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  • Getting a Job Creating Sound and Music for Videogames

    [04.14.15]
    - Will Morton

  • Hints and tips

    When I began writing this article I asked several friends and colleagues in game audio if they had any bits of advice they wish they knew when they started their careers, what they wish applicants knew before applying to them for jobs, and how they got their break in game audio. Here are some of the things they passed on to me. There is a lot of information here, and you will notice that some of the points are similar. I kept it like this rather than delete them as I think it's important to demonstrate that nearly twenty experienced game audio staff from different companies in different countries are all looking for the same things.

    On getting a break:

    "My first game audio gig came on the floor of E3 when a composer overheard me talking to someone else about work I had done for films. It was a lucky coincidence of being in the right place at the right time and accidentally being heard saying the right things."

    "I was asked to do a rough "pitch" as part of an interview process and landed the job freelancing on a few AAA games. I thought I'd be a smart ass and delivered two different UI/HUD treatments rather than just one, each with a different approach. One of them was predominantly synthesised and the other was predominantly based on my own manipulated recordings (in other words I ran round my house recording sounds and then pissed about with them) but they seemed to appreciated the extra effort I put in and hired me."

    "Go to as many industry and social events as you can handle, it's all about who you know. Also try to find a niche nobody else has exploited yet. I emailed a big London YouTuber on a whim and by meeting more people through word of mouth, YouTube content is approximately 1/2 of my income now. Also some of those YouTubers have started financing and making their own games - even better!"

    "I was in bands and DJing when I was younger, always wanted to get into game audio, so I made a point of attempting to network with people who were doing it. When I got out of school I took an internship at a traditional post house, but kept networking aggressively and beating on every door I could. Eventually one of my contacts became aware of an opening and connected me. I worked on a Tony Hawk game and, after that, found it much easier to get my foot in the door."

    On networking & friends:

    "Participate in the community, come to game audio events, get to know your peers. Know that the industry exchanges jobs constantly. Do not treat peers as threats or enemies. Always be learning and experimenting."

    "If you want to get a job in game sound/music it takes trust, and trust is established over time when you build sincere relationships with other people."

    "Hone your craft. Be wonderful to everyone you meet along the way: Remember 'networking' isn't something you do in an evening handing out business cards; it's a lifelong cultivation of contacts with people you're genuinely interested in."

    "Be kind. Make friends. Be helpful. It's a marathon, not a sprint."

    "Make friends, contribute to the community, learn everything you can about game audio and game development. Be helpful, respectful, and humble. It's not about you as an individual trying to be a star, it's about the team and the project. If someone helps you, show appreciation."

    "The most important thing is a combination of someone who has *clearly* put masses of time in on their own and also is just generally friendly. The last thing you want is someone who is either aggressive and self-aggrandising, or sycophantic / pathetic. If you're not comfortable in social situations it's worth taking some time to work on that - go out to more events, hang out with people more, try to relax and be yourself."

    "Don't give up easily. This is a highly competitive field, and I saw people give up in the first year because they didn't get anywhere, while I saw other people succeed after years of effort. While you aren't working in games, that is your chance to better yourself, build your friend network and improve your skills and experience."

    "Don't hang your hat solely on games. Learn how to do other music/audio related jobs (ProTip: live sound doesn't pay a ton of money, but the barrier to entry for making money is pretty low). Not only does this give you a bit of a backstop in case times get rough and you have to pay rent, but it also broadens your experiences, exposes you to new people (who may coincidentally have game industry connections) and, most-importantly, gets you in the mindset of being a freelancer, which is imperative even for those people who have permanent in-house jobs. No matter what your employment situation, you should always be networking and always be looking for new opportunities, even if you don't have much interest in taking them now."

    On demos:

    "I used to hear a lot of demos sent in by people who only seemed to be able to do one thing. If you are going to be working on lots of different projects in different genres, then you have to adapt your style to suit. So, if this versatility can be demonstrated in a showreel demo, then I would be more impressed."

