In these 3 interviews, you'll hear what it takes to get started and succeed in game audio from Anne-Sophie Mongeau, animation sound from Jeff Shiffman & Kate Finan, and sound for television from Peter D. Lago:
By Jennifer Walden and Asbjoern Andersen, images courtesy of Anne-Sophie Mongeau, Jeff Shiffman, Kate Finan, and Peter D. Lago
• How to succeed in sound design for Film, Documentaries, and Trailers – with Nia Hansen, Peter Albrechtsen, & Karél Psota
• How to succeed in UI/UX Sound Design, ADR Recording, & Audio Programming – with Henry Daw, Emma Butt & Adam Croft
• How to succeed in Sound Editing, Sound for Advertising, and Production Sound – with Lucy J Mitchell, Chris Pinkston and Irin Strauss
Sound Design: Games – insights from Anne-Sophie Mongeau:
• What working on game sound design entails:
Being a game sound designer implies having both a creative mind as well as a technical one. The sound designer’s role is to start from a vision or a concept and bring that to reality, and that means being able to think about what best serves the game and enhances the player experience aesthetically. You must know how to make it happen in terms of recording and designing, and finally how to integrate the work in a logical way so that it plays as envisioned, with the tools at your disposal.
It also entails working with a team. Whether it is the audio team or the rest of the game development team, a sound designer will collaborate with many people throughout the process of bringing this vision to reality. So the role of a game sound designer is a very social one as well.
Finally, it asks for a lot of dedication. The games industry is wide and the business models and work ethics are many, but chances are good that a sound designer and the rest of the development team will face long development time and/or tight deadlines and/or cancelled projects and/or working extended hours. That being said, it can be highly rewarding to see this immersive, emotionally engaging environment come to life, and to see a reality emerge from what was once only a concept after putting so much of yourself in it.
• What it takes in terms of skills and gear:
The skills and gear required to be a game sound designer can vary widely. At the very least you would need means to record (whether it’s the entire Sennheiser mic collection or a simple portable recorder), to design (a DAW), and to listen (a decent pair of speakers or headphones). The whole audio chain should ensure professional quality, so a decent sound card should also be considered.
In terms of skills, the important thing is to know how to operate and take care of your physical audio equipment. You should also understand digital audio — knowledge of sound recording theory and DSP is essential in order to consistently obtain good quality results. Music theory knowledge is not essential but is certainly a plus in a context where you may need to collaborate closely with composers, integrate their work into the game or even be asked to contribute to the music composition yourself.
• How to learn it:
There are many ways to go about learning how to design sounds for videogames. Nowadays a lot of good courses exist, both in Universities and private schools, but it is possible to learn it yourself if you are a disciplined self-learner; there are plenty of tutorials and learning resources online.
The main challenge about learning this type of work is that it is highly varied and requires a broad skillset. So your best chance is if you have prior knowledge in at least one of the things involved in the job (either sound recording, sound designing, having a musical background, some programming experience, etc). Then the specific skills you need to learn to work in games, which have to do with interactivity and integration tools, will come with experience, which means finding projects to work on is key. You can either pair up with game dev students or small independent projects looking for help with their sound, or if that’s not available, make it up!
Nowadays a lot of good courses exist, both in universities and private schools, but it is possible to learn it yourself if you are a disciplined self-learner; there are plenty of tutorials and learning resources online
All the tools you need to learn and teach yourself can be found online and used for free as long as it is not for commercial purposes. For instance, download Wwise or FMOD and design and implement all the sounds needed for a hypothetical game (take inspiration from your favorite game if you need to), and test how the interactive features and sounds hold up. You can even implement them all the way to a game engine if you have the programming skills or if you learn them! (Unity3D and Unreal Engine are free for students).
You could also simply test the quality of your sound design by taking gameplay videos of existing games and re-doing all the sound design from scratch according to your own vision. In summary, there is nothing like practice and experience when it comes to learning the craft of interactive media, where the very nature of the work means you can’t control everything. So the best way to develop skills is to become more and more familiar with unpredictability and what to do about it.
• How to find work:
People looking for game sound designers are game studios. So an aspiring sound designer should look for opportunities as an in-house sound designer in a game development studio, whether as a contractual hire or permanent. Many studios also offer internship for beginners. So mainly you need to keep an eye out for job postings. One could also look for audio post production studios which sometimes work as game audio outsourcers and may be looking to expand their team. And finally, a game sound designer can offer their services as a freelancer and work for smaller studios or projects that don’t have an in-house or full-time audio team.
