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LostChocolateLab

Definition Sound Design

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Something I wanted to stir up for you audio professional folks out there is the oft-bandied about term/ classification of Sound Designer. From Wikipedia: Sound Design is a technical/creative field. Theoretically, it covers all no-compositional elements of a film, a play or any other multimedia project. I've seen posts all over the place promoting/requesting "Sound Design" services that turn out to be nothing more than musicians/developers with creative vocabulary. Wtf does it mean to the gaming industry? What does it mean to you? (yes this is part rant, but also *keenly* interested in the thoughts of the community) LCL

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Urgh...

…Wikipedia ;)

If working creatively with sound isn’t compositional, I don’t know what is…

Anyhoo!

When the majority of folks use the term sound design they really mean sound effects editing – designing sounds. This is so widespread that it kinda does mean that now, in the same way that gay now means homosexual. In this sense, folks requesting sound design services when all they require are a few SFX (or so they think!) aren’t wrong, they’re just uninformed. You can bet that there are folk reading this thinking "if designing sounds isn’t sound design then what the hell is", which pretty much proves my point!

My definition of sound design is designing for sound as opposed to designing sounds. In this sense, to be pedantic, sound design doesn’t really exist – the detailed consideration of sound as an integral part of the work in pre-production does not happen, and very rarely has. Those examples that do exist – early American Zoetrope/Walter Murch, some of Hitchcock’s and Welle’s films to mention a few - are due to the person at the creative helm, often the director, not just giving a shit about sound but actually knowing, consciously or not, how to use sound (and music).

Making creative decisions about sound during post production (film) or production (games) allows for some amazing work, but not half as amazing as when a work has been “sound designed”.

I consider the “director of photography for sound” model, or the person charged with interpreting and overseeing “all things sound” in a project, to mean a sound designer in both the film and game industries. In film, you often see a sound designer, or supervising sound editor, at the helm who is in charge of the editors (SFX, dialogue, foley, music), recordists and so on. But game sound folks aint as specialised as that yet (we work in smaller teams over a longer period of time). We tend to cover everything – in some respects this puts us in a superior position to those in the film world.

Many game sound designers are also composers, hence the term audio designer.

When people who know what they’re talking about use the term sound design in the context of games, they mean the whole deal – not just sound effects.

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I saw the poster that sort of initiated your curiosity by stating that he was a sound designer who could provide music. However, that's exactly what he meant - that he was looking for a sound designer (non-compositional) position, but that he had experience in writing music if needed.

It's not uncommon for amateur game teams to just lump the musician and the S.D. positions together per default, because they honestly don't really think of them as separate areas. Therefore, it's also not uncommon for S.D. applicants to write if they do music on top, and it's definitely not uncommon to have dabbled in the other area if you've dabbled in the one.

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I appreciate your response, and hope I can further this discussion with an attempt at sorting out your comments a bit.(for my own sake I’ve taken them out of context…trimmed the fat as it were)

1. "When the majority of folks use the term sound design they really mean":
sound effects editing – designing sounds
2. "My definition of sound design is designing FOR sound as opposed to designing sounds"
(you must mean designing for sound(?) for picture/media...as opposed to the act of making/designing/editing/creating sounds)
3. "Making creative decisions about sound during post production (film) or production (games)"
is not the same as designing FOR sound.
4. Film=sound designer, or supervising sound editor/editors/(SFX, dialogue, foley, music)/recordists and so on.
But…
Games="aint as specialised as that yet"/We tend to cover everything/Many game sound designers are also composers, hence the term audio designer
5. "When people who know what they’re talking about use the term sound design in the context of games, they mean the whole deal – not just sound effects."

Therefore,

1. The majority of folks using the term "sound design" (incorrectly) use it to describe people (in the film industry) who "edit" audio. (audio editor?)
2. Your definition of "sound design" is what the film industry calls "supervising sound editor" (or film director)
3. "Making creative decisions about sound during post production (film) or production (games)"
is the same as the “supervising sound editor/ director” in film
4. Many (=majority?) game audio (music AND sound) people do both and should be called "audio designers"
5. When people who know what they're talking about are looking for help they ask for "sound design" and expect "the whole deal - not just sound effects"

Response,
1. If the majority use the term “sound design” (incorrectly) to mean “audio editor” why wouldn’t that that translate to the game industry…as you have pointed out that when people in the know ask for “sound design” they expect music AND sound. (and I like the term audio editor…very concise)
2. Agreed! Can you imagine a world in which audio is given the same level of thought in preproduction as storyboarding/previsualization or character/concept design? Inconceivable! ;)
3. Agreed!
4. Just because “many” do both dosent mean it should all fall under a general “admittedly vague and misleading” title.
5. I have experienced this as well…but I don’t agree when you say they “know what they’re talking about” when they are requesting this. It starts with the FALSE expectation that all/any “sound designers” do both music AND “audio editing”.


