Audio Production students Rob Wynne and Dan Marnie spent the day with the Springwatch crew at the invitation of University of Lincoln Visiting Professor Chris Packham for a behind the scenes look at one of the BBC’s most popular programmes.
Students from the School of Film and Media watched the masses of activity around the build-up to the live broadcast and were shown around the site and technical facilities by Media Production graduate Jack Johnston who edits the show.
Earlier in the year Rob and Dan along with fellow Audio Production student Sam Jenkins recorded Chris Packham’s voice-over in the University’s sound theatre for the Woodland Trust’s tree charter animation.
Once I left University I went straight out on tour with Darlia & Dolomite Minor as Stage Manage/Guitar Tech. During that time the management company was able to put me out with Noel Gallagher on a couple of shows shadowing their techs who got me involved on a few roles during the shows.
Dolomite Minor then went on tour with support shows to Eagles Of Death Metal, the Tour Manager asked if I wanted to join the crew as Drum Tech, I ended up doing some bass as well and went from there. We were out for 2 months across Europe, it’s been my favourite tour to date. Looking after Josh Homme for the shows was a great experience and the money wasn’t bad either! They didn’t ask me to return to the crew for the US run stating that it was cheaper to replace the previous Production Manager with a US based member which is understandable. It’s becoming much harder than ever before for UK roadies to work in the US.
In-between tours I’ve been working for a construction firm as a labourer whilst doing training for a site foreman job role in domestic housing. I turned down a full-time position though as I love touring and working on the road. The day after I returned from the EODM tour I was offered a job with Kiko Bun (BBC Radio 1xtra artist) and have been busy working for a few other artists (Lapsley, Rat Boy, Rejjie Snow, Andy Gangadeen of Chase & Status, Nothing But Thieves).
Early in 2016 I went back to Rock n Roll with Highly Suspect on a UK arena tour which was fun. Shortly after I had my first dry spell of the industry where label (XL Recordings) cut the budget of a tech on Lapsley’s US run even after my visa was approved, frustratingly.
The Summer is looking busy as I’m out covering for a friend who works for UB40 and he’s asked if I can do Fun Lovin Criminals which is going to be awesome. Kiko Bun is also picking back up thankfully. I was put forward for Busted as Guitar Tech but unfortunately did not get the gig (My older/wiser friend got one of the positions!).
I’ve also started a band of my own, we’re a Dark Rock, Gothic influenced act going by the name of The Devil In Faust. My old Audio Production mucker Ben Perrett plays bass and a childhood friend of mine is on drums. We just completed a short UK run of shows and flew to Denmark in May to record our next EP. We’re still independent and are just enjoying making art at this moment in time. I’d love to tour more with the band but funding is an issue right now.
Hi! My name is Barney, I’m currently an Audio Production Student at the LSFM, and I’ve spent the final year of my degree getting started in sound design and music for games.
I’ve learned quite a lot about the process and the industry along the way, so I’ve decided to write this post as a guide for those people that are looking to getting into game audio but have no idea where to start. This guide is specific to the Audio Production course at the LSFM, but I’m sure a lot of what I talk about will be helpful for anyone interested in getting into game audio. I will also clarify to begin with, that I’m not writing this claiming to be any kind of expert – I’m merely pulling together some pointers from the stuff I’ve learned myself along the way.
I actually got into game audio by accident, in many ways – I came to Lincoln to study Audio Production because I started making music in my teens, and studying it at university seemed like a good option. I unfortunately became quite disillusioned with music production and spent a lot of time worrying about what I was going to do after I left university, unsure if I would be able find to sustainable work in making music. I stumbled into sound design at the end of my second year, fell in love with it, and didn’t really look back. I spent a lot of time doing re-designs of films and games, as these were visually exciting and meant I could explore some interesting sound aesthetics. Long story short, I managed to talk my way into my first gig making sounds for an indie game, after showing them some of the work I’d done in my spare time – I’ll talk more about how I got my first work in games later in this post. I convinced myself that sound for games was the way forward for me, and began my third year with the intention of spending as much time as possible advancing my knowledge of game audio. Since then it has really snowballed and my time is now packed full of multiple exciting projects, which I hope will continue after I leave Lincoln.
I hope that what I’m going to share is helpful for both those that have a small interest in game audio, and those that would like to pursue it as a career. I will be writing more to address the latter, but hopefully you’ll get something from what I have to say no matter what interest level you are at. There are two equally important sides to working in game audio, and I’ll structure this guide to reflect that: half of this post will be about actually getting into the games industry, finding work, building professional relationships and a network of friends and acquaintances who will eventually be key to helping you to find work. The other half will be about the specifics of game audio, how to approach creating sound design and music for a game, the actual process of recording and creating sounds, arranging them in middleware and implementing into a game engine.
Understanding the Industry
One of the most important things that I spent a long time learning at the start, was how the games industry actually works and how I could fit into that. At the moment, the game development scene is divided into two main areas: indie games, and AAA games. This probably isn’t news to most people who have some interest in games, but for me, it was really key to understand. The huge AAA games have often ruled and stand as the ‘go-to’ example of what a ‘game’ is, but currently, indie games are really booming. The best thing about indies is – by definition – they are made by anyone, and as such, they are hugely accessible. They are can often be very different, very personal and extremely fun games, made by individuals or small teams, who are working out of passion more than any pursuit of fame or money. The indie scene is also not limited by location – it’s everywhere. Even in Lincoln. I have been lucky enough to work on two indie games with developers who live in Lincoln, and the experience has been fantastic. Being able to sit down and meet in person discuss ideas and actually create the game has been really great – it has taught me so much about collaborating and working in the indie scene.
In that respect, I initially disregarded games when I first began experimenting with sound design because I thought that game development was really limited to the big studios – and that the kind of games created by students probably weren’t very good. I was very wrong, and after having spent time with student developers, I can confidently say that they have huge creative possibility.
So this is where I’d recommend to start looking for work, initially – get in contact with some students that are making games. There’s a game development course at the university, as well as some computer science masters – these are the kind of people that will be making games that you can approach. There are also regular game jams at the university, which are really important for building relationships and learning – I’ll talk more about those later.
