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How do you promote yourself and your skills? How do you make them known?

I've tried promoting and putting together a really nice show-reel and I constantly get good comments of how well I am to work with etc. etc. but it just doesn't seem to push me into higher and higher positions on the todem-pole. I'm constantly the second-in-command or the "deputy" or what have you, and it is starting to irk me that I am not chosen for the head or supervising role and I honestly think I can do a better job than what I currently get hired as. ]I know how to communicate emotions through sound or how to create an atmosphere with sonic landscapes for a movie or even how important it is to capture home-grown sound effects to add that extra flavor to your soundtrack that you just can't get sometimes anywhere else. I feel like I've grown in my knowledge of what is correct and what is incorrect sound to add in to a professional soundtrack.

Should I be worried about this? I'm 26 and I feel like if I don't start moving up into those higher echelons of responsibility on projects I'll never make it out of "just being another editor on the project".

I mean, I have learned a lot on this site as well as on the job and I think I could sound design the hell out of a movie or similar project and I don't know how to communicate or show this to the powers-that-be which puts me into the go-to guy for sound needs.

What has worked for you in the past? I've been in this game for a little over 8 years and I've spent the last 2 years now working 80+ hours a week sacrificing many personal endeavors to get ahead in this game but it seems like I've not gotten anywhere and I'm sort of doubting if I can make it.

Thanks for your thoughts on the matter.

EDIT: Here is an example of something that happened recently that made me begin to feel this way.

A director came in to my studio to do a listendown to a final mix I recorded the voice over for. The sound design was complete, mixed and being submitted to him. It was a very artsy piece, similar to The Tree of Life. The narration could not be heard in certain places, the music was thin and lacked dimension, etc. Real basic things. Then, in terms of the artistic viewpoint of what sounds were chosen for certain things, there was a line of people who were lined up in a semi-serious scene, not slapstick or anything, and the sound chosen and put into the final mix was crashing bowling-pins when they were falling down. The designer eventually was fired and the film had to be fixed but that's one example where I thought - "Wow, with what I know, I could have helped that director with that soundtrack".

Another project I worked on, the director really really really wanted to make the audience feel cold and sad. He wanted it done solely with sound design because he didn't want any music in the film at this point. The sounds were 90% chosen from the on-set mics, a stereo pair set up by the camera. It was filmed on a sunny day so you hear birds, you hear traffic on dry streets and an otherwise normal day in a rural area. Many foley elements were missing, footsteps, movements on the screen, jerky camera angle switches, etc. The director shook his head while I played it back for him and he turned and asked me what I would do to design the soundscape to elicit the proper response from the audience, in this case being cold and sad. I told him I would do these things for starters: Nix the ambience with any signs of happy life - happy birds, anything which sounds warm or happy. I would then put in colder winds, colder climate sounds. Most specifically I thought of replacing all of the car bys with cars that were driving through puddles and wet streets, even though it had been filmed during a sunny day, so that the audience would subliminally think that it had just rained or that it was cold outside, etc. He heard this and told me to get with the editors and fix it right away. I spent that night all night re-working that section and getting it perfect (which was the use of the cold wind I recorded with the coleman air mattress I posted earlier) and he came back in after it was mixed and approved it first time.

I can go on and on and list my skills and how much production I've done and what different types of things I've done but I don't think that's necessary - I think my question has already been answered below, so thank you. But, I just wanted to clarify that I'm not sitting under the command of someone like Chris Boyes or Gary Rydstrom thinking I can do better than them, rather, it's situations like the above which I hope you agree are pretty blatant. But, I have been thinking of how to either promote myself or make it more known about what I CAN do so that I might be given more opportunities to have full responsibility of the track which yes, it does come from the idea that "I can do better than someone else" but from the viewpoint of better contributing to the effectiveness of the final mix and not from the viewpoint of "I'm better than him!" I haven't brought the director aside and told him that and I don't undermine my peers or say this sort of thing to them or the producers or any of that - this is the first place I've written this and I thought maybe some of you have had similar situations and care to share what you've done in the past to get yourself out of that situation.