From there I would say your recommendation of “audio designer” as the title of a person who does both seems barely ok, and just switches it up and throws another vague term in the pot.

Is there a problem with:
Composer
Audio Editor
Supervising Sound Editor
(all common terms refered to in your post)

There will likely be further stratification below those top level titles, but isn’t that a good enough start for “people who (should know) what they’re talking about”

Bring it on!

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Cool cool :D

Quote:
Original post by LostChocolateLab
1. The majority of folks using the term "sound design" (incorrectly) use it to describe people (in the film industry) who "edit" audio. (audio editor?)


Not just the film industry, games too. Sound editing != sound design (though sound editing is part of sound design, which causes some confusion) so those folks are using the term incorrectly.

Quote:
Original post by LostChocolateLab
you have pointed out that when people in the know ask for "sound design" they expect music AND sound. (and I like the term audio editor…very concise)


I didn’t mean for "the whole deal – not just sound effects" to be interpreted as "the whole deal - sound effects and music"! I meant "the whole deal - not just sound effects editing, but every other aspect of sound in a game such as dialogue (recording, editing and organisation - hell, maybe even casting and directing the talent), implementation, testing and tweaking of the in-game sound and cutscenes".

Quote:
Original post by LostChocolateLab
2. "My definition of sound design is designing FOR sound as opposed to designing sounds"
(you must mean designing for sound(?) for picture/media...as opposed to the act of making/designing/editing/creating sounds)


It’s perhaps easier to think of it as "A design for the sound in a work" as opposed to the incorrect "designing really cool sound effects for a work".

Quote:
Original post by LostChocolateLab
2. Your definition of "sound design" is what the film industry calls "supervising sound editor" (or film director)


My definition of sound design is more of an ideology than a reality - it’s how things should be done (from my selfish perspective as someone who works creatively with sound and thinks that sound could and should play a more active roll in the design of the stuff that I work on and the works that I play/watch/purchase).

To confuse matters, I talked about three kinds of sound design in my post:

1) The one that I’d like to be true but doesn’t happen (designing for sound)
2) The one that can be found now in film (the post-production sound design is overseen by one person - a supervising sound editor also known as a sound designer. The "sound director", if you like)
3) The one which most people think sound design is, but isn’t, and which your average person would assume sound design meant just from its very name (sound effects editing, as in designing sounds)

For number:

1) Most people aren’t aware of this. No problem; I’m a specialist.
2) This applies to games too. Perhaps more so because there are fewer of us doing the job so we have even more control over how our work sounds.
3) This aint ever going to change :)

Quote:
Original post by LostChocolateLab
4. Many (=majority?) game audio (music AND sound) people do both and should be called "audio designers"


I’m not saying composer/sound designers should be called audio designers, I’m saying that this is what the term means when you see it. Having said that, in the same way some people misuse the term sound designer, I’m sure others misuse the term audio designer ;)

Whilst we aren’t as specialised as those working in film, where one person does only one job such as recording or mixing, we are becoming more specialised - as the size of the projects we work on increase, the number of people needed to complete the work increases and specialisation is a sensible evolution of work practices. Maybe all these confusing terms will disappear in to the ether…

Quote:
Original post by Kenbar
When people who know what they’re talking about use the term sound design in the context of games, they mean the whole deal – not just sound effects.


This wasn’t a put-down to anybody. I meant that anyone who has done any sound design for, or worked closely with a sound designer on, a complete game project from start to finish will know that there is more to the process than simply sitting about making sound effects. Armed with this knowledge, one appreciates that it is indisputable that sound design is absolutely not solely about the creation of sound effects.

Quote:
Original post by LostChocolateLab
From there I would say your recommendation of "audio designer" as the title of a person who does both seems barely ok, and just switches it up and throws another vague term in the pot.


