2013 Work-Life in Review

Well… this is a blog, right? I need to unburden a little.

This year has seen so many up’s and down’s I felt sick many times. When it seemed that my career as a sound designer was kicking in, I got a punch in the face. A heavy one. But I am kind of glad it happened.

For someone who knows me or has read the “About” section on this blog, got it that I eventually got sick of music production and at some time during my degree I completely turned for sound design. As I say, I like a lot of things about sound design, but when I got the chance to work on a 1st person shooter game, even though it was a student project, I got hysterical and started to mind-eat everything I could about the subject. I got familiar with Unity, I learned how to do lots of stuff on Fmod, and eventually learned related audio game things. Also found out insanely talented and dedicated people on the web and started to follow their work (go to “Great Sites”). I gather a composer to work for us as well! I was extremely excited! Months later, the game designer quitted the project and nothing was done.

Later on – this was 2011 -, I was introduced to this cool game designer team that would need a sound designer sooner or later in the game company they were working for. I knew almost nothing at the time and so one of them told me they did enjoyed my work but it had more to do with attitude and what I could bring to the company. What I had on-line at the time was some really-bad-audio-quality creature’s roars, but nonetheless they were fun; I also had some posts on a previous blog, including a simulation on Fmod Sandbox. But what I truly had at the time was a willingness to learn more and more, enthusiasm and an extreme confidence (not arrogance). I was always making up projects to test myself and involve other people that could be potential work-buddies.

I got into projects that were a piece of crap, for better or worse; about half of them didn’t even go until the end. But still, I learned; and not only about audio but also about people.

In the end of 2012 I did sound design for Apollo, at the SoundTrack Cologne European Talent Competition and the entry was nominated in 12 between some 90 contestants.

Meanwhile, 2013 was looking great: I actually chose my salary at the game company (yes, what a luxury, right?), the guys seemed awesome, the game was fun and I noticed that with time they were more getting slightly open to new audio implementation ideas, and I was also better understanding their work. I was attending a Game Design course and for that I learned to implement audio in UDK all by myself.

In April I worked on a featured-film, one of the most valuable professional experiences I had so far; in May and June I dialogue-edited two short documentaries. In October I got back to a featured-film again, with a little more responsibility and earning a few bills, between other small audio services that got me that monthly safety net.

When all of a sudden, I was called in for a meeting in the game company to hear I had been replaced.

Replaced with SFX packs. My work was “positive”, but they could save so much buying 400 sounds for $10 that it just seemed an obvious choice.

From that day on I entered a dangerous spiral of depression. I questioned every little thing about my work, victimized me all the time, lost all the confidence about my skills, and was almost about the I-hate-myself-I-wanna-die thinImageg.

There were a few days when I tried. Despair and financial insecurity were making me build profiles online on freelancer sites. I saw some familiar faces there making good money. Oh yes, I lived in Portugal until this year, for the ones reading this who don’t have a clue: this is a very very poor country going through a dangerous crises both economic and mental.

I accepted to work on something for free. It was a more or less okay experience, but I don’t advise anyone doing it when there is possible income and you are simply offered your name on the credits and one more thing in your portfolio. Nevertheless, I assumed a compromise.

A few days later someone showed interest on my portfolio and wanted to hire me through one freelancing site to design some sfx for their game. I was selling my work so cheap hoping to get something fast, that he / she wanted to lower the price even more, even after me sending 3 particular sfx as a sample.  I refused his ridiculous and offensive price and never heard from her again.

Man, then I was down. Started in a dream up high and landed on my butt with nothing. I was even doubting my own dignity, something that I never did and always felt very confident and secure about.

Sometimes, my brain poked me: “Hey, what else did you do for your career since you thought you were safe?”

Other times, dear ones poked me: “These careers are never safe. Accept it and move on.”

Some friends reacted like I was a child that got a bruise: “It’s ok now, you’re a good girl, everything will turn out just fine; here’s a candy.”

Well… my brain was right. I gave it a lot of thought and I came to some conclusions.

I almost completely accommodated myself to this game company; I stopped blogging, researching, learning and putting my efforts on audio things.  Well, of course I was doing that but not with the same enthusiasm and drive I had when I was starting. I also rarely looked for other companies that could have my audio services. I didn’t give a damn to freelance sites. I used everything as an excuse. Now I’m busy, now I’m tired, now I have to watch this episode. I lost the sense of my goals and of what I wanted for myself.

