Teaming up in game audio Audiohive Asbjoern Andersen


Looking for a job in game audio? In-house and freelance have traditionally been the two big options. But there is another way.

Recently, we've noticed several new companies founded by game audio veterans, offering one-stop audio solutions - one of them being The Audio Hive, founded by composers Cris Velasco and Jose Varon, audio director Rodney Gates, and voice & casting director Rob King.

These companies are not the first shops of their kind, but will we see more independent studios like this in the near future? We decided to investigate, and here, two key members of The Audio Hive talk about why teaming up is a winning strategy:


Interview by Jennifer Walden, photos courtesy of The Audio Hive
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C oming from the world of sound for advertising, I know this debate well — is an in-house sound studio better than an independent sound studio? What does it mean for costs? Productivity? Creativity? The world of game sound is going through the same thing.

Here at A Sound Effect, we’ve been talking about the ups and downs of working in-house at a game studio and the viability of going freelance. But there is another path game sound pros might be able to take — the independent game sound company. Teaming up with others who have the same high level of experience in the biz can be a big draw for game studios looking to outsource some work. And guess what, even game studios that have an in-house sound team still outsource work. The demand is there. So will we see an increase in the amount of independent game sound companies?

Here, we talk with The Audio Hive’s multi-award winning Composer/Founder Cris Velasco and Audio Director/Sound Designer Rodney Gates. Their newly opened, one-stop game audio shop offers everything from custom scores and sound design to voice casting to implementation. Each member of the team (which also includes Composer/CEO Jose Varon, and Voice and Casting Director Rob King) has a thorough understanding of what it takes to be successful in game audio. They have a combined experience of over 300 game titles, including games like Horizon Zero Dawn, The Witcher 3, Mass Effect 3, and Overwatch.

Velasco and Gates share insights on the benefits of being an independent sound company, what they can offer their clients and each other, how they collaborate remotely, and what the future may hold for the game sound industry.
 

Please introduce yourselves and highlight some of the key projects you’ve worked on individually. How did you come together to form this team?
Cris Velasco (CV): I’ve been writing music for games since 2004. In that time, I’ve worked on approximately 150 titles including Overwatch, Fortnite, Borderlands, Mass Effect, God of War, Bloodborne, and more.

Rodney Gates (RG): I’ve been a sound designer in the videogame industry for 15 years. There have been many projects I’ve been a part of over the years starting with Darkwatch back in 2004 for the PlayStation 2 and the original Xbox. From there, I’ve worked on Robert Ludlum’s The Bourne Conspiracy and Transformers: War For Cybertron while at High Moon Studios, then on to many MMOs at (the former) Sony Online Entertainment, including Star Wars: Clone Wars Adventures, PlanetSide 2, and H1Z1. I would say the largest project I’ve been a part of would likely be Sony’s Horizon Zero Dawn while I was at Guerrilla Games in Amsterdam.

Forming a boutique “one stop” audio company, made up of industry vets who are as passionate about games as they are talented, seemed to be something a lot of developers were looking for.

CV: I’ve had this dream of starting The Audio Hive for a few years now. When I met Jose [Varon, Composer/CEO at The Audio Hive] at GDC last year, things just finally clicked into place. He already had a similar company, and his vision for the future lined up with my own. Forming a boutique “one stop” audio company, made up of industry vets who are as passionate about games as they are talented, seemed to be something a lot of developers were looking for.

 

Why should game studios choose to do their sound work at a specialized game audio company like The Audio Hive as opposed to working in-house? What are the benefits for them?
RG: Many game developers may not have the budget or facilities to justify a full-time sound studio, with all of the cost and equipment that can entail. Depending on the project size, it can make more sense to contract with an audio services company like The Audio Hive to provide the content and direction they need on a shorter-term instead.

The Audio Hive has members whose specialties offer veteran experience and complete coverage for all aspects of a project’s audio needs, including music composition and production, sound design and asset implementation with various game engines (Unreal Engine, Unity, as well as Wwise and FMOD middleware), voice direction and localization, as well as audio post-production services for linear media such as trailers, film, and television projects.

We’re a perfect support team to get all the audio assets created, implemented, and get you over the finish line.

CV: Given the opportunity, I think a lot of companies would actually choose to do everything in-house. However, that’s just not a reality that time and budget constraints will always allow. The Audio Hive is positioned to be able to scale up or down to specifically fill in the gaps that are needed. We’re a perfect support team to get all the audio assets created, implemented, and get you over the finish line. Whether that’s just supplementing the audio that’s already there, or coming in early and providing all VO, sound design, and music for those developers that are in need of a total audio solution.
 

How do you scale on demand? Do you have additional talent you can bring in as needed?
CV: Yes! Each department head for music, sound design, VO, and implementation has a number of people they can call on to help with the workload. Each of these people all have AAA experience as well.

