From the Trenches: Spec Work

From the Trenches is a series of posts sharing true life experiences and stories from within the fun and exciting (although sometimes crazy and convoluted) world of sound design.

And we’ll start with some unsolicited advice:  If you can avoid it, don’t work on spec.

I get it. When you’re first starting out in any job, it’s truly hard to get your foot in the door. It’s the classic Catch-22 of needing to know a skill to work in a field where you can only learn that skill by working in that field. A large majority of people then chose to work for free (or peanuts) in order to gain the necessary experience. All I’m saying is, if you can avoid this route, please do. And if you absolutely must work ‘on spec,’ keep the projects small and don’t do it for too long.

That said, once you’ve been working for a while in this industry, it can be pretty common practice to do a ‘test’ on a LARGE project before it will come to your door. In my case, I’m specifically referring to projects on the series level of television. If a production is going to drop 26+ episodes of television work on your doorstep, wanting a small taste of what you can do for them is completely understandable.

The Backstory:

A few years back I was asked to create some spec sound design in hopes of attracting an animated series about a kid who can turn his body into all kinds of machines and weapons (as a courtesy, I’m not going to mention the specific show. But you’re smart. You’ll probably have enough clues to figure it out). Long story short, we didn’t get the show. There are a number of reasons why any given television series can chose to go to any given studio.

The point is, besides the handful of people that got this batch of test sounds in their email, these sounds never saw the light of day. They are highly specialized so reusing is probably not much of an option. Thus, I’m posting them here for you to check out. If nothing else, it should be (slightly?) interesting to hear an entirely realized set of sounds created without any images or references.

The direction:

Organic matter gives way to metallic contructs. Think: trees creaks and liquid bubbling to create high tech metal machinery. Also… we need big footsteps. And servos.

The product:

“Organic Robot Transformation 1”
iPhone or iPad? click here

“Organic Robot Transformation 2”
iPhone or iPad? click here

“Organic Robot Servos”
iPhone or iPad? click here

“Organic Robot Walk Cycle”
iPhone or iPad? click here

As always, thanks for listening for what sounds like Jeff.

This week’s image comes from the futuristicky.


Unsolicited Advice: Panning for Gold in Your Sound Effects Library

Unsolicited Advice is a series of posts reflecting this sound designer’s views and may not reflect the views of other sound designers. Reader discretion is advised. 

I often find myself creating custom effects as well as discovering hidden gems deep within my library. Sometimes I will go to look for a specific sound and stumble upon an awesome sound which is so randomly labeled, I know I will never be able to find it again. Now maybe you have a photographic memory or an astounding talent for remembering trivial file names. If so, this post probably isn’t for you. But if you’re like me, and memory just isn’t what it used to be, here’s a bit of advice on how I handle labeling my library.

Custom File Codes

My solution is a system of codes which stand for different types of sounds. Whooshes become WSH, Special Effects SPFX and so on. The key here is to create labels that will NOT show up in your average search. For example, the code CART for cartoony effects is beside the point because any effect with ‘cartoon’ in the name will show up when you type CART in your search window. With me so far? I’d list all my personal codes but I think it’s best to pick ones you think you personally will remember. If you can’t remember your codes, all that work re-labeling is kind of a waste of time (I put up a sticky note with a key for the codes for the first 6 months or so to help me remember).

Exclusivity (like a VIP room for your best sounds)

I reserve this labeling system for custom sound effects as well as any extra special sounds I find in my library. And that’s the key. If you were to label everything in your library this way you’d be back where you started. The idea is to narrow your search down to the best sounds.

Now, why are we doing this?

This library method comes in handy for me whenever I need that extra bit of oomph in a sound effects build. Search with a code, find a killer sound. That’s the basic idea. However, this method is especially useful for cutting effects in a time crunch. I need an awesome whoosh and I only have 2 minutes before my clients arrive! My library is just too big to comb through right now. Well, you could search frantically and pull your hair out like one of those FAIL scenes from an infomercial (you know the ones, when it suddenly switches to black and white). Alternatively, you could search WSH. Now you’ve got only a handful of whooshes to pick from that you personally have deemed worthy of this special code. Problem solved. And as a final added benefit, once you have added the appropriate code into their file name, all of those great sound effects with super random names can actually be found and used again!

You didn’t ask for it, but you got it. What do you think of this unsolicited advice?

Image from the Public Library of Cincinnati & Hamilton County.