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Hi, I currently work in web development, but my most satisfying work experience to date was doing sound production for a band. I'm curious what the path into the sound design industry today is, considering the music industry is broken, and the entertainment industry has a bajillion gatekeepers. I really want to invest in gear, but I'm concerned that it will become an expensive hobby. Thanks.

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If you mean film sound design, it tends to go like this:

  • step 1. do some film and audio education (one to three years)
  • step 2. do work experience (one week to one year)
  • step 3. attain trainnee position (six months to one year)
  • step 4. become assistant sound editor on TV series (one to three years)
  • step 5. become sound editor on TV series (one to three years)
  • step 6. become assistant sound editor for film (one to five years)
  • step 7. become sound editor for film (three to five years)
  • step 8. become sound designer for film

note: - some people never advance past being a TV sound editor - some people never advance past being an assistant sound editor - many people never advance past being a sound editor

None of these are judgements or criticisms. Anyone with experience will tell you every person in the team is crucial eg an incompetent assistant sound editor can do an awful lot of damage!

I know of rare cases where eg someone went straight into a trainnee assistant sound editor on films, but the most important factor involved in the years of commitment to an artform such as film sound design is finding out what you are actually good at. It may turn out you are an awesome foley editor & that becomes your artform, or it may be dialogue editing is the one for you...

Sound Design, like mixing films requires knowledge & experience of all roles in film sound post and in film making itself, from screenwriting though production & editing to post...

The merit of investing in gear in the early days is you need to learn to use the tools, so that when you get work experience or a trainnee position you aren't still learning how to use the software etc - you are learning why you should do certain things certain ways. In that sense your most important mission is to find an experienced mentor and/or team to become a part of. Most sound designers & supervising sound editors tend to evolve a tight team of people they prefer to work with on every project.

Note: every person who works in the film industry got there via a unique path, so I am obviously generalising but this is all just what I have observed over the years...

Ahhhh overnight success, its takes decades!

(me personally: went to film school in 1990, sound designer on feature film for first time 1997 - in those seven years I was totally focused on becoming a sound editor ie I stopped all music projects, moved cities to be where the work was etc...)

  • Wow, what a thorough answer. – Andrew Spitz Mar 11 '10 at 21:04
  • wow!!! and THAT is the one and ONLY answer!!! – Nikos Chatzigeorgiadis Mar 12 '10 at 0:25
  • ...for many questions already in here, and questions to be asked in here! – Nikos Chatzigeorgiadis Mar 12 '10 at 0:26
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    its going to turn into a blog post ;) – user49 Mar 12 '10 at 5:41
  • now to find the mentor. :) – eighteyes Mar 13 '10 at 19:58
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Just to clarify, we're not talking about recording bands or doing their live sound. Also, sound design is not just for film. I will be generalizing a bit here, and making it "earning money in sound" (on-set recording, building synth presets, sonnifying websites, game sound, sound to picture, etc.)

My perspective is different, I'm not working in high-end productions (big-ish for South Africa though), and I did not follow the traditional route mentioned above. I 'm definitely following a legitimate and common path for today though. Bare in mind that I'm not even remotely close to the level of Tim. If Tim where the size of the earth, in comparison, I'm a pea cut in four. However, I'm doing exactly what I want to be doing in sound, and I'm earning decently (for my age, with no kids or bonds or serious stuff like that).

There is a really wide spectrum of opportunities in sound. Thanks to the move to digital, film-making (and other mediums) has become somewhat democratized. Anyone with a bit of equipment can get going to quite an okay standard. So this means that small independent directors will probably want a small independent sound designer. Or an iPhone app might need a few sounds. You're currently a web developer, so it's an industry you know and you can probably find work designing sounds for websites. You could even charge a bit extra to your current clients to have their site sonnified. These are all small steps towards building a portfolio, practice and connections. You will grow with these connections, make sure they keep coming back to you and years down the line you will have a steady income from projects coming your way.

