How do you begin field recording? What’s the best way to break into pro sound? Can you earn enough cash to survive selling sound effect libraries on the Web?
I always look forward to receiving email from readers. Recently, I’ve received a handful of similar messages:
How can I work in pro sound? How do I become a field recordist and share sound libraries on the Web?
They are popular questions. I always like seeing them in my inbox. Why? Every message has interesting variations to the question. Some people want to know about post sound. Others are interested in radio production. A few are specifically interested in field recording and sharing sound fx bundles.
Today’s post begins a two-part series of reference articles with career advice for beginners. It shares tips and tricks that you can add to your toolbox to help you find rewarding, paying work in pro audio.
Dozens of Paths
Beginning a career in pro audio can seem like a monumental task. The good news is that there are dozens of ways to break into the craft. Ask 100 sound pros and each of them will describe a different path to success.
I began in post production editing and field recording sound fx. That led to a stint mastering sound clips and managing a sound shop before I went solo. That’s my history. Since every sound pro has discovered their own path, it’s a good idea to balance the suggestions that follow with tips from other community members. Many fine articles about pro audio career advice have already been published. I’ll provide links to community posts at the end of this article.
While the advice is built upon my experience, I’ll open it up generally. So, I’ll split the answers into to parts, each with its own steps:
- General pro sound career advice.
- Field recording and sharing sound career advice.
I suggested four broad tips to help break into pro sound earlier. This series will add more detail. The first article includes general pro audio career advice that can be adapted to any discipline. The next post will share tips specifically related to field recording and selling sound libraries.
Each article includes loose steps to follow. They assume you have some experience with audio, or have graduated from a film school, and so on. With each step I’ve included a rough amount of time and cash you can expect to invest.
General Pro Sound Career Advice
These are general tips that can help an aspiring sound pro. They include:
- Pick a discipline.
- Create a website.
- Join a community.
- Showcase your talent.
- Find facility work.
Let’s get started.
Pick a Discipline
To begin, it’s important to decide upon a specific pro audio discipline. Merely being interested in “pro sound” isn’t enough. After all, that may include:
- Production sound.
- Sound supervision.
- Sound editing.
- Sound mixing.
- Sound engineering.
- Sound librarian.
There are many more. Even sound creation itself has distinct disciplines. Sound design, recording Foley, and field recording are vastly different jobs. Pick one.
Why should you pick a discipline? Well, it’s hard to reach a high level of skill in game audio, post sound, and field recording all at once. Specializing distinguishes you and strengthens your skills.
That’s not to say you can’t explore other disciplines. In fact, you may have to adapt to other crafts throughout your career. But for the sake of focus and simplifying your task, it’s best to at least rough in a discipline when you begin.
How do you decide upon a discipline? This is determined from your interest, market demand, and aptitude.
I’ll get to the last one in the next article. For now, let’s look at the first two.
Interest. You may have already discovered your favourite discipline through college courses or with hobbies. That’s a great start. Build on this by learning from the pros themselves. This will teach you what it is like “in the trenches” working on real-world projects with deadlines, client demands, and career curveballs.
Browse the pro audio blogs I’ve listed on the community website page. There is an immense amount of writing from game audio pros to sound designers and more.
Other places to learn:
- News sites such as sounDesign, The Audio Spotlight, and of course Designing Sound have an immense amount of articles to research.
- Forums such as the Yahoo Sound Design Group, Audible Worlds, JW Sound, Gearslutz, and Sound Design Stack Exchange are great places to follow discussions and ask questions.
There are many more, including podcasts, LinkedIn Groups, and other places. Learn more at the community list.
Reading through field recording blogs, pro audio news sites, and participating in forums will introduce you to nuances of various crafts and help you discover which discipline resonates with you.
Going directly to the source is a good idea, too. Do you know a sound pro? Ask them to lunch to get a first-hand impression of their craft.
Market demand. While your interest may guide you toward one particular craft, it’s important to be realistic about market demand. Some cities may have a lot of post work, but not much of a game audio scene. Some disciplines are exceptionally rare, such as field recording.
Keep this in mind while you browse the sources mentioned above. Over time you’ll receive a general impression of which professions are common and which are competitive. It may vary by city. You may need to relocate to find work. While I wouldn’t want to dissuade anyone from following their pro audio passion, it’s vital to decide upon a craft that will pay the bills.
- Time: 1 month of solid reading and research to get a general first impression to help rough in a discipline of interest.
- Cost: $0.00.
Create a Website
Join social media. Sign up for a SoundCloud, Twitter, and LinkedIn account at a minimum. Make the account names consistent. It’s always better to use a personal name instead of brand, at first. That helps people personalize you and remember you. Get an email account with your company or personal name.
