is your favourite sound? And is there a sound that you can’t stand?

MR> My favorite sound has to be the sound of walking around a city. There’s just something about the percussive aspect that draws me in and I love the idea that every city in the world has its own unique tempo and pace. 

I can’t stand the sound of a quiet room, for whatever reason. I need to hear something cycling inside a room to find it relaxing. But I do appreciate the absence of sound as a tool in composition!


9. Paul Sumpter

The Futz Butler, London


LBB> What first attracted you to sound design?  When did you decide you wanted to do it?

PS> As a musician (guitarist and bass player originally) I’d always been interested in the sonic capabilities of instruments and pushing instruments to produce new sounds, ideas and generally playing them in unconventional ways. It felt more personal that way, as opposed to playing an instrument ‘well’ in a traditional sense, but ultimately sounding like someone else, or something you’ve already heard. Whilst familiarity for the listener in both music and sound design is necessary sometimes, I get more excited about how new sounds or combinations of sounds make people feel or react. I see the line between music and sound design as often pretty indiscriminate - it’s all noise of some sort, and it can all communicate meaning and more importantly emotion. 

I guess I began getting seriously into sound design after I graduated, as I began experimenting more with found sound (using everyday or unconventional sounds as instruments) in conjunction with getting more into synthesis, which allowed me the ability  to be able to shape a project more organically, sometimes almost in a foley-like capacity or synthetically depending on the project’s needs.

I love the way that with sound design there are no rules. When working to a picture, there is no right or wrong way to express a movement on screen, or a transition, or an action. You are only limited by your own imagination and technical creativity in being able to actually produce it. This is especially true when working with clients, as sound is so abstract - the language used to describe it is by definition metaphorical (a sound can no more be high or low, than it can be brown or perky for example). This means clients often find it hard to articulate what they want the sound design to sound like. This is no bad thing as, as a sound designer, the shackles come off. As long as you understand emotionally what a moment is trying to get across, then there are often limitless ways as to how to embody that in a piece of recorded audio. As long as you can ‘tie’ the sound to the onscreen action or environment as convincing, then you can begin telling stories and creating mood with your sound design.

LBB> What’s your favourite part of the sound design process and why?

PS> My favourite part of the process is the actual creation of the sounds themselves - the performance and recording of the raw audio, right after you’ve gone through, spotted a project and created a production design for yourself.

I generally, as far as possible, try to record as much of the sound design as I can myself from scratch as opposed to drawing too heavily on library sfx. Of course, sometimes a project needs a specific sound - the sound of a market in Ethiopia for example, which I won’t really be able to do, but largely recording your own sounds, both in the studio and out in the field, means you can 100% tailor the soundtrack to the needs of a film, as opposed to shoe horning it through an existing sound library, whose sounds may at best only be there or thereabouts. As with music, the quality of sample libraries is so high these days, I think a lot of guys rely too heavily on pre-made library sounds and don’t get into the really creative art of setting mics up and building something totally unique.

Alongside the main field rig I have, I also have a great little Sony PCM D-50 handheld recorder which I take with me most places, especially when traveling abroad to record any interesting sounds or ambiences I come across as I find them - kind of like a pocket camera, but for sound. I’ve used sounds on films I’ve recorded in the desert in Bolivia, in the wetlands of Brazil as well as in urban environments like Berlin or New York. It’s so much more personal when it’s your own sound you’re processing, shaping and working with.

The process of creating a sound from scratch is wonderfully liberating and challenging in equal measure. You learn to think about the character of the sound as opposed to the sound itself. Does it need to sound heavy, or dangerous, or luxurious or fast for example. The trick is to detach the part of your mind that associates what is making the sound, with the actual acoustic sound being produced. For example, I created some awesome scary creature sound effects from close-micing a knife slicing through a red pepper. It created this rough, coarse, screeching sort of sound, that was perfect for the monsters on screen ’shouting'. It would’ve been virtually impossible to have arrived at that using only library sound.

I also love scouting environments for interesting spot effects or ambiences and scouring pound shops or DIY stores for interesting props to perform with. Often you end up going out in the middle of the night as that’s when you can get the ‘cleanest’ audio without the sound of traffic or people ruining a take. You end up in some pretty odd scenarios. I’ve been moved on by suspicious police many times! 

LBB> What piece of work are you most proud of and why?

PS> I’m proud of most stuff that I do as I enjoy the seemingly endless variety that sound design projects can offer. I guess a recent project that I did was for Honda’s ‘Evolution of Stunts’ film which charted the history of stunts in cinema performed by Hollywood stuntman Damien Walters (Skyfall, Assassin’s Creed, Kingsmen), recreated by Little Lab Studios on a huge 50ft treadmill with 4k projections cast all around him. We had no shoot audio at all to work with so we had to build the entire sound world of all these different Hollywood classics from the ground up and make the transitions between them effortless. The piece was nominated at last year’s Music and Sound Design Awards for Best Sound Design in Advertising.

You can read more about what we did for the project here.


LBB> What is your favourite sound? And is there a sound that you can’t stand?

PS> I don’t have a favourite sound per se but I do enjoy the big sub-type elements that really hit you in your chest, when used well. I love that you both feel and hear them both on a physical and auditory level. In terms of sounds I don’t like - anything that is obviously ubiquitous or over-used. There are certain samples you hear a lot and they just get used all the time, regardless of their suitability. For me that’s often just lazy and doesn’t get to the heart of what story is trying to be told.


