[Written by Axel Rohrbach]
It may sound very easy and clear, but working in a team has a lot of faces to look at (figuratively). I know a lot of audio guys in very different situations. Reaching from “one-man-shows” offering everything related to a specific topic (which could be as wide as “multimedia”) to large pre-production companies doing sound design for movies only, you can find anything in between and around it. The positive and negative aspects listed below can potentially occur, but neither the positive nor the negative issues are there in all companies. I see guys in all of those situations who are totally happy and satisfied in their role and guys who hate being in a specific scenery.
1. Working alone: there are a lot of Sound Designers working freelance from home or a one man studio. This can definitely be perfect for some people – it is not for me. You can organize your time in any way you like (besides sticking up to deadlines and milestones), you have fewer distractions and you are as free as one can be in your evolvement. On the other hand you have to spend more time in doing non-audio-related things like finding jobs or taking care of the studio rooms, insurances etc. Getting feedback from others is more difficult and might be less concrete. This feedback may not only be how your sounds work or how your sound quality is, but also how you communicate with people, how you can maximize your efficiency or anything else you can think of.
2. Working in a small team (two or three guys): this can work perfectly, you have more conversations, more inspiration and your co-workers may become your best buddies. I think there might be the chance that once you have a good working routine, nothing will change for the future. Also, if something goes wrong personally there is no-one more or less impartially involved to get things back on track. I saw a lot of small teams, founded by two friends, which crashed only two years after the start.
3. Being a contract Sound Designer in a big facility takes off a lot of organizational things from you, which lets you focus on your job. In most cases you don’t even have to care about your equipment, everything is there, everything runs – the sound effects library has been installed by a librarian, the network is maintained by an onsite system administrator, jobs are right on your desktop together with schedules every morning, you just have to process them. The downside is that you may be restricted in your freedom. It is not easy to get new equipment; it has to run through a bunch of instancesuntil it finally is ordered. It is not easy to say “My working results are better if I work from 2pm to 11pm, so I prefer having a free morning in the sun and come to work later”. Because of the size of the company, there is quite a lot of great conversation and helpful feedback the whole day. I’ve seen many employees who are not able to look beyond the company’s nose, unable to find jobs / clients on their own because they have never had to, used to expensive equipment, unable to think of what is really necessary for their own work. This results in spending way too much when they start working freelance, or if they start their own company one day.
4. Working for other teams offsite can happen in all of the situations above. This means for example your company has to do the audio work for a movie or a game, a multimedia project or website. There are already teams that know each other pretty well, probably even with an audio guy who needs your support. This is actually what we do most at Dynamedion. The most important thing here is to find a good way to communicate, you have to find out as soon as possible who is responsible for you, who can make decisions and what their ideas / visions are regarding audio and the overall style of the project. Finding the right role in which you have to act can be hard, sometimes they want exactly what they say, sometimes they have an idea but cannot communicate this in a common audio-geek language, sometimes they have never thought about audio before. Making good spotting sessions, learning how to talk about your experience and special knowledge without using technical terminology and defining good and useful milestones is the key here.
5. Working onsite for other teams for a period of time is my last main topic. This is pretty similar to topic 4, with one difference: you are leaving your comfort zone referring to your studio and team, probably even your hometown or country. We, at Dynamedion, are lending out man power for onsite support to teams who need it, sometimes over a whole project, mostly just on the occasion when other teams recognize that they need support. Sometimes there are only creative directors with an idea of the project’s audio, sometimes no-one takes care of it, other times there are already employees with overlapping work areas, for an example employed sound designer, or audio lead.
I interviewed Michael Schwendler our lead audio manager, for this topic. He was hired by Microsoft to join the last half year of the production for Remedy’s “Alan Wake” in Finland. The most difficult topics he encountered were barriers in foreign countries concerning the language and culture, to integrate into a new workflow and to win people’s confidence. Last but not least there is the possibility of communication issues, as the team you could have been thrown into may have already developed its own way to communicate. The positive aspects are that it is always a good experience to get new influences and to meet new people. Learning new approaches for problems and tasks, learning to improve your language skills plus getting involved in foreign cultures is an awesome personal and professional development.