Obviously there are two sides to pursuing a career in game audio – you could follow the AAA route and use indie games as a way to fill your showreel with interesting content, or you could make indie games and stay with indie games. I don’t think either is a bad option, I really think it is down to the individual. I will say that, this guide is written from the point of view of looking to gain indie game experience whilst still at uni, and to cultivate a network and skillset favoured by indie development – that doesn’t have to mean you couldn’t pursue AAA jobs after that.
This one is absolutely huge, and it can seem really daunting when starting out. The games industry – and the game audio part of the games industry – is very small. It’s also very personal. This means that a cold-calling approach will almost never work. Obviously having impressive work to your name is important, but nothing will be better for finding indie game gigs that having an extensive network of friends and acquaintances who can both vouch for your skills and enthusiasm, and demonstrate you’ve engaged with the industry enough to make some meaningful connections. It’s really helpful to try and make those connections in person, too: thanks to the internet, we can now chat to pretty much anyone at any time. This is great, and I’ve loved the fact I can talk to people around the world about my work and their work. But those connections online won’t ever replace actually meeting people face-to-face, and being able to ask questions and learn from those who’ve done what you want to do. Below I will go into detail about how you can build you network and make connections with people that will be beneficial to you.
People realised, a long time ago, that making connections in person is really important. Because of that, meetups have emerged, and they now provide an opportunity for you to meet people with similar interests and aspirations to you – essentially a less formal networking event. There are two main game audio meetups in the UK, one in the north (Game Audio North) and one in London (primarily organised by Graham Gatheral). I’ve been a regular attendee of the northern game audio meetup since September of my third year, as soon as I knew I wanted to pursue games. I’ve been to about 5/6 of their events now, and it’s now become more a case of catching up with friends to talk about what we’re working on, than traditional networking. The first time I went along to Game Audio North I was really nervous, as I’d never really been to a networking event before – or met people in the flesh that were working in what I wanted to work in. My nerves were pointless, and even at the first event I met people who gave me tons of help and advice about my work, and have continued to encourage me and invest in what I’m doing. The meetups grow really organically too – and the northern meetup has become bigger and bigger, attracting more people from different areas of the north each time. I’d hugely recommend getting along to one of these meetups – it’s been massively helpful for me.
It wasn’t really until my third year that I realized the potential that lies in speaking to the guest lecturers that come in during the course. During my second year, before I had any interest in sound design, we’d had a guest lecture from a AAA game sound designer who’d worked on a number of really cool titles – games I’d played and loved. At the time I’d enjoyed his lecture, but hadn’t really though much of it then as it wasn’t an interest of mine. Once I decided that I wanted to get into game audio, he became my first port of call. Despite the fact I emailed him months after he’d given the lecture, he was still really willing to speak to me and share some knowledge. He looked over some of the work I had at the time, and game me lots of very useful criticisms on it that helped me improve my technique and approach. We’ve stayed in touch since then, and he continues to help me out with my work and my journey into the industry. My point here is just to exercise every potential connection you have – be persistent, be polite and don’t be afraid to ask for things – even if it’s just advice. We have a fantastic selection of lecturers come in, especially during the third year – I think not making the most of speaking to those people is a bit of a waste of time.
Which leads me onto my next point – email. Emailing people is actually one of the biggest tools at your disposal for building relationships and finding work. Previously I wasn’t really that invested in email, but I’ve really become a bit of an email warrior during the time I’ve been trying to get into the games industry. You can email pretty much anyone – and generally they’ll give you a reply. As I said before, it’s really key to be polite and confident when contact people out of the blue – often people play the desperation card when approaching people they want to work with/for, and while this is something we can all understand (it’s a really tough industry to get into), I’d suggest it’s better to just be friendly and to the point. Be professional, and you’ll find emailing people can often open up a lot of doors.
During the last year I’ve absolutely rinsed social media, for better and for worse. I do feel bad for my non-game audio friends, as my Facebook has become a stream of game audio related posts and I can imagine that might become annoying! That being said, social media has been massively powerful for me to build relationships and build some kind of a reputation in the game audio scene. I’d really recommend getting on Twitter, and getting really active about it. Use hashtags, particularly the #gameaudio hashtag, to reach out to people who might be interested in what you’re doing. Pretty much anytime I’m working on something or out recording I’ll tweet about it, and I’ve built it up to the point now where I’ll get a good number of people interacting with it. This is good, because information can spread really quickly on Twitter – you begin to build a reputation, and if a potential employer has already heard of you or your work, it’s a great sign.
Once you feel you’re at the point of being confident in your craft (which I’ll talk more about in the next section), you’ll want to begin looking for work. I really think that a ‘fake it til you make it’ attitude is good here – that old cliche of jumping in at the deep end is really relevant. I’m not saying go into it knowing nothing – have a base knowledge of what you’re doing before you starting talking to developers – but I think that you’ll find you learn infinitely more when you jump into a project and figure it out as you go along. Getting work is one of the toughest aspects to the whole thing – some people are really good at finding work, other people struggle with it. I’m quite lucky in the fact I haven’t struggled finding work thus far – it’s not been easy, and it’s taken some persistence – but even in a relatively small city I’ve managed to work on a good number of projects.
As I’ve said already, it’s a case of building relationships. I spoke before about building relationships with game audio people – this is great for helping to build a reputation, but to actually find work, you want to build relationships with game developers. This is the best way to find work – make friends with people, then they’ll come to you to work on their projects because they know you do sound and they know you’re enthusiastic about what you do.
The two best places to meet game developers is at game jams, and at indie meetups. Like game audio meetups, game developers also meet up to chat about their work and network. This is a great opportunity for you to go along, meet some people, and potentially find games to work on. Don’t go with just the intention of finding work – people can tell a mile away when you’re only motivation to talk to them is for work. This might sound like a weird paradox – but there’s a line and you’ve got to find it. As I’ve said before, desperation doesn’t work – I’ve gone to meetups previously feeling like I had to find a game to work on or I’d have nothing for my portfolio – and my desperation for work reflected negatively into the way I handled myself. Since finding work, I can now treat meetups as more of a social event – and I find that people are even more interested in working with me now that I’m not actively pursuing it. Just be friendly and enthusiastic, and people will like you. There’s a meetup in Lincoln (Lincoln Indies) that happens from time to time, as well as the East Midlands Indies meetup that happens every month or so.
