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Im just finishing my degree in live & studio sound and was wandering what other skills do sound designers most like to have? And what makes a sound designer more employable other than having skills in sound design?

Also, how important are music composition skills?

Thanks

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Well, sound design is mainly creative specialist work, although it practically encompasses everything in "sound production" in general (which would make a "sound designer" more of a generalist in the audio field). Thus, to be really competent, you should know at least a bit of everything that goes into making a soundtrack (music composition, music recording, sound effects recording and creation, dialog and location recording, hiring and directing VO artists, recording VO, mixing and mastering), although it doesn't mean that you have to do everything, but rather you should know what creating a soundtrack encompasses and what kind of talent you need to hire and/or work with. Additionally, it may be beneficial to understand script writing, film making, video editing, acting, animation, game design etc. as art forms and a bit on the practical level, because those are things that affect your work as an artist, because you're interpreting the work of other artists and working towards a coherent piece of art or media with them, and knowing and being interested in what other artists do is a good way to show professionalism. You may also wish to understand the business and entrepreneurial side of things a bit, especially if you freelance or set up your own studio. Additionally, you may wish to follow your chosen medium as a consumer to have a good sense of different styles and genres that inspire you on how to do your own work and to know what others in your field/medium are doing. And well, actually consuming the medium that you work in is probably one of the most important things, because producing it is a balance between meeting viewer/consumer expectations (i.e. lending common styles, making "what they want to hear" and producing sound which supports their art experience or media consumption the best) and filling the gaps with your own personal style. A sound designer's as well as any artist's most important skill, taken that you want to be paid for doing it, is to make stuff that people want to consume, and most importantly, stuff that supports the piece that you're doing sound for in the best possible way.

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I find that most times studio managers and producers often overlook the technical aspects and feel you out for how easy you are to work with and how you deal with other people. Sure you've got to know how to use the tools of the trade and sure, music composition is extremely important for what we do, but like the others, I'm going to start in at more of a bedrock level.

A couple things I have gleaned:

  • Learn to be willing to change your ____ (read: edit, mix, design, proposal...). I know, I know. You've stayed up all night and really think the edit you've done fits so well with the speederbikes in that chase scene, and you've spent 20 hours total caressing the volume rides and massaging the pan automation to make it perfect. The video editor liked the sound so much he made it his ring tone. You have sat with the mixer and he's told you what a great job you've done. And now, on the Friday evening before you planned to take the weekend off going paragliding with your fiance, the director turns around in his seat in the viewing theater and tells your sound super that "The speederbikes need to be a little more.... MMmmmphgffff". I don't care if you have to carry around a self-electrocuting device. I don't care if you have to carry around a bullet to bite. The second you feel like saying "No - my speederbikes are awesome and you should use them" to the director, you have to do something to hold it in. It's not your movie - you have to learn how to change things when asked. Not that this sort of thing happens all the time (joking), but it's going to be the more willing designer who is willing to take a look at his speederbikes again and willing to start from scratch on a Friday night to try to deliver what the director needs and wants that is going to be re-hired. Not the new guy who is cocky and confident his speederbikes will win an oscar.

  • Learn how to not take criticism personally. A scene I cut ADR for once elicited this response from the director: "Yeah, well, that scene kinda sucked and the ADR kinda sucked and you f&%&cked up the VFX in it, yeah - it kinda sucks but OK. The ADR didn't suck too bad, but it still sucked. I guess the guy knew what he was doing". Later on, the producer came and told me "yeah, that was actually a compliment". This director is known for not giving compliments the way Mr. Rogers does. I'm not saying all criticisms you receive will be like this, but if I were to break down and become upset about what the director told me, I would get nowhere. You have to learn how to accept criticism and pay heed to the important things. I've seen a lot of people on message boards post the "Hey - I just made this, please critique it" and people give honest critiques. And then the person who posted it spends the rest of his responses trying to defend what he put up as being good and doesn't learn from what people told him.

  • Organization. Knowing how to organize your time and setting up your schedule to be able to beat or meet a deadline is extremely important IMHO. And the gigs I do, the sound designer/editor/mixer/recordist who manages their time and can organize their workday to achieve an easy pace but still getting all the work done to a stellar product and still manages to get a good night's sleep is revered, while the martyr who really "muscled it through" after not sleeping for a week to get it done is not the first on the list to get re-hired.

  • Discipline. Are you diligent and work the full day with minimal breaks or "f*%$-around"? I know fellows who have been fired for taking a personal call while he was working. And I know producers who sometimes test their employees by calling them while on the job to see if they pick up or continue working. Obviously an emergency is okay, but I'm talking about the two broads you want to go bar-hopping with or the buds who want to know if you want mush n' pepp or hawaiian on your pizza tonight... It's definitely noted how diligent and persistent to work you are.

