Please tell us about yourself
As both a musician and an engineer, Shashidhar is steeped in sound. When he’s not working to develop state-of-the-art 3-D headphones and audio-only games, the one-time classical saxophone student—and pioneering audio and music engineering major—sings in a San Diego barbershop quartet.
Kedar Shashidhar, our Associate Creative Director, has been always been obsessed with spatial audio — whether it’s with virtual reality experiences, video games or music. Before working at OSSIC he had experience working in professional sound at EA, Impulsonic (now Steam VR), and even started his own indie game studio, Blackout VR.
Now at OSSIC, Kedar is the Associate Creative Director of OSSIC Studios. His focus is on creating spatial music, games, and other experiences that showcase the potential of 3D audio. In this talk on spatial audio, Kedar discusses how one should approach capturing 360 audio connect with ambisonic microphones, and how ambisonics continue to play an important role in the future of spatial audio production.
How did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and cool career?
As a high school student in Corning, New York, Kedar Shashidhar ’15, ’16 (KEY) was accepted into the Eastman School of Music for classical saxophone performance. His parents told him he could attend on one condition: that he coupled it with a degree in engineering.
Shashidhar complied, and was admitted as well into the College, where at a required orientation program for students who planned to study engineering, he learned about a soon-to-be-offered major in audio and music engineering.
Shashidhar knew this was the program for him. He withdrew from Eastman and became one of the very first audio and music engineering majors at Rochester
I studied at UR (University of Rochester) majoring in the new Audio and Music Engineering program. I interned at a recording studio in downtown Rochester called, “Blackdog Studios.”
I knew going into my freshman year at UR, I wanted to be doing something productive and related to my field of study and interest over the summer. So I began networking and researching in order to secure an internship.
Tell us about your career path
I even went as far as to meet and network with companies in Las Vegas for the Consumer Electronics Show in January. However, nobody was really interested in taking in an under qualified freshman in college. In fact, I was challenged with so many initial failures, I was ready to settle for anything by the time this opportunity came along.
In hopes of landing an internship, I emailed all the Rochester recording studios my resume and cover letters. Finally Blackdog Studios called me in for an interview because of my background in basic programming. Robert Blackburn, the owner of the studio was looking to have me redesign his website. In exchange, he promised to teach me, “everything he knew about recording.”
How was the experience in your internship?
So I went in for my first day of work, and I learned just how unimportant I was. The number one rule in the studio for me was, “Never, ever give your opinion to a client or an engineer during a session unless you are directly asked.” As harsh as that was, I understood that having a chain of command in a studio was important, especially when there was a fair amount of artistry and musical interpretation behind the work being done. As my days progressed I also realized there really was no such thing as typical day in the studio. Clients were never permanent, and you did what you had to do to keep business going.
At first, I assumed I wouldn’t have to do much more than design a website and be a good student. However, in order to keep a studio running I realized my job as an intern was closer to that of a janitor than that of a web designer. Often times, Rob would have me clean the studio if an important client was planning on coming in.
However, as the end of June approached, I began notice a lot of improvements that could be made as far as Robert’s overall business model and promotion. I mentioned to him during a lesson that there was a huge number of Eastman students that he wasn’t marketing to at all and that his reputation there wasn’t exactly positive. When he asked how we should go about fixing it, I suggested we take the opportunity to jump on the upcoming Jazz Festival and make a big event for Blackdog Studios.
Suddenly, I was thrust into a managerial position and faced the task of creating a large-scale promotional event for the studio. The plan was to create an open-house in the studio and bring in jazz musicians to jam in the studio during all hours of the jazz fest to allow people to come in and check out the facilities we had to offer and enjoy some free refreshments and tasteful jazz in the process. Furthermore, in order to increase promotion, the entire event was to be broadcast live on the internet for people to watch and the entire session would be recorded with high-quality microphones and distributed to the artists. It was challenging at times trying to delegate tasks to all of the employees in the studio in order to make the event run as successfully and smoothly as possible. However, in the end there was nothing more satisfying than to be the coordinator of a highly successful promotional event that involved an incredible amount of organization and networking to accomplish.