The second best place to meet developers is at game jams; game jams are a bunch of game developers meeting together for a period of time (usually 24 or 48 hours) to make a game, from scratch. This is a lot of fun, and often some really interesting games emerge from the creative process. It’s also great as an audio person too, as you learn a lot in a very short amount of time. Unfortunately audio can sometimes be overlooked at game jams – as the majority of the time is spent actually building the game. However, it can be a great opportunity to sit and learn some software you’ve been meaning to look at, and involve that in the game you’re making – one of the first jams I went to I used the time to learn FMOD, and we used it in the game we built.
The story of the first game gig I got is a bit different. There’s a weird paradigm in games – particularly AAA games – that you are expected to have worked on a game already in order to work on a game. This obviously is a difficult barrier to jump – and I found a way to navigate it in my own way.
As I mentioned at the start, in the early days I only had a few sound re-designs to my name – and this made up the majority of my portfolio. I knew I wanted to work on a game, but I was also aware I didn’t have any experience at that point in work on sound for games. I was aware of a ex-student developer, who was a few years ahead of me, who was known around uni for creating games. I sent him a message, completely out of the blue, initially asking about the audio implementation process he used on his games. He was happy to talk to me, and also mentioned that he was looking for someone to finish up the sound design for one of his games. He asked that I send over some of my previous work, and I scraped together some of the sound re-designs I’d done for him to see. I emailed it over, and didn’t hear anything from him for a while. It was during summer, and I wasn’t doing a lot else at the time, so it felt like forever and I was starting to worry that what I’d sent wasn’t good enough. It was clips from re-designs that were nothing like the game – it was an 8-bit retro style game, and that wasn’t something I’d demonstrated any ability in creating. I decided to spend a bit of time showing the developer that I could make sounds in their style – the game had a bit of gameplay footage online, on their Steam Greenlight page, and I decided to download it and re-do the audio. The original video just had music in the background, so I pulled it off YouTube, muted it, and built all the sounds of the scene from scratch. It was a lot of fun – and I was really pleased with the sound of it. I finished it, to the best of my ability, and sent it over the developer. His reaction was fantastic – he was clearly impressed that I’d take the time to do it, and I think he liked the sounds I’d made. After that point they were really enthusiastic about having me on board to work on the game, and despite the fact I didn’t have any experience with games previously.
All that said and done, it’s important to begin learning the actual practice of game audio as soon as possible, so you’ll have a bit more of a better idea of what you’re doing when you land these gigs. We’re lucky to be in a stage of the games industry where a lot of extremely high quality tools (that have a lot of potential) are within easy access, and in many cases, free. I found that my third year was the ideal time to learn how to use these tools and programs, and I have now reached the end of the year with a pretty solid understanding and range of ability within most of the major tools that are expected of a entry level game sound designer.
The Process and the Tools
I think there are a number of stages that you should work through in order to best approach game audio. I’ll speak specifically for sound design here, as that’s my main focus – it’d be slightly different if you wanted to be a composer. I think it’s really important to have a solid grounding in sound design to start with, before starting the approach the interactive side of things; spend time re-doing sound for clips from games or films, and send the results to a few industry sound designers for some honest feedback. This will give you areas to work on and improve, and slowly develop your skillset in the sound design area. Being skilled at sound design is a huge task – and people spend their lives perfecting it, constantly learning and developing their aesthetic. Unfortunately, the sound creation aspect of game audio is actually a very small – and a lot of the work is actually done in the implementation processes and code. Below I will look through the steps I think you should best go through when approaching game audio.
Sound Design and Field Recording
Sound design and field recording are, as I’ve mentioned, really key in the sound creation area. Sound design is a skill that can be learned through trial and error, and by following in the footsteps of many of the masters of sound design like Walter Murch, Ben Burtt, Gary Rydstrom, Randy Thom, Charles Deenen, and many more. Find a sound designer who’s style you like, and attempt to re-create what they’ve done. It is through a process of replication with your own creative injection that results in the development of your own sound ‘style’, and general understanding of the art of sound design. It’s the same with field recording; the techniques aren’t especially difficult, and we have more than enough kit at LSFM that’s freely accessible for you to record an entire library for your own personal usage. It’s more of a case of dedication – I’ve spent many nights in fields and woods with a few mics and the portable recorder, freezing cold, sitting as still as possible in order to record an owl, or some birds. It’s incredibly rewarding to hear that sound in a game or a film now, because I know the effort and commitment that went into it. Be ambitious with what you want to record; don’t discount anything as being too inaccessible or unachievable – if you want to record something crazy like a jumbo jet, or a lion, or the ambience from the top of a mountain, do it. The more effort you put into recording your sounds, the more you’ll have at your finger-tips when creating for games – this will really pay off, sonically.
I’d recommend getting to grips with Pro Tools mainly – something most people on the Audio Production course already will have done. Other industry standard DAW’s are things like Nuendo, Logic or Reaper. At the end of the day, it’s really a question of what allows you to create what you want to create, at a high quality – I’ve stuck with Pro Tools, as it’s more of an industry standard – but use whatever you’re comfortable creating in.
Middleware is essentially exactly what is says on the tin – it’s the step between audio creation and the game engine. Historically (and still currently) audio programmers will build custom audio tools for sound designers to work with that is specific to the project or game engine. At big AAA studios, where the game engine is proprietary (the studio’s own), the toolset will be also. Many of the bigger AAA companies still use their own middleware tools, and these are not publicly available. In recent years however, the demand for commercial middleware and audio tools has grown, and a number of different software developers have stepped up to fill that need. As a student, and an entry level indie sound designer, the two main middleware tools to focus on are FMOD Studio and Wwise. These are programs that will allow you to import your own audio files, arrange and ‘implement’ your audio into different audio systems for playback in the engine, and then export neat packages that the developers can pop into the game with little hassle (most of the time). This is ideal, because it allows a sound designer to create these complex audio systems within a DAW-like environment without a extensive knowledge of code, and with the precision of high quality audio creation.
