Audio trade organisations have often made headlines this year, with the AES reviewing its management practices and the launch of the Association of Sound Designers. And, as Kevin Hilton reports, in the last few weeks the Institute of Broadcast Sound is being renamed to reflect changes in the industry, while sound editors and designers are discussing whether their sector needs a guild to represent them.
All professions have long-standing associations that represent their members’ interests and act as a forum for technology and business matters. As times change these bodies have had to reassess their roles and what they offer, or face losing those valuable membership fees. With this in mind the Institute of Broadcast Sound (IBS) announced at the beginning of November that from January 2012 it will be known as the Institute of Professional Sound (IPS).
The IBS was established in 1971 as a representative body for TV and radio sound balancers but since then the audio and broadcast sectors have changed dramatically. The name change was prompted to recognise that audio professionals are no longer confined to one particular job or discipline, while the business itself relies more on freelancers than full-time staff.
This new working landscape has caused concern amongst the workforce for some time. There is the fear that people are expected to work longer hours for the same or less money in a market that has a higher ratio of available personnel compared to jobs. In the week of the IPS announcement veteran sound supervisor Eddy Joseph used Facebook to proposed forming a new guild for UK sound editors and designers to give this sector a stronger voice.
With credits including Batman, The Killing Fields and Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, Joseph, who until his recent retirement headed up Soundeluxe in London, has seen first hand how the business has changed. He says he has been aware that sound editors have been given “less credence” than other technical creatives, such as cinematographers. “People have been saying to me they’re worried about pay and conditions,” he comments. “Looking back we were looked after better on Angel Heart, which came out in 1987.”
After talking to audio editors and designers in the UK over the past few weeks, Joseph is certain there is a need for a new representative organisation. The Facebook post received enough positive comments for Joseph to look towards organising more formal discussions that could make the proposal a reality.
Joseph says many sound editors are having a bad time with getting work, pay and conditions and dealing with employers but do not feel they are in a position to ask each other for advice or help because they are rivals. The proposed guild, he says, could be a collective that would be able to assist people with questions and problems, as well as possibly acting as an employment agency and a mouthpiece for its members. “The sky’s the limit,” he says, “and we need to promote what sound editors do as something that isn’t a necessary evil.”
Simon Bishop (pictured), freelance location recordist and chairman of the IBS’s Executive Committee, feels pay and conditions are matters for trade unions and that the IBS/IPS is “absolutely not a union”. He does, however, agree with the need for audio professionals to have a way of getting together with others in the business to discuss what is going on in their working lives. “Now the majority of technicians are freelance, the opportunities to meet and swap this information can be few and far between,” he says. “I see the place of the IBS/IPS now is to be somewhere where people can share a problem, try out an idea, ask about a new technique or similar.”
Like Joseph, Bishop has concerns over how changing attitudes and working practices in the TV and film sectors, particularly with the shift from permanent staff positions to a self-employed, multitasking approach and the rise of the “runner“ or “researcher” sound recordist on documentary shoots instead of employing experienced crew.
While not specifically discussing the proposed sound editors’ guild, Bishop comments, “The IBS/IPS feel that we should embrace more technicians, who work in a wider range of disciplines than our historical IBS membership. We feel that it can’t be a bad thing to have a single, more unified, larger membership, with a far louder voice.”
The Association of Motion Picture Sound (AMPS) has a membership that includes UK dubbing mixers, location recordists, Foley artists and sound editors working on films and TV productions but Eddy Joseph feels that its role is more as a forum.
The chairman of AMPS, Chris Roberts, responds, “AMPS is constituted to maintain, enhance and promote standards and professionalism in all areas of the production of film and television sound. However, as clearly defined in its constitution, the Association cannot act or be perceived to act as a trade union and therefore cannot engage directly in matters relating to pay or working conditions. AMPS is aware of the proposal to establish a Sound Editors Guild. In the past, AMPS has worked closely with other industry guilds and associations, such as IBS/IPS, BKSTS and APRS. It continues to do so and would welcome the opportunity to work with and support any guild that was established to represent a particular department or sector of the sound community, assuming that it did not duplicate what AMPS already does so effectively.”
The thought of yet another trade association or guild might not be welcomed by all but more directed representation and advice could aid a relatively small group like sound editors and designers. As Eddy Joseph says, “If you shout, you will be heard.”