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Transition from music industry to game audio - thoughts?

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#1 jkuehlin   Members   


Posted 25 January 2017 - 10:20 AM

Hey. I'm Jonathan. I'm just now taking my first steps into the game audio world and was wondering if anyone here came from the music recording/performance world and found a home amongst other game audio enthusiasts here :D


33 years old, have had a fairly successful career as a keyboard player for some well known artists on tour, and have worked for several major companies (Disney, Sony, Fox) but either as a musician or a sound engineer. I have little experience with code, but I know sound, music, and my digital technology assets like the back of my hand. I do have a music degree, and a well equipped facility to work out of. I'm looking to start building the portfolio, but in my geographical region (South Carolina) there's very few people and groups to collaborate with. Despite my resume which is considerable in the audio world, I'm willing to do what I have to get my demo reel put together, and I understand that may mean taking on free jobs.


My question to some of you guys is where is the best place to start working? Would you look for groups that need a sound designer but can't afford to pay one? If so, where is the best place to find those groups? I need help with the middleware (I think thats what its called)...and I'm unfamiliar with the process. Should I attempt to learn this stuff via online videos? If so which ones? Or is it simple enough for someone to talk me through?


If someone is going to trust me with their intellectual property, I'll respect them as if they were a paying client regardless of if they have a zero budget. What will they want to know about me or my skill set? I'll be careful not to exaggerate, since I'm really here to take my first steps and learn.


I hope I don't sound crazy for going to a forum where the gamers are...I'm literally at a roadblock and frustrated watching hundreds of sound-engineer wanted adds pass through my email, but I can't apply to them because I don't have the portfolio.


Thanks! And look forward to hearing from you guys!




ps...I don't know if it matters but here's the gear list

- I own legal valid licenses for all major DAWs. Protools HD, Nuendo, DP, Ableton, Logic, Reaper, Cubase

- Avid System 5 BP mixer, eucon and atmos ready.

- Crane Song D/A converters

- Facility currently equipped for 7.1 surround (JBL) - near fields = Focal SM9 monitors

- Most major plugin and virtual instrument libraries

- Blue, Neumann, and Telefunken flagship mics for ADR/foley

Edited by jkuehlin, 25 January 2017 - 10:26 AM.

#2 bschmidt1962   Members   


Posted 25 January 2017 - 03:39 PM


Not crazy at all!  Over the past few years,many people have entered games whose previous experience was mainly more 'traditional' music/sound design.


For better or worse, most game audio gigs are through networking or referrals. Residing in South Carolina is going to make that a bit tougher.


There are some in-person events (unfortunately, on the other side of the country) for getting your name/face known. The biggest is coming up next month: "GDC" (Game Developer's Conference-- Feb 27-Mar 3) is the huge (25,000+ attendees) annual conference for game developers held in San Francisco each year. There really is no substitute for getting to know--face to face-- both game developers and other game composers/sound designers.


Locally, you can search for things like "game jams" (smush programmers, artists, game designers and sound designers in a room for a long weekend and at the end of the w-end, they've made a finished game). Local universities are also good places to look-- many times there are student game projects who have no composer/sound designer.



You should definitely make sure you have a good web presence, including demos of your work.  One thing people sometimes do is make a video capture of some gameplay and then rescore and/or re-do the sound design. It sounds like you have a lot of traditional media work-- definitely use your best material from that for your demo.


The more savvy start to become familiar with some of the game audio tools that are out there, including Wwise and FMOD ("Middleware"). And the even more savvy become literate or fluent in basic game audio programming using engines like Unity (C#) or Unreal ("Blueprints"). You can try to learn these all online, but you have to be a pretty motivated self-starter.  Also, the middleware tools themselves are designed to solve fairly unique problems we have in game audio-- if you're unfamiliar with game audio in general, those will probably be pretty confusing. 


There are also some organizations you might want to get involved with, both online and in the real world. Facebook groups include Game Audio Denizens, Game Audio Network Guild, "Video game: Composers and sound designers" are good places to learn/ask questions (but don't spam with "listen to my stuff" demos--you'll get kicked out quickly).  follow "@lostchocolatelab" on twitter, as well as GameSound. 
Some other resources. There is also a gameAudio slack channel.


Here are some other resources:

GameSoundCon (www.GameSoundCon.com) Annual conference in the fall for game composers/sound designers (Generally in LA)

Game Developers Conference (www.gdconf.com)

Gamasutra (www.gamasutra.com) Most popular web site for game developers. A lot of good info here.

Game Audio Network Guild: www.audiogang.org Organization that puts on the Game Music & Sound awards, provides scholarships, promotes and evangalizes game audio

Reddit/GameAudio (https://www.reddit.com/r/GameAudio/)

Designing Music Now: http://www.designingmusicnow.com/


Here's a video with an overview of game music/sound (how it differs from film/tv, etc.)