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Have you thought maybe of talking to the people who end up being Captain of S.S. Movie? Not asking for responsibility, per se, but hanging out and learning how they got to be where they are? Express your interest in obtaining more responsibility, but without seeming to be gunning for their spot, if such a thing is possible. –  g.a.harry Jul 11 '11 at 15:45
    
You're still young to be very honest. It's a lot more competitive now than it was 30 years ago, Most top end editors etc won't make it until they're much older now. What were you doing at the age of 17-18? or are you counting university too –  edmatthews82 Jul 11 '11 at 17:01
    
Also do as g.a.harry is recommending, don't get big headed and above yourself, they're there for a reason and just learn, get in with them... a lot of the time its all about who you know and getting in with the right people! chin up buddy! :) –  edmatthews82 Jul 11 '11 at 17:03
    
Thanks @g.a.harry. Check out my revision above to see some examples, but I think I have my question answered. And thank you @edmatthews82. Thanks everyone! –  Utopia Jul 11 '11 at 21:15
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Wow. Bowling pins? Okay, i'm moving to California. But, IMHO, regardless of the questionable sound choices you mentioned, you'll be better served by quietly coming to the rescue (as you seem to be doing) and not making a big deal out of it. In my experience, people notice and appreciate that. –  Roger Middenway Jul 12 '11 at 12:27
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9 Answers 9

I had someone of a similar age/experience come to me with a similar complaint a year or so ago and heres an abbreviated version of what I said to them (and NOTE: I do not know you o your situation, so disregard what does not apply to you)

You don't know what you don't know. That statement might seem self evident but trust me, there is quite a lot you are unaware of in terms of supervising. Thinking you should be supervising projects after just 2 years of work speaks of impatience & ego, both traits I personally would not want in someone on the team making a film. I think you need to go away for a few years, work hard and rethink your attitude. I didn't go to Film School until I was 25, was 26 when I started as a trainee sound effects editor, and supervised my first feature film when I was 31. If you can do it faster than that good luck, but I'd be surprised if 5-6 years of hard work (ie 10,000 hours) aren't a prerequisite, so I'd like to suggest you are less than half way there. Being responsible for the soundtrack on a film is serious, takes experience, maturity & is a great responsibility - there are millions of dollars and people careers at stake...

Suggestions to help you get there:

  • Find short films to do as personal projects where you CAN supervise/do everything. You might begin to appreciate how difficult it actually is, but regardless you will learn lots...

  • Do some study about ego, patience, compassion, collaboration (I don't mean oprah/self help books, i mean psych/personality/philosophy etc)

  • Be very careful about being judgemental ("Ever felt you were better for the job?") as it reeks of ego & I've seen that same attitude present itself later in some peoples lives/careers as they cynically believe they are smarter/know better than the director. Talk is cheap. Work hard & let your work speak for you. Your work AND your attitude will be noticed.

  • Have you worked in all fields of sound post? Have you recorded foley? performed? dialogue edit? record ADR? edit ADR? record/edit FX, ambience? Early in your career is a good time to get some experience in all fields, especially if you want to be a supervisor. You do not learn someones role by watching, and later on to actively supervise/collaborate with them you need to understand how and why they do what they do, so you can try & help them do their best work. Which is why doing short films are great experience - treat it like half a reel of a feature film & work to a feature film quality/standard...

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Thanks a lot, Tim. You are very good at giving wake-up calls and I needed that one. Please see my above edit for more specific scenarios but I think I've learned a lot from everyone's replies. Thanks! –  Utopia Jul 12 '11 at 20:23
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Directors notice when you collaborate & do work for them that others can't, and they remember. And when a project is successful, the one thing they want is to make their next project sucessful too. So they tend to return to the people who were an important part of the formula of their previous project.. In the examples you site, do you think they will go back to the guys who did a bad job? Hopefully not, but it can take 2-5 years to get a project up & made, so that good karma can take a while to return to you. But it usually does.... –  user49 Jul 12 '11 at 22:50
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First off, don't get down on yourself. Good work speaks for itself over time.