• Essential advice for working and making it in game sound design:
One thing that holds the game audio industry together is its tight community. Despite being international, it is relatively small and close-knit, which means joining the relevant social media groups and pages, attending events and conferences and being overall socially active is one good way to get to know this community and the lovely people in it. Make friends!
After that, it is about standing out. This industry is also very competitive — a lot of highly talented people for few seats at the table. So one should be proactive, find their strengths and use them to stand out from the crowd.
Be ready to grab the opportunities when they come, whether it is a sound design pitch, an interview, a job offer, a casual meeting, or anything else that may be helpful in reaching your goal; it has to be taken seriously.
Once you have that, simply be ready to grab the opportunities when they come, whether it is a sound design pitch, an interview, a job offer, a casual meeting, or anything else that may be helpful in reaching your goal; it has to be taken seriously.
Finally, and most important of all, is have fun! The fun factor will show not only in the quality of your work, but also in how you present yourself and interact with others. The amount of fun you have doing the work is certainly a determining factor in getting a job in game audio!
• Further reading and resources:
Some classic readings include the practical tips and tricks offered by Ric Viers (The Sound Effects Bible), Vanessa Theme Ament (The Foley Grail) and Andy Farnell (Designing Sound); the history of game sound knowledge offered by Karen Collins (Beep movie, Game Sound: An Introduction to the History, Theory, and Practice of Video Game Music and Sound Design); and the programming lessons by Guy Somberg (Game Audio Programming). The industry and its technology being fast evolving, many new knowledge-packed books are published every year, so keep an eye out for the latest ones!
Online resources are many, from the Audiokinetic online tutorial series and blog, to community oriented websites such as the A Sound Effect blog and The Sound Architect, to various podcasts and the making-of videos of SoundWorks Collection. There is plenty of hours of fun to spend on the Internet learning about game sound. I’ll even add here that you can visit my own blog for posts about sound designing and recording tips, tricks, artsy ideas and more! :)
About Anne-Sophie Mongeau:
Anne-Sophie has been working in game audio since 2012, designing and integrating sound for independent and AAA titles, including Shadow of the Tomb Raider. She’s focused on improving the immersive experience in interactive media and developing techniques to craft unique and characterful soundscapes, through both experimental field recording techniques as well as the creative and technical implementation of ideas.
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Sound Design: Animation
– insights from Jeff Shiffman and Kate Finan:
• What working in sound design for animation entails:
Jeff Shiffman (JS): By nature, animation is a blank slate. With that, our work tends to be highly inventive, creatively engaging and extremely challenging. Of course all projects are different, but without the constraints of a physical film shoot, incredible worlds can be built entirely from scratch. It’s our job to realize these worlds with sound from the ground up regardless of scale. Recording or synthesizing new material is part of our daily routine at Boom Box Post, all while under the normal time constraints of a television production schedule.
• What it takes in terms of skills and gear:
Kate Finan (KF): The gear involved is fairly standard to the industry in general. You will need a computer (an Apple is best because that is the industry standard for television and film), a ProTools rig (HD if you’re working in 5.1), and a sound effects library. It would be an added bonus to have a simple recording setup — a microphone or a stereo pair of mics, mic stand, wind screen, and possibly a mobile recorder — so that you have the ability to record your own sounds as a starting point for design. Additional gear that would be helpful would be plug-ins for sound manipulation and possibly a few software synths like those available to be used with an iPad.
• How to learn it:
JS: Ten years ago I would have said to get a copy of Pro Tools, grab some clips from the internet and start practicing. And that’s still good advice today. However, in the last decade I’ve seen a wealth of amazing Post Production Sound degree programs materialize. If you have the resources, a great program (be it 1 year or 4) can build solid fundamentals.
However, once you graduate from a sound program, your education isn’t complete. It is essential that you get some real-world experience.
Once you graduate from a sound program, your education isn’t complete. It is essential that you get some real-world experience
This could be a one-on-one apprenticeship or internship at a post production sound facility. Here at Boom Box Post, we have an extremely structured, hands-on internship program that in its essence serves as a graduate degree in post sound. There are countless lessons to learn by watching professionals in a real world work environment and plenty of companies like ours that offer the opportunity. It’s also a great resume booster and a chance to get your foot in the door!