In my head, I can’t think of a better description; it’s the perfect term to describe someone who does sound and music for games. There’s nothing vague about it - only people who don’t know what audio means and don’t know what sound design is.

Quote:
Original post by LostChocolateLab
Is there a problem with:
Composer
Audio Editor
Supervising Sound Editor


No. Use them. Never utter the terms "sound design" or "sound designer" ever again without first qualifying what your interpretations of them are (as you would do in an essay).

And never, ever seriously rely upon or quote from the wikipedia. It’s ******* ****. :D

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Awesome thread (for me) good perspectives from y'all.
I think we will not solve the worlds problems today, but a good dialog has begun.

Re:
"I saw the poster that sort of initiated your curiosity by stating that he was a sound designer who could provide music. However, that's exactly what he meant - that he was looking for a sound designer (non-compositional) position, but that he had experience in writing music if needed."

The original quote from the post that sparked the debate:
"I'm a sound designer in XXX. I have my own studio and love games. I write for all genres of music."

The rest of the post goes on to describe expectations, and hopes with regards to potential projects. I couldnt divine any further clarifying info from the rest of the post that would lead me to believe that when he says "sound designer" he in any way means "sound effects editing/creating"...especially when coupled with "I write for all genres of music".
When I think of composing, i think of writing...not editing/creating sounds. (or designing for that matter)

But, and this wasnt meant as a harp on our fellow noise maker, but an attempt at clarifying (or at least getting some feedback on) what people's ideas are on the label of "sound designer" and wheather it means anything near what it should.



I havent come to terms yet with an industry that expects musicians to be good sound effect artists...or vice versa. I'm not saying it can't/hasn't been done...but it should be the exception and not the rule.
It is true to some extent that the more hats you wear the more valuable you may be to a company, but at what cost?

At the same time, I agree with the idea that an sound effects artist(?) has more to do than just cook up freaky stuff...including foley, sound implementation, asset management, communication, etc.

I am personally pro-specialization. :)



More questions at your leisure:
Will we see game dev studios springing up with in house everything, specialized or not, only to be outsourced to companies/contractors offering specialized services outside of this studio system? (Do we already?)

It seems like the hollywood model that people are talking about these days, with the decline of the in-house studio system, and the rise of specialized skill outsourcing...does this seem to be the potential wave of the future for the game industry?

What is a smart way to position yourself as an *ahem* "audio professional" in the industry.

(man, if this rant dosent scare people off there could be some cool discussion)


p.s.
wiki...ahh the joy of cooking

from filmsound.org=
Sound designer is a illusive term with different meaning:

(1) "Sound designer" are an artist who are brought on staff during the planning stages of a film, along with the set and costume designers, and who do their own mixing. The sound designer works with the director to shape an overall, consistent soundtrack that exploits the expressive possibilities of the sound medium.

The over all sound design is organically related to the narrative and thematic needs of the film, and has an integrity not possible if sound is divided among an entire bureaucracy.

In Jurassic Park, Gary Rydstrom first designed the sounds of the dinosaurs and then models were built to match those roars.

(2) "Sound designer" can also refer to a person brought on to create just one kind of effect.

Ron Bochar was hired late in the post production of Wolf just to create the effects that accompanied Nicholson turning into a beast

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Quote:
Original post by LostChocolateLab
I agree with the idea that an sound effects artist(?) has more to do than just cook up freaky stuff...including foley, sound implementation, asset management, communication, etc.


I think that a sound effects editor/artist doesn't do anything more than cook up freaky (and not so freaky) sounds, and that a sound designer does.

If we see increasing amounts of freelance/contract work, the best work, done by these contractors, will happen when they are working in-house. So, a freelance sound designer will have to be prepared to move from studio to studio as the gigs come and go. Freelance composers will continue to do what they do now - meet with the development teams or key personal when necessary but do most of their work off-site.

Last year, my studio worked on 13 titles. That is a lot! This means that the audio department is constantly in work, so hiring contractors wouldn't make financial sense. For most projects we have one sound designer handling all the sound then maybe increase that to two towards the end of the project, if necessary. Music is done in-house, licensed, or contracted out. I guess this is another way of doing things, and may become more popular as development studios grow and consolidate.

