Hearing the Difference / by Jerald Pierce

Sound design isn’t one-size-fits-all, and distinctions within the discipline are crucial.

There’s an old saying, invoked by Abe Jacob, one of the forefathers of modern theatrical sound design, that everyone in theatre knows two jobs, their own and sound design. While that statement may be a comic exaggeration, it gets at the frequent confusion surrounding sound designers and what it takes to do what they do.

The confusion may be understandable, as the field remains among the newest distinct design disciplines in theatre. The job title “sound designer” didn’t even appear on Broadway until more than midway through the 20th century. Jacob is one of the first two men to receive the credit, for his work on Jesus Christ Superstar in 1971. (Jack Mann received the title in 1961 for Show Girl.) For context, lighting design, also a relatively new designation, only became a Tony category in 1970.

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