Recording Studio

Starting out as a sound designer and getting a step ahead

These days, all the colleges and universities around the world that offer music and sound courses are releasing many thousands of young, enthusiastic, inspired and creative individuals, all keen to find their place in an industry that has become increasingly competitive. Just a decade ago, I left college and found myself in the same predicament. Yes there was a high demand for jobs and yes, you highly likely had to start working for free, making cups of tea and being a general dogs body before anyone would let you even push up a fader on a mixing desk.

Back in the early 2000s, I found myself working in a voice over studio in London, which was a fantastic experience and I was lucky enough to run Pro-Tools sessions and even get paid. It was a luxury, but the travel into and out of London was too much for me. I’ve never been one for the rat race.

So I went it alone, set up my sound effects company, started doing custom sound design and I never looked back. I was recently contacted by a student who asked me advice on how to get started in the industry. While this isn’t an in-depth guide, there are a few things (mainly common sense) that I felt maybe would make a good blog post. Its not always only about the skills you’ve got creatively, sometimes you need more than that!

Stand out from the crowd

This old chestnut, but it’s so true. Don’t just send out a set of bulk emails hoping someone will reply ‘yes come and work for us, we need you’. I saw so many other people do this and it wont work. I also saw people sending CDs of their sound design work of with their CV… again, especially these days it just won’t work. Have you already got a body of work you can use for a portfolio? One great ways to showcase your skills is to take a video from YouTube or even from the likes of Pixabay (they are CC0 so essentially public domain meaning you can repost the work to YouTube), remove the audio and provide your own sound design soundtrack.

Create an online portfolio. Ideally you can do this by creating your own website. WordPress makes it so easy and very cheap to create you own website and there are hundreds of themes for portfolio style websites that you can buy for a few dollars.

Offer to do some sound design work for free. Contact people on linkedin, Sounddevs, via Facebook groups etc. Very often you’ll find people also starting out in the film, animation or other related industries and they need a sound designer to work for free, to build their own portfolio. Collaborating like this is mutually beneficial and gives you valuable experience in many aspects, not just sound design (communication, working to deadlines etc) that employers will want to see you can do.

Once you’ve a selection of work and are ready to go, create profiles on all the social networks, post links to your work and get your name out there as much as possible. If there is a company you want to work for, give them a call (don’t email) or pop in if local. Speak to someone, explain how keen you are, provide a link to your website or portfolio (or hand it in) and say you’ll be in touch after a week to see what they think. Don’t just wait for them to call you back. If they don’t sound keen, ask for honest critique, improve on what they tell you and then go back with a fresh portfolio. Showing this level of interest in working for a company and showing how you can adapt to what they tell you will give you a fighting chance. Don’t just walk away if they say no. Find out why and fix it. Ask if you can gain some work experience with them, offer your time for free. Work as hard as you can, ask questions. Be persistent but don’t annoy them. If they can see you’re keen, motivated and skilled, they’ll be stupid not to give you a try.

If this backfires, keep pushing ahead. Try another employer, or think about going it alone. There are so many smaller companies out there needing freelance sound designers. You can start off for free, then once you’ve established a good portfolio and can prove yourself, start charging and gradually increase your fees.

Piggyback other sound designers

Another way you can get out there and find work (once you’ve got a portfolio and followed similar steps as above) is to find other sound designers who are too busy and turning work away. Yes, they exist. Quite often, someone who started out on small jobs and have worked their way up a bit will start to focus on bigger jobs and those smaller ones they turn away. I’ve done it in the past so others do too. If you can find someone in this situation (ask around, the internet is a powerful place) and prove you’ve got what it takes, you can start to drip feed your income with small jobs and build up from there. The old saying, ‘if you don’t ask, you don’t get’ stands true here.

At the end of the day, I personally believe willingness and perseverance are the most important qualities that any employer will be looking for. If you can show you’re a determined, focused individual with a willingness to learn, you’ll have a head start over anyone else.

By Alan