Guest Contribution by Jason Cushing
My name is Jason Cushing and I’m one of the co-founders of SoundMorph. Recently, I was chatting with the hard-working and talented Shaun Farley of Designing Sound about the site’s latest monthly topic: the business of sound. There are many aspects to this vast subject, but one topic that might be helpful for those of you just starting out in sound—or even (gasp) experienced sound designers—was the topic of turning yourself into a valuable asset.
This is simply an opinion piece and I don’t claim to be a guru with all the answers. As someone who started a successful online sound company, perhaps I can instill some helpful maxims that will make you re-examine your approach and take your “personal brand” to the next level!
People often overlook this key fact, but the truth is, if your attitude and personality stink, I will never work with you. I want someone that I can relate to, someone I can trust, is humble, determined and hungry for knowledge, and at the end of the day, someone I can go have a beer with. If you have a cruddy attitude, I don’t care how talented you are.
Shark Tank’s Kevin O’Leary writes in his book Cold Hard Truth that ultimately everyone is replaceable. When someone isn’t working out—“the underperformers, the complainers, the players, the posers, the ones who infect otherwise healthy environments with their arrogance or their negative attitude or outlook”—you fire them and get rid of the cancer. He is a tough guy, but I respect his perspective. Bad seeds just don’t have a place in business.
Not only do you need to have the right attitude to get through the door, you also need to maintain that positive attitude. Don’t put on a front just to get the job. You have to motivate others around you, be accountable and offer criticism that is constructive. I like when I’m told I am wrong, because it gives me a new perspective—assuming it’s in the best interest of the end result, and not just showboating for your own gain.
When you are building a successful company or your personal brand, what makes it a success? If you answered sales and money, you should be hearing a big losing buzzer sound blasting through your soul.
Your passion is a big part of what makes you valuable and successful. People gravitate to passion like a magnet. It inspires them, it makes them want to be around you, it makes them trust you or your company, and in the end, it makes them buy things from you (or hire you). Your passion helps companies build value, and ultimately make more cash, from your honest desire for creating something that you love, too.
Again, I will use O’Leary’s words of wisdom: “When you are building wealth, making money can’t be the only aim. It can’t be the bull’s-eye. Becoming wealthy truly happens when you’re pursuing the thing you love the most.”
The caveat is that you cannot feign passion. If you start a business that you aren’t committed to, or apply for a job with a company that doesn’t inspire your creativity, it will show—to your customers, clients, co-workers and everyone involved. You must seek out success in something you truly love. Granted everyone needs to make money to survive, so perhaps passion will not always be there, but if it is, your success will generally be much greater.
If you’re just starting out, it might be hard to get excited about doing a fecal incontinence commercial. Not every project that comes your way is going to be your dream job. It may be complete shit, and while you can’t polish a turd, you have to be passionate about your role in everything. Your job is to elevate the overall presentation. Regardless of the project, your goal should always be, “How can I make this better?”. If you use this approach, you will please the adult diaper gods, i.e. the client (and your future employers), and surprise them with an end result that shines.
This will be my final nugget of wisdom that I will bestow on you, and please read closely. Nobody gives a shit about you. I know it hurts, but it’s true. The only person that should care about you is you. Vying for that awesome, newly posted sound designer job with Company X? Perks, massages, free fruit day and a once in a lifetime opportunity to work for a company that wants to see you grow? Read it again: nobody gives a shit about you.
Now that you realize you are not important, it can help you in how you present yourself and perhaps get them to care a bit about you, maybe a sliver, if you are lucky. Imagine you are looking to make a connection or you really want XYZ job. You are so passionate that you write an email the size of Moby-Dick explaining why you are so amazing and a “perfect fit” for the job. Guess what? No one cares! It’s great you have passion, but no one has time to read your life story.
My first tip in presentation is: less is more. If you are dealing with someone you want to develop a real working relationship with, read and re-read, edit and re-edit, and then re-read your initial contact message. If I am not exempt from conciseness and precision, neither are you. I try to make my messages as simple and coherent as I can. This saves me, and the person I am writing, time, and makes me look intelligent. Even if I consider myself not the best writer, I do try, and I believe this is appreciated.
Secondly, write a well-crafted resume that you have run by a few colleagues. Have them rip you apart—you need it. I am frequently sent resumes and let me tell you, even with the seasoned veterans of the sound world, there are some real stinkers out there! If your resume is poorly written, is long-winded, doesn’t focus on the current job you are applying for, or is badly formatted, you will be sent to the incinerator faster than you can blink. It’s your first impression. You have to get it right the first time. The same advice applies for a cover letter.
Lastly, have something to show for yourself! If you didn’t have enough passion to put together a great sound reel, then what are you doing in sound in the first place? Hoping the company will just love you for you? If everyone were to suddenly join hands and sing Kumbaya, that might work for you. But if you don’t want to rely only upon love, it’s best you get your butt in gear and make a great online sound design portfolio that you can show off and be proud of. Include only your best examples, keep it short and nothing over 2 minutes per clip—remember, no one cares about you.
Now that I’ve sufficiently dragged you through the mud and darkness of my opinions on how sound businesses operate and how you should approach them, feel free to send me love (and hate) mail to firstname.lastname@example.org But remember, if it’s long, I’ll probably just delete it.
Jason Cushing is a co-founder of SoundMorph.com and sound designer from Montreal whose previous credits include Electronic Arts’ Mass Effect 2 and Skate 2, and games for Marvel.