How did you get started in game audio?

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How did you get started in game audio?

Post by CattonArthur »

The most common question I get from people considering game audio as a career is “how do I start?” I try to tell them it’s kind of a long process but I think it would be super useful to read a bunch of stories about how we all started and how our starting points panned out.

I was a Recording Arts major looking for a place to apply all this noodling so I approached our university’s game design class and asked if I could make their sound effects. I was the only Recording Arts major regularly hanging out around the Comp Sci building so I got a rep as “The Audio Person”. People I hadn’t met before would find me and ask if I could do their sound. I got to work with probably over a hundred students during this time.

As I was graduating in 2012 a handful of those students got funding to start a game company and asked me to handle audio. That company didn’t last too long but it was a very lucky break right out of college and the (now delisted) game did in fact ship.

After that I did a lot of miscellaneous audio and non-audio freelance. The most successful thing from that period was Whispering Willows which was started by a different group of people I had worked with in college. In 2015 I got a job doing sound/music for mobile slot machine apps and got my “Consistently Making A Living Doing Audio” badge. Then in 2019 I was able to leave that for more creatively satisfying work at Akupara, a company started by some of the people I did Whispering Willows with.

I’ve had a lot of other work but the backbone of my career can all be traced to the projects I did and the reputation I had in college.

What’s your story?
Sr. Sound Designer/Composer @ Akupara Games, Sound designer @ NPC Labs.
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Re: How did you get started in game audio?

Post by carsonalexanderlewis »

I only graduated and started looking for work in games a couple years ago, so I absolutely understand what someone new to the field wants to hear as a response to "How did you get into the industry?" You want to hear a simple step by step, 'this is how you do it!' guide, but it never is that simple. Everyone has their own story and wacky combinations of hard work and opportunity to get where they are now. So while there's never a clear 'JUST DO THIS,' there absolutely is value in hearing people's stories and looking at some of the common things people did in their journeys.

For me, my interest in sound started when I heard the notorious Skrillex - Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites dubstep track at a friend's 16th birthday party. Hearing those gnarly sounds got me really interested in electronic music until it wasn't good enough to just collect it, I felt a need to make it myself. I remember downloading Adobe Acid and some dubstep loops and attempting to remix a track my friend Trenton made who was a local DJ. I showed him when I finished and he introduced me to FL Studio, and the basics of making electronic music. I worked with FL for a while before switching over to Ableton and got much more comfortable making music and specifically because I was making electronic stuff, I gained experience with synths and heavy plugin manipulation.

I was getting close to graduating high school and realised I wanted to keep on this electronic music path and ended up attending Northeastern University for their Music Composition & Technology major with a Minor in Music Recording. I learned A LOT about sound during my time there. I learned traditional western tonal composition, how to make musique-concrete/acousmatic works, how to record, mix, and master bands, live sound, etc. So much! There was never any sort of games class though, and when my roommate, an artist, would do Global Game Jam, I'd just go check in with him and bring him food. I didn't even consider participating, surely game audio was too hard and I didn't think for a second I could do that.

In my final semester, I took a sound design elective and it is the first time I learned about foley, composing to picture, cutting sounds, and more. I fell in love with it instantly and quickly found myself at Savannah College of Art & Design doing their MFA in Sound Design program. In the first few quarters I learned a lot about field recording, sound design for film and animation, and dialogue editing, and then we had a choice of elective. I chose the game audio elective.

The SECOND I opened Unreal and dropped a positional in the world it was like everything just clicked. "Oh...I can do this!" Game audio wasn't just unintelligible lines of code on a page and I NEVER realised that! I was thrilled by Unreal and made sure to do as much game audio work as I could in my last year. I stayed in close contact with my game audio professor and become a teaching assistant for the game audio and immersive audio classes. I spent a lot of time digging into unreal and Wwise making sure I knew how to use them decently. I also took Berklee's Intro to Game Audio online class just to get more experience in and learn about using Unity + FMOD and attended GameSoundCon 2019. I then did my thesis on Designing Sound for Video Game Implementation which I wrote for someone who was in my shoes the previous year —someone who knew about audio but nothing about game audio.

