An Interview with Audio Director/Sound Designer Nick Peck: Part 2

As someone who was an audio director for a huge game company, I'm
guessing there's a lot of GANG members who are curious about how they
could get a position with an audio dept at a huge game company. How
did you find the members of your audio team? Anybody just have a great
resume/reel and you called them? Mostly through personal contacts? And
would you have any advice for those who are trying to break into a
career in game audio?

Hmm. Well, I’m afraid I’m going to have to give an answer that people
who are trying to break in to the business may not like. I expect that
the people who work for me have a high degree of self-reliance, are
internally motivated, very responsible, organized, and customer
service oriented. When things get insanely busy, as they invariably do
at the end of a development cycle, the last thing I have time for is
hand holding or checking to make sure that people have done what they
say they are going to do. As a result, it is rare that I risk working
with people that I don’t already know to some degree. I’ve mentored
and started a lot of folks on their way in this industry, and several
of them were students that took classes I’ve taught in Pro Tools or
audio for video production. I held on to the contact information for
my star pupils, and when the time came for an internship position,
they were the first ones I called.

This is not to say that there are not exceptions, of course. When we
started doing Guitar Hero Van Halen, I needed to find a drummer who
could play and transcribe Alex Van Halen’s incredibly fast and complex
drum parts, and who also knew enough about the technical side of audio
production that they could become a really solid note tracker. Believe
it or not, I found a local guy on Craigslist, Peter Thomas, who met
all the requirements, and who turned out to be a great hire. Solid,
reliable, motivated, astoundingly musical, endlessly curious, and
technically savvy. He quickly rose to managing some of the note
trackers, as well as helping me mix the music. On the other hand, I’ve
also hired some folks that I hadn’t worked with before, who didn’t
work out. Those situations are painful for everyone involved, so I
like to avoid them whenever possible by knowing my team before they
become my team.

So with that said, what’s the best way for people to break in? Well,
it goes without saying that you have to be able to bring it. You need
to have the tech side down cold, as well as a high degree of aesthetic
accomplishment. That’s what school is for: to give you the opportunity
to explore and make mistakes in a safe environment. Once you have your
training in place, then it’s time to network, network, network. Meet
everyone you can. Take every job you can. Prepare yourself mentally,
so that when the door opens, as it surely will, you will be able to
step through confidently and embrace the opportunity on the other
side. In my opinion, luck has very little to do with this industry.
Luck comes to the prepared mind. If you are ready, then you will
succeed by being able to capitalize on the opportunity when it
presents itself to you.

As an audio director, could you explain a bit of what's involved in a
job like that? Is it largely a creative job, are you contributing
music/sound design? Or it largely a 'big picture' position, where
there's a lot of spreadsheets and calendars involved? (aspiring audio
directors want to know!)

Everyone has their own personal answer to this. I could never be one
of those guys who manages others without doing any of the actual
sound design or music production work. I get stir crazy if I’m just
chained to a desk writing reports. Exactly what I contribute depends
entirely on the project. For Guitar Hero Van Halen, I mixed all of the
music in the game, but did very little sound design. For LEGO Star
Wars, I recorded tons of foley, then designed most of the primary
in-game sounds and cutscenes. For Star Wars Episode III, where our
group at Skysound was responsible for the cutscenes, I did virtually
no hands-on audio work, but spent my time coordinating between the
film audio crew, our game audio crew, and the game audio crew at
Lucasarts, who were handling all the in-game interactive stuff. Every
project is different.

Having said all that, it is true that audio directors go to lots of
meetings, and spend a lot of time organizing schedules, creating sound
spotting databases, interacting with other departments, and managing
internal hires and external contractors. I actually like doing all
that work too, because I’m pretty organized and enjoy solving
problems. It all really depends on the timeframe of the project and
the number of people you are managing, but I’ve never had a situation
where I couldn’t cherry pick some aspect of the project to produce
with my own two hands. But you have to be able to delegate work - you
just can’t do everything yourself. It’s impossible. The schedule is
sacrosanct in my world, and that means that other people are going to
be doing a lot of the fun stuff so that audio doesn’t bottleneck the
project. That is precisely why my teams are composed of people who’s
work and reliability I trust implicitly.

In your opinion, what makes someone a successful audio director? Lots
of programming experience? Lots of audio engineering experience? Lots
of orchestration experience? People skills?

Oh, let’s see. I think it really comes down to doing what you say you
are going to do, when you say you’re going to do it. You don’t get
considered for the part unless you already have a proven track record,
so it’s taken as read that you are an excellent sound
designer/composer/audio production person. A successful audio director
needs to be able to work up, across, and down. He or she needs to be
able to have the trust of his manager (usually the GM of the studio)
that the audio aspect of the project is in capable hands, and that
this is one less thing that the incredibly busy GM has to worry about.
He needs to work across with his peers, coordinating with the
executive producer, development director, art director, cinematics
director, and CTO or director of engineering, so that the audio
production effort melds with these other efforts. He needs to be the
voice of audio for the company, educating those who aren’t part of our
discipline as to how much it contributes to the end product. And he
needs to work down, constantly being there for his direct reports.
There is nothing that makes me feel prouder than when someone who
works for me comes in, closes the door, and spills their guts about a
work or personal problem. That means they trust me, and know that I’ll
go to the ends of the earth to help them, without judgment. I may not
always have the answer they are looking for, but I’ll always try.

And what's your favorite part about being in game audio, the best part
of the job?

Honestly? It’s going home at the end of the day and reading Harry
Potter to my five year old son, knowing that the book in my hand, the
chair we are sitting in, the food in our stomachs, and the clothes on
our backs were all paid for by my doing something every day that I
still love to do. I can’t imagine what life would be like if I worked
for an insurance company, or wrote financial software, or did anything
other than sound design, music production, and managing other people
doing the same. Absolutely the only thing in my life that I care about
as much as this stuff is being the best husband and parent that I can
be. It’s a bit lame - all my spare time that isn’t spent on my family
goes to gigging for pocket change, writing articles on music gear for
Electronic Musician or Gearwire, lecturing about audio production,
recording songs, or building analog tube gear for my studio. All these
years in, I’m still passionately, ferociously, deeply in love with
everything about sound design and music. That’s the best part of the
job.


In the meantime you can visit Nick Peck on the web at Perceptive Sound Design


Interview written/edited by Dren McDonald exclusively for audiogang.org.

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