For those not familiar with the Audio Mentoring Project, or AMP, it was started just a year ago as a means to pair up veterans in the audio industry with people with less experience to help provide mentoring services and a symbiotic relationship of mutual learning and respect. I recently talked with Ariel Gross, the founder and executive director, and Adriane Kuzminski, one of the members of the Volunteer Council, to dig a bit further into what AMP is and what people can expect from it.
What is AMP? When and how was it formed? What are the guiding principles behind it?
Ariel Gross (AG): The AMP is a group of volunteers that developed a system to introduce people that are looking for professional growth. People who are looking for guidance are matched up with people that are willing to donate some guidance. Most of the time, both people learn a lot from each other. Sometimes job offers are made, other times life-long friendships are forged. It’s awesome.
After GDC 2016, I pulled some game audio pals together and we started scheming. We launched the AMP in 2017 and it pretty much blew up, way more people trying to get involved than I was expecting.
The guiding principles for me are to leave the field of game audio as a better place than we inherited, to help people invest in each other, and to keep the service as free and voluntary.
Adriane Kuzminski (AK): I came to AMP from a slightly different perspective but with essentially the same guiding principles. My focus has been to help create pathways for people to get where they want to be without requiring a school affiliation or yearly dues. I know how difficult it can be to seek mentorship, especially if you fear asking for someone’s time or feel you’re not good enough to ask in the first place, and I know how frustrating the consequences can be if you don’t overcome those fears. By creating a place where people are encouraged to ask for help, knowing people with diverse backgrounds are already willing to donate their time, we remove some of these barriers.
What services does AMP offer?
AG: We started with one type of mentoring program, which we’d now describe as a Full Mentorship. What it consists of is a commitment of four hours over two months. The Volunteer Council painstakingly matches mentors with mentees by hand, helps kick off the relationship, and follows up from time to time to see how things are progressing.
When we were coming up with this system, we did some early trial runs with the Volunteer Council members serving as mentors to some high potential individuals that we’d been in touch with over the years. Those went really well, so that’s pretty much what we launched with.
We have learned a ton over the last year, so now we’re doing trial runs with some new systems that we’ve developed. It’s really exciting.
AK: To expand on these new systems we’re running, we now have group and one-shot calls. With over 400 mentees who have applied and only 100+ mentors, we’ve realized that not every mentee has the same need for a multi-month mentorship, and not every mentor has the ability to donate this much time. Though most mentees are seeking a full mentorship, some only have a few burning questions – and one call could be enough to help them make the next step in their careers. Also, some of our mentors prefer group conversation or to give a few hours here and there, so it’s a win-win.
Describe the general process the mentor/mentee go through in their sessions. How many phases and how long do they last?
AG: Prospective mentors and mentees start the process by filling out an application. The applications are reviewed by the AMP’s Volunteer Council. We let them know if they’ve been accepted or if they need to keep cookin’ a bit first. Even just the acceptance process can take a really super long time right now. Our new systems we’re working on will help a ton with this.
Once someone is accepted, they get added to a list of people to be matched up, and someone from the Volunteer Council will eventually match two people together. This part also takes a long time, partly because its a painstaking process that we take very seriously, and also because we have way more people looking for mentorships than we have available mentors. Our new systems should help with this, too.
Once a mentorship is arranged, an AMP Volunteer Council member will introduce the two people, give them both materials that will help them break the ice, and help coordinate the first call. Then it’s up to the two people to keep the mentorship going. Someone from the AMP will check in periodically to make sure things are still moving forward, and if they are, then great! If not, then we either give it a nudge or close it out. This process can also take a comically long time, which again, our new systems will help with. Heh!
Right now there are two phases. Phase A is a series of four calls with a commitment of roughly four hours. Phase B is a similar commitment but is more project-oriented with the intention of having some sort of deliverable at the end.
How many mentors do you currently have and how many mentees have gone through the program?
AK: Right now we are completing mentorships and beginning several others, but we currently have 42 active mentorships and 32 completed mentorships. We’ve also conducted a few group calls, so all in all around 150 people have participated. As a side note, I believe there is a fine balance to establishing the length of the mentorships. We want to ensure that current mentees receive quality mentorships and that prospective mentees wait a reasonable amount of time before they are paired with a mentor. On top of that, it’s important that the mentors are happy and don’t feel the mentorships are too rushed or too long where they fizzle out. We’re still tweaking our processes, but so far we’ve received very positive feedback!
Running a volunteer service putting mentors and mentees together and following up with them periodically sounds like a lot of work! How do you balance this with your paying jobs and other life activities?
