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Arts & Entertainment

4 Tips for Becoming a Sound Designer

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Nov 8, 2020 • 3 min read

Few production elements affect a theatrical experience more than sound design, and yet many film audience members know almost nothing about sound designers. Despite the lack of public awareness, sound designers work regularly in the fields of film and TV production—as well as live theater design, audiobooks, radio and podcasting, and video game creation.

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What Is Sound Design?

Sound design is the art of creating an aural environment for audiences. Holistical sound design encompasses dialogue, music, and sound effects. In some productions for television, cinema, theater, radio and podcasting, audiobooks, and video game design, a single person is responsible for all of these aural elements. More commonly, however, they are broken into different roles.

What Does a Sound Designer Do?

A sound designer is responsible for the palette of sounds that will be experienced by a consumer of cinema, television, live theater, radio, podcasts, audiobooks, or video games. In all cases, sound designers work under the purview of a director, who is the production team member responsible for the overall artistic product. Most directors provide sound designers with a great deal of autonomy. Other directors choose to deeply immerse themselves in the minutiae of sound design and may employ a heavy hand in guiding the designer. One of the most famous examples of this is David Lynch, who is so attuned to sonics that he often serves as his own sound designer.

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9 Key Collaborators of a Sound Designer

The job description of any sound designer will involve at least one of the below tasks. Many sound designers will do more than one of them, and some sound designers (particularly those on low budget productions) will literally take on all of them. Otherwise, these roles will be filled by a sound designer’s most important collaborators:

  1. Composer of original music
  2. Music supervisor
  3. Audio editor
  4. Sound editor
  5. Sound effects designer
  6. Technical sound designer
  7. Foley artist
  8. Staff musicologist
  9. Audio recording engineer

What Do You Need to Become a Sound Designer?

The best sound designers possess a mix of the following factors:

  1. Education: Though it doesn’t necessarily need to be formal education, sound designers should be proficient in some combination of music, film, theater, music production, and audio engineering.
  2. Practical knowledge of music: If you want to be a sound designer, you should be familiar with as many genres of music as possible. Ensure that you are familiar with the available sound libraries and know the benchmark examples of sound design.
  3. Technical skills: Essential skills include knowledge of sound recording programs such as Pro Tools, Logic, GarageBand, and QLab, along with various audio plug-ins. Facility with audio equipment (including microphones, mixing boards, amplifiers, speakers, compressors, and graphic equalizers) is also important for live sound engineering and field recording.
  4. Communication: An ability to collaborate is essential to a sound designer.
  5. Creative drive: Working as a sound designer can be demanding work and requires a willingness to work long hours.

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6 Tips for Becoming a Sound Designer

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Aspiring sound designers should take whatever opportunity they can to get real world experience in their field. Here are some tips for getting started:

  1. Start small. There are many types of sound designer jobs in the realm of entertainment, and many a designer’s career path started modestly—perhaps in community theater or as a voiceover sound engineer on a low-budget film.
  2. Be patient. If your dream job is being the sound designer in residence at a video game production company or a major film studio, be aware that it may take years of experience until such career options present themselves. You won't be working full-time right off the bat.
  3. Work as a freelancer. Many great sound designers create a robust freelance career that may include sound editing, original music production and composition, and using audio design to create soundscape ambience (either through synth sounds or by layering pre-recorded sound effects). If you’re especially early in your career, you may need to consider volunteering for any part of the production process.
  4. Create your own sound library. Compiling original sound to create your own personal sound effect library. Many designers create their own sounds, and having your own library can be a leg up in the industry.
  5. Expand your skill set. It’s invaluable to develop a skill set in related aspects of filmmaking, video game audio, or live audio production.
  6. Listening to as many music recordings, film scores, and sound designs as possible.

Making a steady living as a sound designer can be tricky, but the work is creatively rewarding, which is why a lot of people pursue it throughout their professional lives.

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