10. Michael Thomas

(aka Mikey T)

Cutting Edge, Brisbane


LBB> What first attracted you to sound design?  When did you decide you wanted to do it?

MT> I originally wanted to work in music production (and sometimes do) but after studying, and rewatching some of my favourite movies like Blade Runner and Saving Private Ryan, I started moving towards Sound Design and Sound Editing in my mid 20s.

LBB> What’s your favourite part of the sound design process and why?

MT> When all the pieces come together and it starts to sound like you've done nothing at all. That's my favourite part - when I get to lose myself in the story again.

LBB> What piece of work are you most proud of and why?

MT> I have two - a recent documentary ‘Wik Vs. QLD’, and a TV series called ‘Grace Beside Me’. Both were uniquely Australian and powerful stories and had great opportunities for some fun editing and design.


LBB> What is your favourite sound? And is there a sound that you can’t stand?

MT> My favourite sounds are the alien sounds from the movie Arrival. They're very cool. I don't know that I have one I can't stand, but I've always been put off by the sounds deer make. They sound like a cross between a crying baby and a squeaky door...


11. Beckie Thornton

GCRS, London


LBB> What first attracted you to sound design? When did you decide you wanted to do it?
 
BT> For me, it's the idea that you can use sound to bring something completely new to life. I am massively into playing video games, and I love how great sound design can immerse you in a make-believe world.

I studied Music Technology at the University of Kent and stumbled across sound design while I was there. It became a real passion for me and I decided to focus on that in my final year to develop my skills.
 
Outside of my work at Grand Central - and when I'm not gaming - I love to sing and I also play the flute. I make song covers for my YouTube channel and I'm currently writing an EP. Sound is really something that I live and breathe.

LBB> What’s your favourite part of the sound design process and why?
 
BT> From that very first moment, when you start out with silence - no sound whatsoever - I'm hooked. I love the process of starting with nothing, then building the sound, from the ground up, until you bring this new soundscape to life.

LBB> What piece of work are you most proud of and why?
 
BT> For World Book Day, we worked with the National Literacy Trust, Lief London and director Leonora Lonsdale on the 'A Girl Who Reads... Can Dream' film.
 
As well as being a magical adventure of two intrepid sisters, what made this project special was that the whole cast and crew were female, including everyone who worked on the production and post-production from boards to the final mix.
 
In partnership with my colleague Tess Ludlow, we sound-designed and mixed the spot. Tess and I were given the creative freedom to play and explore, which meant we could push the sound-design as far as possible to truly capture the imagination of our heroines and emphasise the exciting world they have created. Because flights of fantasy and dreaming are at the heart of this story, we were able to go a bit mad - after all, our dreams can be wild sometimes. This made sound designing a lot of fun.
 
While the process of working with an all-female crew didn't feel distinctly different from other work we have done, it was a really positive experience to be part of something this unique, along with so many talented women from the industry.
 
When I was a child, my favourite book was the fantasy novel Beyond the Deepwoods by Chris Riddell and Paul Stewart. I was very lucky to have access to wonderful books that sparked my imagination. What this film drives home is the fact that still today 493 million women worldwide can't read, which is a shocking statistic and one I'm very pleased to have been involved in shining a light on.

 
LBB> What is your favourite sound? And is there a sound that you can’t stand?
 
BT> My favourite sounds would have to be a classic whoosh sound with lots of reverb and delay, or a sub drop.

Sounds I can't stand are those of humans imitating animals - it may seem a bit crazy, but many older sound libraries have a surprising amount of these sfx!


12. Will Ward

19 Sound, London


LBB> What first attracted you to sound design?  When did you decide you wanted to do it?

WW> When I was at university there was a module that focused on sound design, run by Steve Goodman (aka Kode9). We were asked to create a soundscape for a scene from the Manga film 'Ghost in the Shell'. This was my first taste. I then graduated and started working as a runner at Lipsync Post, where Paul Cotteral (Re-Recording engineer) allowed me to watch and learn from him. I realised very quickly that this was something I wanted to pursue as a career! 

LBB> What’s your favourite part of the sound design process and why?

WW> What I love most is the sculptural process of building a scene. It is the same method I use when I make music, so I treat every sound design project as if it were a composition.  I have always made music this way.. It’s always been about building sound in layers and blocks. Using the studio’s apparatus to fine tune and chisel away until you find the sweet spot. The Brian Eno approach of using the studio as a compositional tool is something that I've always carried with me. 

LBB> What piece of work are you most proud of and why?

WW> We had the privilege of working on a short film written and directed by James Morgan, called ‘Seven’. Jack Wyllie (my business partner) wrote the score and I created the sound design and final mix. The whole process was really immersive. We took the time to really explore the possibilities of blurring the lines between music and sound design. For instance I created drones and winds that harmonised with the score. The mix process was really enjoyable as I was able to spend quite a while experimenting with different layers and combinations of sound in order to get the best out of each scene. A real treat for any sound designer. The film is being shown at Cannes this year! 
LBB> What is your favourite sound? And is there a sound that you can’t stand?

WW> There are so many but the one that springs to mind is the starting of an electric train engine. It rises in pitch until it momentarily harmonises with the constant tone from within the carriage. It then slips out of pitch again and keeps rising until it briefly hits a perfect harmony again. It’s almost like a phasing effect. It has a real musical quality that always catches my attention. 

I wouldn’t say I dislike any particular sounds, but I suppose unwanted clicks and pops are never welcomed! An intentional click, pop or even an unwanted one that adds value I'm open to, but never a hidden fragment! 
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