Adam Croft has just released a book called Quit Aspiring, a guide to help you break into game audio - and below, he shares 4 fundamental things you can do to make that game audio dream a reality:
Written by Adam Croft. Bonus: Also comes with lots of resource links to further help you succeed in sound.
Hi friend, if you don’t already know me – my name is Adam Croft (no relation to Tomb Raider, but at this point it would be more fun if there were) – and I have the pleasure of writing to you because Asbjoern is super awesome and asked me to. I might be worth listening to (up to you, of course) as I’ve worked in various forms of audio for the last decade, and helped bring titles to life for companies like Bungie, Turn 10 Studios, 343 Industries, etc.
You and I are about to have some fun – especially if you’re interested in breaking into game audio for the first time. I know there are a bunch of you who think it would be super awesome to design sounds for games (spoiler alert: working on games is fun) but are frustrated because there’s not exactly a clear step-by-step roadmap to get there.
If you’re scared, frustrated, confused, lost, have huge dreams – but know deep down that you’re talented and just need an opportunity – I have great news for you that doesn’t involve browsing Reddit for advice at 1am… You’ve already got the roadmap you need.
No, seriously, I’m not kidding. You do! So, let’s dive in – I’m going to tell you a bunch of stuff you’ve already heard before, but you definitely need to hear again.
Oh, and if what I’ve got to share with you below hits you like a ton of bricks – I elaborate in-depth on all of it in my book Quit Aspiring.
Do the Work
At one point in my life, and career, I had a hard time finishing any project I was super personally passionate about.
I could go to work and help bring the creative visions of others to life – no problem. But my own ambitions? Nearly impossible.
I’m sure you know this story well – start one project, get a week (or maybe 2 days) in, hit a small wall, become enraptured by a new idea, repeat the cycle – you never get anything done.
Now I’m going to break your heart, because I know you’d like a sweet tip and a shortcut to just fix that forever.
But, there isn’t one.
I do have a method in my book that I use to defeat this cycle in myself – but my method or any other method all eventually end up at the same place:
Creative work is still work, and you need to do the work.
We imagine, because we’re passionate about our acoustical arts, that they’re always supposed to be fun. We imagine something like “you’ll never work a day in your life if you love what you do”.
While that’s kind of true – none of us envies a janitor and we have way more fun than that job – there’s still parts of our work that are just downright taxing.
Some days your ears are just off, and you’re not hearing things right.
Some days you have to slog through data management and metadata.
Some days none of your software is working properly.
Some days you run into unexpected bugs, or just can’t create what you’re hearing in your head.
Some days, even, you disagree with your boss on what something should sound like and you need to do what they want.
None of those things are particularly easy, right?
But I know of no way to get “around” those hard parts. You focus, and you get them done. Everyone else arounds you loves you more the less you complain about them, too.
So, you can go browse the internet for plenty of “tactics” to make this part easier, you and I both know there are plenty. But it simply comes down to figuring out how you tick, how to make yourself focus, and how you get to the finish line.
Then do it.
That demo reel, demo game, website, resume, and cover letter aren’t going to build themselves. Nobody is going to do it for you, and nobody’s going to hand you the opportunity – everyone else is too busy with their own things!
So, it comes down to you, and doing the work.
Ship your stuff
Once you’ve convinced yourself to sit down and work for an extended period of time (I’m talking consistency over months, not a few days) then you’re going to run into your next problem – finishing.
This time I don’t mean preventing yourself from getting distracted. I mean deciding on where to stop and committing to it. It could be (and should be) a specific date, but it also could be a point where you reach “feature complete”.
The problem everyone has is that they’re too vague about what “finished” means.
You might need to complete 3 more sounds, but then you’ll find 3 more that you want to do to make your finished product that much better.
But we both know you’ll find 1 or 2 more after that.
This is your own personal version of “development hell” – where it never ends until you say it does.
There are a bunch of things wrapped up in this – but most of them revolve around ego and fear. You absolutely want to make the best impression upon the world that you can, and you’re freaked out that you won’t. You’ve put so much effort into this thing that you don’t want to ship and be let down when nobody cares, or somebody hates it.
So, you never ship. It’s an avoidance mechanism.
First of all – ouch – look at what you’re doing to yourself! You’re so scared about your incompetence that you’re more willing to bury your work than share it! That’s a huge, huge bummer.
Second – you and I both know reality here. Unless you ship your work, nothing is ever going to happen.
The second most important thing after doing the work, is shipping the work you’ve done.
If you’re working on a demo reel, or job application – you have 0% chance of getting hired if you don’t ship those things off, right?
I could state the obvious here and repeat “so get it done.” But I actually have something else that can help you here.
There’s a really easy way to get beyond your fear of shipping out your work and making sure it’s 100% perfect.
Ship more work – ship all the time, as often as possible.
Another problem that a lot of you run into is simple idolatry of your work and ego. You work on one piece for so long, with so much effort, that a large amount of your identity as a creative individual is wrapped up in your project and its hopeful success.
What I mean by that is, if it fails – you feel like you are a failure.
That could not be any further from the truth, but I understand where you’re coming from and I’ve felt that way before.
The easiest way I’ve found to prevent that is by radically increasing the amount of content you put out.
For example, I ship blogs at my website every week. Sometimes I get asked to create additional content by others (like what you’re reading right now). I’ve written 2 books, created multiple pieces of software, and worked on ten years of audio projects.