• How to find work:
KF: Like much of the post-production sound industry, sound effects editorial (the official title for sound design in television and film) is often project-based. That means that these are not often staff jobs within a particular company. Instead, you would be hired as a freelance editor for the duration of a project by the supervising sound editor or the studio.
Since these are not staff positions, they are seldomly advertised in the traditional way. Instead, it’s best to search for studios in your area that work on animation or ask around about which supervising sound editors are involved in those projects. Then, reach out and offer your services with a short message about why you’re interested and attach your resume. Ask to meet in person so that you can introduce yourself. Most studios are continuously looking to widen their pool of talent. That way, when the right project comes along, they will hopefully reach out. Because you’re relying on being remembered at a later date, it’s always best to try to meet face-to-face at least once after expressing your interest via email. That really increases your chances of making a solid and lasting impression.
Because you’re relying on being remembered at a later date, it’s always best to try to meet face-to-face at least once after expressing your interest via email
JS: In terms of getting hired, I recommend creating a simple portfolio webpage to display your talent to potential employers. These can be anything you find on the internet, strip the sound from and replace with your own. Pick clips that differ from one another content-wise to show off your diversity. And keep them short! An amazing 30-second clip is plenty for me to have an idea of your talent. Include the link to this page in your resume and link to it at the bottom of any networking introduction emails.
• Essential advice for working and making it in sound design for animation:
JS: Your best bet is to keep your supervisor happy. Make life easy for them and you’ll be brought back again and again. Most early jobs will be freelance and likely not in-house. If you can work from home and self manage, you’re golden. This means always finishing your work on time. Throw in highly organized work executed creatively and it’s a no brainer for us to keep on hiring you.
• Further reading and resources:
KF: Our blog! The Boom Box Post blog is updated weekly with posts about our creative processes, career advice, gear reviews, and more. We’re open and honest about our creative endeavors as sound designers for animation. And, if you have a specific topic you wish we would address, we’re always happy to take blog suggestions via the comments section or our contact page.
About Jeff Shiffman and Kate Finan:
After years of working together as sound designers and supervising sound editors at different studios in Los Angeles, including Warner Bros. Studios, Jeff and Kate joined forces to create their own animation sound studio, Boom Box Post, in 2014. The talent-driven boutique environment allows everyone there to focus on creativity.
Website: Boom Box Post
Sound Design: TV – insights from Peter D. Lago, MPSE:
• What working in sound design for TV entails:
I always compare the business of television sound design to the newspaper business. You’ve got a hot story to write and it needs to get to press by midnight in order to make the morning edition. The writing needs to be sharp, compelling, expressive, grammatically correct, and pack a knockout punch. In essence, Pulitzer Prize worthy, but you’ve only got a day to write it and it better be good… so get to work!
I exaggerate a bit, but not by much. The pacing of TV editorial is much more frantic than that of a feature film, but the demand for an expressive and detailed soundscape remains the same. With that said, I feel a television sound editor must first and foremost possess the ability to cut and design quickly but deeply, efficiently but detailed, effectively and expressively, and finish each episode with a knockout punch. Getting to that point in one’s career is the true challenge.
Oftentimes, post audio crews for television are small. On most of the shows I’ve been part of over the last five years, I’ve been the sole sound designer / sound effects editor. That’s not always the case, of course, but a strong sound designer must be ready to handle everything sound effects related (backgrounds, hard effects, sound design, and Foley editorial) for each episode they work on. Most often, the team is mixing an episode a week, which means you’ve gotta be good and you’ve gotta be fast.
• What it takes in terms of skills and gear:
Having to prepare and deliver powerful and richly-designed material on a weekly basis is a tall order, and with time not on your side, it is extremely important that a sound designer exercise good time-management, communication with his or her supervisors and mixers, and of course, a profound-enough knowledge of ProTools.
It is extremely important that a sound designer exercise good time-management, communication with his or her supervisors and mixers, and of course, a profound-enough knowledge of ProTools
ProTools is still king when it comes to audio post production editorial and mixing, so knowing how to make magic using that software is key. Shortcuts are essential. Dig into plug-ins. If your system has the bare minimum, that’s fine. Learn the hell out of what you’ve got. And experiment too. Mess with signal flow. Route this into that. Overload an Aux track with everything and see what you get. Reverse, pan, compress, delay, dopple, ping-pong, etc. Go nuts, but figure it out.
