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Why One Habit Can Give You a Great Sound Design Career

Let's pretend for a moment that you want to become a concert violinist, and your goal is to play with the London Symphony Orchestra. An orchestra as prestigious as the LSO almost never holds auditions, so this is a huge deal to a violinist such as yourself.

But, let's say the stars aligned and you saw that they were looking for a new violinist. You get excited, reserve a slot, get your instrument ready, and head to the audition.

This is what I assume every violinist's practice room looks like

And when you're in front of everyone, you realize something horrible: You didn't practice at all for this huge opportunity. This might sound like an insane scenario, but it's how many up-and-coming sound designers treat their careers. They sit around, waiting for jobs to open up, try to apply for the biggest ones, and then realize that they've barely opened up their DAW in the passed year. As much as they think they want to work as a full-time sound designer, their actions don't line up with their desires. And weirdly, this complete lack of practice is a really common occurrence in this field. But even if you do practice It can feel like you're up against thousands of other sound designers for every job out there. And yes, hundreds, if not thousands of people do apply to those big-name audio jobs regularly. But really, the amount of people who consistently practice their craft over the course of years is unbelievably small. The truth is: regular practice is something that will easily separate you from the countless other sound designers out there. I know, it sounds almost too simple, but in this article I want to share with you 4 principles to help you practice your craft and drastically improve your career. Principle #1: Consistency is More Important than Intensity You want to put in tiny bits of practice every single day that you can. It's tempting to put in 6 hours of practice on a Sunday and then never touch your DAW for the rest of the week, but you'll grow a lot slower that way. When you step away and come back regularly, you’ll actually be able to retain everything you're learning. Now, you might think that 6 hours once a week is better than just 30 minutes every day. After all, 30 minutes a day will only amount to 3.5 hours of practice a week. But, all of this is like working out: The first hour of exercise might be effective, but if you were to push yourself to exercise 6 hours at max intensity, you'd be dead by hour 2. And on top of that, you'd lose all motivation and probably would never go back to the gym again. But with 30 minutes a day, you’ll stay fresh, stay inspired to practice, and actually learn faster. This idea is summarized by Coach John Wooden, who's known as one of the greatest basketball coaches of all time: "When you improve a little each day, eventually big things occur. [...] Not tomorrow, not the next day, but eventually a big gain is made. Don’t look for the big, quick improvement. Seek the small improvement one day at a time. That’s the only way it happens – and when it happens, it lasts." Principle #2: Feedback is Key You can work on your stuff alone forever, but there will always be a component of not knowing what you don't know. If you try to lone-wolf this, there will be a lot of weaknesses in your work as a sound designer that you simply won’t be aware of. So, getting feedback on your work is deeply important. And getting it from people who know what they're doing will shortcut the process of improvement by weeks, months, or even years. But I can hear you asking now... "But Akash, you crème-fraîche-topped pistachio torte, where do I find people I can get feedback from?" Well, outside of my premium courses where my students get extremely precise and regular feedback, one of the best ways is to reach out to people online. You can easily get a response if you ask very specific, tiny questions that busy pros don't have to spend much time on. Instead of asking for feedback on your entire reel, ask for ultra-specific feedback for just 5 seconds of your work and you're way more likely to get a response. Show that you've done the work and the research to make that section as good as it can be, and they'll be glad to help. The game audio community is super friendly, and people are generally open to getting messages from up-and-comers in the field. You won’t be spurned for reaching out, but also don't expect an instant response from busy pros - especially if you asked for an entire reel review or are begging for a job/internship.

I get so many emails like this every week. You'd think this is an exaggeration but the real ones are even more unhinged

Principle #3: Focus on Input More Than Output

Throughout any of your practice sessions, the temptation will be to make stuff that sounds good. But, the goal for all of your sessions is to walk away knowing that you put in the work, not that you’ve mastered what you were working on.

Think of this like a musician: If you're learning a piece of music, you likely won't master it in just one session. It's going to sound bad for a very very long time, but eventually, it'll click.

In order to motivate myself to focus on the input, and not necessarily the results of my sound design work, I actually keep track of my practice in Notion.

My ultra-simple Notion practice tracker

You can see that I'm just focused on learning some new tools and just generating ideas lately. Even though I don't walk away from these practice sessions with some incredible superpowers, over the years, it results in becoming better and better over the long term.

Principle #4: It Gets Worse Before it Gets Better

The funny thing about practice is that we think that we’re going to get much better right away. But, you're you're actually going to get worse at first. It's like if you took a boxing class: Initially, you're actually going to become a worse fighter than if you came off the street and started flailing your arms everywhere.

Starting out, you'd get exposed to stances, the way to hold your head, how to punch, and how to move... and none of this will feel intuitive. You'll be overthinking a lot, focusing on every little detail, and will move awkwardly and clumsily. But, as you work on the techniques day in and day out, you'll improve. Your sound design practice sessions will feel much the same.

If I didn’t practice sound design regularly, I wouldn’t have a career at all

I would have started to stagnate and stay at a beginner-level forever, and probably never be able to become a full-time pro. Practice has also made me faster - allowing me to do more in less time. In essence, I’ve become a more "premium" sound designer because of my dedication to that practice.

Growing up as a musician and a martial artist, there's something important about practice that I grasped early on: A lot of the practice we do will feel worthless, and most of it won't yield results for years. But through the undercurrents of daily improvement, my income from sound design has become incredible.

For instance, I once made $100K in one month from the profit-share of working on Hyper Light Drifter. Obviously, that's an extraordinary amount of money for anyone in game audio, but the money was probably just a reflection of my daily dedication over years – rather than just working on that single project.

So, while 30 minutes of daily practice might seem like a trivial, simple ask – it could make your career.


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