The Business Of Sound Design: How To Make Money In Film, TV & Game Audio
In this miniseries I’ll teach you everything you need to know to get started; from the gear you need, to finding and landing projects.
As many of you know I make a living from music licensing as well as sound design. When I’m not creating music, I’m designing sound. When I’m not designing sound, I’m creating music.
A lot of times licensing opportunities are passed my way because of my ability to sound design, so they go hand in hand.
Let’s jump right into it.
This is the last and final post of the business of sound design series. Here’s a few things to expect after you make your pitch to film and game companies No Response No Budget Low Budget NDA’s FRUSTRATION and a new learning experiences. No Response Having patience is important. Some companies won’t get back to you for weeks, months, even years. This is typical in every industry. These clients (indie/commercial) have a lot on their plates. Projects Negotiations Taxes Staff etc There’s a lot of stuff that happens behind-the-scenes that keep companies tied up. What they’re doing currently is probably more important than you, keep that in mind. When you do hear back from the company there are a few things that you’ll need to discuss in order to make the business run smoothly. What Is A Non Disclosure Agreement? Whenever a client mentions the NDA, they’re talking about a non disclosure agreement. This a signed document between you, and the client agreeing that you will not leak or share information about the project. Leaking information about the project could cripple your career, word spreads fast and you can get sued. Also, if an NDA is handed over to you, it’s likely that the client is interested in working with you. If they weren’t, they wouldn’t bother going into detail about their project. Something to smile about 🙂 Once you’ve signed your NDA, the client will send you a contract and project outline (brief). Depending on the project and client, this could be a very detailed or extremely vague. Sometimes you’ll get a contract after you sign the NDA or they’ll send them together it depends on the client. There have been times where I’ve received my NDA 4 months into a contract. A little on the late side, but it happens. I’m not a person who likes to share what I’m working on anyway so they weren’t at risk. In the event that you’re not given an NDA, be professional about it. Don’t go blabbing on the Internet about what you’re working on and yada yada yada, it’s highly unprofessional. The Outline (Aka The Brief) This is where you’ll find out exactly what the project consisted of, what’s expected of you, the team etc. The outline will include the following. Needs (sounds/music) Length of music How many sounds Type of sounds Deadline(s) – Yes more than one! Meetings Budget etc. Notice budget was thrown in the outline. I put that there because sometimes clients will merge their outlines and contracts together. Project Outline (Brief) Examples Now, I want to share two project outlines I received within the past six months. Some of the details have been changed to keep the integrity of the project as well as the client(s). ======================== Greg this is what I need from you. 1. I need 22 sound fx for (name of video game) 2. Sound fx must be layered with instrument notes to keep in key with music theme. 3. Deadline is 2 weeks 4. My budget for this $200.00 ======================== There’s a lot of detail missing from this brief, for an example. What type of game? Which instruments would you like? How much memory do I have to work with? What format would you like the sounds in? What kind of sounds...read more
The biggest problem for any professional (in any field) is finding leads and clients who can afford to pay for your services. You spend all this money and time perfecting your craft, but making no money from it. Well, good news, in this post, I’ll show you exactly how I find clients and leads who pay. Figuring Out What Kind Of Projects You Want Think about what type of sound design you want to get into. As stated before, there are different types, each requiring different levels of education. The best thing to do is pick an area that closely relates to what you understand. I’m not saying avoid broadening your horizons, I’m just saying start with something you’re familiar with so you’re not overwhelmed. For an example: If you have experience recording vocals, it would be wise to jump into VO If composition is your strength, aim for loop libraries If you like recording interesting sounds, take a stab field recording I’m just throwing out some ideas only you know what’s best for you. Doing this will help you get the ball rolling and get paid (faster) – you can learn the rest later. Or, if instant gratification isn’t your thing, pick an area of interest and roll with it. Finding Clients Who Pay In this part of the series I’m going to disclose how to find promising leads and paying clients. The best place to find leads is right in your own backyard. Where there’s a community college with a film course, there are dozens of clients. Think about it, film students do what?