Native Instrument’s Kontakt is great to learn and apply towards your workflow. I’ve only scratched the surface when it comes to figuring out all it can do, but it totally comes in handy.
Having a mixer/control surface is very important. I have an Avid Artist Mix and I love it.
Lastly, but certainly not least, a strong sound designer needs to embrace all the wonderful sound libraries that are literally a few clicks away. Whenever I start a new project, I talk with the post supervisor on the show and/or read as many of the show’s scripts that I can. I make sound notes as I go, then I hit the internet and load up on new material to start the season with.
• How to learn it:
Going to audio/film school is a great way to get formal training in sound. In a school setting, the student will get technical training on electronics, signal flow (super important), music history, gear and gear history, analog vs. digital realms, software and plug-ins, as well as studio maintenance, session prep, and hands-on experience with consoles and recording. School helps arm the future sound designer with a resume and some know-how. Paradoxically though, the best way to learn the job is to be on the job, and getting the job is apparently the next question.
• How to find work:
My best advice is to get any job you can and learn as much from the experience. If you’re a student, ask for help landing an internship.
I made tons of mistakes starting out, but having the opportunity to wear many hats gave me the chance to figure out how to be an efficient and effective editor, while figuring out how to create a strong and impactful workflow for myself.
I started out as an intern at Monkeyland Audio in Glendale, where I spent 10 years working in many aspects of the business: Intern/runner, assistant, ADR recordist/assistant, ADR mixer, Foley mixer, Foley artist, sound effects editor, sound designer, and eventually, supervising sound editor. I worked on everything from commercials, short films, student projects, web series, episodic and reality television, independent films, and direct-to-video and DVD films. I made tons of mistakes starting out, but having the opportunity to wear many hats gave me the chance to figure out how to be an efficient and effective editor, while figuring out how to create a strong and impactful workflow for myself.
I needed those 10 years at Monkeyland to prepare me for the hectic television schedule I work over at Warner Bros., and even then, I’ve learned so much more in the last few years about building and creating new material, razor-sharpening my skillset, and learning to build that “Pulitzer Prize-worthy” punch.
• Essential advice for working and making it in sound design for TV:
My first bit of advice for pursuing a career in sound design is to get that first job (anywhere you can) and make it count. As I mentioned above, getting your foot in the door of a boutique post facility is ideal because you’d probably have exposure to all kinds of audio jobs, and that’s invaluable. You’d also probably get to work with other sound peers who have a wealth of knowledge to share.
A great sound designer will do great work regardless of whether they’re working in television or in features, or whether the budget is massive or meager. It is more important for the sound designer to have a passion for storytelling, as well as for crafting a compelling soundscape.
Building your arsenal of design techniques (while sharpening your workflow efficiencies) takes time, and ironically, time is a luxury when cutting in television. But with practice and patience, you will grow in your storytelling journey and develop your “Pulitzer-powered” (or in our case, Emmy or Golden Reel-powered) punch.
• Further reading and resources:
Specifically for television, I don’t have anything to recommend but we do live in an extraordinary digital age. There’s so much online! I’d say watch as much as you can on YouTube to start with. Also bookmark Soundworks Collection, Randi Altman’s Post Perspective, Los Angeles Post Production Group, The Editors’ Lounge, and Designing Sound.
Besides hosting the Golden Reel Awards, the Motion Picture Sound Editors hosts a number of informative and entertaining sound events throughout the year that are members-only. It’s a great way to mingle and meet new sonic friends. If you haven’t join, I’d suggest looking into the requirements and see if you qualify. International members are welcome!
About Peter D. Lago:
Over his career, Emmy-nominated/MPSE Award-winning sound effects editor/designer Peter D. Lago has developed a strong reputation for delivering high quality, well-detailed and expressive tracks in a timely and efficient manner. His credits include: The 100, Star Trek: Discovery, Fear the Walking Dead, Arrow, The Shannara Chronicles, and Sushi Girl. Peter works out of the Warner Bros. Studio lot where he’s recently wrapped up Season 1 of DC’s new series TITANS, a gritty, live-action take on the Teen Titans franchise.
A big thanks to Anne-Sophie Mongeau, Jeff Shiffman, Kate Finan, and Peter D. Lago for sharing their valuable insights with us!
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