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I hate to post a question that i can't see being of benefit to others as well, but i'm rather stuck and i have a lot of respect for the perspectives of you all.

I finished a MA in sound design at AFTRS, sydney in 2009. It's a pretty respected school, and it taught me a great deal about sound design; but also to be humble as someone with limited professional experience.

I came to NYC in Sept '09 to try and find some people i could learn from on internships and whatnot. Because of the state of the industry at the time, i never ended up getting on board the kind of project (decent sized feature) that i came here for. Instead, i've been doing a lot of shorts; working as a recording engineer/mixer at a little studio that does foreign language dubs; and i'm halfway through an ultra low budget feature as sound designer.

My visa is almost up, and i have a decision to make:

The studio i'm working for in NYC have come to rely on me a lot, and said they'd do what they can to keep me here. The problem is, their work is low budget/low quality/fast turnaround and i'm not learning anything of value here. On top of that, my chances at landing the visa are iffy at best. The visa would not allow me to work for anyone other than the employer who petitions for me, thus excluding me from the possibility of freelance work on respectable features.

On the other hand, i could go back to Sydney, Australia. The sound post industry there is a lot smaller, however; some of my good friends are in with one of the most respected sound post crews in australia. There doesn't seem to be a huge amount of work, but with time i could probably land an assisting role.

So in summary: try to stay in NYC at a job i don't particularly get a lot from, and work on cash-in-hand indie films on the side; or go back to Sydney where the work isn't that plentiful, but where i have more of a foot in the door?

Your opinions will be greatly valued!

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5 Answers 5

up vote 8 down vote accepted

I had to sit and think about how to approach this for a few minutes. I can relate to where you're coming from (MA in audio production, limited job opportunities/prospects, etc.) have dealt with similar frustrations. Even after getting a moderate level "break", I'm still dealing with some of those.

My job has been somewhat underwhelming. I took a position with an independent television production and distribution company, expecting to be able to work consistently on television programming. In the 3.5 years I've been here, I've worked on only one somewhat significant television documentary, and have spent the rest of the time working on internal corporate videos (for other companies that is) that I can't put on a reel (either because they're too lame, or because of NDA's), or fixing other people's flubs on programs that we enter into distribution agreements with. So, over the the last 3.5 years, basically one new thing for my reel. I have been getting somewhat disgruntled with this idea, fearing that my career would become tied to closely to the success/failure of my current company.

Here are a few things that I've come to realize, that you may also be overlooking as well:

  1. Any work contributes to your growth. You may not notice it, but your editing skills refine in subtle ways, so do your mixing skills. Compare something you've done recently with something you did during your education. You'll probably be able to notice a difference.

  2. Don't get complacent in your job (something which I was guilty of). If you feel like you're not being challenged or growing, it's because you are allowing yourself to stagnate. We all need challenges to develop our skills. The problem with artistic jobs, is that they often have to be self-imposed.

  3. It may sound silly or too pedestrian, but there's something that comes along with steady work....sometimes that's a steady paycheck. Something that's hard to come by in a small field overcrowded with more practitioners than jobs. This is by no means a deciding factor, but it has its advantages.

Ultimately, my advice is to keep your job for now (if they can help you stay). You've only been at it for less than a year. Careers in this industry don't move quickly. If they've come to rely on you, that speaks for your work. Keep at it, find ways to challenge yourself on each of those projects, and network like crazy [when and where]ever you can - contacts are everything.

And remember, if you do get the visa, just because you get it, doesn't mean you HAVE to stay in the US. You can always go back to Australia whenever you like.

Personally, we're starting on a 30 episode (1-television-hour each) this fall. I know that I am better equipped to work on it now after the 3.5 years of grunt work than I would have been back at the beginning; and that means it will be a better piece for my reel. ;)

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OK, I'll be the first to offer up my experiences. I, like you, graduated from a well-respected college with a degree in hand, eager to use all of my newfound knowledge and begin my career as an audio engineer / sound designer. However, I had a rude awakening when I realized that no studio was going to hire me fresh out of school; what I accepted instead was what I like to call a "character building experience" (read: unpaid internship). I cleaned the place, made the coffee, ran for lunches and answered the phone -- and THEN, once all of that stuff was done, only THEN was I allowed to sit in and assist on sessions.