I don't want sound condescending but two years is not a long time to be working your ass off and not be offered the top jobs. This is a business where track record speaks volumes and showing your stuff over an extended period of time with consistent results is important. It is also a business with a fairly high turn over. Every year a ton of schools unleash thousands of new grads, who are ready to take over the business. Sadly in 5 or 10 years only a very small fraction of those grads are still in the game. So before you are given the big responsibility of lead roles you have to prove you are one of the minority that will be around for the long haul.

Another thing needed to be an audio lead is social skills that a lot of sound people lack. We are by nature people who have gravitated to working long hours alone in dark rooms, so sometimes our social skills are not as pointed as needed. Audio leads need to be salesmen (both selling themselves and the audio decisions they have made) and very often producers want to be fluffed up as much as they want great audio. Dealing with production staff is a skill unto it's self. If someone is better at selling themselves then at the actual sound work they can sometimes get further quicker just because they are playing the "game".

My advice would be to work on your schmoozing skills. Try to develope relationships with the people making the calls, outside of strictly audio discussions so they know you as a fully rounded person. Most importantly keep improving your chops so when you get your shot, you don't blow it. Because you will never get another shot if you don't take advantage of it.

Keep your head up, good luck.

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Hey Azimuth, thanks for the reply. I really appreciate it. –  Utopia Jul 9 '11 at 19:27
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2 years is a good start, but the reality of the situation is that it will take many more years before you develop enough seniority and track record to really start taking the lead on things. Be better than everyone else for longer than everyone else and the details will eventually take care of themselves.

I also think your perspective may be a little off. A wise man said "the things we spend our days doing are the things we spend our lives doing"

If you spend your days trying to get ahead, then you'll spend your whole life doing that. There will always be someone better than you, some project bigger than the one you're working on, some position above yours (even if you're the owner).

My advice is to spend your days working at the things you love and doing the things you love, and when you look back on it you'll see that you've spent your life doing the things you love. If you feel that doing the art of audio is causing you to sacrifice happiness in other areas, then it may not be your boss's fault that you're unhappy.

Also, Azimuth is very correct in that the social skills aspect of the job is at least as important as the audio skills aspect. If you're an amazing sound designer but can't communicate with a team then you're not very useful. If you're a serviceable sound designer who everyone loves to work with then you're far ahead of most.

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Hey Rene, thanks a lot. Some really good advice there. –  Utopia Jul 9 '11 at 19:27
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While i understand the bile that comes with seeing a job go to someone you think of as less worthy, i think that letting it affect you is something you should work against. I'm far from perfect, so i'm talking from an idealistic point of view that i don't necessarily live up to myself, but it's something i work towards.

Also, as someone mentioned, 2 years is nothing in this industry. I think you're doing pretty damn good to be where you are right now! It's a slow moving industry that is, perhaps a little, biased against younger folk (i'm talking under 30). You need to take that in your stride and, when it comes to pride related matters, take it on the chin without flinching (if that makes sense).

Another dangerous thing that i have been guilty of before is underestimating the skills of my peers/competitors. I don't do it so much now because i realised that it came from my own insecurity. You definitely don't want to let this sour your working relationship with the people who get the job over you.

Finally, 80+ hours a week of work just isn't sustainable. This career is a marathon, not a sprint, and you can burn yourself out working like that. An important part of the creative process is rumination time; letting your mind be idle in order to process all the information it's been dealing with (the old cliche of coming up with your best ideas in the shower/toilet). Having activities and life outside of the job will make you happier, reduce stress, and give you new perspectives on things. And getting more sleep is just great for everyone involved.

