Audio production pros play an important role not only in high-profile Hollywood hits but also in a wide range of other types of media. If audio production careers are your calling, you could help perfect the delivery of famous movie quotes like the ones in “Terminator” or “Zoolander,” create the call of a dinosaur in a Jurassic Park game or help produce the soundtrack in the next GEICO commercial. But past the glitz and glamour, digital audio production can be a challenging career to break into.
Especially in the area of audio production career development, companies are looking for entry-level candidates with a skill set that enables them to hit the ground running on their first day. At USV, our MediaWorks studio gives teams of students the opportunity to gain professional experience by producing professional grade work for local, national and international companies, major brands such as TEDx, Panasonic or Fortune 300 companies like Corning, and learning what it takes to work in the audio production careers. Students work with experienced industry professionals in studios equipped with the latest software used in audio and music production.
A year ago, AC Transit came to the MediaWorks team with a need for a promotional audiovisual piece before they broke ground on the East Bay Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) line in late August. Facing a tight two–month deadline, students in digital audio production, animation and project management rose to the challenge, producing a top-grade audiovisual project for AC Transit, which is still prominently displayed on their website.
In the process, the students developed both professional and soft skills, production and business strategies that clients look for in making up their audio production teams. If you’re an aspiring digital audio pro, you’ll want to keep these in mind as you prepare for your audio production career.
Audio Production Careers Lesson #1: Be Flexible
In the audio production industry, you’ll find that no two clients are the same. Each one is going to have its own needs, and you’re going to come across every conceivable personality.
Flexibility was perhaps the most important thing students took away from the AC Transit audio production experience – especially when it came to changes made later in the process or even last-minute changes. For example, the original music composers for the AC Transit project had to respond and re-compose their music tracks when the client extended the project from a minute-and-a-half to nearly two-and-a-half minutes.
I follow this up by suggesting that you not take feedback personally – listen to what the client wants, and work it into your overall audio production project. While AC Transit’s Media Affairs manager visited with the students regularly, many media composers, sound designers, mixing engineers and even audio producers find that other clients may be far more hands-off in their approach.
Audio Production Careers Lesson #2: Communication and Perseverance are Key
Any audio project — music production, scoring, game audio, sound for film or otherwise — can be intimidating at first, especially one that may potentially reach an audience of millions. Part of the pipeline process is working out your path to completion and realizing you have the skillset to master it. Once the MediaWorks students got to the storyboarding phase, they saw their path forward — taking the audio production project from four versions of a storyboarded concept to a finished design.
Challenges are inevitably going to pop up, but once you’ve got the plan for what needs to be done, you just need the willpower to implement it. For example, the audio production team didn’t have completed animations to reference when they began the sound recording process. They countered this by recording and generating a variety of sounds they would feasibly need for a bus-themed project. Another valuable lesson students said they learned from the project was to remind themselves that it was a team project — that they weren’t alone and had fellow project members to turn to in a tight spot.
Communication is vital, not only between the production team and the client, but between the digital audio and animation teams, and within the members of each team as well. The faster you have access to new information and in-depth details, the more effectively and efficiently you can create sound effects (sound design) and original music composition that will fit the needs of the project. This may also give you the advantage of starting your audio post-production work sooner, ultimately resulting in a better-sounding and more refined mix. On the other hand, not communicating smartly might end up costing you valuable information, which can ultimately derail the audio and music production processes.
Audio Production Careers Lesson #3: Tight Deadlines Are Common
As much as any audio production artist or media producer would love to have unlimited time to make a piece perfect, deadlines are always going to be part of the reality of professional projects. The students working on the AC Transit project had a very short period to deliver a fully finished audiovisual piece — just eight weeks to take it from storyboarding to creating and merging the different digital audio and visual elements into a final work.
Lesson learned: while “crunch time” and long hours are going to happen, the best way to tackle these times of high stress is to manage your time wisely. It’s not an exaggeration to say the MediaWorks team had no time to waste, needing each moment and every minute available to advance the audiovisual production project.
At the same time, you need to be realistic with your time. With the eight-week timeframe, the MediaWorks team couldn’t get too extravagant with what they had to produce and deliver to AC Transit. The team had to devise the most efficient way to perform several audio production and animation tasks on the project — like using a system of networked computers to cut down on the time-consuming animation–rendering process.
These are just some of the takeaways the students got from this demanding, but ultimately rewarding experience — knowledge they can apply to any future project they work on and the future audio production careers they are in, whether it’s sound design for video games, sound for film, studio engineering, audio post mixing or music production.
You can see the students present their audio production project here for more insight into the production pipeline and how they went above and beyond for AC Transit.