If you create so much that no one piece can define you and your story, your ego and identity become less fragile and are not a problem.
You might hear things like “you need to put in 10,000 hours to master a skill” or “you need to fail and suck in order to get good at something”. You can distill all of that down into simply “ship more and worry less about what you’re shipping”.
Believe me, you’re smart and you’ll know when something you’re shipping requires a little bit more time and effort to get right.
But your demo reel is not that project. It’s simply a showcase of where you’re at right now, and if you’re not great – you still need to finish it and then work to make it better.
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“You have to stand out in a crowded market!”
“It’s so hard to get work if you’re not doing something special!”
You’re going to hear things like this when you decide to dive into game audio. Here’s the response you’re going to have:
“Well, HOW THE *#($)! AM I SUPPOSED TO DO THAT?!”
The emphasis with all-caps is mine. You’ll identify with it if you’ve been at this a while and gotten nowhere – you’re probably fairly frustrated.
Here’s what’s funny to me about this in regard to sound designers.
Almost all of you crazies think of the exact same thing to do when it comes to being unique.
The trendy thing today, as of this writing? Learning implementation. So many young hopeful sound designers come to me and ask about programming and implementation because they’re worried they can’t get a job on their sound design alone. You’re all convinced that if you know how to use middleware well and/or code – you’ll be an instant-hire.
So, let me straighten this out – learning middleware is great for you to know. If you’re hoping to be a sound designer, forget about coding.
But none of those things makes you super unique or special, especially as a sound designer.
Instead, you should be doing everything you can to make your sonic fingerprint unique. You should also be creating special ways to present your work. This is where you should be going crazy and embracing your creativity!
I’ve remarked to a few sound designer friends that I’m honestly surprised that more sound designers don’t make effects libraries – like things you see here at A Sound Effect.
(Before you go lose your mind and respond to me about how the quality of sound libraries is diminishing and it’s a giant race to the bottom in terms of quality and price – hear me out…)
I’m of firm belief that if you put out your work to sell it (and did sell it), that you would stand out significantly amongst your peers. I did this myself, just with programming instead of sound design.
But you can screw that idea up incredibly easily. No, I don’t mean by putting out crappy work or not getting your files tagged correctly.
I mean that – if you take that idea I just presented (please do) – you need to create it for the right market.
If you’re going to make sound libraries for sound designers – I think you’re shooting yourself in the foot. There are companies who do that professionally, and it requires a lot of work. It requires heavy research of what sound designers are missing, and what they simply cannot record themselves.
Unless you live in an incredibly unique area – you’re probably not going to make your mark by selling city ambiences to sound designers. Sorry.
You can make this tremendously easier on yourself by making things for the market that actually buys your work in the first place – game developers and video editors.
There are a huge number of independent game developers and video editors that want sounds they can simply drag and drop into their projects.
It’s your job to find them (there’s plenty of online forums if you don’t live in a city where these people are), find out what sounds they could use, and then rip them out fully polished. Who cares if they’re not perfect? Who cares if it’s impossible to make sure they sit in a mix right? That’s not your job at this point.
Your job is to simply make things that other creatives want to use. Then you can turn to potential employers and say, with confidence:
“Yes, I can the sounds your game needs. Yes, I know how to work your middleware. Oh – and by the way – as proof of this here’s my demo reel, and I’ve also sold a small sound library to independent game developers and video editors.”
Saying something like that, you’ve proven you can do the work fine. Everything from there is a matter of how well you fit with the company.
The last thing I have to offer you is this – get out and meet people.
Most of you see yourself as introverts. You’re freaked out of walking into a room full (or mostly full) of people that you don’t know and getting to know them.
Again, I have a whole section of my book on step-by-step ways of going about doing this successfully. Here though, I’ll leave you with two things.
First, when you go to “network”, it’s much easier than you might imagine. Most of you hate talking about yourselves and feel like self-promotion is weird or you don’t know what to say because you don’t know anything about these other people.
That’s actually a huge blessing.
Instead of talking at others – all you need to do is ask questions and listen intently. A few questions deep and you’ll be off to the races.
Oh, and don’t start out with this: “So what do you do?”
Your only response to whatever they say is going to be “Oh, cool…” That’s essentially saying “That’s nice, but I don’t really care.”
You must be honestly interested in what they respond with. For example:
“How long have you been coming here?”
No matter what they say you can easily respond with
“Oh awesome – how did you find out about this event?”
Which you can follow up with
“Neat! How have these events been helpful and beneficial to you? I’m trying to find my way around.”
Continue down the path that your conversation partner presents and ask more questions about what they have to say. You’ll learn a ton, and they’ll fall in love with you too!
Second, you need to be very wary and careful about what events and meetups you actually show up to.
Let me make this super clear: going to audio meetups is a great way to make friends, and a bad way to get a job.
Audio people, especially when working independently, don’t hire audio people. The only way to get hired by audio people is if the company is large enough, or if a friend of yours has too much work and needs to hand some off.
Instead, make sure you get to game development meetups. Go to meetups with independent developers, or game engine-based meetups, or game jams, or VR/AR technology meetups. Meet the people who don’t do what you do, because those are the people who will hire you – they need help!
If you’ve read any of this and thought “ugh, I KNOW this stuff and I’m just not doing it”, I’d love it if you reached out to me. You will likely also find my book, Quit Aspiring, super helpful.
I wish you the best of luck on your journey, and hopefully we’ll connect in the near future!
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