    "Work on your own stuff! So easy now to download a free engine and join an indie team. Having actual game work that you've done is a much better thing to show prospective employers than just a video showreel."

    "If you want to get a job in game audio, just to do work - always have examples to show to people rather than just talking the talk."

    "I often see sound design demos that are poor quality. If you're going to do a sound replacement video, make sure you can at least do as good a job as the original game did. We play a lot of games, we will have played what you've replaced, so it better impress. Interactive demos are best, we don't see those very often and they always catch our eye when we do. Send us shipped work, but if you're doing demo work that wasn't shipped, tailor it to what we're doing. Use spell check, be clear and concise and organized, keep your resume to one page (I've worked on 15 games now and even I would try to keep it to one page)."

    "Have a kick-ass portfolio - all killer no filler - and do work placements. Be ready to learn fast and take a lot of criticism well."

    "Be flexible with your demo material and submit demo material that fits the genre of the position you are applying for. I've had demo reels showcasing FPS war games and Radio Advertising when applying for High Fantasy MMORPG titles. Check your production quality. I've had demo reels with quite poor quality sound design. Bad quality is a waste of your time and the employers time. I've seen some very boring demo reels where there was little variation in sound design, and long drawn out areas of silence or repetitive sound design. You have 30 seconds to make an impression so make it a relevant and good impression."

    "Aiming for a sound design demo you need to showcase your sound design work without extra music on top. That will help the employer to see only the sound creation skills."

    "Don't settle for mixes that fail to stand up against well regarded commercial work. That's the level you need to be at."

    On experience and qualifications:

    "Be honest about the limits to your knowledge and experience. A willingness to admit that you don't know something reveals much about your character. Sell your strong points, but nobody expects you to know everything. Trying to look like you know it all often ends up telling more about what you don't know!"

    "I wish I knew how little people cared about degrees once you've got a decent portfolio under your belt - it's mostly about who you know and the work you've done. I put a lot of time and effort in to my degree and got pretty much the best marks possible and nobody has really asked about it since! I wish I'd started getting in touch with people and putting myself out there far earlier on by getting involved with small indie games and short films whilst at University. It would be a great way to learn the ropes in a less pressured environment whilst also developing a nice portfolio of work."

    "I wish I had learned other skills like sound design and audio engineering earlier as I had only focused on being a composer and never knew how much I'd love sound design and technical sound design. Audio engineering really helped in terms of audio theory and improving my general quality."

    On learning audio middleware:

    "In order to be even more valuable to a game team, having scripting and programming knowledge and ability makes an audio person exponentially more valuable to a game team, particularly when working in house. It is more difficult to justify one's cost to the team when one also requires the cost of extensive audio programmer support."

    "I wish I would have started learning FMOD/Wwise a bit earlier."

    "Look at all of the free game engines and audio middleware and become familiar, as this is what you spend lots of your time doing - you need to be good. Do your homework and make sure you know all aspects of the job, there are enough resources on-line to get you to good junior level."

    "People from traditional media usually stumble over some of the more unique tech or implementation challenges we have in game audio. So either learn that stuff yourself, or team up with someone who knows it cold. There's no such thing as 'too much implementation knowledge' in game audio."

    "Play lots of games. Understand how music contributes to gameplay and the compositional tools that are behind that. Understand the basics of implementing adaptive music, so that you have "visualization" tools by which to try out your music, and get better at the interactive piece of game music. Don't follow the pack. Strike out and find your own bold and unique style."

    "Implementation is (at least) 50% of the sound design process - technical skills are as important as creative."

    "Prepare for a very long haul to get your first gig. It will likely take years. If you're a sound designer, work on your sound design skills as well as implementation. Find mods or indie projects to work on."

    "People don't go to enough effort to learn games tech. There's plenty of it accessible for free these days so there's really no excuse."

    "Learn to program a bit - that will really give you an edge. I wish I'd started learning programming earlier and that I was better at maths. I was surprised at how much time is spent *not* doing sound design."