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"sound effects artist(?)"
wow...must've been:
a)half-sleeping
b)incorrectly used
c)throwing yet another multi-purpose creative vocubulary term to describe the mutifacedtedness expected of audio professionals.

I'm gonna say B...with a healty dose of A and a bit of C thrown in the mix for piss and vitrol...guilty as charged sir, take me away.

But I digress...

The definition of Sound Design...what ever you want it to be.
It will continue to be mis-used by those unfamiliar with what is entailed in the process of providing sound & music for thier games.

But

As audio professionals, if we can communicate more effectivly the role in which we are trying to play in the sound aspects of the games we (would like to) make...it will benefit us in the long run to describe these skills/services with a higher degree of detail/specializaion in order to paint a clearer picture of what it is that we do. (the all powerful "we" that includes anyone working with sound/music in video games...audio programmers? (mebbe), another definition for another day)

KB...coupla things I'm hoping to understand from your post.
Sound design contractors are able to do their best work when working in house (at the dev not in their basment ;) )...but are they a contractor at that point...or an in-house what's the difference anyway?
(I can dig a SD doing better work in house, especially if the tools/communication are superior to other resources)


Does it make sense for a dev to have a sound design studio in-house?
What are the benfits of it? (beside a giant pile of gear/sound librarys and anechoic chambers)

Do sound designers have any less of a gear fetish than composers who rely on their off-site studios? (less space requirments...depending mebbe)

(It sounds like you've found a way to balance it and i'm sure thats what the bottom line is for any dev...balance.)

Of course these questions are so open ended that answers will differ for every level of project...good for one, not for the other. But i'm interested in opinions out there. I appreciate the intellegent discussion.

Thanks for playing,
LCL

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interesting thoughts on this matter. i also saw the original post and headed here to see what the buzz was about.

often, the skills needed to be successful in sound design and those needed to be a successful composer go hand-in-hand. i know that my personal training, while centered on composition, has extended into many other areas of sound composition and manipulation. often, the same tools can be used in either application, and familiarity with them in one idiom can lend itself nicely to applications in the other and vice versa. though primarily a composer, i wouldn't think twice about taking a sound designer position, since my training has prepared me for either, and it's not uncommon for me to refer to myself as either or both.

i do agree, however, that there is a very distinct seperation between the two terms, and though it seems that many game audio professionals end up wearing both hats at some point(s) in their careers, the teams that work on big-budget productions almost always have seperate positions for composers and sound designers - sometimes even multiples of each for large projects.

just my 2¢...

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Quote:
Original post by LostChocolateLabSound design contractors are able to do their best work when working in house (at the dev not in their basment ;) )...but are they a contractor at that point...or an in-house what's the difference anyway?


Things are getting increasingly complicated when it comes to the design, creation and implementation of interactive audio. There is absolutely no way that I could do my job without being in-house. As we become busier we’re starting to think about farming out the cinematics to established post-production facilities, but we’d never get the sound design done by anyone who wasn’t in the building (a lot).

Every employee has a contract (which may or may not be permanent), but a freelancer/contractor’s contract is different. When someone says they work “in-house”, they generally mean that they are a full-time employee and work in a development studio. But I guess what I’m advocating for the future are “in-house contractors”. I guess it’s possible that you could have a core audio team, a lead/manager and a couple of sound designers, then ramp up the team with in-house contractors when needs be.

Quote:
Original post by LostChocolateLabDoes it make sense for a dev to have a sound design studio in-house? What are the benfits of it?


If you want any work done in-house then you need to provide the facilities, or stump up the cash for your staff to do their work somewhere that does (think recording). The work environment is the most important thing when it comes to audio – a useable live room, people being able to work with monitors without disturbing each other etc.

Quote:
Original post by LostChocolateLabDo sound designers have any less of a gear fetish than composers who rely on their off-site studios? (less space requirments...depending mebbe)


Horses for courses, mate. Horses for courses…

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I'd just like to add my two cents worth here..

I know a lot of you have described a sound designer as a person who
1) Creates/Designs Sound Effects
2) IS the creative person who edits sound in general for a film

However, I am employed as a "sound designer".

My role involves not only creating the content but also creatively implement the sound in the game. I hold the vision, I am desiging the game's sound. It's one thing to create content, but these days with sound being so adaptive, and no longer linear, the sound designer's job is a lot more to do with implementation as well as content creation.

