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I know quite a few studio recording engineers who wanted to be musicians and "fell into" the job.

When I was about 15 I went to a school rock concert and was fascinated by all of the PA equipment. The sound engineer let me load the van afterwards and I was hooked. I then started 'programming' synths, samplers and sequencers, and managed to get a job as a trainee live music sound engineer just after school. After a while I became a theatre sound designer, whilst still working as a live engineer, and then broadened out from there.

I just seem to think in sound rather than pictures.

What was your experience?

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21 Answers

up vote 8 down vote accepted

I choose not to label myself as a "failed" musician because I believe my musical sensibilities and training come into play all the time as a sound designer.

I began my education with the intent of becoming a professional drummer/percussionist but quickly learned that I had neither the self-discipline nor the true grit to make that happen. It was a that point that I gravitated back to my first fascination, that being the tech side of making music.

My years studying and practicing audio post-production and sound design have taught me that a musical "ear", background and/or education are invaluable tools. Each new film soundtrack is a blank canvas, an empty page of music notation paper waiting to be scribbled on and experimented with.

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I know quite a few percussionists that have made great sound designers. I believe it has to do with the ability to find a rhythm in the chaos of a story. As a viewer, I know that I really enjoy sound design that has a pulse and an almost musical crescendo during catharsis. It is especially impressive to me when effectively built from a purely non-instrumental palette –  Karol Urban Jan 13 '11 at 16:42
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I was legally blind for the first 5 years of my life. A dislocated muscle in my right eye gave me a floating eye. My brain had trouble resolving the issue as the distance from my right and left perspective was not consistent. I loved the sound of everything and was rather outgoing and loud. My whole family would moan with this mention, but I used to carry a case of toys to make noises with and tell stories using my brother as a sound making assistant on long car rides. My mother put me in piano classes, and ballet as soon as my leg braces were off (another deformity) and my eye operation had healed. I loved it.

In 1985, my computer genius brother bought me a Cubase midi system. I went nuts. I was obsessed with the sound of movies, fireside theater recordings, talk radio, cartoon voices and SFX, and music. Sound comforts me. Silence generally makes me uneasy. I still have poor depth perception and am rather clumsy. I get most of my information about the world though sound. I was never a big fan of performing but I was always a big fan of creating a performance. I knew I didn't want to be a musician, but for a long time I didn't know what else I could do to make noise for a living.

My grandfather always said "Find what you do and then find a way to make money at it. Then you will never work a day in your life." As soon as I realized sound design and mix was a career, I started to place myself in the position to make money at what I was already doing (making noise). It is what I do. And I have been lucky enough to do it professionally for about 13 years. God bless.

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@MixingManiac, I have one word: WOW. Thanks for sharing! –  Jay Jennings Jan 11 '11 at 19:58
    
superb man.....thanx for sharing –  chrisnanny Jan 19 '11 at 14:18
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I wanted to explore something this thread hasn't drilled into too much thus far: Being drawn towards this discipline by "design" part of "sound design."

The Blank Canvas Problem (being creative with no set starting point and no boundaries) is a classic creative conundrum, and as a visual artist, I leaned immediately towards illustration and design: Creative disciplines that are rife with limitations and boundaries that focus my creative energies towards solving specific challenges. Indeed, getting great creative results within those constraints is the name of the game. The constant struggle between the right literal sound and the proper emotional sound is endlessly fascinating, and the conversations between the artist and the client is always a challenge...ideally, it's rewarding and collaborative. Even when it's less ideal, there are constant lessons to be learned.

For me, it's the creation of an extensible and emotionally-right sonic vocabulary for a given audience experience that is equally as lovely as the art and science of sound itself.

Being a great designer of any stripe takes communication, patience, respect, and empathy as much as it does audio production skills. It's that part of this discipline's challenge that I embrace in equal measure to field recording, plug-ins, gear lust, and all the other things we all obsess over...er, ahem, I mean that we all enjoy. :-)

(BTW, for me, it all started with making mashups on dual cassette decks as a kid and then being exposed to analog synths in college and various jobs that sealed my love of sound.)

