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Money is definitely not the main reason I am here, but it is on my mind. When I get established as an in-house designer, would you say that it's enough to cover your bills and have a little left on the side, or do you find yourself in financial trouble?

If you find this question distasteful, I apologize. I just want to know everything I can about this job so that I know what I'm getting myself into.

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Yes, you can make a living in sound, but there are also many who never become successful. How comfortable your living is depends on how good you are, how good your connections are, the economy, and how well you sustain work. I highly doubt you will be driving a Lamborghini or sipping on Cristal every night.

Really, you can find yourself in financial trouble in any field. If you are passive with your career (again, in any field), you will at some point find yourself in trouble. You have to always be active, evaluating your position, looking at opportunities and using your skills and contacts to move into new opportunities as they become available. Working in sound is not like the job your father or grandfather had, where they went to work at the same company for 30 years, got regular raises, and retired with a nice pension. You have to control your career and move it to where you want to go.

It is not easy to get established in any creative industry, and you have to accept the fact that you may not make a comfortable living for a very long time. If earning a comfortable living is your main concern, you really would be better off looking at another trade. Longshoreman, sanitation worker, postal workers, etc. Careers in those fields would probably be much easier to get into and more secure.

  • 1
    I read somewhere that the average salary for sanitation workers is 70K. That's a good living if you ask me. – Utopia Jul 8 '10 at 21:32
  • Thanks, Chuck. This is great advice. It brings to mind Seth Godin's latest book Linchpin. It's a great read. Here's a promo interview with Seth by Merlin Mann. 43folders.com/2010/01/26/godin-linchpin – MtL Jul 9 '10 at 3:07
  • Ryan, I think the salaries for both sanitation workers and longshoreman are up there. And both are union jobs. That's why I mentioned those. To me, those are nice secure gigs that one can make a decent living with! Seems like we will always need someone to haul off our garbage or unload ships at the docks. – Chuck Russom Jul 9 '10 at 4:08
  • Musicians have a union, actors have a union... when do we get our union? – Dave Matney Jul 9 '10 at 13:57
  • @Dave Matney There is a union for film sound professionals. – Chuck Russom Jul 10 '10 at 21:37
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This is a question that I have spent a lot of time thinking about lately. I work as a dialogue editor, and while it is great to have a Pro-Tools/audio job that's secure and 9-5 (ish), I spend my days editing clicks and pops out of VoiceOvers. Let's just say that it's not exactly thrilling. But it pays the bills...

But here's the thing, if you spend more than you make, you will always find yourself in financial trouble, even if you get to Hollywood level. I've been reading a lot of stuff by guys like The Minimalists and In Over Your Head about how to set up your life to better facilitate doing what you love. It's been very inspiring. The idea of paring down your life (and Stuff) so that the money you make becomes more than you actually need, whether you bring in $30,000 or $500,000. I won't say any more than that (for fear of becoming preachy), but it's entirely possible to be happy and fulfilled making $1500-$2000 a month.

It's a question of what you want. If you want the house and the family it's going to cost you a lot more money than living out of a studio or bedsit. If you want to be able to keep up with all of the new techie toys that get released every every six months you're going to have to find a way to make enough money to get all the stuff without drowning in debt, not an easy task.

But the first thing is to figure out what you want, then budget accordingly.

My dream is to become an itinerant troubadour sound guy. I want to travel the world with my MacBook Pro and PCM-D-50 and work with as many people on as many things as I possibly can. I'm about six months away from being able to set off. I'm in the process of selling all of my extraneous gear, computers, clothes, books, shoes, frying pans and kitchen gadgets, and trying to save up as much safety money as I can. I know for a fact that I sure as hell won't be making a ton of money, but I don't need money. I need people and work and happiness and fulfillment, which my current well-paying, VERY SAFE job simply isn't giving me.

Maybe it'll work, maybe it won't, but as I'm sure someone much smarter than me has already said:

Failure is success, after a fashion.

  • Great post dude. – JTC Jun 2 '11 at 20:14
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I imagine it's all about what you put into it. If you put a lot of work into it, listening to what makes a good sound, being analytical about why certain things work, figuring those things out, finding out what works for yourself via trial and error, getting the gear to get field recordings, learning how to use it, and learn from your mistakes, all while staying dedicated to it, it's inevitable you're going to be doing well for yourself. If you clock in, shuffle sounds around in Pro Tools for eight hours, then turn off the second you clock out, you're probably not going to fare as well.

