You are on page 1of 12

creative careers

working in sound design


Creative Careers, Student Services, University of the Arts London
65 Davies St, London, W1K 5DA
tel: 020 7514 6150 fax: 020 7514 6219
textphone: 18001 0207 514 6150 minicom: 020 7629 6371
email: careers@arts.ac.uk
website: www.arts.ac.uk/student/careers
working in sound design

Where do I start?

Finding a job takes time, energy and effort. One of the most important activities in the process of
obtaining work is research. This leaflet is just a starting point.

What do sound designers do?


Sound designers create audio tracks for a wide range of productions from theatre and film to TV
or computer games. Used effectively, sound makes an enormous difference to an audience’ s
enjoyment, encouraging viewers to suspend disbelief. The role is therefore very creative and
could involve researching and creating never-heard-before sounds or mixing, editing and adding
reverb to recorded sounds to create just the right atmosphere for a production.

The work varies considerably according to which medium in which you chose to work. In film &
theatre productions you would work closely with the director to ensure the mood is created. In
computer games and multimedia the work tends to be with programmers in a studio, often
composing the music as well as creating completely new sounds for a game or animation. Ideally
sound designers are involved at the conception stage of a game, negotiating to influence
decisions throughout. It is however common for freelancers to be brought in towards the end of
a production, which could mean working alone for long hours in a studio to complete the game
within deadline.

Designers also produce soundscapes for museums and theme parks or producing art
installations for Galleries.

Who might employ me?


As the majority of sound designers work as freelancers, there is a wide range of potential
employers both in the media and in IT-based developing industries. Within media, work could be
for broadcasters or production companies and digital/web channels. Specialist animation
companies do sometimes employ sound designers as do theatres, film production companies
and the games industry.

Most designers work on a range of projects at any one time. They might, for example be
composing music for use on sound effects libraries or adverts at the same time as working on a
new game or animation.

Terms you might hear


An understanding of all the roles associated with sound design is useful. Some of the more
unusual terms you may come across include:

2 working in sound design © Creative Careers University of the Arts London 2005
‘Foley artist’
: the person who creates and records replacement effects for the screen (e.g.
footsteps).
‘Sound supervisor’: works closely with the director to coordinate the sound mixing process and
makes the final decisions on sound in the edit suite.

In multimedia and games:


‘Project manager’ : co-ordinates the efforts of a team of specialists towards a the successful
completion of a project, liasing between members of the design team and the client.
‘Programmer’ : writes the code which allows complex interaction to take place between computer
and end-user. This could include games design, web site (Java, JavaScript and CGI), interactive
CD-ROM programming.

What skills do I need?


Sound designers in all mediums will be expected to come up with sounds and effects that may
not have existed ever before. To do this you will need good research skills as well as a strong
imagination.

Good teamwork skills are essential to ensure that all sounds are correctly captured and edited
during productions. A sound designer will often have to liase with many other departments and
designers. Lighting cables can interfere with sound equipment so it is important to be able to
discuss your needs whilst using diplomacy and tact.

As with all freelance dominated industries you will need to be well organised and proactive in
making new contacts. Good presentation skills will go a long way to getting your idea accepted.
The ability to give and accept direction and work well with others is also important.

In games production and multimedia a basic knowledge of animation skills and html goes a long
way. Some sound designers compose their own music but you may work with a composer
otherwise. You will need a thorough knowledge of sound manipulation software. If you really
want to work in games you need to have a passion for games and keep up to date with what the
industry is doing.

In film, knowledge of technical aspects of film making is useful. Many sound designers wishing to
work in film start as runners in order to build this knowledge. A flexible approach to long working
hours is essential.

Above all, you need to be able to listen to sound analytically, to know when improvements need
to be made and how to make them.

How can I get work?

Surprisingly few entry-level sound design jobs are advertised formally. Advertising can cost
thousands of pounds so is commonly used to recruit more senior positions. Don’ t lose heart
though! It is very common for graduate designers to work in other areas of sound first such as

working in sound design © Creative Careers University of the Arts London 2005 3
editing or recording. For sound designers to be truly involved in the creative process it is
necessary to build relationships with producers, directors or game designers.

Keeping up to date with industry developments will give you the edge. Study production credits
and read trade press such as: The Stage; Screen International; Broadcast, and games
magazines. This way you will have a good idea which companies may have work coming up or
perhaps just be better informed about who to target in a company. For example an organisation
that has just won a new contract with Sony or has rapidly expanded might be a good place to
start your approaches. Remember though to research and personalize every contact:

“A blanket approach immediately turns us off a client. We want to feel loved and
special to candidates, not just one of many - especially if they aren’
t even within the
same sector” .
Major Agency

How should I approach companies?