    "Get your hands dirty! Working with XNA developers was a real learning experience for me on almost every level, and was invaluable. It is also advisable that you tinker around with the game engines available - I followed a few tutorials and created my own UDK engine level, complete with animations. This will give you a greater understanding of how game engines (and development) work. Audio for games is a very technical endeavour - creating your sounds is only half the battle!"

    "Work on the interactive side of things. In games the focus is more on interactivity so a good place to start is to make variations of the same sounds using Wwise and creating mechanics for navigation, music, etc. that could be implemented in a game. I wish that I started working in an interactive middleware when I started working in sound."

    Assorted bits of advice:

    "If you're looking to go in-house, look local - try to get savvy about what your local developers need and when in the project cycle they'd need it."

    "Don't get discouraged if you don't land a job at a AAA studio right out of school! We (GameSoundCon) did a survey last fall (https://www.gamesoundcon.com/#!survey/c1hp9), which showed that the average # of years of experience for "AAA" game audio developers is almost 11 years. So be patient, practice and put yourself into a position to make your own luck."

    "Take every chance you can get, but don't sell yourself short."

    "Before applying for a job in game audio, make sure you REALLY REALLY REALLY want to do it. There are far more people trying to get these jobs than there are jobs available, so you're in a flooded market. Be sure this is what really motivates you to get out of bed in the morning. If you just think it 'might be cool' or that it's 'better than a normal job' then go do something else."

    "I've been surprised by the overwhelming positive response I've received to sticking to my principles of making music that can stand up *outside* the game. If you make music that is good in its own right, that someone can listen to in a different context, people will always respond to that."

    "This is largely a time and motivation issue: if the jobs aren't there that you want then do your best to create them. Do it yourself. Start your own development or production company, make your own contacts, learn things yourself."

    "Make sure you're better than everyone else: spend longer learning, put in more hours producing and composing music, get as much information as you can from experienced people; be willing to spend money to work with an amazing engineer, producer or mastering engineer. You will learn more working on an actual project than you will on any course. Be open, friendly and self-confident when you attend events or meet people: get yourself out there and be persistent but polite. A lot of people at industry events are in a very relaxed mood and will be happy to hang out and chat, as long as you don't come across as annoying or overbearing. Again, make sure your music is outrageously good in comparison to other stuff out there - that way people giving you critique will be much more motivated to engage with you. Keep trying and don't give up."

    Conclusion

    Well, there you have it. That's a lot of information distilled from nearly 15 years of my own game audio experience plus countless nuggets from many other game audio professionals. I hope it gives the aspiring game sound designers and game composers who feel lost a push in the right direction.

    Contact

    If you have any questions, and I am sure that there will be some, please ask in the comments and I will do my best to answer or clear things up. If you want to speak to me directly, you can reach me through the Solid Audioworks website and our Facebook page, and you can always follow us on Twitter.

    Web:
    https://www.solidaudioworks.com/

    Facebook:
    www.facebook.com/solidaudioworks

    Twitter:
    @solidaudioworks
    @willmortonaudio

    Thanks

    I would like to thank the following people for the gems of advice they shared while I was writing this article.

    Duncan Bradshaw, @ZerodB_Sound
    Yannis Brown, [email protected]
    Guy Cockcroft, [email protected]
    Craig Conner, @craigconner01
    Dan Costello
    Jethro Dunn
    Eric Goetz, https://www.ericgoetz.com/
    Steven Hernandez, gugasaudio.blogspot.ca
    Kole Hicks, @kolemusician
    Mark Kilborn, @markkilborn
    Paul Kilduff-Taylor, @mode7games
    Jason Poss, @jasonposs
    Dan Pugsley, @DanPugsleySound
    Brian Schmidt, https://www.gamesoundcon.com/
    Chris Sweetman, https://www.sweetjusticesound.com/
    Michael Taylor, @Stomp224
    Jon Vincent, rare.co.uk
    Fryda Wolff, frydawolff.com

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