  • Common courtesies in the mixroom / studio. Don't unpatch the other guy's patchbay for yours which is "more important". Don't move papers unless you know exactly who's they are. Don't leave a mess for the next guy in the studio. Coil your goddamn cables correctly with over-under and not like a garden-hose. Common sense courtesy goes a LONG way. Help your fellow co-worker. Be willing to move big demo equipment boxes around, help clean the bathroom stalls up, help receptionist Judy bring in the 40-pack of water bottles from the car outside. "Hey Bob, who was that guy who was so willing to help out and helped the foley artist when he was done for the day?" "Oh, that was Brian." "Lets get him on the next project - he's a hard worker."

  • Learn how to keep a computer organized, and learn and use basic computer filing systems which are generally agreed upon. Don't mess up a computer's harddrive with a bunch of "delete me" sessions or clutter up a desktop with file exports. Keep your harddrives nice and clean, organize your sessions, create a "Previous Sessions" folder to put older Pro Tools sessions in so the most recent version is the only one in the session folder. Obviously not everyone works the same or does the previous sessions trick, but learn how the people you're working with like to manage things and try to use their methods. This also carries into your sessions. Don't leave a bunch of ambiguous markers that say "UTH", "Stopped here", "Fix this", "something here". It wastes time for the next guy to work with the session. Put things down in notes - don't keep things in your head.

  • Don't be important. Be humble and open to someone else's opinion. No matter how great you think you can make that effect work or whatever other idea you have that is "better than the other guy's", don't push it on people. Wait for your chance to present something or be called to work something out. In the long run, you'll be noticed as "better than the other guy" if you continue working and are diligent as above and eventually your work will be noticed. Bragging also plays a part in this - don't do it. Don't call attention to yourself to get noticed - it annoys the hell out of certain people and creates a sort of reputation about you that others just seem to repel or reject after a while. "Guess who I worked with - I recorded Tom Pitt!" is about as acceptable to a professional dubbing session as a dead opossum at a wedding.

  • Continue learning. You're dead the minute you think you know all there is to know about sound design. The moment you start resting on your laurels, be certain your time is almost up because there is constantly things changing or upgrading or moving and you need to be all over it and on top of it. Don't become out-dated or "behind the times".

  • Good etiquette in general. Be amiable and pleasing in your appearance. Knowing how to treat women or superiors or important people. Knowing how to speak to the "big wigs". You're the big new mixer on the project, huh? Don't ignore the janitor or runners or secretaries - who do they report to? Your boss. Grant everyone respect in the workplace. Trust me, I've seen many college kids come in and just get dumped after their first internship because they're in some "cool guy" attitude all the time and pay no attention to certain people "beneath" them and what not. It's pretty sad.

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The couple "skills" that I believe are most important to employability in this business is people skills and a positive attitude. No ones going to want to work with someone with a terrible attitude who doesn't get along with other people. This art, especially when talking film, tv and gaming, is such a collaborative process you have to be able to work with all types, even if you can't personally stand them. It's amazing what a "can do" attitude and a smile can do for ones career.

Best of luck to you!

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  • It's the harsh reality that the artsy job, when it's a job, isn't just about the art, but a lot of other concerns, and being good with people, colleagues and "customers" is really the most fundamental and important in having something else than personal projects to work on :) Nov 17 '12 at 18:05
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  • Totally agree with everything the others have said - especially people skills & being positive/enthusiastic is very, very important!

  • Knowing when to be quiet

  • Knowing dub stage etiquette

  • Knowing the history of your field, i.e. if you work in film you should watch a LOT of films & not just Hollywood films (when looking for interns I always ask for applicants to list their 5 favourite films and if they are all from one country/culture, then I eliminate them... I cannot stand xenophobia)

  • Understanding other peoples roles eg knowing how & why a picture editor does their work is very important

imho composition skills are not essential, but having a musical ear, a sensibility & an appreciation for a broad range of music is very beneficial as you will collaborate with composers...

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  • 3
    Is there a book that teaches "dub stage etiquette"? hehe
    – Utopia
    Nov 17 '12 at 22:05
  • All very important - #5 definitely stands out to me. While I don't do produiction sound mixing anymore (instead FX recording), I found that being a production mixer made me a more decisive dialogue editor, and vice versa. Same sort of tradeoff with FX recording. SO there is definitelt something to be said for knowing others' roles, and often it can benefit both parties. Nov 27 '12 at 8:38
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Besides everything was told, don't forget to be yourself. Because too many people nowadays think about it like of industry, like we work in some accounting department. I hate it so much and it is so stupid.

Possibly the only common rule (and most probably if you want to work in movies) it is Pro Tools. All the rest else is just an attempt to standardize everything. Just be yourself, bring something new with you.

And imho, people shouldn't always think about their work like of constant development process. I mean, when you say something like: "Oh, that work I did 5 years ago, I was young and now I can do it better", honestly, I think it is stupid.

Do each project as best as you can, and then later you won't be ashamed of it. There might be ascensions and declines, just don't take it like the straight idealistic process.

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Learn to find out what people really want, rather than what they say they want. There is usually an overlap, but not everybody is good at communicating. Listen closely, make thorough notes and deliver what was asked for.

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