The entertainment industry is hard. There are precious few jobs and far too many applicants to be a viable career option. Yet the crowds keep arriving. Hopeful applicants with a dream of making a life for themselves in the entertainment industry. I was one of them. I moved from Detroit to Los Angeles in a fifteen foot truck (which my wife and I accidentally set on fire in the hills of Colorado, but that’s another story). Waiting for me was an unpaid internship at a music video and commercial production company. Nothing even close to what I was looking for career-wise, but who cared? I was on my way! Wrong. Like anything in life, a successful career path takes forethought, careful planning and execution. Here are my five tips for putting yourself on the right path.
1. Learn, Practice, Make Stuff! Be prepared.
Luck is always going to play some part in how you eventually grab someone’s attention. From any given week to another, I can be so slammed that answering a cold email is nearly impossible or I can have a relatively light week and have a moment to respond. When and how that exchange happens is inevitably going to be based on luck.
That said, I believe strongly that with enough persistence an opportunity will arise. What you do with that opportunity is key. What are you doing right now? As a sound designer, you could be doing any number of things to hone your skills while you wait (and send cold emails, and knock on doors and network (see next item). Go out and do some field recording. Sit down and imagine a scene entirely in your mind, then create it from scratch with sound design. Reach out to filmmakers on social media offering free sound design for their projects. Make a reel, make a laser sound, make something! There is absolutely no reason you can’t be working toward becoming a better sound designer with any free time. The more experience you have, the more comfortable you are in front of that Pro Tools screen. And believe me, when it comes time to test your mettle, we notice.
2. Take Advantage of Social Media and Network.
The entertainment industry is all about who you know. It’s not a cliche. I am much more likely to hire on a recommendation than a cold email. The thing is, this isn’t such a huge mountain to climb. With social media, we have the ability to reach out and make connections across entire swaths of experience levels. Do you want to talk to working sound designers? Follow them on Twitter. Everyone loves more Twitter followers! Go ahead and @message them. It's likely they'll see it and even respond to you. Amazing!
As with any social media, make it a two way conversation. Join the discussion, contribute, make a name for yourself and your interests. From there, it’s no big leap to send someone your reel to watch or to ask to be included in a list of candidates for the next intern or assistant position to crop up. Once we've seen your work and heard from you, we know you. You're in!
3. Be real. Distinguish yourself from the pack with something personal.
You have one shot at making an impression. Short of gimmicks or stunts, you must find a way to stand out when looking for work. The emphasis here is on you and why you're different. n your cover letter, point out why you are interested specifically in our line of work. I love getting stories that refer back to childhood memories or inciting incidents that sparked a passion for sound design and editorial.
I need to believe you have the enthusiasm to stay late just to really make a scene sing. Not out of fear or obligation, but because of a love for great sound design. All things being equal on the skill side, if I’m reading through a handful of resumes, you’d better believe I’m going to be keen on those which tell me exactly why you are the most passionate candidate.
4. Interning. It's a two way street.
If you expect a glamorous position straight out of the gate, you’re in for a rude awakening. Contrary to what you may have learned in school, so much of what we do needs to be taught in a real life working studio. I have seen first hand how just being around for a few days can open someone's eyes to the demands and expectations of our day to day routine. Find a list of companies specializing in sound design and volunteer to intern. Even just a few months will have you walking out the door a completely different job candidate; armed with the experiences and the vocabulary you can only gain in the real world.
5. It's likely at some point you're going to want to give up. Don't.
It's easy to simply walk away after rejection. With thousands of applicants and very few jobs, it's easy to see cracking the entertainment industry as an insurmountable task. Odds are you are going to get countless closed doors, unanswered emails or a job that's not quite the perfect fit right off the bat. The important take away here is to keep at it. If you want to win the lottery, you’d better be willing to play for a long time.