The implementation part is a little tricky, to start off with, because of the interactive element. Coming from a background of working to a linear, fixed timeline, this can be challenging to appreciate and understand. For example, if I give my character footsteps, I have to realise that I’ll need to consider footsteps for all of the (for example) 15 different surface types the game developers have put into the game: I’ll also need to realise each of those surfaces could be in areas with different amounts of reverb, and I’ll also need to consider the movements of the character, and create sounds that reflect that; perhaps they are crouching, creeping stealthily, sprinting, or limping – each one of these possible alternatives has to have a sound created for it. Not only that, they also need to have enough variation for the player to not notice repetition in the sound, and simultaneously maintain a level of coherence that keeps the sound uniform and recognizable for the character. Suddenly what seemed like a simple footstep becomes a huge task, with a lot of different variables that must be considered for it to work properly. This is an example of a complex audio system – and compared with some of the AAA audio systems – that’s not really that complex at all.
I’d recommend starting off with one of the two main middlewares – FMOD or Wwise – and getting to know it as much as you can independently. Technically, you can begin creating audio systems in these without needing to touch game engines. There’s a wealth of good stuff on youtube that’ll teach you the basics and the more advanced aspects of each tool. Personally, I’d recommend FMOD – it’s very similar to a DAW in the way it is laid out, and it’s integration into game engines (once you reach that stage) is a lot smoother than Wwise (from my experience, at least). Both of the tools do pretty much the same thing, so either way it doesn’t really matter which you decide to learn. It’s the same with learning DAW’s – once you’ve learnt the basics of one, you’ve learnt them all.
Game Engines and Code
Game Engines are the tools game developers use to bring together all of the important aspects of a game and make something meaningful from it; they can include code, animation tools, material tools, props, 3D and 2D models, a physics engine, AI tools, UI tools, audio and much, much more. Most developers will choose an engine functions that best fit they game they’re trying to make; for example, if they wanted to create a 2D game, they might choose an engine like GameMaker, or Unity; if they wanted to create a 3D game, they might choose Unreal Engine or CryEngine; the choices are extensive. Each engine has positives and negatives, and really it’s more down to the preference of the developer.
Code is also a tricky one, as it’s a lot to learn, especially as someone from an audio background. The visual scripting system in Unreal Engine is ideal for learning how code works, and it can enable you to get started creating stuff really quickly; other engines like Unity will pretty much just use code for its logic systems, so this is something well worth learning (or at least having a grasp of).
Knowing the full ins and outs of engines and code isn’t 100% necessary, but it will enable you to have much more control of the way your sounds work within the game world. I’ve been lucky enough to work on projects where I have been able to sit down with the developer and implement the sounds with them; I’ve also worked on projects where the engine session has been shared and I’ve implemented all of the sounds myself, directly into the engine, with middleware. This is extremely rewarding, especially when you figure something out for yourself and it works well to serve its purpose within the game.
Personally, I’d recommend starting with Unreal Engine (UE4) as that has a nice introduction into the logic of code through its visual scripting system, Blueprint. It is also very visually focused, and you can get some great visual content up and running easily for you to create sounds for. It’s very well documented, and has a large user-based who are generally more than happy to help you when you’re stuck. As I mentioned before, it also has fantastic integration with FMOD studio – which is great for getting started putting sounds into the game world. Its internal audio engine is also really powerful and well worth checking out; it works in more of a modular system, much like the Blueprint visual script, and it’s relatively easy to learn.
So you’ve got some solid skills creating decent sound design in a DAW, you’ve figured out a middleware (such as FMOD) and you’ve got your audio functioning as you want it to within the engine – where next? Now you’ve got your skills, it’s time to start telling people about it. If you’re serious about getting into either the indie games industry, or the AAA games industry, you’ll want some kind of demonstration of your skills and abilities, for you to use as a enabler to get work. This is a showreel, and it’s one of the most important things you will create as an entry level sound designer. I created my own website to feature my showreel, some aspects of my engine/middleware experience, my CV and skillset, and my portfolio of games. The showreel is the one to focus on, as this is what most employers will look at for an overview of your abilities. It needs to demonstrate two main aspects of your work: firstly, it needs to show you have a strong sound aesthetic in your sound design work. Pure sound design is important, so don’t be afraid to include some linear clips in there to show your abilities. Secondly is interactive work; you’re applying for a game job, so make it clear you understand interactive audio and the tools – maybe include some clips from a game you have worked on, or even just a demo of an audio system you have created in FMOD.
Above all, your showreel needs to be engaging and eye-catching. Keep it short and simple, start strong and keep it strong throughout. If you’re sending it to an audio director at a AAA company, they likely receive showreels all the time; give them something interesting within the first 20 seconds, don’t expect them to sit through the full reel if it isn’t that great – they probably won’t. A strong showreel will be an invaluable tool for building your portfolio of work, so spend some time putting one together and make sure it’s impressive.
Along the way, I’ve picked up a lot of resources that have been massively helpful in shaping my understanding and skillset as a game sound designer. Podcasts have been huge, and I really can’t recommend checking out some of the game audio podcasts enough; Beards, Cats and Indie Game Audio pretty much taught me everything I know, and I really recommend anyone with an interest in game audio downloads their full podcast history and listens to it on repeat. Tonebenders is also really fantastic, and regularly features guest slots from some of film’s biggest sound names. It’s more of a sound design podcast than game audio specifically, but it’s still really helpful and interesting. I’ll also highly recommend the Game Audio Podcast, they regularly have really interesting content and guests, and their back catalogue features many years’ worth of GDC (Game Developers Conference) roundtables. It’s also worth mentioning the Game Audio Hour and Bleeps & Bloops. An incredible wealth of information and knowledge there, well worth investing the time and listening to as much of it as you can.
During the year I’ve also made great use of the More Books service at the library, and we there is now a fantastic range of game audio books available for anyone to use. There’s a number of fantastic Karen Collins books in there (which I highly recommend), as well as Aaron Marks’ ‘The Complete Guide to Game Audio’, Richard Stevens and Dave Raybould’s ‘Game Audio Implementation’, ‘The Oxford Handbook of Interactive Audio’, Scott Looney’s ‘The Essential Guide to Game Audio’, Martin Wilde’s ‘Audio Programming for Interactive Games’, Greg deBeer’s ‘Pro Tools 10 for Game Audio’ and lots more invaluable resources. I really recommend getting stuck into some books, as they can a massive help and knowledge based for your work.