While finishing school I was working on my sound design chops and building a network on Twitter. There are so many wonderful game audio people on twitter and I got to know them by checking out their work, commenting and asking questions. I remember that the talented Joshua Davidson was one of the very first people I started talking to! I was a curious student with a passion for sound and I think people saw that and were happy to chat. As I was getting close to graduating I applied for Sony's Dialogue Video Game Sound Internship and got it after a looong interview process. Everyone at school was sent home for Covid and I finished my last quarter from my parents house here in LA and graduated in my room.

I was ready to begin the Sony internship until I got a call saying because of Covid, it was being postponed to the next now here I was, a new grad, and no job. I started the job search and worked on my reel. Then one of the sound designers I had talked to most, the incredible Juan Pablo Uribe reached out to me when Chris Kokkinos , the then audio lead at Rooster Teeth asked him if he knew anyone who might be able to help out with what about to be a busy time of the year as they were going to have to put out new episodes of Red Vs. Blue and RWBY at the same time. Juan reached out to me because he had seen a redesign I did of a Warframe cinematic and though my style would fit. I ended up interviewing with the Rooster Teeth team after Chris reviewed my work.

This began my first official sound design job! I learned so much during that time especially when it came to designing quickly and working with a team. After finishing my contracts with Rooster Teeth, it was time for my postponed Sony internship to start...except Covid was still a thing and it was cancelled. Thankfully, I had a good relationship with my recruiter and she offered to send my resume out to other teams at Sony. I was put in touch with Steven Osman who runs the Magic Lab Dept. at Sony. Magic Lab is essentially R&D where they look at new technologies, create demos, and see how it could benefit Sony. I apparently made a good impression during our call because he hired me to come work for Magic Lab instead.

There I played a more technical role than just sound designing. I worked to create and implement audio for in house demos and made my own Unreal demos from scratch integrating tech we were looking at with audio concepts. My time at Magic Lab was so much fun, and taught me to be self-sufficient and to get the hang of rapid prototyping. I liked to think too much, just DO the thing and then let's see how it works!

As I finishing up with Magic Lab, Chase Thompson, technical audio lead at 343 Industries reached out to me on linked in saying that had a contract position open for working on Halo Infinite. He had found me from my presence on Twitter and LinkedIn and thought I would be a good fit. I went through the interview process there including a big 2hr interview with a total of 7 different members of the team and came out with a job offer!

So here I am 1 year into working as a Technical Audio Designer at 343 Industries working on my first shipped game, Halo Infinite! I am so grateful for all of the people who have given me their support over the years and there is so much kindness and willingness to share in game audio. We all want to see each other succeed and that's why I love this space!
Last edited by carsonalexanderlewis on Thu Sep 08, 2022 8:47 pm, edited 2 times in total.
Carson Alexander Lewis ♥
Technical Audio Designer
343 Industries
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Re: How did you get started in game audio?

Post by steveblu »

Loving this Q!

I think my story is a "no experience is wasted experience" and a "long and winding road" kind of deal. A little caveat: I'm more in the interactive media space and less in the video game space, but there's a good bit of crossover and analogous skills/experience.

I graduated as a Music Technology: Composition major in 2010. Throughout my degree, I'd worked as a recording engineer, where I learned all kinds of recording techniques on the job, which ended up being very handy later. I also became friendly with a lot of musicians and filmmakers. I also leaned on soft skills a lot to compensate for a lack of experience with the hard skills - I was perpetually behind my class, and felt that I was one of the least technically skilled.

The economy in the US was rough when I graduated, and I was just trying to stay involved in music however I could. I taught, recorded, gigged, and did little bits of film scoring, but those were few and far between. Scoring for visual media was the endgame, but it felt far away. I applied to grad schools (NYU, Boston University), didn't get into either. A few months after, I found out an acquaintance from my high school was in LA doing film scoring. I emailed him asking a few questions, he got back pretty quickly, and at the end he recommended that I reach out to his film scoring teacher from NYU. I reached out, and she took me on as a student. My studies with her ended up being my "Master's Degree".

After prodding from this teacher, I decided to give LA a try. At this point I was still focused mainly on film, but really interested in games, but had no idea how to go about it. I landed a game scoring gig early on, but had no idea how to work with devs, and ultimately got fired. Like my experience in film scoring with picture lock, I expected the devs to give me something close to the final game for me to score. They also expected me to deliver ~500 sfx assets that they'd just assigned to me one day prior. Needless to say, it didn't work out. I guess that was my 'start'.

