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I been reading this question: Where Do I Begin In Sound Design? and it got me to thinking not about 'starting' a career in sound but 'progressing', or more accurately, staying afloat in sound design?

I've been working for the last three years after university, however I've found that I need to diversify to put food on the table. I was reading Tim Prebble's article, very interesting it was, and he calls for finding your niche in the sound arena. I'd love to agree but I've found that if I wholly stick to sound (and not things like video editing, colouring etc what I do 'on top') then there's not enough work to go around. At least, yet.

I have recently moved from Manchester, UK to back to where I am originally from, Edinburgh. Perhaps this is partly the problem due to a shortage of need for sound editors/dubbing mixers in Scotland. From my limited three years I have found that sound design (all aspects) tends to be on student or very low budget films, also fuelled by passionate people, or big budget features which very rarely leave the comforts of Pinewood or Soho (in the UK at least).

So my question is, apologies for rambling, is how do people survive doing sound (before they become 'established')? Do you have extra curricular businesses (cafes, shops, jobs)? Do you diversify your skill-set, or narrow to a niche? Would love to hear your responses.

Best, Nicol

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Most people don't make it full-time ever. Or if they make, it's a very long, stubborn and incremental process. Basically, one sticks to it for as long as it takes until one has been in the field long enough to be considered "established" (i.e. this guy/gal is really about doing sound). I think it's also a said that most (at least interesting and changing) sound work is project-based, rather than full-time.

I think there's no easy answer. You can't do sound if there's nothing to do sound for or, practically, if you don't have anyone to pay for your sound. How one gets there (or doesn't), varies. If you want to make a decent and better secured income on the side, then you'd better have some real skills in a totally different job/field that has more to do with actual needs, means of production or highly-skilled or specialized labor, I'd say. I don't know how that really works in the sound field, because all the "specializations" are so inherently tied together and fairly trivial to adopt so that I find it difficult to even consider them "specializations", more like roles that some people tend to hold more often than some other roles. The best position financially is to be in a production company as an "in-house" sound guy, because the issue of gathering/initiating projects tends to be outsourced to other people and you're working under the company's brand and reputation.

As with art occupations in general, I'd say that what things really boil down is: how interesting your work is and how interesting you are.

Don't forget that there are also some ways to generate additional work around the sound work (e.g. teaching, workshops), if you can offer something that interests some individuals. As well as some jobs where you're dealing with sound (e.g. archiving, digitizing, record collections of public libraries and organizations etc.), not just in the artistic sense.

  • In my opinion there's also varying degrees of 'full-time' - such as a full-time staff editor, part time freelance/part time staff editor (= full-time), or full-time freelance. – Stavrosound Jul 11 '13 at 0:38
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Go where the work is.

Get any job you can at a studio or sound house even if it's not the job you want. I have seen many people make lateral moves. From driver to editor, assistant to editor, techie to editor, library to editor ... I started as a driver/apprentice.

You need to get your foot in the door. You will meet people and you will hopefully impress people. Most places do freebies or very, very low budget projects helping with student films, low-budget indies and the like. Volunteer for those and people will hear your work, they will get to know you, they will talk about you and if you're good they will hopefully start using you.

It's a small community compared to other ways of making a living. Crews are getting smaller. A lot of good editors/designers with a lot of experience and connections spend a lot of time unemployed. I'm lucky, I hooked up with the right people and have been doing this steady since the 80's. I never had to even think about getting another job.

If you're talented, enthusiastic and a good person you have shot. I tell people, "Hell, if I could do it so could you."

So there you go, for what it's worth. I'm sure somebody else has a different approach that is just as valid and just as effective. A combination of luck, meeting the right people, a willingness to work for almost nothing or for free (at first) and maybe just a little talent is what worked for me.

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I'm in a somewhat similar situation and I feel like I'm at a crossroads at the moment. I finished my sound-post course at the end of last year and I have yet to score a proper gig (I nearly got a 4 month entry-level gig on Masterchef, however the role was given to another candidate.) I've sent out numerous emails and I've had one facility tour so far, but I guess it's a given that most people are too busy to reply, but I'm still being persistent. I've just been chipping away on lo/no-paid short films at home to keep my mind occupied and also been working inconsistently at my local supermarket as a checkout operator (hate, hate, hate, plus the hours are too sporadic, so I've been forced to rely on benefits as well to make up the difference each week.)

I didn't have a gap year after I finished high school, so this is my first year out in the real world and it's made me grow up pretty fast. Since the Australian industry isn't looking too good at the moment, I'm considering applying for internships/positions in LA and New York, but I need some advice from you guys beforehand. What is the amount of work available like over there? I also feel this would be a great opportunity to combine it with my desire to travel as well.

  • I have been in NYC for 4 years doing. I work as an audio tech by day and a freelance sound editor by night (mostly sound effects). All the studios that I have relationships with have at most 3 staff positions. There just aren't a huge number of staff/full-time positions here. As my client list grows, I will eventually be busy enough to ditch the day job, but it won't be anytime soon. This is just how it works. – Chris Davis Jul 11 '13 at 12:56

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