In Part 1 of our series, we followed the thread, "Know Thyself". I talked about how your focus and determination can carry you through challenges, and how knowing where you are and where you've come from can help to clarify your course of action to more quickly achieve your goals.
In Part 2, I'd like to talk about how your image is a critical resource in both breaking into the industry as well as continuing to grow once you're 'in'.
Also available in this series:
- Getting Into Game Audio Part 1: Know Thyself – Audio Premium
- Getting Into Game Audio Part 2: Sell Thyself
- Getting Into Game Audio Part 3: Know The Craft
- Getting Into Game Audio Part 4: Know The Business
- Getting Into Game Audio Part 5 - Making It Happen
Part 2: Sell Thyself
If you're new to the Games Industry, you may ask yourself, "Why should I focus on 'selling myself' when I have only limited relevant experience and little-to-no hands-on experience? Shouldn't I spend time learning the trade before I try to break in?" The answer to the second question is, "YES," but it doesn't negate the answer to the first question, which is, "Your image is one of your most valuable assets. The more polished you are from Day 1, the more likely you are to be able to find the experiences necessary to break in." Let me explain further...
Let's say that you want to open a new restaurant in your neighborhood. You research the market, and decide that a sushi bar would be very successful, and you've always been interested in Japanese cuisine. So you spend a small fortune getting your lease, setting up shop, hiring staff, stocking your coolers, and you're ready to open. You open the doors and...only a few customers. What happened? You forgot something VERY IMPORTANT: marketing.
You wouldn't dream of opening a restaurant without having a professionally designed logo, a well crafted menu, advertising and promotion to bring customers in the door. So why would you go into the Game Industry (or any profession) without a professional "face" to put forward as you start to network and gain experience?
You might think on some level that it is disingenuous to present yourself as a professional before gaining any experience, but you'd be wrong. Having a professional brand or image to represent you shows that you're truly invested in your career, and in my opinion you are much more likely to be asked to join projects and teams when you have a great looking website to show. Don't get me wrong here: you're not selling something you're not. You're not trying to convince people that you have loads of experience (that you don't really have) or that you're a veteran of the industry. You're simply showing that you're absolutely serious about making a career of game audio, and you're willing to donate time, money and personal resources to let people know about it.
Let's take a look at each step in this process and talk about how it can ease your path into the game industry.
The outward image you project in the industry will directly impact your ability to acquire work. Game developers and publishers want professionals, and you should do everything in your power to convince them of your ability to meet those requirements. Spend some time drafting a business image for yourself. If you or a friend have graphic design skills, come up with an interesting logo or 'theme' for your image. After all, until you actually get a job in the business, your BUSINESS is about getting a job. But this image you project should be one of confidence and success. In other words, your business should look and feel as if you were already getting paid to do audio for games.
One of the first things I did when I started out was to meet up with a good friend who was a graphic designer. I hired him to help me come up with a logo and a business image for myself. I wanted to project an outward image of a successful game audio business, so I designed a website and had letterheads, business cards, and demo-reel sleeves printed to ensure a consistent presentation. Even though I wasn't yet getting paid to do audio for games (in fact it was actually costing me money), I knew that creating a professional image would greatly increase my chances of finding work.
Here's a metaphor: If you want to collect rainwater, you must have a container. You can't stand idly by, watching the rain fall, and complain that you have nothing to drink, nothing to wash with, and nothing with which to water your plants. You must FIRST make the container. Then, when the rain comes, you stand by and watch it fill! The container is your business image, the rain is success and experience in the game industry. Make the container, watch it fill with your own success!
Even though your first steps in the industry will likely be with smaller independent developers, student projects, or bedroom game studios, even these people are more likely to ask for your services if the image you present is a professional one. Once you've built up your experiences, you'll eventually hit a tipping point where working on paying audio jobs becomes a much more realistic proposition.
I think it is safe to say that if you're trying to get into the game audio industry, a website is not only necessary, it is a no-brainer. Webspace is cheap (and/or free), and there's no excuse for not having a professional looking site to show off that professional image you've created for yourself. While it is still important to have hard copies of your entire portfolio, it is equally as important to have an easily accessible and great looking website. Spend the $10 or $15 on buying yourself a domain name that ties into your business image. If you're marketing yourself as yourself (e.g. West Latta), then buy your name: http://yournamehere.com. If you're using a business name, buy that (http://yourbusinessnamehere.com). The choice will depend partly on your goals.
If you're looking to start your own contracting company - i.e. work for hire - then a professional business name might be more appropriate. If you hope to acquire full-time, in-house work as an audio designer, then a personal domain might make more sense.
Your website should have a biography and an online version of your resume (I'd suggest a text-only version, a PDF version, a MS Word version, and a visible HTML version). You should also include high quality demos of your work in video and audio format, and a list of project to which you've contributed. After you've gained some experience, and if you're more technically inclined, it may be worthwhile to begin showcasing integration work as well. Some audio designers will post actual game demos on their sites, where they have performed the audio design and integration, etc. There are lots of examples out there, so I'll leave it up to you to do the research to find out which formats will work best to showcase your unique talents and goals.
Another vital component of your portfolio is the demo reel. A demo reel is the most straightforward way of demonstrating your skills. It often includes samples of projects you may have worked on previously, but just as frequently it will contain custom-created material to showcase your skills. Much has been written about how to create your reel, but here are the key things I think you should know:
- Your demo reel should ONLY feature your BEST work.
