The Sound of Sirens:
Paul Le Couteur
Paul Le Couteur is Head Sound Designer at Nylon Studios’ newly launched Melbourne studio. Renowned in Melbourne as the go-to-sound-guy-for-a-great-script, Paul has over 30 years of experience and a fully stacked awards shelf. We sat down after a sound session to talk about his journey, awards, and Nylon Studios brand-spanking-new studio in South Melbourne.
S: How did you get your start in the industry?
P: I started in the early 80s as a despatch boy at George Patterson up in Sydney. I was a university drop out, and my mother said ‘you’d better look for a real job!’
I ended up in their audio studio, which was the closest thing to being a rock star I could get to. There was an old guy who I spent a bit of time with, who had lots of amazing experience—I used to go and talk to him, and in time when he left, I became the assistant, and then in another year the manager of that department. My goal was to try to get more real work going through, to win people’s trust. So that’s how I started off.
Then I met a Melbourne girl and came down here to a sound studio called Flint Webster—a very well respected studio. I learnt lots of things from those guys, about the engineering side but also a lot about the directorial side.
S: Yes I’m interested in that, because you obviously have a knack for directing.
P: It’s probably the skill-set that I’m best known for. My mother was an actress when she was young, so growing up I had sensitivity to it.
There’s a lot more to this job than worrying about the gear—most people can learn that, but it tends to be what you do creatively with it that sets each of us apart.
Anyway, after Flint Webster I went to Flagstaff studios. I was there for 18 and a half years, and that’s where I met Ceri (Davies, Paul’s long-term EP). We’ve been together for all that time, and now we’re thrilled to be at Nylon
S: Tell me about that—your new roles at Nylon, and the new space in South Melbourne. Nylon Studios is a great fit for Ceri and I, because Simon (Lister, Nylon’s Co-founder and Creative Director) and Hamish (Macdonald, Nylon’s Global Executive Producer)—we’re very much on the same level in how we view the industry, how we view: work, clients, and creative thought.
Like us, they’re really about the people first not the technology.
Nylon Studios in Sydney are in a lovely old building, and the experience becomes about the people you work with, in a creative space that isn’t tiring when you’re there all day.
We’re bringing that to Melbourne, too. The Melbourne studios are in a large warehouse, and the studios are these incredible pods sitting seamlessly in a larger space. We’re working with acoustic architect Peter Brown, so acoustically they’re beautifully set up and tuned, with all the smart stuff you use to get amazing sound—but hopefully the final outtake is that you don’t notice those technical things. Instead you’ll walk into a space that has high ceilings and beautiful neutral colours, two lovely big studios and some communal area in between. The aim is to create a comfortable area where you can work all day without feeling fatigued. It’s about the people.
S: Can you talk to us about your favourite pieces of work—are they awarded?
P: My favourite pieces aren’t always awarded. For me there’s sound on a lot of different levels. I create sound for television and cinema and online things, then for radio and a lot of other bits and pieces... As far as pulling awards, I guess I have the most awards from radio.
I really liked the Disclaimer Guy commercial (by Paul Reardon at Clemenger BBDO Melbourne) and that rated pretty well—got the Gold Siren and a Silver Lion a few years ago now. It was just a great idea. Sometimes I win awards for the craft, but oftentimes it’s just a really great idea.
Then we did some great stuff for Tena (by Julian Schreiber and Tom Martin at Clemenger BBDO), all based around laughter, because it was about people who were incontinent being free to laugh. That became about capturing the freshness of those laughter situations.
Then I was pretty proud of some stuff we did for Tennis Australia (by Chris Ellis and Aaron Lipson at Cummins and Partners). It was all about getting close to the action, the sound effects being larger than life. We bought a microphone that was a teeny tiny nano-microphone and recorded all the sounds in extreme close-up, capturing it without too many tricks, amplifying those real sounds. But if you ask me in two years time I’ll probably say different things.
Advertising reflects culture, and culture is constantly changing. Something that was really fresh 20 years ago sounds really dated now.
Or the techniques will have been done a million times since then. Some things are very much about the time that they happen in, whereas other things aren’t.
S: You’ve won a lot of awards over the years and sat on a lot of juries. What are your thoughts on awards?
P: The thing about awards is that they’re a benchmark. They’re decided by a group of people, of learned opinions, giving their take on what rates and what doesn’t. So by its very nature, you’ll have very divergent opinions a lot of the time. Having been on judging panels, I don’t always agree with the people I’m judging with. And I think that’s good, to have robust debate about things like that. Not all awarded ads are great ads. But awards fulfil a whole lot of functions in our industry. Apart from promoting people and agencies and setting benchmarks, they’re a beautiful pat on the back for those involved. Particularly these days, our industry whirrs along so quickly that it’s a moment to dip back into the joy of “that was a good moment”.
Nylon Studios is the Issue #3 sponsor of Gabberish. You can listen to some of their sounds at nylonstudios.com. If you’re interested in sponsoring issue #4 please write to Siobhan at firstname.lastname@example.org