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I'm just starting out in sound design. I've been interested in the field for a long time but have only just got myself into the position where I can start to purchase some proper kit and get involved with proper projects etc and there is a lot I need to learn about the workings of the profession, common practices, and so on!

I've spent a lot of time over the past few years messing around in various DAWs in my spare time, creating "electronic music" and just having a bit of fun but I wouldn't consider my composition production quality to be quite at the level where I'd feel comfortable using it in a film or game project yet, which leads me on to my question:

On average, do most sound designers compose their own music, or outsource to specialist musicians when working on pieces that involve bespoke music tracks? And is it common for a SD working on a, say, film piece to be given the music tracks that are to be incorporated to them from the project directors etc?!

I'd like to think I'd soon get to the stage where I'd be confident enough to use my own pieces within projects I'm working on. I am particularly confident with my abilities in creating background ambient pieces but realistically I know I'm some way off from getting full blown music tracks to be at 'professional level'. Do you think this could be a hindrance if I'm looking to pursue a career in sound design?

Any comments or discussion on the subject would be greatly appreciated! Thanks!

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I would say that they're not important at all. On small jobs, the client is happy for the sound designer to compose (or vice versa), but larger jobs call for more specialisation. IMHO, a project benefits from having separate people handling the sound design and the composition. Sound and music, in film, can work very differently. While you can have someone handling both, i find that collaboration makes for a better product. You should also realise that scoring for film is very different to composing standalone music, as you have to take into account story, tension, drama, character, and so many other factors. In most cases, anyway.

While a knowledge of music can help with your sound design, it's not necessary. My advice would be to focus on what you're passionate about (which seems like it's sound design). Definitely try to develop your composition skills, if that's what you want, but be aware that it's a whole other craft that will take a lot of practice to master.

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@Roger Thank you, this is very comforting and useful! I guess it was a bit silly of me to refer to "the average sound designer" in the question! Of course, projects are going to be of a wide variety of sizes. My ambition is to one day be part of a sound design team for a games developer; I'd especially love to be involved with designing ambient sound-scapes. I was just a little worried that to be hired into such a position you'd be expected to be able to do 'everything'! –  Skarik Sep 9 '11 at 22:52
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The "sound design field" encompasses many different design duties for different venues, in different formats, with different workflows. In theater, for instance, the sound designer is often expected to compose as well, whereas on a large film project, the sound designer may not be allowed to touch the music until he/she receives it in 4-8 audio stems. As such, your experience with music will benefit you differently in the various areas of sound design.

Musicians/composers are not just better sound designers, but better directors, recording engineers, video editors, writers, actors... you name it. Experience with music reenforces a sense of rhythm, flow and dramatic timing that is very beneficial to creating (and appreciating) great sonic or visual art.

It's also important to note that the defining characteristics of a "professional-quality" composition develop not just from the composer's musical skillset, but from research, collaboration with the director/producer, careful attention to detail at every step of the way, and, of course, time and patience. A composer may be valued not just for his/her musical ability, but also the ability to take directions and to churn out work quickly and on time.

If you are asking more about the production side of composition, the best thing you can do is tinker around with your DAW and try to imitate the characteristics of existing music that you like. The most powerful technical tool you can bring to the table is fluency with your DAW of choice. Don't think that you're far from creating "at professional level", either. There are plenty of successful composers out there who suck at recording and mixing their music —— merely seeing your work through from concept to master will make you stick out from the crowd.

A lot of text here, hope it helps :).

~Matt

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@Matt Thanks for the response! By "professional quality" I was referring to production quality, so I guess practice makes perfect! My goal is to one day get into games sound design, but am interested in linear media too, so I won't have to worry about scoring for theatre pieces! Whilst my interests and knowledge in the music field are reasonable, I'm sadly not the most skilled of musicians and was worried this may be a problem! –  Skarik Sep 9 '11 at 22:39
    
I like to think that if I'm worried about how I stack up with someone else then I know I'm always going to have an open mind for improvements. I've run into (and worked under) a few people who think they've learned it all ... not surprisingly, they've been pretty unpleasant to collaborate with. If you ask me, your humility is very healthy for your work. –  Matt Glenn Sep 11 '11 at 5:23
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I would agree with Roger and that it's not THAT important really...

However, I don't know many sound designers who aren't in some way musical, whether it be a guitarist, composer or electronic musician etc. I think being a musician, or at least having an understanding of creating music, teaches you valuable tools in sound design like having a feel for rhythm/timing, timbre, pitch recognition, manipulation of sounds, and emotion which can all work towards effective sound design.

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@Andy I agree that many sound designers seem to have some form of music project on the go which is what made me wonder if the ability to create music with a high production quality was vital. Yours and @Roger 's opinions that it's not that important is definitely comforting, thank you! –  Skarik Sep 9 '11 at 22:43
    
It's true, there are a lot of sound designers out there who have at least dabbled in music; in fact, i think that's how a lot of them become interested in sound. But it's my opinion that rhythm/timing, timbre, pitch recognition, etc. are also facets of sound design, and so are also learned through practicing sound design. –  Roger Middenway Sep 9 '11 at 23:11
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