Careers: Sound designer Michael William O'Connor
Issue: March 1, 2015

Careers: Sound designer Michael William O'Connor

Occu­pa­tion: Free­lance Sound Designer / Edi­tor / Mixer
Loca­tion: Los Ange­les
Most Recent Project: Echo Lake (fea­ture film) – Sound Edi­tor
DAW of Choice: Pro Tools

What is your cur­rent studio/workspace setup like?
Room: • 11’x10’x8’ stu­dio treated with ten 4’x2’x2” hand-built sound pan­els placed evenly along the walls and in the corners, filled with Owens Corn­ing 703 • Two 4” thick bass traps that extend floor to ceil­ing in the back of the room • 2” thick Auralex foam used as clouds and extra absorp­tion along the walls. • Mixes made in this rel­a­tively small room trans­late well when taken to larger stages for final mixes.

Work­space: • Mac Tower OS X 10.6.8 / Proces­sor 2 x 2.8 GHz Quad-Core Intel Xeon / Mem­ory 8GB Ram • Pro Tools 10 HD • A pair of Dynau­dio BM5a mkII’s • Periph­er­als: Apogee Duet 2, Avid Mojo, Tas­cam FW-1082, Wacom Intuos Pro medium tablet, Hand­shoe mouse • IK Mul­ti­me­dia iRig Keys USB Key­board Con­troller • Apple Cin­ema Dis­play as my main mon­i­tor • Vizio 22” mon­i­tor mounted above for video

Main Field Record­ing Rig: • Roland R-44 Recorder with cus­tom Oade low-noise pre­amps • Sound Devices Mix­Pre • Sennheiser MKH60 and MKH30 (M/S) • Petrol PS607 Deca bag • Sony MDR-7506 head­phones • Rode Blimp • Tons of recharge­able AA’s
Secondary/Incognito Recorders: • Tas­cam DR-100mkII • Olym­pus LS-10
Addi­tional Mics: • Audio-Technica AT825 • DIY piezo con­tact mic • Shure SM58 • Shure Beta52A • Tram TR-50 lavalier

How long have you been a freelancer?
I’ve been free­lanc­ing since 2010.

What is one thing you know now you wished you had known five years ago?
I wish I knew the impor­tance of diver­si­fy­ing my clien­tele in order to help earn a liv­ing. After grad­u­at­ing col­lege I began work­ing mainly on inde­pen­dent nar­ra­tive projects since I enjoyed the relaxed dead­lines which enabled me to focus on my cre­ative side and record nearly all of the mate­r­ial I was imple­ment­ing (my first fea­ture film con­sisted entirely of SFX from my own library minus a hand­ful of SFX from other libraries). How­ever, due to lim­ited bud­gets, I worked a ton and could hardly make a living.

As my con­tacts grew I even­tu­ally branched out into the TV and com­mer­cial world (tighter dead­lines w/ higher pay). I real­ized that strik­ing the bal­ance of com­mer­cial and nar­ra­tive work has enabled me to both com­fort­ably earn a liv­ing and work on projects where I don’t need to rush the cre­ative process.

What software/hardware/gadgets can you not live without?
Soft­ware: I couldn’t live with­out Sound­miner HD Plus as I will typ­i­cally have 3 hours to lay in 100–200 SFX for the tele­vi­sion work I do. Izo­tope RX is mag­i­cal (more about that later).

Gad­gets: The Sennheiser MKH60 + MKH30 micro­phones paired with my Sound Devices Mix­Pre and Rode Blimp enable me to cap­ture industry-standard audio with vir­tu­ally no noise and with con­trol over the stereo width in post. The micro­phones han­dle just about any­thing I throw at them, whether it’s soft wind blow­ing through trees to jumbo jets roar­ing by 100 yards away.  The lim­iters on the Mix­Pre are great at han­dling sud­den loud­ness spikes with­out dis­tort­ing the audio, and the blimp elim­i­nates 99% of the wind I encounter.

Where do you find inspi­ra­tion for your sound design work?
I feel like when I was younger I was mainly inspired by many films, whereas these days my main inspi­ra­tion comes from life expe­ri­ences. I am con­stantly ana­lyz­ing my sense of hear­ing and how I might repli­cate such feel­ings and moments with my sound design work. I believe that in order to explore new realms of sound design, one must find inspi­ra­tion out­side of the medium they con­tribute to.