How does this apply to your situation? Well, I suppose it's my way of saying don't give up on your dream. I had every reason to throw in the towel but I didn't, because I wanted that respect from my peers, and I wanted their job. I recognized that the internship wasn't just about free labor, but it was also about separating the wheat from the chaff, weeding out the folks that really wanted to make it from those who just wanted it handed to them.

If you're dream is to work on big features in NYC, then I'd probably stay put. There's something to be said for sticking it out when times are tough, building up your skills, reputation and client base. But on the flip side, if you've got solid connections in Sydney, you could justify taking your hard-earned experiences back home and making a go of it there.

It may not seem evident to you right now, but it seems to me that you'll probably benefit no matter which path you choose. Best of luck -

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@birdhousesound Thanks for the advice/encouragement! It's good to have someone put a long term perspective on things. It is a tough call, i'm still up in the air... But thanks again! –  Roger Middenway Jul 12 '10 at 20:59

If it helps, I really don't know many people who went into film sound editing immediately - its generally taken a few years of working on TV, short films etc... when I was at a similar stage to you I remember doing 3 years of a TV series that I didn't particularly love (thats 39 x 1 hour eps - yeech!) but apart from getting me a start, many things it did teach me long term were invaluable: how to edit fast, library management, the value of libraries, learning when field recording is essential, fitting in with a sound post team etc... I also got to learn other roles; dialogue editing, foley recording/editing, ADR recording etc - these experiences are invaluable later on if you become a supervisor/sound designer....

Also something very valuable I learned that is maybe not apparent at the time; a number of the first features that I did, I got through having started a creative relationship with the directors and producers when they were making short films. So do not undervalue the importance of working on indie films, short films etc... It may take them years but every one of those people aspires to make a feature film, and when they do, you want to be the person they immediately think of, due to your efforts and help/collaboration when they were making smaller scale projects....

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Wise words Tim; i ended up staying in the US, but i'm still hanging on to my director friends from australia, thanks to Dropbox and Skype! It's these unpaid shorts that keep me inspired about my work, too. –  Roger Middenway Jan 16 '11 at 2:30

Great Advice all!

I used to work with a guy who used to complain that our company was cr*p and that there was nothing worth his time there. He stated he was too creative to work on government videos, corporate videos, and political ads. He felt he had spent too much on his education and on moving to the US from the UK to do our type of work. So he showed up late for work, put in the bare minimum and got really cynical. That was ten years ago.

I also was frustrated and bored. However, I really do my best to find a way to add more than what is being asked of me in order to challenge myself and to please my clients.
I don't work on many government videos or political seasons anymore. Not that I snub any work of any kind on anything. I would work on them again without hesitation if the right opportunity presented itself. But my current position provides me the blessing of working on broadcast or theatrical material almost exclusively. The work is much closer to my career goals.

I know for a fact he still works for many of those same political clients and is still struggling. In truth, he is a very talented and educated professional. In many ways, I envy his creativity. But he allows his impatience and frustration to rob him of conviction and dedication to his art. I rarely see what he was really capable of.

An artist needs no canvas to be creative. They do not wait to attain a special paint or brush. They find a way to make art wherever they are.

My advice is to stick it out if your company is willing to keep you here and set your goals higher than what is being required of you in every function of your job. Network and find mentors. Soak up all you can from the world you desire to be a part of. Show what you can do as much as you possibly can in every instance on every job (no matter how menial). It may serve you well and it will definitely make you happier in the meantime.

I haven’t attained my ultimate career dreams yet either. But I am always moving closer, one project at a time. (Greg Gerlich if you're out there listening....you should put me on your team. LOL)

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Thanks man, those are some inspiring words! They came at a good time too: i'm doing an audio tour at the moment and you're right. Why shouldn't i make it as good as i can? I'm not going to learn anything or get any more passionate about my career by doing a half assed job! –  Roger Middenway Jan 16 '11 at 2:28

Well, I'm in a situation similar to yours, and although I have no experience to speak with hawk eyes, but I can recommend that in these hard times where it costs to enter the visa, try to spend the minimum, and if that involves return to Australia, so be it.

Now with the internet is not as important as ever to have personal presence at the sites, squeeze the most out of you where you can keep and I think one day you will return to NY with a work means agreed.

Suerte Amigo!

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