You also might find this industry survey interesting: http://www.gamesoundcon.com/single-post/2016/08/17/Game-Audio-Industry-Survey-2016




Disclaimers: I'm on the board of GDC, am Exec Director of GameSoundCon, am President of the Game Audio Network Guild and that's me in the soundworks collection video.

Brian Schmidt

Executive Director, GameSoundCon:

GameSoundCon 2016:September  27-28, Los Angeles, CA



Founder, Brian Schmidt Studios, LLC

Music Composition & Sound Design

Audio Technology Consultant

#3 nsmadsen   Moderators   


Posted 07 February 2017 - 09:29 PM

My buddy Brian hit the nail on the head (as he always does)!!


I just wanted to encourage you by adding that you DO have a wealth of experience and skills, even if you are new to the game industry. As such, I hope that you'll charge for your services and talents. Even if you're offering a super discounted rate, that's better than offering your work and time for zero compensation. When I started back in 2005, I charged for my very first project and haven't stopped since, aside from a few charity projects I was involved in. 


Check out Udemy as they have many courses that are reasonably priced where you can learn some of these applications used in game development. In some cases the apps may not be 100% audio related but can still teach you a ton about how games are put together. 


Best of luck! 


Edited by nsmadsen, 07 February 2017 - 09:30 PM.

Nathan Madsen
Nate (AT) MadsenStudios (DOT) Com
Composer-Sound Designer
Madsen Studios

Cedar Falls, IA

#4 jkuehlin   Members   


Posted 15 February 2017 - 10:45 AM

Hey Nate :D Thanks so much for the kind words. I've been hard at work over the last several weeks pounding away at the advice Brian gave me, trying to make contacts, and studying material in the links. 


I took a look at the Udemy page. I don't see an option to sign up and get access to everything (like Groove3 and ASK video do). Which videos on that site would you recommend checking out?

#5 nsmadsen   Moderators   


Posted 18 February 2017 - 08:51 PM

I took a look at the Udemy page. I don't see an option to sign up and get access to everything (like Groove3 and ASK video do). Which videos on that site would you recommend checking out?


You sign up per each class you wanna take. They're offering new kinds of classes all of the time. I've ordered a Unity and a Stencyl course in the past - both dealt with how to build up a game from scratch. Courses like this can help you get your mind wrapped around how a game is structured, how code operates and that helps you create more useful audio for games. 

Nathan Madsen
Nate (AT) MadsenStudios (DOT) Com
Composer-Sound Designer
Madsen Studios

Cedar Falls, IA

#6 BBeck   Members   


Posted 20 February 2017 - 01:01 AM

There are probably a lot of indie developers across the country that would be more than glad to work with you. And a lot of audio work can be done remotely. Your studio is of a totally different type than theirs and so you are likely to be in another building even if you were in the same city. Plus, a lot of it is just producing digital files. There's almost no reason I can think of why you can't work very remotely.


Especially for game artists, I think it's extremely important to network, as mentioned. Groups like Dallas Society of Play get together just for that purpose of bring game people, often indie game developers, together to network. This includes programmers, designers, and artists. I've been surprised at how talented a lot of the indie developers are who have little more than skills and a dream although some I've come across have industry experience. It might be worth while to make contact with groups like this remotely, but if there is a major population center within a couple hours of you, you might want to start such a group through Meetup or something along those lines. It might be worth your while to travel 2 or 3 hours once a month to participate. And if there's not already such a group in your area, you might form one yourself.


To make it work though, I would imagine you need a pretty large city. I would expect about 10 people to show up per million in the area once the group starts getting established (although that may be a somewhat rotating group of who shows up with a larger group that attends irregularly). Really, that's probably more regional population than actual city population. Charleston might be a possibility, although I'm really thinking more like Atlanta or Charlotte, although that may be too far of a commute.


But you might reach out to groups like Dallas Society of Play and just let them know you are out there and seek some advice from the organizers of such groups. I know they specifically have some pretty talented indie developers and some of them may be looking for musicians and sound designers. There's one team specifically that I know of that has been expanding. I think they're all getting paid although I don't know how much or exactly what their situation is (they may be getting paid in Nuka Cola caps). I just know that they seem to have grown to about 5 people now. I imagine they are operating on a shoe string budget because they haven't had any big revenue generators yet, but I've seen some of their work and it's very impressive. Not sure where their team is as far as sound at this point.


I've been working on things outside of the sound and music with games. I'm actually a musician, but not one with as impressive of a resume as yourself. But I've been doing game programming for several years now and now I'm more focused on learning 3D modeling (getting away from coding for awhile). I have a vague idea of how to marry it all up together. The hardest part is learning to compose. I think the programmers on whatever project would help you with the parts you don't understand or do it for you. If you can produce WAV files, or maybe MP3s, that's like 99% of what they need. They are probably going to be able to figure out how to get the audio files worked into their project.