Now, at this precise moment, it’s not that I earned a job or won the lottery so I can buy all the equipment I want. Nothing around me has changed. Eventually, I realised that these things take time, that I was a lucky one to get hired after some months playing with vocoders, and that I should had never let things just go and flow. I honestly doubt that I will have a cool audio job soon, but it doesn’t hurt to dream as long as you go after it and make a plan. This actually helped me a lot with that.

I remember during my professional hysterical phase the satisfaction of learning something new and getting a like on my blog’s page was more than enough. In fact, I rarely had in my mind “now I will get an audio job soon”. The feeling of acknowledging something new is great as long as frustration doesn’t overcome that feeling. Yes, it’s hard most of times, but we really need to be patient.

This situation (and hey, I still think it’s a crap to get replaced by brainless and deaf sfx packs, but it’s not my problem any longer) got me back into my roots, so here I go again, like I am starting!

And since it’s Audio Oprah time, share your experiences with this as well. :) Or an audio job for me. I’m kidding. No.

Happy 2014!

8 responses to “2013 Work-Life in Review

  1. Hey Melissa!

    I understand very well what you say, it’s happened to me too a lot! If Portugal is a shitty poor place, you can imagine Colombia. People here don’t value sound designers and prefer to buy sound libraries. But there’s still hope; here’s what happened to me:

    Some guys made an iPad game. They did wonderful graphics and game design, but thought the sound would be easy and asked a guy that didn’t know much about games, to do the sounds. He thought that using library sound effects would be just fine. The game was supposed to be finished by October in order to be launched at an international event (they even paid for hundreds of t-shirts and paper dolls for the event). So the guy handed in the sounds to the programmer, but at the end, the game was sounding really really bad. They didn’t know about in-game sound implementation, optimising audio to fit in memory, or about non-repetitive design, among other important stuff.

    The guys didn’t have more money from their sponsor for new sound design. However, they found my blog on the internet and called me and asked me to redo ALL the sound. I told them it wouldn’t be cheap, but they didn’t care. They were willing to spend money from their pockets in order to get the game right. So well, basically, that’s the story. I’m still handing in the final sounds. The good news is the guys learned their lesson and are already including me for their next game :)

    I think that in countries like ours, it will take a while for game developers to realise the importance of audio in games… but just like it happened with these iPad guys, I’m sure they will eventually crash with reality and will start valuing our work :)

    In the meantime, why don’t you participate in the Limbo contest? I’m planning to do that some time soon, although I still need to learn to use Wwise…

    • Hi! Thank you so much for replying and sharing that!
      I’m glad to know you got the job and made the work invaluable. I’m sure they also have some more sensibility than a lot of people doing games, or else they wouldn’t be paying on their own.

      Thank you for informing about the Limbo contest, that was something I wanted to do for a while, and now I will definitely take a look. :) Wwise documentation is very good, although when working with it needs some time to overcome the most easy part (seems easy at the very beginning). But it’s a great tool that I think we should know, and even for mobile games makes a lot of sense.

      Good luck for the game and thank you once again for your comment!

  2. Hi Melissa,
    I can totally relate to your post, I worked for many years in the film industry before jumping into the game audio arena. Not in one but in around 60 feature films in poor countries (mostly Argentina and Mexico but also some for Brazil and one for Colombia) and there are many horror stories to be told, like when a producer says: “ok you’re in charge of the audio but we don’t have money neither for ADR (the location sound is, of course, terrible) nor foley and you better find an intern to work for free because I don’t think you can be on time for the Festival”.
    I think that embracing this career/craft/profession and keep doing what I was doing with passion even when I was 3 month behind in the rent and received notice to cut the electricity and the phone is what led me to the job I’m enjoying now.
    Keep connected with you dearest ones, even if they have no idea what or how you’re doing what you do they will support you and also to your colleagues and peers, isolation is the worst company in down times.
    It took me to move through 3 different countries and years to do exactly what I love to do so you’re absolutely right, it takes time.
    I wish you the best for 2014 and thank you for your blog and to let people like me peek into the talent, dedication and love you put into your career.
    All the best.
    Eduardo

  3. Eduardo! Thank you very much for that. When I look at stories like that, I get some hope! Mentality is the worse enemy of things. I’m glad to know you eventually turned around and are now ok and doing what you like! I’m very close to the situation you described and I’m searching to get out of here as soon as possible, so I’m very grateful to you for sharing something so hard. All the best to you!

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  6. Thank you very much for this post. Only just discovered you through freesound.org, and i’m quite happy that i did. Good blog!

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