…They learn to shoot film. Guess what every film needs to bring it to life….SOUND. ….There’s a market right there You can walk into any college and run into at least 20 clients easy…. It’s important for you to build with the students. When I say “build” I mean a solid friend and business relationship. A good percent of film students graduate outsource to people they know once they move on to bigger things. Family Owned Food Chains, Gift Shops Etc Most of them have no idea what they’re doing. Some think they can use a T3i to record their video and audio for budget commercials. They can, but the sound is going to be terrible. Reach out and offer your assistance for a reasonable fee. Be Captain Save Em… Seriously, thats what motivates a local business owner to work you you. The fact that you’re A) Local (reachable) and B) You can solve the issue inexpensively. Franchise Stores Like Guitar Center Or Mike’s Camera Hangout in camera stores. They’re full of potential clients. True, a lot will be interested in just photography, but some will be interested in video as well. Those are just a few examples, but it applies to everything. Go where the market is. Over 50% of the time when I go to guitar center I walk out with connections. People working on stuff. It doesn’t cost me a dime to walk in, look at gear and mingle…It’s free… do it. Here’s a good story I shared on Google plus about a trip to guitar center that lead to work. Opportunities are everywhere Theaters And Venues That Host Plays If you’ve never been to a plane go to one. I’m...read more
Now for what everyone wants to know of course which is how to make money with sound design. I can’t tell you the best way, but I can share what works for me. Take these gems and tweak them to work for you. 1.Don’t Be a Snob Work with any Budget If a client has a budget of $72.00, don’t blow them off, work with them. Most people work for free trying to come up and others don’t work at all when they cling to a specific price point. I’ve done work for free, lots of it. I didn’t ask for credit, optin or anything. I just wanted to be apart of the process. I’ve found that the best connections I have in this industry are those I’ve built with. 2. Say Yes! and Accept Any Gig This is where I make the most money There will be times when you’ll be offered projects you’re not passionate about. Rather than rolling your eyes or trying to convince the client otherwise… just do the damn project. Beating the dead horse (expanding on point #1) What’s the worst that could happen? You get some experience, some money, another connection and someone who can vouch for your skills? Doesn’t sound to bad Imo. My first projects as a sound designer (field recordist) weren’t to exciting. I wanted to dive into video games, but had to settle for supplying nature sounds to a fancy hotel. The pay per project wasn’t much $47.00-$60.00 for my time. It was easy, so I took on 40+ sub-contracts through the same client. Estimating…each project took 2-3 hours between recording, editing and finalizing. Doing the math, I collectively made $2,950. That’s over 100 working hours between all contracted gigs. It might sound like too much, too little, but we easily spend the same amount of time engaging in non productive activities. Some of us spend hours doddling on Facebook, not making a dime. All in all, this wasn’t too bad. Bottom line, saying “yes” keeps you working. 3. Build Your Sound FX or Sound Library Setup an online store, and drive traffic to it. Creating a website is extremely easy these days. All you need is a host, a theme and WordPress. You could be up in running in 30 minutes, no coding experience needed. Again, that’s 30 minutes to get the site up. You’ll spend at least 5 hours a week tweaking and monetizing the site. I can hear the moaning and groaning now, but it’s a business, treat it like one. The upside to having a site is the ability to do business 24/7. You wont have to find people, they’ll be able to find you (easily). This is done by using social media and understanding how to rank in search engines. Very easy to do these days when you have something of value. 4. Have A Payment Processor Without a payment processor it’ll be rough getting paid. Clients can use check or MO, but why should they? Have a Paypal or something similar available. This is crucial for working with clients online. If it’s too hard to pay for your service, the customer will go somewhere else. The two payment processors I use are Paypal & Square. 5. Connect & Familiarize Yourself With The Industry I...read more