- Your demo reel should show your range of skills, but only those styles, genres, skills, or tasks at which your are highly proficient and are in alignment with your stated goals.
- Your demo reel should be concise and should feature the best work at the beginning. It should be easily navigable, and communicate your skills and talents in as short a time as possible.
A high quality video featuring music or sound design, gameplay footage from titles you've worked on, a medley of your best music pieces, or a collage or sound-design 'scene' are all great aspects to a demo reel. Make sure that if you're using video or gameplay footage you credit the original owners of the property and specify your contributions with an accompanying text file or in the credits.
As you begin compiling your demo reel, take some time to consider again your goals and expectations. If you're looking to be an audio designer, with a focus on integration, there's no advantage to showing your music composition skills - except if they are used to showcase a brilliant interactive music system you've designed. Likewise, if your aim is to be a composer, there's no advantage to showing your sound design skills.
Note for Composers
As a composer, it is important to showcase only your best work. If you are a great electronic producer, but your orchestral tunes aren't outstanding, only feature your electronic work. If you happen to be exceptional at multiple genres, feel free to show them all off. The important thing here is to understand that composing for the game industry is a fiercely competitive gig. If you want to land great gigs, you need to be great at what you do, you need to play to your strengths, and you need to know how to delivery what the customer wants.
I should note here, however, that if what you really want to do is compose big orchestral scores for games and you don't yet know how to do it, don't let your demo reel stop you from working towards that goal. Feature the best orchestral work you can - and continue to improve and refine it over time.
The truth is, most composers for the game industry are versatile, and they will sometimes take any gig they can - even if they're composing in a genre that isn't their particular favorite. Experiences are valuable, so if you're a great hip-hop producer, don't pass up a job composing hip-hop just because what you really want to do is write orchestral. At the early stages it is important to gain experiences and game credits, so don't be too choosy with your choices.
In the end, just make your demo reel a reflection of where you are and where you'd like to go.
Note for Audio Designers
If you're an audio designer, there's generally no real reason to show off your musical talents unless you're doing so in an interactive environment. While music composition experience is often valuable as an audio designer, it isn't typically what recruiters, directors and producers are looking for in an 'Audio Designer'. Instead, show off your sound design skills using videos, standalone/audio-only scenes, and functional game demos from indie games or MODs you may have worked on.
Spend some time searching the web to get ideas on how other audio designers and composers are demonstrating their work. Use their work as inspiration for creating your own demo reel that can truly showcase your goals and skills.
Credits and CV
Your credits and CV are probably the most important aspect of your professional image, and chances are they will be the most sparsely populated element if you're just getting started. Don't despair. Early on in your game audio career, it is understood that your experience is limited. What is important is that you know the business, and that you can show evidence that you're aligning your experiences with that knowledge. Over time, you'll begin replacing the less attractive elements of these documents with more powerful experiential statements. Your independent projects will give way to commercial successes, and your MODs will be replaced by published titles.
Initially, I'll assume you have no game credits to your name - i.e. you haven't worked as an audio designer on a released title. This is fine - don't sweat it. Instead of listing game credits here, it may be useful to outline what other composing or audio production gigs you've had in the past. Perhaps you've written the score for a short film, or performed sound design for an animated short. Maybe you've contributed music to theatrical productions, or written commercial jingles for advertisements. Anything relevant can be listed here, with the understanding that eventually you'll begin replacing these less-than-direct-experiences with actual game credits.
As soon as you've landed your first independent gig or MOD, you'll want to list it here - even if the title never finishes. The truth is - even the most successful game audio professionals have worked on titles that never saw the light of day. Don't let this deter you from listing those experiences - they're still valuable. Over time, you will (hopefully) have a solid display of your relevant game-audio experience to showcase.
We'll talk more about gaining experiences and finding projects later in our series.
Your CV is your resume - your list of related skills, accomplishments, goals, jobs and education. Again, this might start out being relatively sparse, but over time you'll add experiences and skillets from your continued work in the industry. Initially you may only be able to list your education and job history, perhaps with one or two jobs which are somewhat related. When I started looking for work in the game industry, I had no directly relevant experience, but I had worked in music instrument retail for a few years, as well as worked as an Audio-Visual coordinator for a large corporation. While these jobs weren't exactly highlights, they did show that my progress towards the game industry was consistent and relevant.
You will want to revise and tailor your CV to your own goals and experience, and eventually you will be able to leave off some of the more unrelated or unimpressive work history in lieu of new and exciting game-related experience!
The final component of selling yourself is making sure that you are always ready to provide your portfolio and details in case an opportunity arises. For this reason, it is important to have current hard copies of your CV, demo reel, and ideally a business card and letterhead.
When I got my 'big break' in the game industry, I was working for a mobile communications company doing Tier 3 technical support. Not exactly 'game related', but I had been networking, updating my demo reel, and keeping a top-quality website in production, as well as working on independent games. When a friend in the industry called me and said, "We have an opening for a junior audio designer - I need your resume and demo within 24 hours," I was surprised - but I was ready. I sent him all my materials, and after a few weeks of interviews and negotiations, I had my first full-time gig in the industry.
You never know when Lady Luck will come knocking on your door. Best then to be prepared to give her whatever she needs when she comes around.
To Be Continued
This concludes Part 2 of our series. There is lots more to come, but let us know in the comments what topics you'd like to see covered as the series continues.