  • @Edward, I'll give you a high five on that one. – g.a.harry Jun 2 '11 at 17:06
  • Then again, it may not be "sound skills" that will keep one working. Every skill/field will be more or less "learned" eventually, it's just about practice, but it's not just the artistic skills that will keep projects rolling. I think being someone that people want to work with and always being reliable plays a much, much bigger role. People work with people after all and what you're doing is basically offering a service. At a much later stage may one develop a "brand" out of oneself so that one would be taken to projects just because of what one specifically does and/or how one does it. – Internet Human Nov 5 '12 at 6:37
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I think it's a good, valid question. Everybody wants a career that they enjoy, but if it doesn't pay the bills then what's the point? You'll need the money not only just to live on but also to purchase the gear, software, mics and recorders you'll need to stay relevant and unique in a rapidly-growing workforce with ever-shrinking crew sizes and budgets.

So, I'm going to offer up a cautious "yes" to your question. But I'll qualify my answer by saying that a union job is the way to go (solid weekly salaries + benefits), and it's best to be located in a city where there is a lot of work to go around (LA for film, Chicago, NY and Boston for commericals).

  • What kind of unions are there for sound designers? – Mercy Jul 9 '10 at 13:52
  • @Mercy Expanding beyond design to all things sound in entertainment, there are a few unions: United Scenic Artists for theatrical and live sound designers (I am currently pursuing this), IATSE for both live entertainment and film technicians, Motion Pictures Editor Guild for film sound editors, and I'm pretty sure about AFTRA for radio engineers. Correct me if I'm wrong about that one or left anything out...I think CAS is more of a club rather than a worker's union. – Matt Tibbs Jul 15 '10 at 6:11
  • "LA for film, Chicago, NY and Boston for commercials"... would you recommend anywhere in particular for games Jay? – JTC Jun 2 '11 at 20:14
  • @Joe Thomas Cavers well thats an interesting question Joe, cause I live in Greece and there are no game dev studios here, so I could not get a job as sound designer or anything. So i decided to start my own game dev studio so I can work on sound... what i found out is that now i have very little time left to actually work on sound :( and thats kinda sad for me... I hope to get it right when we have more money for more employees – Nikos Chatzigeorgiadis Jun 3 '11 at 13:36
  • @Jay I agree, a cautious 'yes' from me as well. – Stavrosound Feb 21 '13 at 8:19
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I'm currently fortunate enough to be employed full-time as a recording engineer, and some percentage of that job --plus a fair amount of non-conflicting freelance work-- is sound design. Like Mr. Palmer I am reluctant to discuss actual numbers.

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I have a good friend who is working freelance in the sound mixing industry. He records, mixes, produces and also does a little video sound now and then. I think he makes around 1k usd pr month from it on a bad month and 3k on a good month. So he works on the side.

But I think it depends on how bad you want this. If you really want it you can choose a simple lifestyle, and cut down on your expenses. Check http://www.godownsize.com/small-budget-to-get-out-of-debt/ to see how little you can live on when you must :)

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Yes!

I make a great living doing sound engineering work.

Figuring out how to actively seek out clients and do the business side of things has helped me tremendously.

The main thing I learned to make money in the sound biz is to go directly after your targeted profile client. Who is she? Advertising firm, mobile game, rapper in atlanta? Who would be your dream client to work with?

Once you figure it out, go pitch them your service. I sent thousands of emails and met with hundreds of potential clients over coffee.

The sound biz is great if you know how to do business. Basically you gotta learn sales and marketing.

After I got a small client base and validated I can make a profit, I then created a website and did search engine marketing, and internet marketing, which is totally free. Then people started banging on my door to get my sound engineering services.

It got to the point where I had to turn work down because I was booked solid! At that point you get to pick and choose your dream clients to work for and you'll be totally satisfied with your work and your financial status.

So get out there and take a systematic approach to making money in the sound biz.

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As with any form of creative employment some people do very well, some okay and some struggle.

I personally find it inappropriate to discuss my personal financial circumstances with people outside of my close family and friends.

  • But of course. I never wanted actual numbers, just a general idea. Thanks for your input. – Mercy Jul 25 '10 at 16:05
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My suggestion is do some research into what libraries offer and don't offer.... any library will tell you what people are searching for and not finding as they want to bridge those gaps in their stock. You CAN make a living just from selling sound effects on sound effect libraries but you need to focus your time on what will sell and what won't. 80% of what a library stocks sits unsold while 20% makes money so if you can hone in on that and produce the popular sounds that aren't already saturating the libraries you could do well.

I can estimate that with a few thousand GOOD targeted sounds you should be able to make around a £1000 a month and with maybe 10,000 good sounds, maybe double that.

Good luck!

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Yes ... very comfortable.

If you are in the U.S. WORK UNION. For sound editors and designers ours is the Motion Picture Editors Guild I.A.T.S.E. Local 700.

I haven't looked at my rate card in quite a while but I think Union sound editor minimum weekly is around $2000 a week (I could be off either way by a couple hundred dollars). If you are established and desired you make more.

There's game work in Los Angeles if that's the way you want to go.

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