To start the new year off, let's indulge in a thought experiment: Imagine yourself casually sipping on straight, unadorned cow's milk right from a glass. Yes, I'm asking you to pretend to be a lunatic for a second, but go with me here.
Even in this impossible scenario, there's a step you'd likely take before pouring that cow juice into your container: checking if the milk is expired. You'd look for those little numbers on the carton, and then gleefully proceed if all is well. But did you know that we may have Al Capone to thank for those expiry dates existing in the first place?
Al Capone: Milk Magnate
Rumor has it, after Capone's niece got sick from some spoiled milk, the crime lord took matters into his own hands. He supposedly "persuaded" some dairy decision-makers to start tagging milk with expiry dates. True story? Probably not, but it's one of those urban legends that's just stuck around.
Now, while having these little expiry dates on our food can be handy, setting up an "expiry date" for our work can be helpful, too. See, while we're working, it's easy to just tweak forever and never let a sound be finished. Eventually, we're working so long on something that we're afraid to share it, send it to a client, or really do anything with it.
To prevent this constant and terrible scenario, that's where the Expiry Date Method comes in.
Thankfully, implementing this method is pretty simple
And there are two broad places where we can use it: when working with a client, or when working on our own.
When you're working with a client
You can simply deliver your work on time, even if you don't feel it's 100% ready. Let the client decide if it's done or not.
Better still, give minimal explanations to your client when you deliver it. Don't be the first to jump in and say, "It's not done yet!" or "uhhh it's not very good and I have XYZ to tweak still". Again, let them decide. You'll be surprised how often they don't hear any of the flaws you think are in your work.
Of course, some sounds just take longer than others, but delivering at regular intervals matters more than making the perfect sound every time.
And what if we don't have clients right now? What can we do instead?
Well the answer is simple! All we need to do is use timers, deadlines, or any other external factor that helps us come to a stop.
Let's say you practice sound design for 20 minutes a day. All you need to do is set a timer for that block of practice time, and decide on what you'd like to get done by the end of that time.
For example, maybe you'd like to have created one gunshot sound, or created a synth preset, or anything else simple and achievable by the end of that 20 minute block. Set a timer, work towards your goal, and whatever comes out by the end of that 20 minute block is "done." At that point, you can save your work, and move on to something new during the next session.
Or, if you're working on a longer project, like an audio redesign of a cutscene, then you can set a timer to work on just a small section of the video. Maybe you'll spend 20 minutes for every 10 seconds of the cutscene, for example.
"But Akash, you satisfying crunch of praline in a hazelnut dacquoise," I hear you say, "I need my sounds to be good! I can't do that in 20 minutes!"
I get it! We want to sit down and tweak our sounds all day, every day, so that they can be awesome and satisfying.
There are times where we do need to sit down for a while and just really focus on something, sure, but the truth about working in game audio is that getting things done often is more important than getting things perfect.
By finishing and delivering sounds, both your professional ability to deliver to clients will improve, and your actual sound design skills increase faster, too. Hooray!
This is a method I teach in all of my courses
My soon-to-be-released course, Step By Step Sound Design (which is all sold out, so thank you to those who joined!) is being built entirely around this idea, and even my career-focused course, The Game Industry Professional, has built-in mini assignments that people work on on a weekly basis to help them increase their game audio income.
So while we may not be a dairy-executive-kidnapping crime lord
We can still put “expiry dates” to good use when it comes to our work. Do a short burst, and then consider that thing to be done. Then, move on to the next thing.