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What all of us can learn from this sound design expert
Why you should follow sound designer Dan Worrall
Here’s the fourth and final segment from Friday’s episode with Switched on Pop co-host Charlie Harding. BUT after you’re done with this, you can unlock a fifth follow from Charlie by pledging $1 or more at Patreon.com/FollowFriday. Charlie’s bonus follow recommendation is someone he doesn’t know in real life but wants to be friends with: Comedian and musician Reggie Watts.
ERIC: Charlie, I asked you for someone who's an expert in a very specific niche that you love. And you said Dan Worrall, who is on YouTube @danworrall.
Dan's YouTube description is straight to the point: "Sound design and sound engineering tutorials." Break that down for the laypeople. What are the sort of videos that Dan makes?
CHARLIE: Dan makes tutorials about how to be a better sound engineer, mix engineer, and music producer, which yes, honestly, I feel like I'm probably speaking to a small group of folks that are listening right now. And yet, I think we all have something to learn from Dan.
He makes the most knowledgeable videos about some very esoteric material, that is hard to understand, and he does it in not only an extremely soothing voice but with clarity and authority. His explanations could not be more articulate, and he helps people understand pretty challenging concepts with very digestible videos.
Now, if you're really into sound, like I am, and procrastinate by going on YouTube to learn about sound design and engineering and things like that, then this is the person you need to follow. He's one of the few people who's truly an authority. That's the thing. There are so many people who pose as authorities on topics on the internet.
ERIC: And he's actually an expert.
CHARLIE: Actually an expert. And it's so rare that you get expert material, especially when so much of the internet is becoming paywalled. You get maybe a two-minute taste of the thing and, "If you want to actually hear from the experts, it's going to cost a lot of money."
I understand people should be paid for their labor. Absolutely. And yet, for those of us who might not want to, or be able to, subscribe to certain things, he's one of those few people who we're like, "Wow, I'm getting expert knowledge."
Even if you're not into sound design, it's someone worth watching because you might figure out how to communicate effectively. He does it all without showing his face, which is also very rare on the internet if you're making videos, and yet has a very dedicated following who are like, "More Dan, more videos. Please teach us."
ERIC: There's a class of YouTubers who every thumbnail is them making the same shocked face because faces get people to click on them. There is a whole algorithm game there, but Dan is just trading on his expertise. And that's it. That's the strength of his content.
CHARLIE: I love that. Yeah, I get it. If you are making your living off of YouTube, you gotta put your face on that thumbnail because it will cause people to click.
We're talking about, again, the algorithm having certain propensities and you have to just follow it. And yet, for some people who I think make very credible material, a lot of their thumbnails do look very tabloid-y. And that is just what works. I do like people that are just strong in their ways and say, "No, this is just about the information." He's one of those folks.
ERIC: As a musician, how much of your time is spent experimenting with sound design or applying what you've learned from following Dan?
When you're procrastinating by watching his videos, are you picking up stuff that then you are bringing the next time into your editing software? Or is it more of an academic, this is just an interesting fact about how sound works that doesn't really translate in that way?
CHARLIE: I think I'm coming at it from two directions at the same time, but probably both are motivated by insecurity, which is that I have to report on songs made by immensely talented people.
I think that any journalist who doesn't have some insecurity about the legitimacy of their thought and research probably needs to take a second look at themselves because you can never, under a deadline, accumulate all the information. You can only accumulate the best information within that time and be certain within like 99%, I got it.
But there's a reason why there's corrections because sometimes you just miss one little thing. So, for me, reporting on music, I'm like, "I need to understand every little thing about how these songs are made." So I'm very strange in that I frequently will actually recreate songs before I think about how to report on them, because I almost want to get inside the creative mind of the person making it.
That's one angle I attack it from, and the other is, I also make music and I love music and I love sound. And there is a larger, deeper desire to understand everything there is to understand about sound. He has layers of knowledge about advanced engineering concepts, which actually apply to everyday music-making, that are too esoteric to learn about in any other way.
I do end up then applying these tools and, as you said, this is my number one form of procrastination from doing the core job of making a podcast about popular music. It's learning the ancillary details about popular music that I one day may apply, but are not immediately relevant to the exact assignment that I have at any given week. This is how I procrastinate.
ERIC: What about for the average music listener, someone who does not do either, or any, of the things that you do, do you think that if they were to watch Dan's videos, they would get stuff out of them that would make them, for lack of a better word, better music consumers?
CHARLIE: I don't know. Probably some of them and then others are definitely way too out there. I think that you have to probably be making audio in some way to really dig it. So maybe this is not the best recommendation.
ERIC: No no no, this is a niche. This category is for niche follows. I love it.
CHARLIE: I think that this is your follow if this is your world. And I wanted to highlight Dan because I think that there is such a dearth of people like him. If your thing is knitting or whatever your thing is, go find the Dan Worrall equivalent within your niche. They usually don't have great-looking websites, their video production is never quite as good, but their communication skills are the best and they actually really know their stuff.
I often find that if someone's website looks like it was made on GeoCities, it's either they have no idea what they're doing, or they're the world's leading expert in that thing.
ERIC: It just made me think of something a friend told me way back in high school. He said, "I don't want to learn how to play violin from a 14-year-old virtuoso. I want to learn it from a 70-year-old woman who is perpetually angry at the world and just goes about things in the most unpleasant way possible."
If it's possible to interpret what you've learned for a more casual audience, what is something that you have learned from following Dan's videos that has really stuck with you either as an analyst, as a musician, as a listener, anything?
CHARLIE: Something that I could share with everyone is that whenever there is a cultural sense of mystery and magic around creativity, I think that that is usually bogus and that behind it, there is practice, there is knowledge, especially creative tools. I think that there's a certain form of capitalist fetishism around the tools of production in the world of music.
Like, "if you want a certain base sound, you have to have the Moog synthesizer over the other synthesizers." Now, I have a Moog synthesizer, but ... he's someone that will show you that actually, the tools of creation are only so important.
Your understanding of how to use them, regardless of whether you have the $1 variety or the $1,000 variety of that creative tool, if you know how to use it very effectively, you can make exceptional work. That's what I really like from him. To be a creative person, you don't need the highest-end equipment, but you might need a lot of knowledge and practice around how to use what you have, and you can make anything spectacular. And that's what he does in the world of music.
ERIC: Great answer. That was Dan Worrall, who is on YouTube @danworrall.