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Beautifully said. –  Andrew Spitz May 21 '10 at 21:00
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Another failed musician here. I ended up choosing modules in composition and music technology during my music degree. Really wanted to write music for film and TV. I heard about a course that specialised in this at Bournemouth University so I applied. The professor told me he didn't think I'd be any good at the course but suggested that I might be more suited to the Sound Design for the Screen course. I applied and got in (didn't want to get a job and didn't know what I wanted to do anyway) and quickly became obsessed with making noise!

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I've always made noise. I've always made music. I perceive no difference. Tim, I perceive no boundary. To paraphrase John Cage, They made music in the 18th. and 19th. Centuries. What we handle is the organization of noise. Perhaps the better question is where does Craft end and Art start. Make a shadow puppet with your hands. Ask yourself when does light modulation become Art... Look at the Futurists and their musical movement from the early 20's. Listen to the Pit Band at a Vaudeville Show. We should think of OUR work as Story and Drama first, and then Theme, Motif, and finally the last of all gear, plugins, ones, & zeros. What language do we speak? How can we tell stories with a language that has few common denominators, that affects all, is common to all, but is as individual as our personal sense memories? Finally on "Poltergeist" to make Ghost Sounds opened an upright piano, I held down the sustain pedal, and screamed at the strings, and they resonated like a complex Aeolian Harp. Totally Original I thought at the time. Now I suspect that Cage did it in the Fifties..... Sometimes I think I should make a soundtrack out of just a snare drum rimshot, cymbal, and a rasberry. Treat them like Music Concrete, play them backwards, forwards, varispeed, break them down to pulses, and see what we could do with the Three Original "Sound Effects." What kind of story could we tell, using just those three basic elements?

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I like your point of view –  Auddity Aug 12 '10 at 19:00
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Although it's not yet a 'career' for me (hopefull will be soon) It goes back to the first time I was in a recording studio at my Community College.

There was a class on the Digital Recording Studio. I was the only person in my class to make an original piece of music (instead of assigning sounds to an existing classical piece). I spent more time, messing around with sounds in there. (Got an A- by the way). That was the first 'sound seed' that was planted in me.

However I didn't follow sound right away. After dropping out of two schools, I've found myself where I am now. My own company and an independent feature where I have almost complete creative control over the soundscape.

I had an apprenticeship in a recording studio. The owner, my mentor, was always very excited about sounds and anything he came upon. He was always willing to share. His enthusiasm was very addictive. I loved working in there.

Listining to Micheal Semanick, Ethan Van der Ryn, and David Farmer talk in the LOTR appendices has been great inspiration. You can tell they love what they do and have fun doing it. I want that same tone and enthusiasm when I speak of what I do.

Lastly it was a bit of luck. Long after the apprenticeship, after the LOTR dvd releases, and a failed internship (The studio has all but folded). I resigned myself to going back to school. Then a filmmaker that I hadn't talk to in two years called me out of the blue and asked if I'd do the sound for his film. Hard to believe? maybe, but it happened. How could I say no?

The ironic thing... This film was supposed to be done by the studio I was interning at. Now it's mine.

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A Phoenix has risen from the ashes. –  Utopia Aug 12 '10 at 20:29
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I had a musical ear growing up and found my ability to recognize pitch made me a perfect candidate for becoming a sound engineer. Though, I hate the term "sound engineer" because that encompasses many specific jobs.

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I love the boundary between sound & music, always have since I was a kid who preferred playing in empty grain silos on the farm than doing my piano practice... But its not either/or - I love both, and I remember early on in my career as a film sound effects editor hearing a mixer describe his realisation that the difference between making/mixing music vs film was that 'with film, music is just one aspect of the soundtrack'

When I turned 30 I went through some of the same existential thoughts that we all do, sooner or later, and questioned if 'this' was what i wanted to spend the rest of my life doing...

conclusion: HELL YES! The more you do, the more you realise how much deeper it gets...

20 years after film school I still feel like I am just scratching the surface

Sound is infinite....

Music is infinite....

Their relationship to cinematic art is infinite to the power of infinite!

"After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music"

Aldous Huxley

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I think quite a high percentage of people who get into sound engineering come to it from being a musician, or wanting to record rock and roll bands. Of course, there's not enough jobs recording rock and roll bands so many of them find other work within the larger sound world. And many of them find they enjoy it, sometimes more than they would enjoy recording rock and roll bands. That's more or less what happened to me. No jobs in music studios, got a job doing radio ads, that led (long story short) to doing more sound design as part of my career.

