Programming, Art Design, and Audio Design
The first video game audio designers had little more than a sequence of “blips” and “bloops” to help them bring the sounds in their games to life. Today, video game audio designers employ a full range of motion picture–quality music and sound design tools. Whether creating sound effects on a foley stage (a sound stage specially designed to record sound effects) or conducting a score with the London Philharmonic, the video game audio designer has an exciting, cutting-edge job.
The audio designers are responsible for the game's sound effects, the voices heard within the game, and the game's score (or music). On smaller games, all of the audio work may be done on a handful of computers with a series of synthesizers, a few musicians, and a music recording program such as Pro Tools. On larger games, the audio designers might be split up into different groups, each one assigned to different tasks, like researching sound effects, writing the score, recording the dialogue, and many other audio-related tasks.
Hours involved: Typical forty-hour workweek, but can often turn into a sixty- to eighty- hour workweek during game production.
Work environment: Capturing sounds out in the real world or recording them in a music studio.
Salary: Starting salary around $60,000; more experienced audio designers can make $90,000 and up.
As the field of video game audio design is relatively new, not many colleges or universities offer specific degrees or courses in the subject. A potential employer at a video game company will be interested in your technical experience in music recording, as well as your musical creativity.
Many colleges, universities, and trade schools offer courses in audio engineering. These courses provide a quick way to learn the technical side of the business. Because a good amount of video game audio is created on a synthesizer, a strong background in piano is highly recommended, too.
Whether you're interested in being a musician or an audio engineer, or both, video game audio design might be the perfect career choice for you. The technical and creative branches of audio design cross paths often, but you don't have to be a master in both to make a name for yourself in the industry.
If musicianship is your strongest skill, whether playing an instrument or piano or composing music, then you may be better suited for composing scores. If working behind the scenes seems more in line with your natural talents, then a career in video game sound recording, mixing, and editing might be in your future. Perhaps you have a knack for remembering or recreating sounds found in the real world. If so, a career in sound effects recording and engineering might be perfect for you.
The following are the software tools most widely used by video game audio designers today.
Pro Tools: Known as a digital audio workstation (or DAW), Pro Tools is the industry standard for recording, editing, and mixing all types of audio tracks and files.
Cubase: Similar to Pro Tools, Cubase began primarily as a MIDI (musical instrument digital interface) recording tool, meaning that it was able to re-create the sounds of instruments digitally (usually with a synthesizer).
Audio designers spend a lot of their time recording sounds found in the real world and re-creating or tweaking them back in the recording studio or on their computers. This is why the most important trait of an audio designer is the ability to listen. Become familiar with different sounds found in the real world and store them away in your mind for the day you might need to re-create them again.
A passion for music and sound and a love for writing, recording, or playing different types of music are musts for anyone interested in a career in audio design.
How to Get Your Foot in the Door
Becoming proficient with an instrument is the first step toward a career in audio design. Having an understanding of at least one type of instrument will give you a great foundation in music theory. Joining the school band can also be a great way to learn how different instruments are played and how different types of music are composed.
A summer internship at a video game development company or a recording studio can be a great way to get some hands-on experience in the industry and make some great connections as well.
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