Armed with your research seek out the right people to talk to. In games companies the people
doing the hiring are usually the Head of Audio or the Head of development. In advertising or
production companies it is the Producers who hold the cash.

Think of what will make you stand out amongst others:

‘‘
I think what got me the job was that they asked me to come with ideas
for a few selected animations. Instead of jotting down ideas I spent the
weekend composing actual music and sound effects for the pieces and
came in with prepared soundtracks’ ’
Heather Perkins, sound designer & composer

It may be also be necessary to take a job that is not even directly related to your area and set
about creating a position for yourself. Not only will this help build up your knowledge of other
technical areas but you’ll have the opportunity to build your contacts.

“I started out dong pretty mechanical tasks. After a while I suggested to


management that audio could be taken more seriously, that they needed a
dedicated person in house to look after the audio…they gave me the role
and that’ s been my focus since”.
Ben McCollough, sound designer, games

If your heart is set on the film business you could consider positions like runner, boom swinger,
Foley editor, live sound recordist for a foot in the door. Think broadly across all areas for
opportunities; sound design/recording for exhibition and conference organisers might not be your
dream job but it builds up your technical confidence and can pay well!

Looking overseas for work could also pay off. British sound design courses have a good
reputation and you may wish to collaborate with other graduates from your course, pooling your
contacts to gain work overseas.

4 working in sound design © Creative Careers University of the Arts London 2005
Alternatively, why not advertise yourself? Some websites offer CV databases and mini portfolio
services for employers to search, such as www.amps.net and www.mandy.com.

Otherwise job search is all down to your charm and persistence in making speculative
approaches and building contacts.

How do I build up contacts in the industry?


Building a network of industry contacts can seem like a daunting task but time spent developing
a strategy really does pay off. Everyone approaches this differently and you’ll want to go with
whatever works best for you. Here are a few key points.

Promote yourself
Develop an effective marketing pack (see below) and always be ready to seize an opportunity.
Awards and competitions are a great way of promoting your work and yourself. Our ‘ Creative
Opportunities’weekly bulletin gateway to specialist subsidised training, awards and bursaries to
develop your work. Competitions with cash or exposure prizes are a great way of developing
your skills and networks.

Speculative approaches
Armed with your marketing kit and carefully researched production company details why not get
in touch with companies where you think your work would really fit in?

The Careers Information Centre has all the main contact directories in this area including The
Knowledge (extensive listings of companies connected with film and video industry); BFI
Yearbook (see the production companies listing for a description of the types of films companies
produce) and British Theatre Directory. Ask friends for contacts and utilise online directories as
well.

Networking
Another aspect of your strategy could be to take advantage of membership organisations and
trade fairs as a way of informally meeting people. The ‘
ECTS’event in September
www.ects.com and The Broadcast Production Show www.productionshow.com provide
excellent opportunities to top up your industry knowledge and network with potential employers
although they are not recruitment events as such. Keep an eye on our ‘Creative Opportunities’
notice board for other forthcoming fairs.

Join relevant trade associations listed at the end of this document –membership is good value if
you use it effectively.

Push your luck!


Other methods employed by emerging designers include blagging entry to special events and
clubs, hanging out in bars frequented by design agencies and picking the brains of everyone you
know for useful contacts.


I just kept on persisting and the Managing Director eventually agreed to
meet me for a coffee on his Sunday afternoon...I couldn’t believe it!”
Chelsea Student

working in sound design © Creative Careers University of the Arts London 2005 5
Some of these strategies take getting used to but remember you can use Creative Careers
resources and workshop to help as well as other talented University of the Arts London students
and graduates.

Where are vacancies advertised?


Some websites are more useful than others in finding entry level positions. A good place to start
looking is Creative Career’ s weekly vacancy bulletin Creative Opportunities at :
www.arts.ac.uk/student/careers. Employers using the service are specifically targeting
University of the Arts London students and graduates, which gives you a head start. Salary
levels can be a little lower than vacancies appearing in the trade press but without the
expectation of several years of experience. Our website links you to a wide range of vacancy
sources, some of which are listed at the end of this document.

Using recruitment agencies is expensive for companies but some recruitment agencies do recruit
for junior as well as senior posts. Remember that agencies do need to service the needs of their
primary client - the employer. It is therefore advisable to be very clear about the type of role you
are seeking and to ask for details of who your CV is being sent to.

What are my chances of getting in?


The job market is competitive so you need to get as much work experience as you can and take
any opportunity to network.

Most companies in this area depend on the economy as a whole. When the economy hits a bad
patch, companies slash their budgets. This means less work for creatives in multimedia
companies. The Games Industry for example suffered when Play Station 2 was delayed and
there have been times when very few games at all are produced.