RG: Over recent months, we have been vetting additional talent that we believe will be great assets for The Audio Hive. Not only for the obvious considerations, such as additional help on projects with tight deadlines but also to provide a key fit for a given project from the beginning.
 

What are the benefits for your team to be independent and not tied to one game studio? Creatively? Financially?
RG: Creatively, I believe the diversity of projects is always an exciting benefit. You get to stretch your creative muscles working in genres that you may not always get a chance to work on in a single studio environment.

Financially, the freelance joke goes that it’s either “feast or famine” for a lot of individuals, but with enough projects going within a group, I feel it can definitely become more of a consistent benefit.

Financially, the freelance joke goes that it’s either “feast or famine” for a lot of individuals, but with enough projects going within a group, I feel it can definitely become more of a consistent benefit.
 

A Sound Effect has been talking about surviving a layoff in game audio. Do you think game sound studios like The Audio Hive will be less affected by the wild employment swings of the game industry?
CV: That’s the beauty of being an independent company, rather than being in-house. When a project ships or even gets cancelled, we are already moving on to help the next developer. We’re not a continuous drain on company resources. As a boutique company, we are able to stay focused and agile, ready to jump in and help at a moment’s notice.

As a boutique company, we are able to stay focused and agile, ready to jump in and help at a moment’s notice.

RG: The idea is that an audio services company like The Audio Hive would be less affected overall since they are not tied to a single studio or publisher. The content still needs to be created somewhere and I would imagine that a studio prone to restructure might end up considering this alternative so that they do not grow their team size too large once again.

 

With The Audio Hive team members not being in the same physical location, what are some of the tools and approaches you’re using to collaborate? And why did you choose the remote collaboration approach rather than getting an office together somewhere?

RG: Many of us are either in the same time zone or within a couple of hours from one another. We communicate very easily via traditional email, Skype and Slack, along with using project management tools such as Teamwork and asset delivery via Dropbox. This allows us to be flexible with our schedules while keeping everyone involved in the loop.

 

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What current trends do you see in the game audio industry? And where do you think it’s headed five and 10 years down the road? Do you see a growing trend for working at independent game sound studios?
RG: Working in-house definitely has huge benefits, mainly due to the implementation side and keeping in sync with the project depots. However, down the road a little, with improvements to internet speeds, etc., we may start to see the line blur a bit with remote capability. At that point, we may see students getting right out of school and heading towards an audio service company instead of a game studio. Time will tell!

 

What would you like to see for The Audio Hive in the near future? How would you like to see your studio grow?
CV: Our goal isn’t to become a huge entity. I think that defeats the purpose of the hands-on, boutique company. We would like to grow big enough to be able to take on multiple projects at once, while still being small enough that we can give a developer the personal attention they deserve. We all love games. We’re all gamers. I think we’d like to just see really fun projects come through our doors and be able to keep a good number of sound designers and composers busy and happy!

RG: By developing contacts and building on those relationships, the idea is to get to a place with a steady stream of content to produce, with all of the services The Audio Hive offers. From there, the company’s reputation builds and word-of-mouth spreads.

As someone who has been making a career of being a solo, independent contractor, I absolutely believe that you can work on your own… At The Audio Hive, we all had amazing careers in games already, but we saw a need in the industry to have a single entity that could handle all aspects of audio under one roof.

 

Any advice for other game audio pros considering their next move in game audio? Do you think it’ll be feasible for individual game audio pros to continue working on their own, or is teaming up a necessity?
CV: As someone who has been making a career of being a solo, independent contractor, I absolutely believe that you can work on your own. It’s a personal choice really. Like any other creative field, it of course requires heavy doses of commitment, focus, and skill. At The Audio Hive, we all had amazing careers in games already, but we saw a need in the industry to have a single entity that could handle all aspects of audio under one roof. I think either model works well.

Teaming up ahead of time with others is a good way to have that support built-in when it is needed.

RG: Ultimately, I believe the bandwidth a single person has is limited. If the project schedule shows that a lot of content needs to be delivered quickly, singular contractors would need to have support anyway, similar to an established audio services company. Teaming up ahead of time with others is a good way to have that support built-in when it is needed.

 

Do you have any projects in the works you can share some details about?
CV: On the music side, I’ve just recently wrapped up Groundhog Day: Like Father Like Son for Tequila Works. I’m also currently writing new music for Dauntless and The Long Dark.

RG: On the sound design side, one of the most-recent projects was the game Remnant: From The Ashes for Xbox One, PS4, and PC. Lots of fun creature design work.

A big thanks to Cris Velasco and Rodney Gates for their thoughts on teaming up to succeed in game audio – and to Jennifer Walden for the interview! Learn more about The Audio Hive here.

 

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