I do fairly low level programming, rather than using game engines, although I've used Unity and expect to try Unreal pretty soon. Most of the audio I've done so far, in programming, has been fairly simple play back of MP3 files usually for folly. I know some of the game people I've come across are using audio libraries that do more complex mixing of the sound. I imagine you already know how to work with DAW software, soft synths, VST pluggins, and such. I've heard of indie developers using software for things such as how one piece of music blends with another when the player is suddenly attacked, for example. A lot of the audio has to be tied to events in the game. So, at some point you might be asked to learn a new piece of software, but I imagine the learning curve would be pretty easy for you. Learning how to make the music and sound effects is the hard part. Seems to me that getting them into the game is not nearly so hard. And I would imagine you would get a lot of help with that from the programmers. I think they generally know how to do such things; they just don't know how to produce the WAV files and MP3s, or more importantly compose or play an instrument.


I think for most games it's more like movie and television scoring than pop rock. I've played in bands, but tv and movie scoring is a bit different composition wise. Then there's also folly and sound design for effects. I find that to be some of the hardest stuff to come by as a game programmer. I bought a $500 digital audio recorder so that I could go on location and record actual sounds. Games are very lifeless without sound effects. There's no way you could release a commercial game without them. And for non-arcade type games where you need more realistic sounds, it can be difficult to find the sounds you are looking for. If there's a motorcycle in your game, where do you get all the sounds associated with the engine starting, stopping, changing gears, etc? There's some places on line to download sound effects, but it's kind of hit and miss as to whether they will have exactly what you are looking for. I guess my point is that there's a big need for audio effects and often specific custom audio effects.


Something else you might consider, that just came to my mind, is selling some assets in the Unity store. Game engines like Unity often have asset stores where they sell art assets. That may be a way to get some remote work and make a little money. Not to mention, that if you've sold a bit, it gives you something to put on the resume. I would guess that you're better than many who sell there although I haven't actually gone through the audio assets there.


I've been too busy learning the programming and visual art to even think seriously about the audio side. I guess I figure with my background I'll figure it out when I get there. I usually find my weakest area and focus on it for awhile to make it stronger. Audio started out as my strongest, but it's starting to lag behind enough to become my weakest. Still, I've got a million things to learn before I see myself getting around to do audio. But I'm a bit unusual in that I try to do it all. I think most indie developers you come across will be a lot more specialized and greatly appreciate someone who's qualified to produce audio.

Edited by BBeck, 20 February 2017 - 01:52 AM.

#7 jkuehlin   Members   


Posted 28 February 2017 - 10:43 AM


You sign up per each class you wanna take. They're offering new kinds of classes all of the time. I've ordered a Unity and a Stencyl course in the past - both dealt with how to build up a game from scratch. Courses like this can help you get your mind wrapped around how a game is structured, how code operates and that helps you create more useful audio for games. 


Hi everyone. Wanted to check back in... I've hit the ground running and am spending hours every day drilling through tutorials and lessons on C#...Correct me if I'm wrong, this scripting seems to drive a lot of the actions and movements inside Unity. I want to be able to do more than drop sounds into a bucket. I had really hoped to develop a more comprehensive understanding of how stuff works under the hood. I felt if I could better understand the way actions, motions, movement, AI physics, and language work, I'd be more comfortable understanding the potential and the limits of the sound design and implementation.


I joined a small team of designers recently. So I do have a project to work on, but the amount of time the others have had to spend educating me on how this is NOT like sfx for a movie has been embarrassing. The director of the project has graciously reminded me they were aware of that when I joined, and as long as I follow through with the stuff I do know how to do, they're still glad to have me onboard. 


Through experience I've learned the importance of being able understand a clients direction then to anticipate their next steps. The same way that in a recording studio, the producers job is to keep everything moving forward by having the big picture in mind. Its been frustrating not being able to move the process forward on my own initiative because I have to keep asking if my ideas for sfx will even work (and finding many times they won't for various reasons). 


I do however find the code and scripting a lot of fun. Its so much more natural for me than studying electronic circuits or musical instrument building/repair, which I've tried my hand at and can't seem to pull off for the life of me. Another thing that has blown me away is the wealth of opportunity in this field. Its seems to be screaming for disciplined motivated musicians/engineers that are willing to beat the pavement to build their portfolios and reputations. And I can't believe all the stories I hear of flakey unreliable people who abandon a team to work on something else, can't follow through, don't communicate or who want to play yo-yo rights/royalties/licensing/publishing etc... Note to self: Guard that reputation as your absolute most valuable asset.


Just wanted to check in and get your some of your thoughts to see if I'm still on course!


Thanks again (also to you BBeck) for your support and encouragement.

Edited by jkuehlin, 28 February 2017 - 01:02 PM.

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