How much money do video game sound designers make?

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I’ve seen different amounts, ranging from about $68000 – $80000 per year. Are these accurate numbers? Also, is it easy for sound designers find work?

This is my latest sound video.
(The sounds in the video were made entirely by me. The shot sound was made with my mouth and two pieces of metal, and the reload sounds were made with a staple gun. I especially like the charging handle sounds.)

 
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That would be an amazing over estimate from the data I’ve been looking at, or at least so for the first few years. Experience does wonders.

http://gamedeveloper.texterity.com/gamedeveloper/fall2012cg#pg1
Definitely check this link out. Its got revenue data breakdowns for programmers, artists, producers, game designers, audio, Q&A Testers. Its a great read.

A screenie of the relevant data:

 
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That’s a difficult question to answer, because there are so many different fields for sound designers to work in. Game audio (of course), studio engineering, foley design, sampling for DAW plugins, film audio, etc. And it also depends on whether you’re working in-house with a developer, publisher, studio, or as a freelancer.

The prices you’ve found are generally accurate for a senior sound designer. The data UG pulled seems pretty good.

As for whether or not it’s easy to find work, well that depends on whether or not you’d like to get paid ;)

With so many free/cheap options out there for developers to find quality audio, it’s become increasingly difficult for professionals in the industry to find work and maintain good prices for their talents. Also, with so many free/cheap tools and programs out there now for the average person to use to create audio, there are tons of new aspiring sound people cropping up every day. Finding work and getting paid is a daily struggle that you have to be prepared to endure for possibly years until you can land a job signed with some sort of company. However, don’t let that deter you. If you truly love the work, it can be one of the most rewarding careers on the planet.

Now for your video. Once again, you’ve done amazing work on the gun sounds. The only thing I could comment on in that regard is to change up the firing sound slightly every now and then. Think of how the sound waves would be altered from bouncing off the changing environment and movements. It wouldn’t be noticeable to the average person, but the subtle changes would bring a level of dynamic to scene that would make it feel much more natural and realistic. I also really hope you continue and add in ambiance for the scene (rustling clothes, background noises, etc.) But for what you’ve got, great work!

 
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Originally posted by orandze:

With so many free/cheap options out there for developers to find quality audio, it’s become increasingly difficult for professionals in the industry to find work and maintain good prices for their talents. Also, with so many free/cheap tools and programs out there now for the average person to use to create audio, there are tons of new aspiring sound people cropping up every day. Finding work and getting paid is a daily struggle that you have to be prepared to endure for possibly years until you can land a job signed with some sort of company

Professional game developers don’t make their own sounds, do they? Sound designers make the sounds.

Video.
Video.
Video.
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Video.

 
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Nice links GameBuilder15! Very interesting! Thanks :)

 
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Originally posted by orandze:

Now for your video. Once again, you’ve done amazing work on the gun sounds. The only thing I could comment on in that regard is to change up the firing sound slightly every now and then. Think of how the sound waves would be altered from bouncing off the changing environment and movements. It wouldn’t be noticeable to the average person, but the subtle changes would bring a level of dynamic to scene that would make it feel much more natural and realistic. I also really hope you continue and add in ambiance for the scene (rustling clothes, background noises, etc.) But for what you’ve got, great work!

Is this better?
I think the shot sounds line up now.

Also, the screenshot UG posted talks about sound/audio directors. Is a sound/audio director the same as a lead sound designer?

 
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The designers are in light blue on the bar graph and dark blue are directors. Take the data in that pic with a bit of caution, since only 4 people responded to that survey.

 
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What does an audio director do? If he just tells people how he wants stuff to sound and he doesn’t make any sounds, I don’t want to be an audio director.

 
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Originally posted by GameBuilder15:

What does an audio director do? If he just tells people how he wants stuff to sound and he doesn’t make any sounds, I don’t want to be an audio director.

I’m sure audio directors both make sounds and overlook other people. This is assuming they work the same way as they do in other fields of game design.

 
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Originally posted by GameBuilder15:

Is this better?
I think the shot sounds line up now.

After watching it about 25 times, I realize that there is a little too much sound after the mag is slapped in.

 
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Originally posted by GameBuilder15:
Originally posted by orandze:

Professional game developers don’t make their own sounds, do they? Sound designers make the sounds.

Right, devs don’t generally make their own sounds unless they’re indie devs and have the time and knowledge to do it. I meant that there are places on the interwebs where people can find tons of sounds for free.

Is this better?
I think the shot sounds line up now.

Also, the screenshot UG posted talks about sound/audio directors. Is a sound/audio director the same as a lead sound designer?

It sounds fantastically better. Good job with the dynamic. Still… ambience, lol. Remember in the video with the guy from Skyrim? He said he also worked on Fallout 3. In order to be a successful sound designer, you need to be able to do any audio that comes your way (sometimes even composing).

Think of audio directors as senior sound designers with managerial and QA responsibilities. They’re usually the best at what they do and have a ton of experience doing it, so they can delegate others to do different parts, while they’ll go work on their own part. When everyone’s done, they submit it to the director for review (actually, juniors will submit to seniors and they’ll submit to the director if it’s good). The director will then make any suggestions for improvement anywhere that needs it, or if it’s a small enough tweak, he might just do it himself. Then he’ll send it off to the devs.

 
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It’s hard to make lots of sounds from scratch. I don’t even have a portable mic, just a mic that connects to a computer. Did you see the Borderlands 2 sound design video? The sound designers mixed sounds from multiple animals to make the creature sounds. I’m pretty sure they didn’t record those animal sounds themselves, I think they were from a sound library.