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Thanks Roger. To clarify, I have been working in this industry for 8 years (since I was 17 turning 18) but for the past 2 I have worked longer and harder to really get my skills straight. Thanks for the great advice. –  Utopia Jul 9 '11 at 19:28
    
@Utopia Ah, that makes a lot more sense. But yeah, go easy on yourself man! And thanks for asking the q, it's prompted me to take a look at where i am and where i'm going, which i haven't done for a little while. –  Roger Middenway Jul 9 '11 at 20:38
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The Disclaimer

Please keep in mind that I'm directing this towards you, Utopia, (after all, you brought it up) but I am not speaking about you. I'm not looking to be an asshole. I don't want to insult you. I'm not trying make calls against your professionalism, your skills, or talent. I don't know the full details of your situation, so you can disregard my entire answer if it doesn't apply. But I've had this chat before, and would try to explain this to just about any person, in any industry, who is experiencing this feeling. Hopefully it helps...


The Praise

I must give you credit for having the personal insight to recognize that you don't know how to properly express yourself because you might come across "as a jerk." Further, I encourage your motivation to achieve higher and higher positions. But take a step back and recognize what you have achieved. You're 8 years into your career and "second-in-command" on your projects! How many people on this forum would love to be in your chair? How many have put in far more work to be in a similar position? Buck up man, from here it sounds like you're doing great!


The Answer

Full disclosure... I've only been doing this a few more years than you, in a far less competitive market. But I've seen my fair share of the younger crop attempt to move into the industry only to fail miserably. Broken, frustrated, dejected, and angry they're called in and fired, or worse yet, simply never get a call back. The final straws are varied, but the one common denominator amongst them all? A strong sense of the sentiment that plagues rising successes in any field, entitlement.

Lose it. Kill it. Eradicate it without remorse.

There are far too many professionals, vying for far too few jobs for anyone to deal with some "20-something kid" who thinks they deserve anything. They are quietly and continuously shuffled further down to the bottom of the pile until nobody wants to work with them or somebody shakes them up with a wake up call.

To answer your basic question, no, I have never felt like I would be better for a job after another peer was chosen over me. I have felt disappointed because the project sounded interesting. I have felt that I could have contributed something of great value to the project. I've felt that I was in tune with what a director was looking for, or that we would make a great piece together. But feeling that I know "better" is far too subjective.

Perhaps it is my own naivety, my notion of giving people the benefit of the doubt, but I always consider the option that I got passed over for some particular reason that's completely out of my control. I try as hard as I can to not take it personally, understand that this is a business, and get back to work on the task I have at hand.

Tim's statement of "you don't know what you don't know" hits it just right. But it's not just about your professional experience vs theirs. It's also about everything else surrounding the project: the budget, the time frame, the relationships, the personal taste/style preferences, even the expectations of those footing the bill.

But, not every EP is a cheap, time-crunched, type-A, ageist, who thinks that the sun rises and sets on their personal taste in film. Right? ;) So what else could it be?

Clearly you are passionate about sound design, and like many enthusiastic up-and-coming editors you're ready to tackle more. But broad, sweeping statements like "I honestly think I can do a better job than my peers" smack of arrogance and immaturity, but even more damaging, it shows that you don't have the respect for those who do the work, nor the grace to handle it even if you were given the opportunity.

Should you be worried about this? Absolutely.

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Jeezus this is some great advice. Thank you. I updated my question with an example of why I started feeling this way recently so you have more data to think with about my situation, but the perspective that I have many years in the future to continue working is reassuring - so thank you. –  Utopia Jul 11 '11 at 20:57
    
Glad you took it positively @Utopia. I was trying desperately to not sound like a spirit-crushing d!ck ;) I'll have to read your update later and get back to you with more specifics. –  Steve Urban Jul 11 '11 at 21:15
    
@Steve Cool - looking forward to it! –  Utopia Jul 11 '11 at 21:20
    
@SteveUrban You did not sound like a d!ck at all. I think a lot of us were trying to ride the balance of advice and admonishment. @Utopia way to take the advice in the spirit it was intended. –  AzimuthAudio Jul 12 '11 at 0:17
    
@Utopia- To echo @Roger above, it sounds like you're handling yourself quite properly. As you've seen, people who can't cut it get cut, those who fix it get noted. Keep up the can-do attitude and be ready to show people you have what it takes. –  Steve Urban Jul 12 '11 at 14:06
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I've been in the same situation as you for the last year. I've had to watch really big audio decisions made by people who literally know nothing about audio. Been lectured at about the technology and standards that I work with every day, and have dedicated my life to understanding. It's frustrating as all hell.