Then, share your thoughts and discoveries about pro audio in blog posts. Describe your learning process. Produce blog posts regularly. Writing about pro audio helps sharpen your analytical skills, and keeps you learning. It begins building your reputation, distinguishes you, and expands your network.
Post your portfolio on a separate page.
- 1 day to set up your accounts.
- 2 hours a week to write posts or share audio.
- Cost: $0.00 – $100.00/year.
Join a Community
You won’t find work or clients if you don’t have a community. I wrote a detailed article about joining a community earlier:
Your first step should be to join a community and make meaningful, consistent, and valuable contributions.
- Time: six months.
- Cost: $0.00.
Showcase Your Talent
Few people will hire you without a preview of your work. It’s vital to post your very best efforts on the Web. This shares your work with colleagues, invites critique, stimulates learning, and displays your skills to clients.
The easiest way to showcase your talents is by posting your sound design, Foley fx, or field recordings on SoundCloud. Share them with them with the SoundCloud groups I’ve listed on the community pages.
A demo reel is helpful if you’re interested in working in post sound or game audio. Scrape the fx from five to ten diverse film scenes, game trailers, or cut scenes/cinematics, then recut them yourself using your selection of fx, and mix them. Bonus points if you created the sound fx yourself. Add these demo reels to your portfolio site.
Keep producing and sharing new work.
Already have clips on SoundCloud and a handful of demo reels on Vimeo? Want more experience and exposure? Consider volunteering for production sound or in post facilities (see below).
- one to two weeks. That’s a good timeline to cut five demo reels, or produce 50 field recordings.
- six months volunteering (optional). You can easily find weekend-long production sound shoots on Craigslist. Post or game audio gigs demand more consistent attendance.
- $0.00. Your largest investment will be labour.
- $199.00+ for a field recorder (more on this in the next post).
- Volunteering costs nothing, but it drains your savings. So, plan for three to six months of expenses if you’re living on your own.
Find Facility Work
Do you want to work full time at a game studio or post production facility?
The novelty of working at a facility will diminish after a few years of pro audio experience. However, getting your first interview at these places can seem like an unsurmountable task blocked by gatekeepers, mysterious hiring practices, and scattered schedules.
Is it possible to find work by knocking on doors, spamming resumes, and hustling interviews? I suppose the conventional route is possible. Generally speaking, though, anyone I’ve ever known that’s been involved in post has entered the profession in one of two ways:
- Knowing someone that lets them through the door.
- Volunteering as an intern for a while, then graduating to full gigs when a facility becomes busy. (Pro audio college programmes have placement terms that achieve the same effect.)
The first requires a solid network. You will have an edge since you developed your community earlier. The second is a bit of an investment since you’ll spend a lot of time working for free or very little. So, it’s a bit of a tough road. However, once you’re in, you’re in. This will be a more reliable source of cash than freelancing, initially. The hardest part is breaking in.
It also wouldn’t hurt to visit facilities to get the feel for each of them and put a name to a face of the facility manager or the sound supervisors.
I haven’t worked at a facility for some time, so other sources may have more current information here.
- Time: six months or less in a larger city with many productions or studios (Los Angeles, New York, Toronto, Vancouver, Seattle, Montréal).
- Cost: Varies. See the note about volunteering, above.
Breaking into Pro Audio
The good news about finding work in pro audio is that it doesn’t cost that much to get started. Of course, you may decide to pay for formal training at a college or university. That will cost more. However, many tools to help you learn the craft, expand your network, and work with sound itself are free or very cheap. It’s also possible to follow the steps above part time while doing other work. The biggest investment you need is time. Take advantage of this.
Of course, the largest challenge is getting your foot in the door. It can be difficult to be noticed. It may seem like all you need is for someone – anyone – to give you a chance. I won’t lie. This is indeed difficult. It can be the hardest aspect about finding work in pro sound.
College courses give you an edge. They often include internships in pro facilities. Want to try it on your own? I’m a self-starter myself. Use the tools I described above to begin creating, distinguish yourself, and expand your network.
You will need patience and persistence. This won’t be hard if you enjoy pro audio itself. Remain focused, and you will climb ever higher to your goal.
There’s plenty of other advice about breaking into pro sound on the Web.
- Sound supervisor and community field recordist Tim Prebble wrote two comprehensive articles on sound career advice (article one, article two).
- The Tonebenders podcast co-host René Coronado has some good suggestions about breaking into the industry.
- The Tonebenders co-host Timothy Muirhead wrote a sound career advice post as well.
Have you read a helpful pro sound career advice article in the past? Do you have ideas of your own? Know of good ways to break into pro sound? Share them with the community in the comments below.