Most people in the business recommend working for a company for at least a year before trying
to set up a business so that you have a better understanding of the industry. There are
examples, however, of graduates who have set up very successful businesses straight from
college.

How do I improve my chances?

Employers want to see evidence of your skills and a commitment to working in the field:

Industry experience
Try to get some experience in the industry. Paid or unpaid, it shows you are comfortable and
committed in this environment. Other work experience also counts. Customer service skills in a
Saturday job demonstrate your ability to handle clients tactfully and with discretion - essential on
a busy set.

6 working in sound design © Creative Careers University of the Arts London 2005
If you do not have experience and are able to take an unpaid work placement the rewards can
be high. Try to negotiate around what you would like to do before starting and you could gain
valuable experience for your CV as well as a network of contacts. Creative Careers publishes
current placements on ‘ Creative Opportunities’as well as keeping a catalogue of employers
offering short-term placements.

Carry on creating new work


Don’ t be shy of taking on projects you can realistically handle. In addition to paid commissions,
charities, friends and voluntary organisations often welcome support in their projects. Not only do
commissions look good on your CV, they keep your show reel up to date and show you can work
with clients.

Keep coming up with new ideas - many designers have had breaks by editing together existing
film or TV sequences with suitable sound designs or presenting their ideas to directors. This
strategy shows passion and initiative - what is there to lose?

Enhance your skills


Keep your technical skills up to date. While having an in depth knowledge of one particular
software package can be an advantage, employees who can multitask with a range of software
offer added value. See “ How can I study sound Design”below for more information.

What should be in my marketing pack?


Along with your CV the pack should ideally include your own letterhead or logo, a business card.
Use all your flair and imagination to create a pack that really stands out. Keep your CV snappy,
band remember that your show reel and CV is unlikely to ever feel ‘ finished’
. It will always be
work in progress, edited for each employer you see according to their needs and interests.

Your show reel needs to be well thought out. CD is the standard format, but there a growing
trend to have a website with a downloadable version of your showreel. This is very convenient
for people auditioning your sounds, as broadband internet connections become more common.
Do bear in mind though that the most common internet music file format is MP3, which features
data compression which can detrimentally affect the sound quality of your audio.

Sound Designer Ben McCollough advises:

Play to your strengths


If you’re one of these lucky people who can write well in multiple styles, then don’
t be afraid to
show them off. Only show your best work though. If this means you only have one style on the
reel, then that’
s better than including low-quality, if stylistically varied, work.

Keep it short
Around seven minutes is enough. Unfortunately, people don’ t have time to listen to that 3 minute
build-up of every-intensifying hi-hat patterns. Cut to the chase, edit out the non-essential. Audio
collages can be very effective so consider producing a ‘ mega mix’of your material, this could be
3 minutes out of your 7, then you could include an additional 3-minute track in its entirety. If

working in sound design © Creative Careers University of the Arts London 2005 7
possible the final minute could consist of a collection of ‘
spot’sound effects or environmental
loops.

AV pieces are good


If you have some video footage accompanied by your sound effects or music then this is always
good to include on a show reel. DivX. AVI files are increasingly popular as a video format, but
make sure when you create the movie file that you don’ t compress the audio too much, if at all,
as in this instance it’
s more important than the visuals.”

If designing for film & TV is your ambition, make sure you include a written note about what you
did , for example did you do the foleys, the effects, the editing?

Sending out hundreds of show reels is costly and rarely pays off. Most recruitment is done by
going door to door finding work having researched upcoming projects using relevant journals .

A word on protecting your work

There is an amazing range of rights and options in this industry, so you’


ll need strong negotiation
skills and an awareness of commercial issues such as royalties and contractual issues. It is
essential that you know what your sound or music is going to be used for. Being clear about what
your work can be used for could prevent you missing out on lucrative deals in the future.

Know your rights: visit www.ownit.org.uk and get familiar with the Enterprise Centre for Creative
Arts London, part of the University of the Arts London www.ecca_london.org who can advise
you on all aspects of freelancing and point you in the right direction for specialist copyright
issues.

How can I study sound design?


Aside from LCC, there are very few undergraduate courses which focus entirely on sound
design. Some courses have very similar titles but different content. Some common terms for
courses include: creative music sound technology; sound and multimedia technology; sound
arts; sound engineering; sound and media; multimedia design. Courses may contain modules on
recording technology, digital mixing, psychoacoustics, performance analysis, CAD packages,
venue design, studio set up and design as well as sound design. Some courses include some
kind of business management element including how to work for yourself, which could be useful
if you intend to work freelance.

To research undergraduate courses and module options go to www.ucas.com and select a


course search with the key word sound. There are many courses to choose from and it is
important to do careful research to find the right one for you. You should look into the quality of
the facilities available (e.g. how up-to-date are the software packages you will be using?).