It seems to me that there are two ways to look at it. 1) It's worth it, or 2) It's not.

1) If the direction your heading in right now is what you really, really want then @AzimuthAudio and @Rene have it dead on; stick to your guns and keep on working both the sound and the people around you. We live in a culture that is highly biased towards the extrovert. If you don't speak up for yourself everyone will just assume that you don't think you're ready for the job. Part of the gig when you get more responsibility is being able guide the progress of a project towards a particular set of goals, so you have to be able to assert yourself while keeping everyone on side and on point. And in my experience if you want more responsibility and control you have to let people know. Not everyone, of course, but at the very least the people who are in charge of job delegation. This in itself requires diplomacy and the ability to get your superiors on your side without seeming to do so, which is where the schmooze comes in.

2) If you have a hard time with having to do that then you might want to investigate other options. Believe it or not, there are people out there who do what we do without having to do much in the way of the schmooze. The trick is to find people and projects that really get you going; where getting to the top isn't important, where the only ladder to climb is the project itself. The means justify the end, not the other way around. Having big name, important people working on a film never guarantees that the film will be great. The best movies, music, books, TV, and games I've enjoyed over the last few years have been done by people I'd never before heard of. Not because I'm that pretentious, but because the people involved adore the work they're doing and don't give two sheets about the paycheck or the accolades.

I am by no means an authority on the subject and am myself fairly far down the ladder, but from what I can see the biggest thing is simply to be honest with everyone around you, including yourself. If you're into where you are and where you're going, Great! Work hard, be patient and you'll get there. If you discover that you're into something else and want to go try it, Great! Work hard, be patient and you'll get there.

Remember that there're a few dozen infinities of ways to get from here to the finish line (I've re-written this post twice already), so always keep your eyes open for the right turn-off.

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Thanks g.a.harry. Glad to know I'm not exactly the only one - some really good advice there. Thanks. –  Utopia Jul 9 '11 at 19:27
    
GA, I'd take exception to lots of your first point there. I believe your work does speak for itself, and brown nosing can end up costing you more than it adds. –  Rene Jul 10 '11 at 2:05
    
@Rene, You're right, I was being a bit cynical there. Will edit. I've had a few bad experiences lately, being taken advantage of and not standing up for myself. –  g.a.harry Jul 11 '11 at 15:20
    
love the edit. much better headspace IMO. –  Rene Jul 11 '11 at 16:30
    
Yeah, I was having a bad day. –  g.a.harry Jul 11 '11 at 17:27
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Hey @Utopia... remember when you asked about learning mixing and I mentioned the "Zen" of removing yourself from the equation? This would be another good area to practice that! :)

Steve and Tim have stated it far better than I could, so I won't rehash - their advice is good, and the fact that you've taken it to heart, means you will get through all this.

Oh and finally, when you DO get to the big chair (and I for one have no doubt you will), remember how you felt and what you learned, and pass it on!

P.S. For the record... I'm still workin' on that Zen thing 10 years on.

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You could be grateful that you are actually making any money at all in this post-digital-apocalyptic state of audio business. It is a marathon, not a sprint, rome was not built in a day. Sometimes the best thing to do is admit that you made a mistake (working80+hours and expecting to come up as fast as you'd like to) and move on.
Your work will always be the way to show who you are in relation to what you can do. Developing communication skills and becoming aquaintences with everyone in the world will be the half of the battle.

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Thanks a lot BuckRogers. Great advice. –  Utopia Jul 12 '11 at 20:25
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I felt the same way as you, working 80+ hours a week to come up quickly and make at least a little bit of money. I'd have to say that it has payed off a little bit but, theres a time for taking it easy too.

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