Have you ever wanted to know how to become a sound designer? Do you know what is a sound designer and what they do? I’ve been working with sound designers for the last 36 years and in this article, I’ll show you exactly how you can do it in 2023.
Becoming a Sound Designer
Most budding sound designers have done some sort of training, be it self-taught at their local amateur dramatic group as a sound engineer or youth club or by going to drama school or University.
Some have moved up from being crew or come over from film and TV, studio work or been an experienced sound effects editor on video games.
A few have no training and have never even made a simple sound effect and just read books and articles like this.
Sound Design Jobs are not Advertised
Starting your career path as a musical theatre sound designer isn’t as straightforward as getting a normal job as most sound design jobs are not advertised.
This is because of how the creative team is set up. So before I explain how to get work as a sound designer, I need to explain how a show might be set up.
The Creative Team
It could start with a director, composer and choreographer creating a piece. They approach a West End producer who likes the idea and decides to book a performance venue. They will then decide on which other creatives they would like to work with.
The producer would then put out an availability check (AV). This would be a brief email asking if the person was available for certain dates. i.e. Rehearsals, load-in, previews and press night. Being AV’ed doesn’t always lead to a job. This is because the producer may have AV’ed a few sound designers.
Some availability checks won’t mention the show name or the other creatives especially if the project hasn’t been announced and you can tell how far up the director’s list you are, by the time you have before rehearsals start. The closer to rehearsals, the lower you are on the list. This is probably because their normal sound designers are not available for this project but sometimes can be because the sound was a last-minute consideration.
Before you Negotiate
If you have been availability checked and are interested, the producer may send you more details including a fee. Before you start negotiating and demanding more, do your research. For example, check the size of the venue and see if it has a “fixed” fee. If the venue is a small one, with only 94 seats, like the Turbine Theatre, the fee may be smaller than expected.
You might want to check beforehand what the production requires regarding extra costs. Things like specialised sound effects and hiring of recording studios to record cast backing vocals can mount up and you don’t want that coming out of your fee.