What’s your favorite time-saving shortcut/tool?
Izotope’s RX3 Advanced audio restora­tion soft­ware, hands down. RX3 paid for itself within weeks after I pur­chased it by sav­ing me dozens of hours of man­u­ally de-noising and de-clicking trashed pro­duc­tion audio (my wrist hurts just think­ing about the pre-RX3 days).  The spec­tral repair is unbe­liev­ably pre­cise when it comes to clean­ing and repair­ing prob­lem­atic dia­logue.  It’s also great for clean­ing sound effects I’ve recorded in the field (ex. remove bird chirps from auto­mo­bile recordings).

What’s a typ­i­cal day like for you?
For my TV sound edit­ing work, I have a dili­gent 10-hour work sched­ule per 22-minute show. Within this time-frame, I orga­nize the ses­sion, edit the music, edit the exist­ing SFX from edi­tors, cut in ambi­ence, per­form a spot­ting ses­sion for miss­ing SFX, and finally (the fun part) cut in foley. The ambi­ence and foley is kept nat­ural and organic sound­ing since I mainly work on reality/documentary type pro­grams. Since I start my day at 6:00am, this work­flow allows me to turnover an orga­nized ses­sion to my mixer by 9:30am, which allows him to begin dia­logue edit­ing, and by the time I’m done with the SFX edit, he can begin mix­ing the show. This work is per­formed on-site at the TV com­pany I work at.

Now if we are talk­ing about my non-TV work, then there is no such thing as a “typ­i­cal” day. The other day I was at the LA 5K marathon record­ing the sound of thou­sands of run­ners on won­der­fully quiet streets that were blocked off around Dodger Sta­dium. A month ago I was record­ing a baby’s vocal­iza­tions for a short film I’m cur­rently fin­ish­ing the mix on. And since Octo­ber 2014, I’ve been sound engi­neer­ing part-time at Ani­mated Sto­ry­boards in Los Ange­les, one of the largest full-service ani­ma­tion providers for com­mer­cial and adver­tis­ing pro­duc­tion. I han­dle every­thing from VO record­ings to sound editing/design/mixing ani­mat­ics with tight turn­arounds (some­times I’ll design a 30 sec­ond spot in 5 min­utes). This wide range of work keeps my cre­ative mind actively chal­lenged and ulti­mately fulfilled.

What are your top five films of all time?
Every­one who asks me this ques­tion always gets a dif­fer­ent response since I tend to judge films based off of their abil­ity to tell a great story, and there are truly hun­dreds of amaz­ing films out there that I could praise for hours on end. But since we are talk­ing about sound, I’ll name 5 films that have greatly influ­enced me in the way I approach sound design:

1. Eraser­head – The anx­i­ety induc­ing sound design of this film is so unique and a great reminder of how break­ing con­ven­tions can really pro­vide a mem­o­rable experience.

2. No Coun­try For Old Men – I’ve always been a fan of Skip Lievsey’s sound work, and this film’s bold choice to exclude music pro­vided a story to be told solely with diegetic sound. For me, this type of work earns my high­est respect for it requires a mas­ter­ful sound designer capa­ble of enhanc­ing a story with the utmost atten­tion to detail, as every sonic choice (reverb length for gun­shots, ambi­ence types, foley, etc.) will be respon­si­ble for guid­ing the emo­tions of the audience.

3. Stan­ley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey – The voice of HAL 9000, the use of silence, the poetic score… There are so many ele­ments that make this movie expe­ri­ence unforgettable.

4. Eter­nal Sun­shine of the Spot­less Mind – Michel Gondry twists the medium every which way using his orig­i­nal style of direct­ing, and the sound design for this film allows the audi­ence to eas­ily nav­i­gate the maze-like struc­ture of this tale.

5. Amélie – The sound design of this film enhances the already vivid pho­tog­ra­phy and fast-paced sto­ry­telling in so many ways. From the first frame to the last, it’s just candy for the ears.

Tell us about how the Hybrid Library fits in with your sound effects library. How do you use the Hybrid Library?
Cur­rently I have about 4,000 SFX in my per­son­ally-recorded library. Before own­ing the Hybrid Library, when­ever I needed extra sounds for a project, I would take time to go out and record them or buy them indi­vid­u­ally online. Hav­ing an extra 56,000+ SFX has increased my pro­duc­tiv­ity and kept costs down for clients who don’t have big bud­gets that would enable to me record all of their sounds myself. I use it on basi­cally every project I touch. Just recently with my sound edit for the film “Echo Lake” I imple­mented many of the 5.1 ambi­ences found in the Hybrid library; it sounded great in the the­ater dur­ing our final mix.

Where’s the best place for peo­ple to fol­low your work or con­tact you?
Twit­ter: @mwosound