Guest Lecture – Lucy Johnstone – Sound Editor

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Blog post by L3 AP student Sam Jenkins.

Lucy Johnstone graduated from the University of Nottingham in 2008 with a degree in Classical Music. She started as a runner at Envy Post Production and progressed to become Audio Assistant Manager. After a few years in the machine room, Lucy was promoted to Tracklayer, whilst also running voice-over sessions and providing fully mixed Sound Design for television.

Lucy’s presentation was targeted towards Post Production Sound for Factual TV. She began the talk by explicitly informing us that the presentation we were about to observe was focused on what had worked for Lucy personally, conveying her own experiences and practice in the industry. She stated that this could be completely different to other specialists within the same profession.

Lucy focused on the main Post-Production Sound categories of dialogue (and voice-overs), atmos and Foley+SFX. When overseeing a VO session, she suggested that 30% of work is what you know, but 70% is how you are. This meant that although the engineer could be an expert with Pro Tools and their DAW, those who have greater personal skills will be those who are hired. This is something I am aiming to improve when working professionally on set. I hope to improve my personal, professional and communication skills while working with the client, giving me greater experience for the real world.

When dealing with atmos and SFX, especially when on a tight timescale, Lucy suggested a couple of tips to help speed up our process. The first is acknowledging that we do not have time to add every single sound effect, so prioritize the most important. Also, there may not be time to Foley everything, if at all, so either invest or go out and record sound effects, such as footsteps and create a library. Secondly, if we do use our own libraries, try to add variation: do not use the same two footsteps throughout, or 10 seconds of the same crowd noise. Ask the offline editor for handles but use effects such as time stretch or pitch shift to alter the sounds slightly, which stops the sound becoming repetitive and predictable. And ALWAYS keep a copy of the original tracks underneath, in case the editor wants to use them or something goes wrong. It will be very useful to use this method of prioritisation when working on Cognition.

Finally, Lucy offered some real world job advice with regards to this industry. Firstly, she stated that work experience is essential and will help a long way to persuading a company to employ you. Secondly, within this role expect to be making drinks on a low wage as a runner for a while, getting your foot in the door with a company – just because we have a degree does not mean we should just land a high-end job, we still have to work for it! Next, that an in-house role would likely be the best route for graduates, as freelance work requires knowing enough, having enough (good) credits, and knowing enough people – contacts. This brought the presentation succinctly to an end, where Lucy suggested using Twitter, LinkedIn and emails to network on a 1-to-1 basis, if approaching a large group of people and introducing yourself is not one of your strengths.

I was very impressed with the presentation and learned most about just how different the real world is, compared to university work. For example, being given only one day to complete a Factual TV soundtrack, ensuring you network with enough people to build up contacts, and the importance of speed and competence once you have a job. I also picked up useful skills such as prioritizing jobs (dialogue/foley/sfx/atmos) and the importance of personal, communication skills.

Finally, I am pleased that guest lecturers, such as Lucy, are working in the real world right now, as they give us much advice and direction, and tell us how it is right now, rather than what it was like ‘in their day’.

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About David McSherry

Senior Lecturer in Audio Production