Licking my wounds from that, I learned that there was a lot that I didn't know, but I had no idea how to find good resources to educate myself. Eventually, I learned of GameSoundCon in 2015, after meeting Brian Schmidt online. After attending, I was fired up! I felt like I'd found my group. Everyone was really friendly and welcoming, and I wanted to go all in on game audio, specifically writing music for games. And best of all: I had a clue as to how to get started now.

I started going for game jams however I could, but found it to be really hard to get a group just by telling people "Hey! I write music!" and I realized that having some technical/implementation skills was valued. So, I took a course on Unity, and took the intro courses to Wwise Fmod. The second time around it went better, devs seemed a lot more interested in talking with me now that I had familiarity. I did a few jams, and learned a ton from them.

While I was focused on games, I was also open to other mediums. Enter my start in interactive media: Novel Effect. I met the head of audio there through a mutual teacher a few years back, and I believe he'd posted inquiring about game composers on Facebook. I reached out, and we decided to go for it. It ended up working out, and we still work together to this day, in addition to my main work with LifeScore as a composer.
Steve Blumenthal
Composer @ LifeScore
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Re: How did you get started in game audio?

Post by Stomp224 »

Ok, here is yet another wall of text! I find peoples stories are fascinating, so I hope this is an interesting read too!

When I was studying for my Audio Production degree waaay back in 2007, our tutors were brutally honest about our chances to make careers post-graduation. While i was trying to think about what i would actually do with myself, Lionhead studios were offering week long QA work experience stints on their message boards. When we were asked to find work experience for our course, I convinced my tutor to let me do this rather than something audio related.

While my main concern was getting to play Fable 2 early ( i got to test the E3 2007 demo!), we were introduced to members of all the different disciplines, who would explain their role and what it actually entailed. I did want to talk to the composer, but unfortunately he and the rest of the audio team was off site that week! So I was introduced to the audio programmer instead. He patiently answered all my weird questions, and at the end said to me “it sounds like you would be interested in a career in Sound Design.” I had never heard the term before, so when my week of QA was up, I did some research into the field.

I was intrigued, and as luck would have it, one of my upcoming assignments was sound design related - putting sound to picture on some trailers. I loved this work, and decided I could focus on this. After all, game companies hired people to do this! I could combine my passions AND get paid!

So that summer i started to advertise my services on modding forums. Looking to do any project for free to get some experience and showreel materials. After a few failed attempts, i posted on the newly launch Xbox Indies forum. Before long I was collaborating regularly with a developer on some small 2D shooting games. There were some teething troubles - who knew you have to trim the silences of the start of wave files?! After some setbacks, I discovered the XNA toolset included a middleware solution called XACT. I had researched middleware for an essay, and knew of programs like FMOD and Wwise, so felt like this would be a great opportunity to learn. I convinced my developer to let me use XACT on our 3rd game - a 2D platformer. Before long i was using RTPCS, interactive music and soundbanks. I took a demo in to Uni to show my tutors and they were floored - they had no idea this field existed!

Over the next year and a half of my course, i worked on 10 XNA indies and a handful of iPhone games. Once I graduated I applied for a few studios. Had a couple of promising interviews but nothing came of them.Then I saw a new article that a UK studio was working on a remaster of the Xbox game Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath for PS3. This caught my eye for two reasons: 1) I was a big fan of the game, and 2) the studio, Just Add Water, was less than 70 miles from my home. I sent them my CV and forgot about it.

Six months later, I got an email asking me to come in for an interview. During the interview they asked about my experience with XACT. XACT was the audio engine the Xbox exclusive strangers wrath used, and they needed to port it to FMOD so it would work on PS3 and PC. I was given a short term contract for the port, working remotely in the evenings and working my day job in an office.

The job went well, and I got further contract work on the next port. They were planning a ground-up remake of the original Oddworld game, and we kept in touch about that, but various delays kept pushing it back so I applied for other studios. That was when I finally made it into as full time, in house sound designer working on childrens games at Mind Candy. A year after i took the Mind Candy job, the Oddworld remake was underway and I joined JAW.