Postgraduate courses are often more specialised and vocational. Some require a few years of
experience on the job and/or a portfolio of work. Many courses have a significant level of
practical work and you may have the opportunity to undertake projects with people already

8 working in sound design © Creative Careers University of the Arts London 2005
working in the industry. To research postgraduate courses go to www.prospects.ac.uk and click
on the Further Study option.

Think about what you want to achieve. Are you looking to develop a specialist skill (e.g. a
specific software package)? In some cases, a short professional course may be a more suitable
option for technical skill acquisition. (See www.hotcourses.com or Floodlight for short course
information.)

What else might a sound design qualification lead to?

Other possible career pathways for sound designers include: recording studio engineering, audio
system design and radio production

Not everyone who studies sound design chooses to become a sound designer. In the first place,
a third of graduate-level jobs advertised are for graduates of any discipline. See the Prospects
Today and Prospects Directory publications, available from the Careers Information Centre, for
more details.

Perhaps you can see opportunities to develop your work in a different direction? The boundaries
between art & design have become increasingly blurred. Your ‘ transferable skills’such as
problem-solving, teamwork and conceptual thinking could be utilised in a variety of industries.

Constantly evolving technology and new industries provide different opportunities The best
advice is to keep look closely at whatever interests you, research what is needed in that area,
keep thoroughly up-to-date with trends and commit to life-long learning of new skills.

Further information

National press and journals carrying vacancies


In the UK, the newspapers and a number of trade magazines advertise vacancies in graphic
design and new media. Many of these are held in the Careers Information Centre at Davies
Street or available from newstands in London’
s West End. They include The Guardian -
Mondays and Saturdays, and at www.jobsunlimited.co.uk; The Independent - on Wednesdays;
Wired; The Net and The Edge.

Career information on sound design and other design fields


For more information look at the AGCAS Two Dimensional Design booklet (available in the
Careers Information Centre), at the “
useful websites”on the Creative Careers website at
www.arts.ac.uk/student/careers and at www.prospects.ac.uk

The BFI Library (www.bfi.org.uk/nationallibrary/index.html) is an excellent resource for


researching film and TV companies (membership fee applies). Westminster Public reference

working in sound design © Creative Careers University of the Arts London 2005 9
library in Leicester St also has a comprehensive reference section of arts and media books,
along with specialist librarians.

Vacancies and networking websites for sound designers


Games & multimedia:
Gamasutra: www.gamasutra.com
Games industry : www.gamesindustry.biz
Both provide industry news and jobs

Media:
Broadcast: www.produxion.com/
Industry news and vacancies

BBC - Work Experience website: www.bbc.co.uk/workexperience


An online only portal for applying for work experience at the BBC involving over 100 different
areas across the organisation.

The Knowledge: www.theknowledgeonline.com/


An online directory of contacts for the film, video & television industry with vacancies & news

BBC jobs: www.bbc.co.uk/job


Careers, jobs & training at the BBC

BBC Vision: www.bbc.co.uk/designvision


A BBC initiative to encourage and support creative talent and design innovation for the film,
broadcast and media industry.

ShootingPeople.org: www.shootingpeople.org/
Bulletin board for British film makers where you can post questions or seek contacts

Freelance databases:
www.ukscreen.com
www.film-tv.co.uk/
www.mandy.com/
Mandy's International Film & TV Production Directory
Worldwide production services searchable by country. Has employment section with weekly free
vacancy emails

Useful books in the Careers Information Centre at Davies Street


The British Theatre Directory
Careers in the Theatre

Protecting your work


The Enterprise Centre for the Creative Arts - ECCA
www.ecca-london.org

10 working in sound design © Creative Careers University of the Arts London 2005
ECCA runs 1-to-1 advice sessions for anyone in the London area that is thinking of setting up (or
who has already set up) a creative business or freelancing.

Written and researched by Yvonne Halloran and Annie Payne.

working in sound design © Creative Careers University of the Arts London 2005 11
The main purpose of our written material is to provide specialist
careers information, that is not readily available elsewhere, for our
students and recent graduates.

All eligible students and graduates are welcome to use Creative


Careers. We provide a range of services from information, advice
and guidance through to practical group workshops. To find out how
we work with students and leavers at your college or how to contact
us visit www.arts.ac.uk/student/careers.

We aim to be disability friendly so do let us know of any particular


requirements you may have. All our handouts and workshop
materials are available in alternative formats on request. Please
contact us to discuss your needs and how we can help. To make
comments about this handout or suggestions for new ones we could
produce, please email us at careers@arts.ac.uk

Creative Careers: professional client-centred team-based accessible innovative

12 working in sound design © Creative Careers University of the Arts London 2005