How To Become A Video Game Sound Designer

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This interview is part of the Quest for Your Career series. We focus on each specific job in the video game industry by interviewing an expert in the field. Learn what they do, how they got started, and whether it's a good job for you.

Meet Jaclyn Shumate, Video Game Sound Designer

Jaclyn Shumate, Video Game Sound Designer

Put a face to the audio: Chances are good that you’ve already played some of Jaclyn’s games.

Jaclyn is no video game audio rookie. In fact, chances are good that you’ve personally enjoyed her work: since becoming a Sound Designer in 2006, she’s done audio for major game series including Peggle 2, Plants vs Zombies, Fable Journey, and Kinect Star Wars and many others.

If you thought that creating game audio is an easy job? Well, think again. Jaclyn says that in addition to having audio engineering talent, you must also be willing to put in the time to master your technical chops. But if you’ve got a knack for creating emotion through sound, this might be just the job for you.

How would you describe what you do every day as a Sound Designer?

A Sound Designer’s job can vary depending on what company you work for, the needs of a given project, and what the exact role is that one fills on a given team. In general, it offers a combination of a few different elements.

Communication and collaboration are key, both with any audio colleagues you may have and with the rest of the development team. This gives the designer an understanding of what audio content needs to be created for the project, and how best to implement the audio in the game.

“it’s essential to also set your own audio esthetic that works in tandem with the gameplay and art style.”

A Sound Designer also creates content, which often involves recording audio elements and crafting them in an audio workstation to match animations or environments in the game. Creating content that matches an already-established esthetic or, if you are in a position to do so, it’s essential to also set your own audio esthetic that works in tandem with the gameplay and art style.

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Once the audio is created, a Sound Designer implements it in audio middleware like Wwise or FMod, hooks it up in the game engine, and tests it in gameplay.

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How did you get started as a Sound Designer?

It took me a little while to find game audio as a career.

I’m a musician by training, and was curious about audio engineering so I signed up for some classes. We had one class that was Sound Design focused, and I fell in love with it. I knew I wanted to learn more about it, and be able to spend time getting good at it. I looked around for internships at game company startups, which seemed like the most interesting avenue to explore for me, and was fortunate enough to find one.

That was eight years ago. I’ve been happily employed in many different roles in game audio ever since.

What’s your favorite part of the job? What about your least favorite part?

“Getting to do a final mix for a game, and realizing it sounds like what you’ve been imagining in your head for months (or years, in some cases) is one of my happiest work- and artistic moments.”

My favorite part of my job is watching something that I’ve worked on so hard finally come to life, and knowing that it may make other people feel as good as it made me feel over the development process. Getting to do a final mix for a game, and realizing it sounds like what you’ve been imagining in your head for months (or years, in some cases) is one of my happiest work- and artistic moments.

My least favorite part of my job is crunching. Unfortunately, long hours are often required to make something sound the way you want it to. Crunch can be part of the career, and can take a toll on your personal life and your health.

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What aspect of the job would be surprising to people looking in from the outside?

I think most people who don’t already know about game development are surprised at how technical the job is. You have to learn a wide variety of hardware, software, and different techniques to create the audio and get it into the game.

What kinds of talents and personality does it take to succeed as a Video Game Sound Designer?

It takes a strong esthetic sense and technical chops, combined with the ability to work well with others and work hard.

What advice would you give to somebody who’s thinking about Sound Design as a career?

Do everything you can to learn about Sound Design and audio implementation. It takes a lot of practice!

Seek feedback, be open to it, and put together a killer demo.

What would you recommend for education, books, or other learning to start down that career path?

More than anything, it is important to get the chops you need to succeed, and you can only do that by spending hours at it!

Do everything you can to get better at what you do. Replace audio on game clips and learn to use audio middleware. It’s also helpful to talk to people in the profession, and attend industry meetups and conferences.

“Attending school is also an essential part of Sound Design, but there’s a lot more skill-development work to be done once you’re out of the classroom.”

Attending school is also an essential part of Sound Design, but there’s a lot more skill-development work to be done once you’re out of the classroom.

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6 comments on “How To Become A Video Game Sound Designer
  1. jessie mitchel dueitt says:

    can you give me a call at [xxx-xxx-xxxx] so I may get the career started.

  2. shirley McGill says:

    My son wants to go to school for sound design for video games. can you recommend some schools that have the program as a major? We looked at SCAD but they only offer it as a minor. We also looked at Full Sail but not sure that its a good fit for him.
    Thanks for your help,
    Shirley McGill

    • Jason W. Bay says:

      Hi Shirley, I can’t recommend any particular audio school, but I don’t think you need a video-game audio school in particular – most everything that your son would learn at a “standard” audio engineering program will apply to games. So I’d say, find a school that will teach audio engineering and sound design, and when doing projects try to focus on video-game themed projects so he’ll have some fantasy/sci-fi work in his resume when he looks for jobs in games.

  3. Although “standard” audio engineering schools are good, there are definitely a lot of things in game audio that go beyond sound design for more traditional media.

    One advantage a game audio program will have is also game projects to work on. Schools like DigiPen (in Washington State) have other game majors (Computer Science, Design, etc.), and students in these programs need composers and sound designers to make SFX for their own game projects. There are other more traditional audio schools (Berklee in Boston for example) that have strong “game audio” programs. All are worth checking out.

    You should also check out industry events, conferences and organizations. GameSoundCon, GDC and other events are great places to learn and meet others in the industry.

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