After a year at JAW, the project was wrapping up, but there were significant tensions building. I was told I would be let go after the project because they had no work for me and would be moving to work-for-hire. Thats when I joined TT Games, where I have been ever since

Phew! Theres my game audio life story. Hope it doesnt put anyone to sleep! :lol:
Michael Taylor
Senior Sound Designer - TT Games
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Re: How did you get started in game audio?

Post by cubusaddendum »

I studied at the Applied Acoustics dept at Salford under (amongst others) Trevor Cox. I had this idea that one day game studios would want a programmer who’s speciality was audio. All the studios I applied to told me that they didn't need anyone like that, so when I graduated I worked in R&D (MPEG2/4 AAC, watermarking), music tech products (Yamaha, FXpansion), and cinema (Auro3D).

And then I learned how to pass those standard programming tests studios like to set, and got into AAA as a generalist. Just. Then someone realized I knew about audio programming because I fixed some technical issues that were long standing technical debt on the game we were working on. They asked me “hey, do you know about audio?” and I said “yes”, so they passed me the rest of their audio-tech backlog.

And that’s how I became a game audio programmer.
Robert Bantin
Audio architect of the Snowdrop engine at Ubisoft (Massive Entertainment)

I used to be a rockerboy but now I’m a techie
Tony Porter
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Re: How did you get started in game audio?

Post by Tony Porter »

I've had this idea before of doing a kinda game audio profile like this but a video series where people would talk about their start, and their path to where they are now. This job led me to this job put me in touch with this person who hired me for this and that. It's fun to hear the stories, but its really cool to see the connections and relationships!
Tony Porter
Audio Developer, Freelancer, Game Audio Slack
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Re: How did you get started in game audio?

Post by markkilborn »

I wanted to make game sound or music from childhood. At 7 or 8 I was making little audio scenes on a dual cassette machine by recording sounds from video games that had hidden sound test menus, or at least the ones I could find. Ninja Gaiden on NES was a big one. I would record from the TV speaker into a little microphone connected to my boombox, then I'd dub the sounds from one tape to another to try to cut together these little scenes, sometimes even playing a cassette from another machine back into a mic so I could "overdub" sounds. It was primitive as hell. I was a little kid. But I loved it.

I played with music making and music technology all throughout my childhood, as well as video games. In my late teens I got involved with an industrial band where I lived, I started DJing a bit, this continued into my early 20s. I decided to go get a "real career" and enrolled in a traditional 4 year school, but dropped out after the first year because I was tremendously bored. This was around 2002. I found out about Full Sail in a magazine, I think, and decided I wanted to go there to learn more about sound, with the hope of somehow making my way to video game sound down the road, but I had absolutely no clue how to get in.

My parents were not pleased, but my girlfriend (now wife) and I packed up all of our stuff into my car, drove to Orlando FL and I spent a year there. I learned a lot. After graduation, I sent out a demo reel on a burnt DVD-R to a number of companies and heard almost nothing back. One person called me, an audio director who still works in the industry and who I won't name because he may not want to be singled out for this. But he called me and said, essentially: look, your demo reel sucks, I'm going to tell you why so you can fix it. I followed his advice. I also got some advice from some other folks I had found online, Ed Lima for example.

My first paying audio job was as an intern, then an assistant, at a post production studio in Royal Oak, MI. A friend I had met through my musical days, I had done some remixes for the record label he was on including one for his band, had offered to get me some interviews. He was an advertising producer in Detroit, working primarily with automotive clients. I flew up there on the cheapest flight I could find, he drove me around town and introduced me to some folks. My first audio boss, a guy named Jay Scott, told me he didn't like Full Sail students because they'd had a few bad ones, but he was giving me a shot because his client had vouched for me. Again my wife and I packed up everything we owned and hit the road to Detroit. We lived in this awful and fairly scary little place, and I was making very little as an intern, but it was enough to pay the bills and survive.

I learned a TON at this place. I can't emphasize how much I learned. It wasn't game sound, but they were extremely into teaching their interns, so I got a tremendously deep experience in linear post production and sound effects editing and mixing. After my internship ended they kept me on as an assistant, and they wanted to keep me around and eventually grow me up to an engineer role. But I wanted to get into game audio, and I really wanted to be closer to friends and family. I found an opportunity for an assistant role at a post production shop in Dallas, so I applied and took the offer to get back to Texas.