And yes, what most people think of a traditional game sound designer is a person who simply creates sound effects. Yes a good analogy to creating sound effects would be composing or painting with sound. A lot of non-sound designers don't realise a simple sound of a sci-fi weapon can contain up to 20 various elements/tracks of smaller sound effects carefully blended together to get that unique quality.

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yj-good to have your comments

as a "sound designer" do you also specify theme's for music composition and control the musical implementation.
If no what are we calling the person who does that?
Is a musician a "sound designer" if they work with programmers on implementation of their music?

kb-thanks for soldiering on with this discussion
things are becoming incresingly complicated and stratified, which is exactly why I felt like specific definitions of roles in game audio is so neccessary.
Right now the expectation is that you will wear many hats...but should it be so?

I know it informs the way I make sounds to know how it is/will be implemented in game, and Having worked only contract off-site...i would say that if communication is any better in house, that alone seals the deal on being able to do a better job overall when working in house.

A horse is a horse, of course, of course,
And no one can talk to a horse of course
That is, of course, unless the horse is the famous Mr. Ed.


Should we have a list then of things that a game audio professional does, then a list of titles that those fall under for clarification?
(i.e. a bird can fly but can/does a fly bird?)

Titles:
Specializations:

(A creative excercise if you will...how many can you think of?)
Anyone game? ;)
LCL

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Quote:
Original post by LostChocolateLab
as a "sound designer" do you also specify theme's for music composition and control the musical implementation.
If no what are we calling the person who does that?


Well, there's a bit of cross over of roles here, some of it like overall vision of sound is I guess more Audio Director role, and implementation of that vision is sound designer. I guess you could say that any task you do which directly alters the way the sound comes across in the game could be termed as sound design.

Quote:
Is a musician a "sound designer" if they work with programmers on implementation of their music?


Mmm... *thinks* .. I don't think so. The composer would work with the sound designer to fit in with the sound designer/audio director's vision. They may or may not have creative input into the way the music is implemented.

Quote:
Right now the expectation is that you will wear many hats...but should it be so?


It really depends on the size of the company/project. I've done plenty of projects where I am just the composer, or composer and sound designer (in the traditional SFX sense), and of course just as a sound designer.

Larger projects/companies will have dedicated sound engineers/designers. People who not only are involved with creating sound effects, but also are involved in recording the material required. Smaller projects / companies may have one or two people who share roles.

Quote:
I know it informs the way I make sounds to know how it is/will be implemented in game, and Having worked only contract off-site...i would say that if communication is any better in house, that alone seals the deal on being able to do a better job overall when working in house.


Again it depends on the company structure. Are you only dealing with a producer? Or are you dealing with an audio director or sound designer. HOw often do you discuss things, is it by email, or messaging?

It's true in house you have access to more staff involved with the audio, then again being a contractor, it depends on the interface to the company and how you communicate with them.

Quote:
Should we have a list then of things that a game audio professional does, then a list of titles that those fall under for clarification?


Audio Director
==============
- Manages vision of game audio
- Responsible for locating and hiring resources
- Manages audio department (staff and resources)
- Provides estimations, budgets, scheduling to producer.

Audio Engineer
==============
- Responsible for running recording studio
- Mixing
- Recording
- Some sound design (content creation).
- Dialogue editing

Sound Designer - Senior
=======================
- Takes vision and turns it into implementation
- Manages sound content
- Creates sound content
- Talks with audio programmers and provides specifications for tools, features.
- Manages junior sound designers

Sound Designer
==============
- Creation of sound content (sfx, ambiences..etc).
- Dialogue editing
- Scripting
- Sound Placement

Sound Editor
============
- Responsible for dialogue editing
- Placement of sounds in game
- Scripts
- getting coffee! :)

Really though, the boundaries between roles is getting blurred and again depends on company size and structure.

The only roles that I can see which still are fairly clear is composer and sound designer.

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That kindof sez it all dosent it...now if we could get people to conform to that standard. (well layed out, and concise...nice job)

Let's start an educational campaign! ;)

Thanks for everyones thoughtful responses on this topic.
I appreciated the intellengent dialog.

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Anyway to make the proposed definition a sticky?

Seems like there was a consensus, might be nice as a educational tool for dev's that might roll through here looking for help, and/or to help n00bs to the SD world indentify their areas of speciality, and the (rough) titles associated.

Just a thought.
LCL

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