With a small investment of a DAW, a sound card, a mic, and monitors you are well on your way to being able to offer a service that people will pay for. You can't charge much, but you can try earn enough to pay back the gear and invest into better gear. There are free or cheap alternatives to almost every piece of software and plugin. For hardware, as georgi.m says, you can find cheaper alternatives.

As Collin says, working for free is a great way to get experience without a huge amount of worry of screwing up. That said, I think it's better to charge a nominal fee like $50, this will give the person you're working with a feeling that you have value, and the next time a job will come in he might hire you for $100. If you work for free too much, that jump to becoming a paid professional might be a bit harder. It took me a long time to get over the "I have no value and I should work for free" attitude.

I think studying is really important. It gives you first of all an introduction of what you should know, also a playground to practice, but most important of all -- it gives you connections. Almost all paid work I have gotten has come from connections (directly or indirectly) I had made in film school. During my studies I worked super hard and people liked working with me, they are all working in the industry now and this brings me a fair amount of work.

Last point, some places are harder to succeed in than others. I think Caesar said something along the lines that he'd rather be the emperor of a small unknown town than be a common citizen in Rome. But we have internet now so good sound design opportunities may arise easier :-)

Good luck.

  • Don't be so modest... aren't you that guy from SocialSoundDesign.com? :D Nice answer, Andrew. I agree: work hard, be someone that people want to work with again. (And this is useful in ANY field you are trying to crack into.) – MtL Mar 13 '10 at 23:56
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I really want to invest in gear, but I'm concerned that it will become an expensive hobby.

Maybe yes, comparatively expensive, but compared to what? Web development is ultra-cheap, compared to everything else. Apart from computer and software there are hardly any other expenses. In sound you will eventually have to invest in microphones, recording equipment, and sometimes niche software. And even then, it's still cheap, compared to what, say, video people need to invest in. When you get to the point of having a place to do this in, that's when things can become more expensive than not.

Myself, I'm taking purchases slowly and thinking twice before each one. I've had the luck to see what's used by the pros very early. I believe it is possible to end up with all the essential gear even on a really tight budget. It won't cover all the tasks, but it's not my aim anyway. The same brand names come up over and over again, but a) there are alternatives and b) successful designs tend to get imitated, replicated, or plain stolen by vendors willing to offer them at a lower price. Then there's that specific client mindset, so often one would be wise not to say what they use :)

In any case it is essential to think of gear as an investment. some will last, some won't. Least you can do is have it pay for itself before it's out of service.

I think of time as the most expensive element. I mean, 10+ years! So any journey, any idle time, any downtime, becomes valuable: reading is high on the list of activities, so is learning and experimenting with the tools, building and organising a library, and so on. In my book, knowledge and flexible thinking are the superpowers for this activity. For everything else there's a way around.

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Not that I can top Tim's answer (nice), but one rule seems to be universal in almost every seasoned sound designer's story (that I've heard); start out by doing work for free. Working for free sucks, but it gets you experience, a resumé, and a reputation (hopefully a good one). After doing that for a while (a few months to a year), you can start getting referred, getting paid, etc...

That's just the first stepping stone though. Refer to Tim's post for the rest...

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Awesome, thanks guys. I should go link up with some film students about working with them. I really can't afford to go back to college, I've poured over the Yamaha Sound Reinforcement book several times, I much prefer learning on my own as opposed to forced education.

Linking it up with what I do now is an interesting idea. Most of the time, I find sound on websites to be completely annoying. One company I worked for demanded to have a stream of audio AND an autoplay youtube on their home page! It's no wonder they had < 100 hits a day, and people tended to leave instantly. But, linking up with apps and games seems to be a good path.

Overall, I would like to get into making music, of course, but my tastes run a little niche for commercial appeal. Creating sound effects, etc, is something I think I could do very well at. I currently live in Minneapolis, having fled joblessness in the east coast. There seems to be a ton of sound industry here, so lets see where it can go.

Thanks!

  • I agree, 99% of the time sound on a website will bug the hell out of me. Best of luck finding your path! – Andrew Spitz Mar 13 '10 at 21:22

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