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Demystifying achievement in sound design

Three sound designers weigh in on how to determine excellence in their field.

Jordan E. Cooper as Peaches in “Ain’t No Mo’” on Broadway (Credit: Joan Marcus)

Of the design elements that create the world of a production, sound is perhaps the most ineffable. “There’s a saying that you actually don't want to get reviewed, because then maybe you're too noticeable,” said John Kilgore, a sound designer on the Tony Awards Nominating Committee.

But the intangible quality of sound design has led to a tenuous history of Tony Awards recognition. It was not until the Tonys’ 60th year, in 2007, that they first recognized achievement in sound design at all. Separated into play and musical categories, the awards were eliminated just seven years later, in 2014, and again reinstated in 2017 after industry pushback.

Laurels for sound design may be here to stay, but the craft still seems to be among the least understood. So what makes for great achievement in sound design? And how can you measure excellence when it may intend to go unnoticed?

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