AG: Yes it is a huge amount of work, especially since we have been the results of a great mentorship and try really hard to make a great match. That’s partly why we currently have 11 members on the Volunteer Council. That’s about how many people need to be there in order for at least one person to be moving things forward, and sometimes even 11 isn’t enough!
From the beginning, my message to the Volunteer Council has been that because this is a voluntary service, we will never give each other a hard time if life requires other things to take priority. That said, whenever I have asked the Volunteer Council to rally, everyone pulls together. It’s a beautiful group with a great chemistry and a real dedication to do good things for the game audio community.
AK: Also, since we’re not a business and we can’t rely on finances to gauge our success, it has been important to be able to see the effect of each hour we spend developing AMP. For me, when I first saw the spreadsheets Ariel created to log the applications and mentorships, I knew there was an established system I could trust that would motivate me to dedicate my time to connecting others (and to the rather nerdy art of processing and interpreting information).
What I didn’t expect, however, were the stories I heard at GDC and GameSoundCon about how the program helped mentees find the guidance they needed to make decisions about their careers with more intent and confidence than when they were floating in confusion and indecision. The AMP is a lot of work, and it obviously doesn’t pay the bills, but it’s amazing to see in such a direct way how this project is making the change I (and all the Council members) want to see in the world.
What do you hope the mentors and mentees to get out of the program?
AG: Real human connection and a greater sense of meaning out of the work that we do. New perspectives. Better sounding games. A tighter community.
AK: Along with that, I hope mentees will get a little relief. From all the discussions I read about imposter syndrome, burn out, and marginalized groups in game audio, I hope we are part of a system that allows mentees who feel a little lost to know they are heard and that pathways to their success do exist.
For mentors, I hope AMP helps them develop their skills in leadership and nurturing. Especially in a field that can be quite secluded and lonely, mentoring others is a great way to broaden your perspective and learn things about yourself and others that you could have otherwise missed.
Any exciting success stories you can/would like to share?
AG: We provided several people with GDC 2018 Audio Passes. That was a Kenny Young special — really a lovely thing to provide for people. I mean that’s basically a scholarship.
Several jobs have resulted from the AMP, with some mentors hiring their mentees, and mentors also providing referrals that resulted in jobs. I’m pretty pleased by stories like that.
What ultimately makes me happiest is when I see real relationships being formed. I told when the mentor and mentee are like, yeah, we can close this mentorship, we’re friends now and talk all the time. To me, that’s the best. All it took was an introduction from the AMP, and new friendships have been made. I love that.
AK: It really was incredibly exciting to be able to provide those Audio Track passes and hang out with the mentees during our AMP breakfast meetup. They were exactly the types of people I’d like to work with and they definitely make our community stronger. It was also great to hear that some of them attributed their current jobs to their AMP mentorships. Of course they were hired for their individual talent, but I believe their mentors helped them get the confirmation they needed to be confident in their skills.
Where would you like to see AMP go in the future? Any longer term plans for further development?
AG: Right before GDC 2018, we all grouped up and discussed the future. Yes we have long term plans that we are working through right now and I’m happy to share!
We are currently organizing trial runs of our new mentorship packages, which you can read about on audiomentoring.com. This is a huge deal because it will open the door for so many additional mentors to become involved, and it will also help solve the fact that we always have over a hundred (sometimes hundreds) of people in the queue waiting for their mentorship to start.
We’re working through some major improvements to our back end systems as well. What some people may not realize is that we launched this thing expecting a little trickle of people wanting to get involved, but we totally ended up blasted by the fire hydrant. We were not prepared for it! And we’ve had to change and adapt our processes pretty much constantly to try to accommodate as many mentorships as possible. It’s been nuts!
And the big one is that we’re currently looking into what it would take to make this project into something more real. Talking a bona fide non-profit! At this point, we can point to the enormous demand, and we also have enough proof that it can actually work and benefit people, and we’ve even had people asking how to support this initiative financially. So, we’re also exploring that.
AK: I would also like to expand our volunteer base. The work isn’t glamorous, and delegating duties is a job in itself, but I think we could help more people receive mentorships each year with a little more tweaking of our processes and a careful selection of new volunteers to help with the workload.
How can people get involved with AMP, either as mentor or mentee?
AG: We always need more mentors. Just apply at audiomentoring.com. If you have any doubt, get in touch and ask questions.
Prospective mentees should go here: http://audiomentoring.com/apply-for-mentorship/
AK: And if you are a composer or audio programmer who is interested in mentoring, please get in touch. We definitely need you!