I’d also regularly check out Designing Sound – they have a fantastic collection of interviews and articles from over the years about film and game sound, and I often find really interesting stuff on there that informs my own work and approach. A Sound Effect is also well worth checking out, they’re an independent sound effects website but they have a fantastic blog section with some really cool articles on. Lastly, there’s a wealth of great talks available on the GDC Vault, a collection of some of the talks and roundtables from many years’ of GDC.
So that’s it. Thanks for reading this huge post, I really hope it is helpful for someone at some stage in their game audio journey. If you’ve read this and you have more questions, please do feel free to contact me on twitter or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll point you in the direction of someone who knows more than me. 😉
Today we were lucky enough to hear from Suddi Raval, a legendary acid house producer and a game sound designer/composer, working currently as the audio manager at the Warner Bros. game studio, TT games (responsible largely for the ever popular LEGO games).
Audio manager is essentially the highest audio position in the games industry – the audio manager works with the upper echelons of the game development studio to create a fully cohesive and well delivered soundtrack. The audio manager is involved with both creating audio for the project (Suddi talked about how he generally likes to work in VO, both recording voiceover for the project and using audio content from an existing IP, usually a film), as well as managing the sound designers that the studio employ. Suddi mentioned the studio employ 7 full time sound designers, as well as up to 2 more on contracts. This is a comparatively large number of designers – even considering TT Fusion is technically a AAA studio, with many AAA titles having 2-5 sound designers at most. Suddi did however mention that the number rises all the time.
I was so engaged with what Suddi was saying (and had a million questions popping into my head) I didn’t make any notes on the actual content of the lecture, so this post is mainly key points. However, I found myself nodding in agreement and hearing so much affirmation in what Suddi was saying in relation to my own work and journey into the industry. I’d contacted Suddi about a month before the lecture, and had asked him a few questions and sent him my showreel. He very generously called me out by name and commented on my work, offering me feedback and advice as well as answering a lot of questions that I posed to him after the talk.
There were a few things Suddi mentioned that I want to draw attention to – as they relate in many ways to my project.
He spoke about FMOD, Wwise, and some of the games engines i’d demonstrated ability in on my reel: he talked about how TT use their own proprietary sound engine for implementation, that they generally taught junior sound designers as they join the organisation. He said however, that learning middleware like FMOD and Wwise was important, both for understanding the implementation process and to show that you’ve taken the time to actually learn something for your work. This is helpful and important for me, as I plan to use FMOD to implement my sounds into the game for my project. As I already have some experience using it independently, spending time using it in a game engine would be hugely beneficial.
I also asked him about junior sound designer positions, and the fact they are rarely advertised. I also later asked about the best route into in-house work, to which his response covers both questions – essentially, through work experience. Suddi said that a number of the people working at TT now came in through work experience: they’d proved themselves to be committed and easy to work with during the few weeks that they’d work at the studio, and they’d been asked to join the team full time. I think that work experience is something I should really look into further.
I’ll probably remember a lot of other things that stood out to me from the lecture, but i’ll leave this post at that. A fantastic opportunity to speak personally with someone high up in the audio world of the games industry, I learned a lot and found much of my ideas and preparations confirmed as being on the right track.
On Monday 11th January, along with some of my fellow students, I went on a trip to visit and look around Absolute Radio, BBC Radio 1 and 1Xtra. As soon as we made our way off of the coach, we walked over to Absolute Radio. We were greeted in reception and were shown upstairs to a room for a talk with Chris, Eloise and Kevin. I thoroughly enjoyed hearing about how they first started out in the industry and the different job roles they had before coming to Absolute Radio.
Afterwards, we were split into two groups and given a tour around the building. It was amazing seeing all of the studios. We firstly looked around the Absolute and Planet Rock studios, and then the Magic studios followed by the Kiss studios.
Next we walked over to BBC Broadcasting House where we were greeted in reception and shown to a room, with a lovely view, to have a listen and a chat with Rhys Hughes. Afterwards we were then shown around the BBC Radio 1 studios and saw Scott Mills and Chris Stark presenting live, which was an amazing and memorable experience. We were then shown around the BBC Radio 1Xtra studios.
I thoroughly enjoyed every second of looking around; I learnt lots of valuable information that will help me whilst at University and for my future career.
Blog post by L2 Audio Production student James Woodliffe.
This week Danny Roberts gave a talk to myself and my course peers about his career, day to day roles and the music industry from the perspective of a record label.
Danny is an A&R representative for Decca Records who are a subsidiary of Universal records. He discussed about the two types of A&R, artists past and present, the impact of major labels and his connection with them. It was interesting to hear Danny talk openly about his day to day runnings with the label he works for and his colleagues. It was also interesting to hear his opinion of major/indie record labels from an inside point of view and it was refreshing to hear a talk from an A&R representative who clearly has a love for music. I felt that Danny really understood his business and although money is a crucial factor it isn’t the be all and end all of his job.
Personally, I found his talk very interesting and it confirmed some of my thoughts about the music industry previously to the lecture. It also taught me new concepts and ideas that are currently present within the industry, such as how he sees potential within an artist and what stages he goes through before signing them. Overall it was very enjoyable.
We get all the best visitors to Lincoln School of Film and Media.
This is Adrian Bell, a Film and TV recordist, just back from filming the new DaVinci Code film ‘Inferno’ directed by Ron Howard.
Check out his CV at www.adrianbell.net He won a BAFTA for best sound in 2014 for Dancing on the Edge
He’s in town to be interviewed by BBC Radio Lincs tomorrow about the feature film ‘Everest’ he worked on earlier in 2014 Directed by Baltasar Kormakur, and yes I tool the oportunity of giving him a tour and collared him to come back and talk to students some time soon. He’s on BBC Lincolnshire sometime after 11.00am tomorrow
Adrian lives in London but is originally from Lincolnshire. He has a wealth of experience and is keen to come and contribute to the Audio Production course content if he can.
At only 26 years old, I feel incredibly fortunate to be in the position I am right now. Most people my age in this industry are still working as runners, making teas and fetching lunches. Some may be working in transfer or as an assistant, dealing with files, deliverables and setting up sessions. I decided to send in my alumni story to offer my own insight as someone who has now been in the audio post industry for nearly 5 years. This is a recent piece of sound design I finished for Pierre Michel, creative director at Digital Domain in LA.