Another connection I had made locally was a guy named Matt Piersall of Gl33k, although I don't remember whether Gl33k existed at the time. He knew I wanted to get into game sound, and I had talked to him a bit about his work. I was networking as much as I could and probably pestering everyone in the industry at this point. At some point while I was working in Dallas, he called me and said "Hey man, I need some help with a Tony Hawk game, do you want to come be a subcontractor and help me out?" I immediately quit my day job and started working for him, recording and making sounds. As we got close to finishing that project, I started applying to jobs again, and got a bite from Bizarre Creations in Liverpool. I was casting the net very wide, applying for anything anywhere. I didn't understand how visas worked. In my application to Bizarre, I borrowed an early 2000s Ford Mustang from a friend of mine, I rented a few microphones, duct taped them to the body of the vehicle and then drove it around and recorded it. I tried to get the steadiest performances I could without a dynamometer, and at the time I didn't realize that was how vehicles were recorded for games. I took all the assets, put them into a FMOD project, and created a little interactive car demo. I sent it off to them, got a call back, and they interviewed me and offered me a remote job with the intent to move me over to the UK. The demo wasn't great, but they were impressed that I had actually recorded a car, put it all together, and that it sounded as good as it did given the pretty limited resources I had available.

Working for them was my first "in house" job, although I was remote. My father's health took a bad turn and I ended up not moving to Liverpool. My next jump was Gearbox Software, then a few other places, and now I'm at Certain Affinity in Austin. In one of Rob Bridgett's books, he wrote something like "Behind each game sound designer a unique portal closes, never to open again." I don't know if that will always be the case, but it's certainly been the case for a long time.

Sorry for the wall of text, although we're all doing it on this thread :)
Mark Kilborn
Senior Audio Lead @ Certain Affinity
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Re: How did you get started in game audio?

Post by Goa »

I was 15 when I went to the movie theater and heard 5.1 for the first time. And it was Fellowship of the Ring to boot. I knew I wanted to do something audio then. When the extended editions came out, and I saw Dave Farmer with the hair brushes to make feet sounds for wargs, that is when I knew I had to become a sound designer. I became a game sound designer after I modded a game, and the developers liked what I had made and hired me.
Glenn G. Goa
Sound Designer
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Location: UK

Re: How did you get started in game audio?

Post by TDK »

I found a love for computer generated music back in 1984 when at 11 years old I was given a 2nd hand Commodore 64 home computer for my Birthday/Christmas present. I used to record the game music through my Nan's TV into her stereo system (she was the only one who had something which would record to cassette), and then gradually I started writing music on the C64, eventually making cables to let me record my music from one C64 and then overdub digital drums over the top, using two cassette machines.

This grew for a love of electronic music as I was introduced to the music of Jean-Michel Jarre, and then was shown the potential of computer based music sequencers with the Yamaha CX5M music computer.

I knew by then that I wanted a career in the music industry. There were only two Music Technology courses at University; the Tonmeister which wanted A grade A levels in Music, Maths and Physics, and Salford. I applied for Salford as I certainly wasn't going to get the grades for the Tonmeister... but even though I had supplied a cassette of my MIDI music and did an audition with a violin with a guitar pickup and floor effects they turned me down saying that "a classically trained musician can't deal with Music Technology". To be fair, they did offer me a HND rather than the Degree course I wanted.... but I told then where they could stick that... So I started applying for jobs at recording studios... I had a couple of near misses including a very near miss at CTS Studios in London, but that was that.

At the same time, in the early 90's, I was quite heavily involved in the Commodore Amiga Demoscene and I send floppy disks of demonstrations of my Commodore Amiga music to as many developers in the UK that I could find the addresses to (address books, we had no internet back then)... anyway, nothing.... however, as I was filling my application form for management training at the supermarket I was working for, I got a call from Mindscape offering me a freelance job converting the music from the PC game Wing Commander on to the Commodore Amiga platform.

So, I did that in my spare time whilst working full time at the supermarket, and towards the end of the job they offered me a full time job as the in-house music composer (sound guy really, as of course SFX were also in the job remit).

This was back in 1992, so things have changed just a little :D
Mark Knight - Composer / Sound Designer @ SONiC Fuel, chiptune violin rockstar
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