There is no “this is the best environment”,everyone works better under different circumstances. Some need to be alone in a sealed off room, others need a bunch of different people around them. In either of the above situations, talking to other people will always happen if one earns money with sound design. Communication is very important. Reflecting yourself, starting to write and talk reasonably and clearly, trying to avoid emotional actions or reactions and being polite, friendly, respectful and helpful will help make your life and the life of all others around you much easier.
Additionally a self analysis about my team experience.
I worked for 4 years in a music recording facility which was run by only the founder, who was about 30 years older than I. After trying to get into another direction I worked in my own “studio” at home until I started working for Dynamedion, a larger audio team, and then Boom Library.
The owner of the recording studio I worked in had about 3 to 5 album CD releases at Universal per year. That was always a very stressful time lasting for about 2 months. The rest of the year was more or less “free-time”. The founder of the studio also played some live gigs and I was still studying. Anyway, during the stressful times we always had a lot of fun. Sounds a bit like a paradox, but in the times between this we had some sort of growing disconnection. He wanted to enjoy the free time (which I can totally understand, don’t get me wrong here) and I was itching to get something to do, start a project or get the studio time completely filled. The quintessence here was: if there was work to do, we were working together perfectly, , no matter what happened.. Hanging around, trying to find a way to move on and making future plans however split us apart.
I have become a bit sentimental while writing this: so just Off-Topic: thanks CP for all I’ve learned from you, all the projects we’ve done together and the awesome times we spent with red wine testing loudspeakers.
I decided to move on and start things on my own. I had no clue how to get into the game industry, which was my plan. I did not know anyone, I had only one credit in the field of sound design for a movie I did audio for on the DTM Race Driver III Special DVD (so not really game audio). I am not very good at selling my service, telling people I am the best they can get. So I sat there at home, not calling anyone, not writing to anyone, thinking about how to get a better set-up without any money. I caught myself finding excuses for everything – my sound is not good because of the equipment, my business is not running because I need time, playing games is for business research and so on. However, I had some jobs, mostly recording bands or producing a demo for a rapper or singer. I was already in contact with Dynamedion and one day they asked me if I could do score correction for them. They sent me tons of pages of original scores, finalized scores of the orchestrators and all the stems which I had to check note by note for a 1 1/2 hour soundtrack. This was a pretty heavy workload for some weeks and I was kind of happy to get up in the morning, having a goal for the evening / night. Anyway, I missed talking to other guys, making plans, talking about gear, meeting people which are business wise connected but not directly in the audio field. Therefore, working on my own is clearly not my thing, I work less effectively and with less heart and soul.
When the Dynamedion score proof-read job was over, I thought: ask them if it would be possible to join the orchestra recordings just for fun, going out, meeting people. I was totally surprised when they asked me during the lunch break of the recordings if I could start at Dynamedion onsite in 3 weeks. I was not thinking about anything, moving into another city or whatever – the answer was yes! A team, the right business, I am back on track.
When I started at Dynamedion, there were only three other guys onsite, the two founders (Pierre Langer, Managing Director and Tilman Sillescu, Creative Director) plus one Sound Designer (Michael Schwendler) plus a bunch of external Composers and Sound Designers. We were (and are) pushing ourselves into several directions in several disciplines, be it music theory, composing skills, equipment, sound design, workflow and even private things like relationship concerns and finances. All in all a perfect combination for me. We are now 7 onsite guys and 12 more or less constant externals.
I am currently Lead Sound Designer at Dynamedion and Creative Director of the Boom Library. This means I have more organizational tasks to do than I had before. My communication skills are more important now. Finding a good balance however between pushing the team with critics and making them feel good by telling them how good they are (in other words using the carrot and stick method or being the good and the bad cop in one) is sometimes hard for me, not only because the needs of every person differ a lot. Another task which is not always too easy is getting creative and innovative results from a designer and simultaneously telling them that time is running out.
I am very proud of the team right now, no matter what – we can handle it as a team. Thanks David, Michael and Sebastian.