Like most sound designers, my love of sound came from a musical background. At the age of 12, I fell in love with electronic music. This inevitably led me towards buying a pair of turntables and music production, making “fat beats” on Dance eJay and recording my mixtapes into Cool Edit 2 (now known as Adobe Audition!). I took media studies as a course at A-level and immediately realised, that in one capacity or another, creative media was the path I wanted to choose as a career.
Unfortunately, when I applied to Lincoln in 2007, the Audio Production course was still being prepared. In fact, I believe it was announced shortly before I graduated. It was a shame, because I would have loved to have applied for it. Instead, I chose BA (Hons) Media Production, and in many ways, this was a better choice for me. I got to experience all aspects of the industry at a time when I wasn’t 100% where I wanted to end up. I was able to try my hand at photography, graphic design, motion graphics, film making and script writing to name a few. In my final year, I actually specialised in “Digital Media”, motion/3d graphics using After Effects, Maya and 3D max. I loved the challenge of it and I wanted to be able to come away from University having learnt a new skill. There was one small problem though… Although I really enjoyed it, I wasn’t very good at it. I could never translate the ideas in my head into my actual work, and in all honesty I bit off more than I could chew for someone with such little experience. This led to months of stress and frustration, staring at a render bar and never being happy with the end result. Until this point, I had anticipated a career in VFX, but after my third year final project very nearly didn’t make it to hand in (My friend George literally was burning it to disc for me on his laptop whilst we ran to the faculty), I decided to throw the towel in and accept it wasn’t for me.
I spent the majority of my time at University working as the “sound guy” on practically every project, writing the music and adding the SFX. I had always loved this, and coupled with my passion for music production and interest in sound, I began looking for companies that only specialised in audio post production. Being so naive, I had no idea just how many studios there were. After graduating, I began the process of putting together a CV and sending it out to as many companies as possible. 170 CVs in fact (I remember counting them some time later). Out of those 170 CVs, I had 5 interviews and a trial day. That right there, is the first lesson. Do not be disheartened if you do not receive a response immediately. Sound engineering has become a very popular job, and there is a huge amount of competition. You won’t always get replies, and if you do it will be often be “thanks for the interest, we have no positions at the moment but we’ll keep your CV on record.”
Persistence is key. Many times, I sent CVs to the same companies more than once. In fact, that’s how I got the job at Soho Square Studios. I had sent a CV a few weeks prior and received no response, whether it was intentional or not on my part (it all got a bit of a blur after a while of sending so many applications) I sent them another in late May 2011. Incredibly, within 5 minutes of sending it, my mobile rang. The owner of the company happened to be sitting upstairs on the front desk at the time, and my CV arrived just as they decided they needed an extra pair of hands the next day to help with their re-branding launch party. And that was it, that was my beginning in the industry.
I spent my first working day at a studio filling bags of popcorn and blowing up balloons. I worked as a freelance runner for the next nine months, being called in for the odd days/weeks here and there before finally being offered a full time job in January 2012. During this period, whilst not running I worked on a handful of paid freelance projects, short films mostly. I found these on mandy.com in the job section. It’s amazing how much you think you know when you’re fresh out of Uni, then after a few years later of being in the industry you look back and laugh at the mistakes you made and how much easier it would be if the project was undertaken now. Hindsight is a wonderful thing. I hope to look back on the work I’m doing now in 5 years and feel the same.
When looking for jobs, take full advantage of the job seekers allowance, I’m not just talking about taking the money every week – but the fact that if you have an interview, they will pay for your travel (at least they did in 2011, hopefully it hasn’t changed!). I was living in a small village in Norfolk at the time, and the cost of a return train ticket to London was £80. I had five interviews whilst I was looking for employment, and by being on JSA, it meant the £400 in travel expenses was covered. I would have never been able to afford as a recent graduate with a huge overdraft.
This brings me onto my next lesson, and possibly the most important one I can give to any inspirational sound engineer. In fact, this is relevant to pretty much ANYONE who wants to get into either production or post production. Once you finally find yourself a studio or company, you will have to run. Running, is the true definition of starting out at the bottom in order to work your way up. You might have graduated with first class honours, best in year, and worked on some really successful films. You may even have a masters degree. Trust me when I tell you that if you want to work at a studio worth working for, you will have to be a runner. It involves working very long hours, for minimum wage, doing very menial tasks like making tea, tidying studios and fetching lunch for people. Welcome to the industry. This is something I have found some people have a real problem with. Far too often we receive CVs sent through from people fresh out of University applying for sound engineer roles. When we try to explain that’s not how it works and they will have to work up from a runner position, they often respond with a look of shock or as if we’ve insulted them.
Running serves a huge purpose though. When a studio employs you as a runner, they know that you don’t want to make tea your whole life. They don’t expect you to be in that role forever. Running is very much a test of character. You want to be a sound engineer? Ok good, prove it. Why should we employ you as a sound engineer over the nine other people who applied for the same job today. If you can shine as a runner, and put 110% into the job and make yourself indispensable, then people will know you will behave in the same manner as a sound engineer. If you approach running with an attitude of it being beneath you and/or give anything less than the your full dedication, it will be looked upon as a reflection of your character. A studio will not trust you with the responsibilities of a sound engineer if you can’t be trusted with the responsibilities of making tea or keeping the rooms tidy. Trust me when I say that studios receive dozens of CVs daily, and if you’re not pulling your weight, there’s plenty of other people a phone call away desperate for the opportunity.
There are also huge upsides to being a runner. At times it felt as if my 2.5/3 years spent as a runner were more valuable and useful to me, than my entire degree. Yes, I was polishing tables, fetching sushi and emptying bins, but look at the environment I was in. I was in professional studios surrounded by the best in the industry. I could watch them work, ask questions, get to know the clients. I was being trained by these people and I took it upon myself to find short films and projects to work on out of hours. When the studios were quiet (and after I’d finished all the jobs I needed to do), I would find an empty studio and open up people’s sessions and simply look at what they did and try to understand why. I would go through their sound effects, their settings and take notes on their methods and techniques. What compressor did they use, how much are they limiting the audio, what some engineers do that others don’t etc. In my first few months of running, the studio was working on Disney Pixar’s “Brave.” I got to meet all the actors, the director and producers who had flown over from America for the week. Fetching Billy Connolly his tea and Emma Thompson’s soup was a pretty cool way to spend the day even if it was exhausting looking after so many people. The place had an amazing atmosphere during that time.