Overall, my experience at Blackdog thus far has been incredibly rewarding and the one thing I have been able to take away above all is the fact that it’s really up to you to determine how much of a name you want to make for yourself in this industry. As for the future, after I finish my internship with the studio I plan to try and land an internship in Los Angeles in either a recording studio or a high-end audio production company such as Roland. I know without a doubt that the experience I gain from this internship will be life changing and will benefit me for years to come.
What do you do now?
Today, in addition to designing audio-only games at his studio, Blackout VR, Shashidhar puts his skills to work at OSSIC Studios, a Kickstarter-funded company in San Diego that’s developing three-dimensional audio headphones. As the company’s associate creative director, he has a range of responsibilities, from product and software tool development, to working directly with designers, musicians, and game developers, to building virtual reality experiences to showcase 3-D audio’s potential.
Ready for a New Reality?
Three-dimensional sound is a basic component of the computer-based experiences known as virtual reality and augmented reality—usually called VR/AR.
VR “allows people to immerse themselves in different worlds,” says Shashidhar. “You can move around in a different reality and even interact in it.” AR “combines reality with the virtual” by allowing users to place virtual items, through a smartphone app, in their “real” environment.
What are some of the best examples of virtual or augmented reality applications that are widely available to consumers now? Here are a few of Shashidhar’s favorites.
Google Tilt Brush allows you to paint and create in a 3-D space, then to share your artwork as “room-scale VR masterpieces” or GIFs. Equipment needed: HTC Vive or Oculus Rift virtual reality headset.
Google Blocks can help you create 3-D objects with a simple set of tools. Equipment needed: HTC Vive or Oculus Rift.
TheWaveVR, essentially a giant online wave, is reinventing the concert experience and lets you view, host, and socialize in a virtual environment. Equipment needed: HTC Vive and a computer.
What is three-dimensional audio?
Three-dimensional, or 3-D, audio is about experiencing sound as we hear it in the world. Think about it: sound exists in a particular location; it has directionality. In that way, 3-D audio allows us to experience truly immersive worlds while sitting at the movies, watching TV at home, playing a video game on a gaming console, phone, or computer, or listening to music through any type of device. Even while creating music or composing musical scores.
Can we hear 3-D audio now? If so, where?
It’s already creeping into our daily lives. For instance, Dolby is using it in music now. Games are also featuring it. YouTube and Facebook support 3-D audio now when watching 360 videos, too, but there’s a ways to go on the technology. Although you can plug in a normal pair of headphones and experience spatial audio from 360-video content that’s already there, you might experience spatial blur. This happens when you’re trying to pinpoint a sound source, but its location is unclear. It makes it difficult to tell if a sound is coming from in front or behind your head, or directly above or below it. These problems arise because the spatial audio is created using a model of the average human head and ears. In actuality, our individual anatomical differences are key to our ability to tell clearly where a sound is coming from.
Besides entertainment, what are potential applications for 3-D audio?
It’s certainly of particular interest to a number of industries, such as aerospace or military communication. Imagine, for example, that you’re a pilot. Sounds come from many directions inside the cockpit. When sounds are spread out so they aren’t coming from one source, our auditory comprehension improves, which can improve pilot reaction times.
Or, say you are on a Skype call with 12 other people from around the country. You hear voices on top of each other and it’s nearly impossible to distinguish them. With 3-D audio, you can distinguish among voices that are coming from in front of you, behind you, and to the left or right of you.
What special considerations are involved in developing 3-D headphones?
The OSSIC X headphones we’re developing are full of technology that “understands” the distinctive aspects of each listener’s anatomy—aspects like head shape and width—that help us figure out where sounds are coming from. An individual’s ear for example, is as unique as a fingerprint.
Our headphones also feature head-tracking technology. This helps users confirm where a sound is coming from. It’s like when we rotate our heads to get visual confirmation of where a sound is coming from. When we hear a car honking, for example, we turn our heads to locate the car. This head-tracking, paired with the headphone’s ear calibration, allows us to create accurate 3-D sound that actually lives outside of our heads. It’s the evolution of both the 3-D audio technology you might find on YouTube and the surround sound technology you might find in your movies.