Is Vancouver Film School a good place to learn sound design? Some of the graduates have worked on big stuff, but I don’t know what happens to the average graduate.

 
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Don’t be the average graduate then. :)

 
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I think I have a lot of potential. My ears are pretty good.

 
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Your ear is definitely excellent, unfortunately that’s not all you need. Proof of ability and a lot of credits under you belt go a long way. Another huge part in getting somewhere in this industry is knowing people. That’s probably going to be the biggest asset you can get from going to a reputable college for sound design. And most people tend to have an unyielding love for their alma mater. Going to a school where a lot of big names have graduated probably means that they still take part in the cultivation of the school and might come back from time to time to contribute in various ways, such as giving lectures or holding other open forum type events where you’d get the chance to meet them and talk to them personally.

And if you don’t have the equipment to go out and do field recording, start a collection of sounds you like from various sound libraries. Take those and tweak/morph them into other things that you like. It would also be good to get a DAW at some point, as you will have access to a lot more abilities in terms of recording, layering, adding effects, etc. I know some pros in the industry that say they much prefer Reaper for sound design. Look closely at the price tag :)

 
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Originally posted by orandze:

And if you don’t have the equipment to go out and do field recording, start a collection of sounds you like from various sound libraries. Take those and tweak/morph them into other things that you like.

Personally, I think sound libraries kind of ruin the fun of sound design. It annoys me a little when I hear the same sounds in different stuff. I notice without even trying. For example, my little brothers watch a kids’ show called Little Einsteins. In one show, a door in the Little Einsteins’ spaceship opens, and it makes an Unreal Tournament door sound.

But do you know of any good sound libraries? What sound libraries do pros use?

And I thought the pros all use Pro Tools.

By the way, Skywalker Sound hires interns, but you have to be at least junior in college, and there are strict requirements. I’d have to wait a few years. One VFS grad got hired by Skywalker Sound. VFS grads have worked on big stuff, like Dead Space, Mass Effect, and Gears of War.

Does anyone know of anyplace I could maybe get an internship?

Cool video.

 
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I made a new video

I like the first gun and the third gun’s sounds the best.

 
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There are tons of free sound libraries out there, like freesound.org, audiomicro.com, freesfx.co.uk, and my personal favorite findsounds.com.

Practicing re-making and morphing various sounds you find into other things is excellent for sharpening your skills as a designer. It’s sort of like looking at a game and trying to figure out how they programmed it, but with audio. As a theory/composition major in college they had us do countless hours of transcribing full orchestral pieces note for note in order to reverse engineer the work and techniques of the original composer.

As for the DAW debate, it’s part personal preference and part what you’re trying to do. Different programs are good for different purposes. Pro Tools is especially good for recording engineers and acoustic composers. Logic is great for electronic musicians who know some theory and instrument set-ups. And so Reaper isn’t all that great when it comes to creating a huge project with tons of stuff going on for several minutes, but it excels at allowing you to get into the nitty gritty of sounds and samples. I know one guy who’s worked on some AAA titles, and he absolutely swears by Reaper for sound design.

For finding internships and the like, just start looking. Finding a job in this business is often a lot harder than actually doing the job. Be sure to hang around places where other people in game audio hang out, because they maintain a close, tight-knit community and always help each other out with advice, leads, and anything else they can. Be sure to sign up on the Game Audio Forum first. That’s where all the big guys get together and the dev companies know it. If you’re on Facebook, you might want to join the Video Games – Composers and Sound Designers group. Also, always be checking places like Gamasutra and if you’re ok with sifting through hundreds of websites looking for an opening, you could always look at GameDevMap.

 
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And you can always try to find work on freelancer sites. Sometimes that can serve as a good training grounds while getting you some money to save up for better equipment.

(Sorry for the double post. Clicked the wrong button)

 
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But you can’t just edit any sound and call it your own legally, right? I can’t imagine the pros just mix any sounds they like, they must use certain sound libraries.

By the way, what does “DAW” stand for?

 
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No, you can’t call it your own, but you can usually sell it, redistribute it, modify it, or do whatever you’d like. Just be sure to check out the licensing information.

The pros actually spend years building up their own libraries. They just record anything and everything they come across numerous times in a bunch of different ways and put it away for future use. And of course, if you absolutely physically can’t get a particular sound that you’re after, you can either make it from scratch by manipulating sound waves or buy the license for it from someone else.

And DAW stands for Digital Audio Workstation, not to be confused with an Audio Editor. More about the difference here.

 
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What do you think of Vancouver Film School’s sound design course? It’s a one-year course, but VFS claims it’s the equivalent of a 3- or 4-year course. If you look at the showcase, a lot of grads have worked on big stuff.

 
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I haven’t yet formed a full opinion of VFS for sound design. On one hand, it does offer a full degree’s worth of learning packed into one year, and the graduates of that school have indeed gone on to work on big stuff. What does that mean though? You’ll have to work your butt off, sacrificing any sort of social life you might have in order to accomplish 3-4 years of work in one, and those big name grads might pop back every now and then. Honestly, every school has successful people come out of it. I live within a 20 minute drive from the towns where Christina Aguilera and Trent Reznor grew up. That doesn’t mean that this is a great place to live if you want to be a musician though.

What do I think is more important to look at? The active culture. Vancouver is a thriving city with a heck of a lot going on. I couldn’t glean too much about the faculty from my brief browsing on the website, but if they’re active in the industry and have good connections, then getting to know them is as important as taking the classes.

 
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Great video.

I’m still looking for colleges, but so far I like VFS the best.