My final word on running however will be this, approach it with an element of caution. Pick your company wisely and don’t just accept the first offer you get because it’s a paid job in the industry. There are a LOT of huge post production companies with huge numbers of staff. One of my first freelance shifts was at a huge company that offered full post production services from the edit, grade, CGI and audio. The company I was at had three different buildings, and employed around 20 runners just in my building alone. These kind of places can be very risky to start your working life at. I’ve heard of many people who have gone to these big facilities that hire dozens of runners, and they never make it into the industry.
The reason for this is firstly due to the competition, if you are running in a team of twenty, that means if a job does open up, you are already statistically at a disadvantage. Secondly, and this is sadly more often the case, if a sound engineer leaves the company and a position opens up, more often than not the facility will simply hire, or or poach a more experienced engineer who is already established in the industry with their own set of clients or a credit list you will never be able to match at that stage. Your worth as an engineer later in your career, is your clients, the people you meet in the industry who want to work with you only, this makes you very valuable to any studio.
These big facilities have a reputation for being a bit of a black hole for runners. I’d heard many stories about people being employed, running whilst receiving training, but then after three years being released as there were no jobs available as engineers. This is the worst case scenario as a runner, as generally you simply won’t get employed as a sound engineer without relevant credits and experience. In this situation, your choices are pretty much limited to finding another studio to begin running at again, or leaving the industry at the thought of doing another three years of tea making.
I can even give an example of this. A few years ago, I was running at the studio and we needed to hire in a freelance runner for the day as it was exceptionally busy. I was talking with him about studios in the area he said he had an interview at one of the big post production facilities in Soho. I knew of this company and had heard of runners experiencing similar situations to what I described above, and I warned him about it and tried to explain he might get swallowed up there. A few weeks later he Linkedin with me and I saw he had taken a full time job as a runner at the company. Late last year, I saw his Linkedin employment change to a sales role at a company I’d never heard of. I googled them, and it was a company that manufactured and sold high end stereo systems. This guy, who had hopes and aspirations of becoming a sound engineer, spent three years of his life running only to go and sell stereos. Now – of course, it is possible that there is more to this story from both sides, maybe he left on his own accord, or he lost his job because he wasn’t good enough or made huge mistake, but his case was literally exactly what other people had warned me about happening.
So, my strongest advice is when you go in for an interview, or research a company, make sure you enquire about how many people, and specifically, other runners they employ. Ask about their structure of promoting runners and what the path looks like and above all else, use a bit of common sense and be savvy. You’re one of nine runners looking after six studios? Do the maths, and don’t be lured in by the companies showreel or the work they do. Smaller studios/ companies are SIGNIFICANTLY better places to start your career at than the big ones. I cannot emphasise this enough. At smaller companies, you will become part of the team and integrate very quickly, you will have a name and a face and you will be given opportunities much sooner. At the big places, you’re just another runner, people will not remember you and you will very quickly feel the “us and them” divide between the runners and everyone else.
Back to me now.
As time marched on at Soho Square, I was gradually given more responsibilities. I began taking on more transfer jobs, downloading/ uploading files, converting videos, preparing sessions etc. This is a huge step up from running and it feels amazing, you’re finally out of the kitchen.
Your tasks are still pretty menial, but you have bigger responsibilities and you begin liaising more with clients. If you continue to work hard, and do a good job, you’ll soon find yourself being booked in smaller, basic engineering sessions. In a smaller company, all it takes is for someone to go on holiday when it’s busy or take a day off sick, and you can find yourself in your first session.
Aside from the initial nerves, your early jobs are likely to be very simple, basic voice records or mixes. As you gain experience, the projects and jobs will become more complex. What you need to make sure of at this early stage is that you have every possible outcome covered, and that you can quickly troubleshoot and deal with the unexpected. Clients may ask for things that can cause you technical headaches or challenges, and you have to make sure you are ready for it. This is not a corporate desk job.
There is no formality, no “congratulations you are now an engineer.” Opportunities come and you grab them. Work hard, make yourself an indispensable member of the team and prove yourself. In my case, I found myself suddenly being booked on more and more jobs until I was practically fully booked out for days or weeks at a time. This meant when the time was right, I had a really strong case to go to my bosses and negotiate a significant pay rise and full engineer status.
A few weeks ago,I read Philip Rollett’s alumini story, a graduate who appears to have gone down a similar path to mine. Whilst reading, I found myself disagreeing with some of what he wrote because of my own experiences, which I’d like to share. Here are a couple of sections from his story that I would like to comment on. “Since leaving university I have done one week’s free work experience in London and it was so bad, I think it was the company’s fault and others are undoubtedly better, but I don’t plan on doing any more, unless it’s for Christopher Nolan or some other amazing opportunity, and even then I’d be like “hey, Nolan, stop being so tight and pay your staff”.
“It’s the company’s fault” is probably not the best attitude to start your working life with. When you start looking for work, you have to make sure you know what you are getting into before you agree to anything. Work experience is a tricky one, as generally it’s for the benefit of you, not the company. A lot of places, including our studio offer work experience when we don’t have to. If you have agreed to unpaid work experience, then you can’t be upset for not being paid when experiencing work. From my personal experience, even if you’re just doing the odd days running, you will have to go through an interview process and that’s where you discuss pay. If you financially cannot afford to do work experience, then you shouldn’t. Look for running jobs, even as a freelance runner doing the odd day making tea, it’s a much better way to get into the industry and meet relevant people.
“Perhaps my unwillingness to work for free is why it has taken me six months to start getting work, but what people expect graduates to do in the media industry for free (or for hardly any money) is absolutely ridiculous. I don’t mean if you visit a studio for a few days because everyone should definitely do that for free, but once you start actually doing work for them you should be getting paid, no doubt about it. It’s only because people are so desperate to get into the media industry that companies can take advantage of students coming out of university and you have to be very careful of that. It’s down to everyone individually, but there’s still plenty of money in the industry to be paid for your contribution.”
