This is a guest contribution by Ashley Coull. Ashley is the Audio Coordinator at Anki, a robotics and tech company dedicated to making artificial intelligence accessible to the everyday consumer. Fueled by passion and sometimes beer, she loves interesting research, good conversation, and new friends.
“How did you get your start in the industry?”
There is no one way to get a job in the audio industry. That much is fairly obvious. But just because everyone has their own unique story, doesn’t mean we can’t distill the essence of how one can break in. My goal with this article is to help give people the tools they need for the best chance of success. To do this, I’m going to talk about common themes derived from audio professionals’ answers to the question, “How did you get your start in the industry?” These common themes form the pillars that provide the foundation upon which a career in audio can be built.
Pillar #1: Location
Have you ever heard someone say, you need to be in “the right place at the right time?” When asked the question, “How did you get your start in the audio industry,” this was one of the most popular yet controversial answers. And it’s not difficult to see why. What does that even mean? If you walked into a bar in Wyoming and happened to stumble across a hiring manager who just happens to be best friends with your favorite college professor, would you say you were in the “right place at the right time?” This phrase seems to say that even if you’re doing everything right, there’s still an element of luck to getting your first job. But what if it’s more than just luck? What if it’s finding a way to stack the cards in your favor such that these random occurrences become less “random?”
Being a visible and participating member of the audio community is the best way to give yourself the chanceof being inthe “right place at the right time.”Start by moving to a location where games and films are created and where the community is growing and thriving.Then, put yourself out there and jump on every opportunity that comes your way. Every time you meet someonenew, you increase your chance of finding that connection that can help you get your foot in the door.
Pillar #2: Personality
When striving for a job in the audio industry, you might think that your experience is by far the most important part of your application. Well, when asked to give advice, most audio professionals cited personality as something that was as important as experience and ability. Who we are and how we interact with others touches every part of our daily routine. It’s how we work with mentors early on, how we build communities around our interests, and how we interact with the people that eventually become our managers and co-workers. Ben Gabaldon, Senior Sound Designer at Anki Inc, summed this up nicely when he said, “I think that the 2 things I can point to being the pillars of my ability to stay afloat after all of these years would be: really giving a s**t about my work and being somebody that a team wants to spend their days working with.”
With this in mind, what are the qualities audio professionals tend to look for? From the people I spoke to, these were the phrases that came up the most: be positive, professional, persistent; be a self starter & have conviction; work your butt off; be able to take criticism and direction, and most importantly, as Music Producer and Sound Designer, Stephan Schutze,said: “be crazy passionate/dedicated.”
Pillar #3: Community
Networking. There, I said it! Yes, I’m sure you’ve heard that word a million times before. If “right place at the right time” was the second most mentioned phrase, the word “networking” took 1st place by a long shot. And it’s such an ugly word too. Net-work-ing. Yuck. So, why is this pillar called “community” and not “networking?” Because, I believe the word “community” conveys the essence of the professional support system of which we are required to build ourselves around far better than gross word “networking.” Networking is going to an event and meeting a person you don’t know and randomly handing them your business card. Maybe they’ll call; most likely they won’t. Building a community, on the other hand, is creating relationships with those that you meet. It’s finding a role model or a mentor, collaborating with students, attending meet-up groups, joining Facebook groups, following influencers on Twitter, streaming Twitch, or any one of the dozens of ways to create or join the audio community. Do you put on your best business suit, grab some business cards, and go “networking?” You can, but you don’t need to. What you do need to do is find an outfit you’re comfortable in, seek out the audio community, walk through the door, and just be yourself.
Pillar #4: Skill Set
Not surprisingly, when giving advice to audio students, the topic of skill set is broached frequently. On first impression, you might hear this and think, “Duh. I need to be talented to get a job.” Wrong! Of all the advice I read, the one piece that I disagree with the most is from those who said that students needed to “master their craft” or be “highly skilled.” You will not be a master of your craft by the time you receive your first job. What you do need, is the drive to master your craft combined with the development of other skills.
At the end of the day, you will need more than just talent to get a job. In fact, “talent” was mentioned less than 50% of the time. Instead, key phrases that often came up were: collaborate, learn to be a team member, create a demo, play games, create content for other student’s work, explore, and diversify.
Let’s take a moment to dive deeper into the final word on the list, “diversity.” Diversity is arguably one of the most confusing and yet important things to keep in mind when developing your skill set. Has anyone ever told you, “well, why don’t you learn to program?” Trust me, I got my fair share of that advice, too. Why do you think people say that? The concept behind “learning to program” is probably developed from the search to find something that sets you apart from a sea of applicants. “Programming” is indeed one answer. But it’s also incredibly complicated. If you have the kind of mind that takes easily to this kind of thing, well then, my hat’s off to you. But, if you’re not quite good with algorithms and functions (as I wasn’t), then this suggestion is rather stressful.
So, can we find something else that still enables us to set ourselves apart? You bet! How about middleware? Or basic production techniques (no, not music production, I mean tracking, organizing, data management, etc). How about working on skills needed to manage teams? Or learning about game design or user experience? Remember, all we’re trying to do is develop qualities that make us stand out and give us an edge. After all, in an interview, I bet that you are as likely to come face to face with a UX designer as you are a programmer. What’s that you say? UX design can’t build your demo? Sure, but do you really need to learn programming to prove your skills? If the answer is yes, then do it! But if no, what other creative methods can you pull from? Maybe you find a bit of pre-rendered gameplay, create a huge asset list, track your progress, and deliver files in a folder for your demo. After all, something like that is as real-world for your desired day-to-day life as you’re going to get.
The Concrete Answer
So why does this all matter? It matters because you can use these pillars as a way of building your personal roadmap. Look back at each category: location, personality, community, and skill set, and make a list of your strengths and the areas in which you’d like to improve, and work on them. From this, develop goals for how you can expand these categories more deeply and use them as a way of building toward your future career. If nothing else, ask yourself this: can everyone who is successful in the audio industry attribute his or her success to qualities from each pillar? Are you determined enough to put in the time and effort that it is going to take to break into the audio industry? That, my friends, is the real key to accomplishment.
– Ashley Coull
P.S. I would sincerely like to thank the folks whose words helped shaped the ideas and thoughts that eventually became this article. They are: John Byrd, Aaron Brown, Joshua Goodwin, Eric Goetz, Cat Arthur, Alex Ripple, Stephan Schutze, Drew Boles, Cameron Bashaw, Gavdalf TheGrey, Lennie Moore, Dan Reynolds, Dave Chan, Brennan Anderson, Scott Looney, Michael Schiciano, Yannis Brown, Ben Gabaldon, Kenneth Young, Max Sim Hilien, and Charlie McCarron. Thank you all for taking the time!
A big thank you to Ashley for contributing this piece. You can find her on Twitter @coulltothecore.