What hardware/software applications do I need? What do sound designers use? Anything that makes noise, allows us to record and manipulate sound. When I think of Sound design tools, I think of two classes. 1. The Recordist → Totes around field recorders, headphones, mics, stands etc. Their gear is made for recording outside of a typical recording studio. 2. Everyone else → Those who don’t record outside or who strictly work with synthesis Regardless of where the source comes from everything hits the computer anyway for editing and mastering. Let’s take a look at some of these tools. Field Recorders They are hard disk recorders that allow you record on the go. The most valuable feature(s) on a field recorder is it’s preamps and the number of microphone inputs it has. High Quality preamps, offer better recordings, especially when trying to isolate small sounds. The more mic inputs a recorder has the more creative you can be when capturing sound. Field recorders range in price $70 – $3,000, I’ve seen them as high as $5k. Also, some are equipped with internal mics which can be very useful. Check out my complete guide on field recorders. Microphones They are the sonic lenses to your world of audio. Generally, the better microphone you have the better sound you’ll be able to record… Assuming you have a good recording chain. You can check out my microphone buyers guide for a more in-depth look into the types of mics, function, bang for the buck etc. This will help when looking for a microphone. Specific Software Applications If you have a DAW, you have what you need, but there are some specific software applications that are vital to a sound designer. Your Computer This is where the magic happens. Your computer is loaded with software applications; Daws, audio editors, plug-ins, synths etc. These are the tools that you use to manipulate sound. I hope it’s safe to assume that everyone reading this post at the very least has a computer, audio interface of some sort and a microphone. If you have those basic necessities along with a DAW you’re in business....read more
What Is Sound Design? What Is A Sound Designer? In short, sound design is the process of creating and managing sound. As far as “what is a sound designer?” This is a question with many different answers. Ask someone born in the 50s and they might tell you a sound designer is someone who records sound for film and visual media. Ask another person and they might say “it’s the guy who programs synths”. To me, a sound designer is “anyone” who manipulates sound. I know that answer includes a broad range of professionals, but I don’t see any other way. Look at it like this. Mixing engineers: Constantly tweaking elements within music so it sits right. Composers: layer instruments and synth patches to sculpt unique sounds. Modern day producers: constantly finding ways to abuse samples Technology: Making it easy to abuse those samples. No matter how you look at it, everyone “designs sound” to some extent. With that being said there are different kinds of sound designers. There are those who focus on synthesis, foley recording as well as field recording Different in their own right, and all very profitable. The Business Of Sound Design: How Does it Work? Short explanation: A client hires you, gives you an outline of what they need and you deliver. Like most businesses 🙂 More in-depth Explanation: We generally work with multiple clients throughout the year all on a project by project basis, there are rarely any royalties attached, and we work on flat rate fees. NDA’s are no joke The name of this game is “shhh” tell noone what you’re working on. It’s important that this level of professionalism is kept as most gigs aren’t publicly advertised. Many sound designers are staff, meaning they work for a company, but majority of us are ‘freelance’ which gives us the flexibility to work with multiple clients at once. Here are some pros and cons to both. As a freelance sound designer, you can work with any client you want. This equates to more projects, experience and best of all more money in your pocket. The downside is you’re responsible for making sure you have enough projects to live off of. Not always easy to do especially when starting out. When you work as a staff designer, you have paycheck you can count on. There are times I wish I had this stability. What does suck, however, is you can’t always work with other companies due to conflict of interest. How Lucrative Is Sound Design? Think about it like this, there isn’t one company out there who operates in silence. Film/Tv – to enhance what you’re viewing. Fight scenes, car accidents, environments (settings) etc. Watch a movie with the sound off, you’ll notice a huge difference. Video games – Similar to tv and film, they need sound to compliment the visuals and actions we control. Toys – Yes, toys have sound. Lasers, VO, sfx etc. Businesses – Audio branding, we all know when a Windows or Mac is booting up. We know by it’s signature sound. There isn’t a field that doesn’t utilize audio, it’s a HUGE market. My Conclusion Hopefully that sparked your interest a little. If you’re looking forward to this series, please let me know by sharing and...read more