It’s not particularly uncommon for it to take six months to find work. In fact, it took me 9 months just to get regular freelance work, and in total about 13-14 months to get a full time position in a studio. I was commuting in from my girlfriend’s flat in Rugby to London every day, a grand total of 600 miles a week and pretty much making a loss financially because my entire wage was being spent on train fares. I was exhausted all the time from commuting, my social life was non-existent and I’d spend the entire weekend just resting and recovering from the working week. I did of course, eventually move to London but I’m just trying to paint a picture of how hard you have to actually work for it if you truly want it.
In my experience, the notion of working for free, is very uncommon. I ran at a few different studios before getting full time work and they all paid (albeit minimum wage). The only places that didn’t offer full pay were smaller independent studios (4-5 staff max) who were offering work experience or internships. They made it very clear and were not attempting to trick me into working for free. One company called and offered me an unpaid internship, but they would cover travel expenses. Had I been living near London, I would have taken it even though I knew it was unpaid. Ultimately, it’s your responsibility, so use common sense. You are there to provide a service and you owe them nothing, and you are fully entitled to expect full payment unless you agree otherwise beforehand.
So finally, I would say that I got to where I am today through sheer grit, determination and hard work, and it is finally paying off. I recently completed my first film feature sound mix in Dolby 5.1 and I’ve worked with some of the biggest clients, companies and celebrities in the world including some of my personal heroes. Spending an afternoon talking football, specifically Norwich City FC (the team I’ve supported all my life) with Stephen Fry was a huge highlight. I’ve worked on films, games, adverts, radio campaigns, short films, documentaries, promos and music composition.
I’m one of the lucky few who actually enjoys going to work, and being able to pursue what is effectively a hobby and a passion as a job, is worth more to me than any money or pay cheque. The first time I ever saw my work on television is a feeling I’ll never forget, and even now when I see TV shows, adverts or promos I’ve worked on broadcast to millions of people, it fills me with a great sense of accomplishment and satisfaction.
I read somewhere once that the term luck can be described as when preparation meets opportunity, and I think in my situation that’s very much the case. I was fortunate to a degree in the sense that positions opened up at the right times and suddenly I was in the deep end, but you better believe that I was ready for it.
Recent graduate Philip Rollett will be on-campus for LSFM’s HEADSPACE event on 6th May with other working audio & radio alumni to share their own industry advice with students. Philip opted for self-employment to start his new business and discusses his experiences here.
About a month ago I was ready to give up on running my own audio company, it seemed like an impossible, thankless, task. I was constantly thinking if I was going to be able to earn a living from a degree that I’d dedicated so much time and money to. You find that you are no longer just an audio engineer, you’re a social media marketer, website developer and a phone salesman. I set my company up Start! Audio in July last year, with the help of my part time employer Howard Young (Engine 7 Post Production), this was around two months after finishing my degree in Audio Production.
Howard took me on part time after I spent a few days with him in his studio.We work on a range of projects such as animation sound design, radio adverts and telephone on hold messages. I was extremely lucky to get paid work from him straight after leaving university, it also meant I was constantly being creative and using Pro Tools. With the work only being part time at Engine 7, Howard was kind enough to give me lots of help and advice to set up my own audio business where I live in Chesterfield. I spent a couple of weeks turning a spare room into a small studio, I purchased some bass traps and foam panels and was ready to go.
My marketing strategy didn’t go much further than Twitter, email and my website, and still doesn’t. I probably should have paid more attention in R&D, but, honestly Twitter has been the best networking/ marketing tool for my business. The majority of the work I get in is from Twitter.
Since leaving university I have done one week’s free work experience in London and it was so bad, I think it was the company’s fault and others are undoubtedly better, but I don’t plan on doing any more, unless it’s for Christopher Nolan or some other amazing opportunity, and even then I’d be like “hey, Nolan, stop being so tight and pay your staff”.
Perhaps my unwillingness to work for free is why it has taken me six months to start getting work, but what people expect graduates to do in the media industry for free (or for hardly any money) is absolutely ridiculous. I don’t mean if you visit a studio for a few days because everyone should definitely do that for free, but once you start actually doing work for them you should be getting paid, no doubt about it. It’s only because people are so desperate to get into the media industry that companies can take advantage of students coming out of university and you have to be very careful of that. It’s down to everyone individually, but there’s still plenty of money in the industry to be paid for your contribution.
There are some people who swear by free labour once you leave university. I personally don’t. I think one thing students don’t realise is that there is lots of media work out there, it might not be on major budget films, but even locally you can find work, such as, explainer videos for local businesses or producing on hold music for their telephones. Earning money in the industry is something that never really seems to get talked about, even at university, and that really should change because it’s so important. Don’t let people fool you into believing you shouldn’t be making money, because in most cases someone will be making money out of the work you do.
I now have two audiobooks to produce this month, along with a few other audio projects like working for the university. I’d still like to be busier, but this month I’ll be making enough money to be earning a proper month’s wage and that’s a great feeling. If you love audio, video, or whatever, then you definitely can make a living from it. It probably will be easier to just be a banker or something, and it’s guaranteed to pay better, but it definitely won’t be as fun. Although, I might still end up being a banker.
As well as highly successful careers in A&R and songwriting John Williams has produced records by The Housemartins, The Proclaimers, Petula Clark and Michael Nyman and Radio 1 sessions by The Cure and Killing Joke to name but a few. This week he came to Lincoln and talked to our Audio Production students about his latest production; Paul Heaton and Jacqui Abbott’s What Have We Become album.
John’s fascinating and insightful talk took us through the entire process of making the record – from budgets, to arranging rehearsals, to booking the studio, to tracking and overdubs, through to the mixing and mastering stage. Full of excellent advice and suggestions, John demystified the whole process, stressing the importance of keeping things simple and always focussing on the song and the performance. Rehearsal time is absolutely key to this along with not getting too caught up in the technology of recording and unnecessary audio processing.
For our budding record producers, this was a hugely valuable lecture which gave some great insights, not only into the technical and organisational aspects of recording an album but also highlighted the people skills needed to manage groups of musicians and performers whose (often fragile) egos of can at times be a bit of a handful!
Listen to John speaking about the role of A&R on Simon Mayo’s Radio 2 programme here (20/01/15):