In the latest entry of our graduate spotlight series, we feature Dan Turner, who transitioned from a music production background to a technical audio realm through Derby’s MSc Audio Engineering programme. His journey saw a sharpened focus on spatial audio, eventually propelling him into a PhD at the University of York where he researched AI for immersive audio. His notable contributions include developing an innovative audio data extraction prototype. Now flourishing as an Audio DSP Research Engineer at Creative Technology Ltd, Dan’s narrative highlights the enriching and transformative experience Derby offers to its students.
Dan Turner, Class of 2018
Current job + employer:
Audio DSP Research Engineer, Creative Technology Ltd
(recently completed PhD at the University of York)
What did you do/study prior to coming to Derby?
Prior to starting the MSc, I was working as a Further Education Lecturer teaching audio and music production to Music, Music Technology, and Film Production students. My background was predominately in Music Technology and Production having graduated with BA (Hons) Popular Music with Music Technology, also from the University of Derby back in 2012. I also hold a PGCE in Post Compulsory Education from Christ Church Canterbury University.
Why did you choose to go to the University of Derby?
After exploring several master’s courses, I ultimately decided to attend the University of Derby for a combination of reasons. Firstly, having previously completed my undergraduate degree at the same institution, I was already familiar with the excellent standard of teaching offered for audio/music-related courses. Furthermore, the lecturers are internationally recognized researchers in their respective fields, giving me confidence that the module content would not only cover established fundamentals but also incorporate cutting-edge research.
The MSc Audio Engineering program at the University of Derby also offered a unique combination of modules that covered a broad range of topics, which was unlike any other course I had come across. As someone with a background in audio production, I was eager to acquire a more technical, engineering-based skillset in various audio engineering-related areas. Additionally, I felt that the modules directly addressed the different skill sets required within different areas of the industry.
Did you start the course with a specific focus or were you undecided?
When I started the course, my main focus was to acquire the engineering skills necessary to pursue a career as an audio engineer. Although I had been involved in audio and music for over a decade, my experience was primarily on the production and creative side. I had a lot of experience in using the technology but now I wanted to learn how to build and develop the technology.
Did that focus change on the course? If so, how?
My focus didn’t really change, I still wanted to end the course with a well-rounded skillset as I felt that would give me the best chance for finding opportunities afterwards. However, I did develop a more focused interest in spatial audio, both the underlying engineering principles and the processes involved in conducting the perceptual test.
Has that focus changed on graduating? If so, how?
My focus is still broadly the same. But coming to the end of my PhD my focus is now on pursuing a research career so I can continue to contribute to the next generation of audio technologies.
What was the most useful thing you learned on the course?
In a very general sense, the most useful practical skills I developed were in digital signal processing (DSP) and programming. Since much of audio engineering involves DSP, which is typically implemented through programming, the problem-solving approach I learned is something I use on a daily basis. Whether I’m implementing a spatial audio system, developing deep learning algorithms, or simulating the behaviour of sound waves in a specific environment, the programming and DSP skills I learned have proven useful in all situations.
What did you learn on the course that you thought you’d never use, but that has come in handy during your career?
After finishing the MSc, I became a PhD student researching artificial intelligence and immersive audio and I wasn’t sure I’d use much of the content around Live Sound System Design and Optimisation (although the module was hugely interesting!). But as part of my research I’ve investigated sound field capture and the content on the acoustics and underlying mathematical principles behind microphone response patterns really came in handy!
What did you do on the course that you never thought you would enjoy?
Initially, I was quite nervous about the level of maths that would be required, as I’ve never seen myself as someone who “could do maths”. However, the support available from both the lecturers and from online resources meant I had nothing to worry about and it actually became quite an enjoyable part of the course. You don’t need to have a degree in maths to be a good audio engineer.
What was your favourite establishment in Derby (pub, bar, club, restaurant, etc.)?
The Hairy Dog
What is your most memorable moment from Derby?
The day my cohort handed in our final dissertations.
What/who at Derby most influenced your life, and how/why?
I met a lot of people during my time at Derby, many of whom I’m still close with now, both personally and professionally. But, it goes without saying that the lecturers on the course have had an immeasurable impact on my life as without Bruce, Adam, and Ian, I wouldn’t be doing what I am today.
What would you say to a Derby first year student, knowing what you know now?
Knowing what I know now, I would probably have two main bits of advice. Firstly, I would strongly recommend completing all the labs and the worksheets. You may not get them all done during the allotted lab time, but it will pay dividends to finish them in your own time. This is where you really get to grips and apply what you’re learning during lectures. Secondly, I would suggest studying with others on the course if possible, whether that’s in person or online. I found that working through the material with other people was the most effective way to understand the content.
What have you done professionally since graduating?
Immediately after the MSc, I started a PhD at The University of York’s AudioLab in partnership with BBC Research and Development. My research focuses on AI for immersive/spatial audio production. Some highlights have been:
- Developing a prototype that uses computer vision algorithms to extract audio panning data and identify sound effects from the BBC’s sound effects archive for objects detected within a scene, which was presented at an international conference for the Audio Engineering Society.
- Creating a new dataset of Stereo and 4th Ambisonic impulse responses that can be used to synthesize equivalent scenes in both formats, which is currently being used to synthesize training data for a new audio upmixing algorithm.
- Developing a deep learning algorithm to extract 360-degree spatial data from stereo recordings that can be used to upmix to a channel-agnostic output.
During my PhD, I also worked as a Research Associate for the Creative Research and Innovation Centre at Loughborough University London. This role was really interesting as it wasn’t solely audio-related but investigated how companies in the creative industries are utilising and deploying advanced technologies such as AI, Cloud Technology, GPUs, and XR to create the next generation of immersive experiences. Additionally, I contributed to a technology capability assessment that was used to inform potential funding bids, advised on a project mapping the UK’s virtual production capabilities, and contributed towards evidence that was submitted to the recent House of Lords inquiry “A Creative Future”.
What is your most memorable moment from your career so far?
Getting my first peer-reviewed journal paper accepted.