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I started as a composer, working on an open source game that eventually went nowhere -- we needed a sound designer, and, since I was the only person with any sort of DAW, I picked up the mantle and totally fell in love. Sound design came incredibly naturally to me, since I have a less-braggable-than-John-Mayer's version of synesthesia... I hear everything I see, though movement and light are much louder than static things.

It was just a matter of replicating the sounds I'm already hearing. And the first time I was able to make something sound like something completely different -- a squeaky office chair turned into almost all the sounds of a man climbing out of a Model T Ford -- I knew this was a direction I wanted to take my career, not just my hobby.

I sway back and forth as to whether I prefer sound design or composition, but I think that's fairly natural.

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I started as a musician. I've always loved movies and sound and tech stuff, but I didn't think there was a career that involved them all. During my last couple years of college I worked in radio production. It was great fun, but I felt it was missing something. Later, while in an unsatisfying career in the US Air Force, I was watching the special features for sound on The Lord of the Rings. Seeing them piece all the sounds together from sticks and rocks and cheese graters lit me on fire. When I finished my military contract I moved my family to Burbank to get close to the film industry and to go to school for audio engineering.

I'm very interested to see how others went about getting into sound design as well. Anyone fortunate enough to have an uncle in the business that helped get them in?

[youtube]t5cOgj4RsWg[/youtube]

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t5cOgj4RsWg

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what a great movie with, great sound design –  Chris Aug 14 '10 at 7:14
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I fell into it while I was doing voice editing for my voice overs. The clients had requests for ghost like voice, monster like and so on. I began with voice design and wanted to try sound design. It was video games and movies that just encouraged me to be a sound designer when I listened to the matrix, lord of the rings, indiana jones, star wars and so on. I recognized tidbits within sounds that made them amazing to listen to and I wanted to make stuff like that. I'm pretty new but I'm having fun and learning a lot everyday.

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Honestly... just because with my musical background and experience (in a lenght of life) im not see myself anywhere and anyone else. Lawyer ? sorry nooo - too organised. Sound engineer? too "technical", with not so creative solutions to accomplish tasks.

I see sound design as a well balansed work between creativity and technical skills - kinda between composer and engineer. Thats great! and no dress code (most important thing - i hate suits haha )

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My friends and I were very into moviemaking in high school. I loved editing picture (on our old deck-to-deck VHS), but my favorite part of post was adding MX/FX to the linear tracks to augment what we'd shot. I'd played piano since second grade and had perfect pitch, but considered myself "someone who plays piano" rather than a "musician," and didn't think I'd make it even as a music minor. I went to school for film and thought I'd go into picture editing, but got hooked on production sound work after a fantastic seminar by a visiting production mixer. After recording dialogue for a number of student and independent films, I started leaning toward something more creative (production mixing involves tons of creative problem-solving, but not so much artistic creativity) and turned to sound design.

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I didn't choose it. It chose me.

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I was obsessed with Michael Winslow as a kid (Motor Mouth Jones from the Police Academy movies), and I could always hear/physically feel the sound of a car approaching long before the rest of the people in my family (we lived pretty deep in the woods). Those should have given me an earlier indication than they did, but that's probably where it really started.

As far as the actual practice of audio, I started out doing live sound in high school, kept doing it in college (where I did not study audio...stupid), and immediately after college. That started getting old; or rather, the constantly shifting schedule did. Went to grad school to learn the recording side of things, and just kind of kept drifting in this direction in the years since.

I'm far more proficient in dialogue editing than anything else at the moment, but each job I've held in this field has required me to be a jack of all trades audio. At this point, I'm still trying to figure out where exactly I want to go with my career, and trying to bring my other skills up to the level of my dialogue cutting.

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I started out in radio at a campus community radio station in my mid teens. We did radio plays, had our own music/talk/interview show. Loads of fun. I have always been drawn to ways people push the bondaries of sound and image and wondered "How can I contribute to this world without becoming a cliche?" So, I slowly fell into the world of foley design and editing and from there I am continually trying to come up with new ways of making sound for radio and image.

It is a real passion. love it Love It LOVE IT!!!!!

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The first time I made an emotional connection to what I was hearing on film was when I saw Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade on film. The music was spellbinding and gorgeous especially the music that played whenever the Holy Grail was discussed or seen. At the time, I was in college, lost, and not really sure of who I was. So I was definitely in a "Looking for God" mode. I think that's why the music resonated with me.

