4 Tips to Help Break Into Pro Sound

2013/07/31

Reservoir Stairs

For most sound pros, finding work is a regular challenge. It’s easier if you become the first option for a handful of production managers or sound supervisors. Perhaps you find steady work at a facility. Then you can finally relax a bit.

However, until then, finding work is a concern that will follow you throughout your entire career.

Breaking into pro audio may seem like black magic. Why? It’s dominated by nebulous webs of freelance relationships, ironclad union requirements, and inscrutable studio politics.

Has this happened to you? Have you graduated school, eager to cut sound, mix it, or record dialogue on set, but feel completely lost? Lacking opportunities?

A reader wrote me last week asking me the best way to break into the pro audio world. I shared a few thoughts via email. Since then, I’ve reflected on my answers, and expanded them. I’ll share them here today.

Why Finding Work in Pro Audio is Tricky

Searching for work can be gruelling. It is incredibly frustrating. Why?

A lot of it has to do with a lack of control. You’d like to work. You know you have a lot to offer. However, right now you have no power to make it happen. You don’t know the budgets, schedules, or promises floating around town, after all. But how can any tricks here work equally for sound mixing, field recording, and game audio? They are all completely different fields, after all.

Because of this, I’ve written these tips to ease three problems commonly found surrounding pro audio job hunting: excess of time, debilitating mentality, and lack of control. These tips will keep you busy, positive, and return some degree of control until you find your next pro audio gig.

So, these tips are not intended to lock in a method for a particular position. They’re meant to help you think about things differently. And, while they’re general enough that they could help in any job hunt, they recognize the community and work environment common to audio gigs.

They are no guarantee, of course. But these tricks will increase your chances.

Four Tricks to Help Find Work in Pro Audio

  1. Network
  2. Network

    I bet you’ve heard this before. I want to mention it with a new slant.

    First, the old-school method: visit facilities in your area, drop off resumes and demo reels, shake the hand of the owner and ask them what they need. Be ready to do any task they require, at any time, even if it is slightly outside of your interest, or less money than you want. Why?

    Supervisors and managers are busy. Think about it from their perspective: not what you want, but what they do. What is it they need?

    A sound supervisor or manager deals with problems all day, every day. They want these problems solved. Can you do this? Can you solve their problems? If you consistently present yourself as someone that frees up the boss’s time so they can focus on better things, you’ll become valuable.

    Network online, too. Use Twitter, and LinkedIn. I’m not a fan of Facebook for this. Who wants to read about someone looking for work when they’re eagerly scrolling through vacation photos? Nobody. That’s when most people relax. LinkedIn is professional. People go there with one thing on their mind: building their careers. It is designed to respect the concept of professional reputations, and the value of “contacts.”

    Keep yourself fresh in a supervisor’s mind. This may mean checking in, tactfully and occasionally. Here’s a tip: give each supervisor you meet a Starbucks card with $30 prepaid. Write your name and phone number on the back. That way they’ll be thinking of you each morning when they get their free caffeine fix.

  3. Join Conversations
  4. Comment

    One of the greatest things about pro audio is the online community. It’s huge, supportive, and strong. Meeting other sound pros is a good way to find work, or leads on approaching gigs. How do you join the community?

    Comment on sound blogs or forums with detailed, insightful comments. Expand the “thanks, great post!” comments. While these are nice, spend an extra five minutes to go deeper. Engage the writer. Ask a detailed question. Provide information that helps other readers.

    The most important thing is to write material that distinguishes you. I don’t mean invent something gimmicky just for shock value. Simply take the beliefs and interests you already have, and rephrase them to highlight what makes you unique. This informs any curious prospects who you are, what skills you have, and what you can achieve. Writing thoughtfully and wisely also begins a online paper trail that lays the foundation for your professional image.

    Keep your screen name and avatar consistent between your accounts. Using your real name and actual image is always better than a company name, or an image of a microphone or audio gear. Privacy is important, of course, but when you begin your career, you need to be visible and identifiable. Real names and photos help people recognize you. They allow other sound pros to remember who you are, and welcome you into the community.

    Gravatar is a good way to keep your images consistent wherever you comment.

  5. Create Your Own Work
  6. Edit

    You won’t be hired immediately. That’s natural. Keep busy. Make a demo reel. Make another, and then another. Keep cutting. Record sound effects. Increase your portfolio. This way, if you can’t find work immediately, you are still building value for yourself.

    This also keeps your skills sharp.

  7. Share Your Work
  8. Share

    Share your work with the sound community. This is another way of networking. Blogging is good for this. Write regularly about your experiences with the other three points. Write about new ideas. Everybody’s familiar with the existing ideas, so you’ll need to add something new that will capture their interest. Again, the secret is to add value. Is what you’re writing helping someone? If not, rephrase your language so it does. Absolutely avoid marketing-speak. That comes across inauthentically. It doesn’t give a good indication of who you are. Instead, write in your own voice. To test, read each post you write aloud before you publish.

    Add demo reels, photos, and a bio to a site at a web address you own. WordPress is good for this, and is free. And for goodness sake, put a picture of yourself on your blog, right on the front page. Smile. That brings you together with others as a human, not data. The “About” page is not good enough. Visitors should meet you immediately. Supervisors shouldn’t have to hunt for you on the Web, especially when mere seconds of frustration can cause visitors, or potential bosses, to depart.

    Remember, it doesn’t matter if you have a hundred visitors, ten, or one when you begin. The important thing is to begin building. This creates an online resume for future employers.

    You don’t have to write, of course. You can submit audio to clubs, SoundCloud, and so on. You can vlog on YouTube. Create an audio podcast. Writing is better simply because it can be indexed and found by search engines. The contents of sound and video are essentially invisible to Google and Bing, so they offer no advantage to broadening your network.

    Whichever the method, it’s important to provide consistent output. Having trouble keeping a schedule? Most blogs die after three months. It’s hard to keep writing. Cut your projected video length or word count in half, and then by half again. Reduce your workload. That will help you produce more easily. Consistency is far more important.

    I’ll write about specific ways you can share your work in another post.

Finding Success

I know a lot of this may seem like a grind. It is hard work. However, the alternative far more intimidating: waiting around as hope trickles away, expecting someone to call.

Instead, convert your thinking. Become optimistic. You will find work. You will contribute great audio. Act. When you keep yourself engaged in audio work you create, you’ll be busy, in control, and positive.

That lays a foundation that any sound supervisor will find irresistible.

Good luck!





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2 responses to 4 Tips to Help Break Into Pro Sound

  1. Hey Paul,

    I’m going to take your advice and say “thanks, great post!” but also congratulation for concretizing somethings that are on my mind. I actually really enjoy networking when it feels authentic (i.e. speaking like a human to other humans). In addition to giving gifts to people, I also like to have takeaways on my site for people if they wish to have it. It’s like a breath mint at a hotel or mint on a pillow. They’re free to take it or not, but I want the gesture to matter most.

    Nicely said,

    George

    • Hi George, thanks for the comment.

      I like your idea of “leaving a breath mint.” I think that’s a great way to share ideas. Put it out there, and it is there if someone wants to take advantage of it, they can do. Really self-assured and positive attitude. Very cool.

      Paul