Sound Designer Ryan Hickey: Listening as an Art Form

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Sound engineer at a large sound board

Sound Designer Ryan Hickey. Photo by Christopher Mueller

NEA ARTS Ryan Hickey Sound Designer FINAL.mp3

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While sound has always been an integral part of theater, sound design is relatively new as a distinct craft. And just to complicate things, sound designers often wear two hats. For “straight” plays, they work with the director to create the right sound for the play—which can mean content building, such as composing incidental music, creating sound effects and sound beds. For musical theater, on the other hand, the sound designer’s main job is to create sound systems that allow the music, the singing, and the dialogue to be heard uniformly and organically throughout the theater. As Ryan Hickey, sound designer for Signature Theatre’s production of Crazy for You, says, “the goal is to get the sound system to disappear,” which is no small feat—given the play requires more than 300 cables, 36 channels of wireless microphones on the stage, 48 microphones for the orchestra, 12 channels of sound effects, and more than 20 speakers. Hickey tells us how he does it and takes us through the steps of constructing systems for sound that make the amplification inconspicuous.