I was familiar with piano and viola so I dabbled in music composition. During this time, I became keenly aware of audio in film but more music than sound design. Oddly enough, it wasn't until I saw the car chase scene in We Own The Night many, many years later, that I became so enthralled with the role of sound design in storytelling.

I think I've always listened and responded to great sound design, but not on a conscious level until the moment I wanted to work on film as either a composer or sound designer. That precise moment was two years ago. I was a miserable medical student barely passing my exams when I decided that enough was enough and I had to do something different or I'm going to self-destruct. After a year of part time work and months of private music composition lessons, I decided to go with my gut and learn all there was about sound design for film. I considered a graduate program in music composition but my portfolio was not strong enough for consideration, in my opinion. So I went with the 2 year Recording arts program at a school in Chicago and now I'm starting fresh as a freelance location audio recordist/ sound designer and composer for films and video games.

If I had a time machine, I'd go back to the early 1990s and change my major from Biology to Music right after I saw Indiana Jones! Perhaps, I would have been less miserable at the very least! But then again, would I have ever met my lovely wife? hehe

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I think in sound as well ... fell into sound design whilst on the hunt for music composition gigs and found out I loved it .. cool question.

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I believe this is what I'm supposed to do.

As a kid, just like many of you, I had an ear for distinguishing differences in the sounds of music and harmony, etc. My mother used to sing in the house when I was very little and I fell in love with music. I remember asking for piano lessons for my 5th birthday, but my parents couldn't afford them. My father bought me a kids Elvis guitar instead and I learned all the fingerings and note arrangements in the booklet that came with the guitar. Of course I was just 5 years old and the youngest of 4 boys, so the guitar disappeared at some point that I don't recall.

At 8 years of age I started recording beats and keyboard phrases onto an old battery powered cassette recorder with my 11 year old cousin. He had an old toy polyphonic keyboard (3 octaves with the ability to play three notes at a time) that sounded like wind was blowing through it as I played chords. He used different sized books and plates and jars and metal things as his drum kit, while banging them with pencils and sticks, and what ever else made a cool noise.

When I grew older my mother sang in our church choir in the alto section. By the age of 12 I was able to hear all the parts of the choir sections as separate independent entities, yet in perfect union as they blended. I learned all the parts to all the sections for all the songs our choir sang and my mom started bringing me to choir practice to be closer to the music. By 15 I was studying bassoon at LaGuardia Arts, high school of music and art, in Manhattan. As I approached graduation I was studying privately with one of the top students from Juilliard School's bassoon master's class.

Due to a few misfortunate events I never went on to study music beyond LaGuardia, but a handful of years after graduation I started studying recording engineering and production. I fell in love with the electronics and equipment behind the music industry. Since then I've worked as a sound editor/producer for radio, to running live sound in small (very small) venues, producing various small projects out of my home production suite, as well as working as sound utility, boom operator, and production sound mixer, and sound transfer for a number of features, television shows, docs, commercials, webisodes, broadcast ENG shoots, etc.

After these last 15 years of studying the details of recorded sound and learning the process of implementing recorded sound in film, the desire to create melodic performances with "separate independent entities (of sound), yet in perfect union as they blend" continues to be my passion. I'm just starting to learn the art of sound design and I realize the difficulty of this passion. I'm back to square one. I just want to make music again, but this time it'll be with manipulations of varied auditory constructs, blending them into perfect union with a musical score and moving picture.

Thank you for the question. A wonderful end to a long day

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In my late teens, I developed a love for radio studios and recording gear. Similar to others in this thread, I've spent a lot of time watching special features for sound on DVDs. The Lord of the Rings featurette and many others sparked my passion. I recall how these interests led me to filmsound.org for the first time. I lost sleep diving into every article I could find while building up a healthy obsession with Randy Thom. At the time I was finishing with my undergraduate degree, I started investing in books and software while having fun and learning each and every day. I realized that I wouldn't be satisfied with life unless I pursued the dream of creating sound for film and video games. The choice was made, but nothing in life is achieved without hard work. I continued on as a live sound engineer after graduation and saved up to attend school for further technical training in the art of sound for linear and interactive media. Currently, I'm finishing said schooling and striving toward my career goals. Very cool reading the replies in this thread!

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