Family, Failure, and Fervor: What I Learned at GameSoundCon

As a female composer and sound designer who didn't start in the industry until her late 20s and has only worked on failed indie games, I was anxious about introducing myself at GameSoundCon. Here's what I learned about failure and how it can be an asset.

I'm from Montana. Before GameSoundCon 2015, I had never been to Los Angeles. There were a lot of things about myself that, I felt, were glaring weaknesses. There was the fact that although I had worked on games before, and even been paid for some work, none of those projects had succesfully made it through production. With NDAs in place on my current projects, there wasn't much I could say of my work besides, "hopefully my current projects will make it." 

There was also the fact that, although many students attend GameSoundCon--myself included--I felt I was late to the game. I had pursued a couple other careers before giving in to my love of gaming and music and enrolling in a Music Technology program at age 28.

So when I, awkward and somewhat socially anxious, wandered up to a small group of people in a hallway of the Millenium Biltmore and asked if they were "audio folks," I could not have expected what happened next.

Not only were they "audio folks"--these were heroes of mine. People who had worked on games and software I knew and loved. Here, in the flesh, greeting me. I always expected there to be a deity-like disconnect between individuals with AAA titles under their belts and fledglings like myself. I was a nobody, a fangirl at best, and they invited me to dinner with them.

During the course of GameSoundCon I realized what an amazing community game audio is. Some industries are extremely cutthroat. Game audio is truly a family, sharing a kind of creative symbiosis. From students just starting out to people working at successful studios and famous freelancers, everyone interacted as if we were on the same level.

Our fervor for our work united us.

At dinner, the inevitable question came up, "So, what do you do?"

I tried to spin my answer as humorously self-deprecating. You know, I'm working on a couple projects now, but so far everything I've touched has died at some point in production.

And I have to tell you, what one of the sound designers at the table said to me has changed how I will view and talk about my work. He said, "Don't ever apologize for your work, or where you're at. We've all been there."

And everyone at the table agreed. We've all been there. We've all had failures.

I realized I had been talking about my work as if failed indie games were my biggest connection to game audio. I never opened with my internship at PBS, my sound design for a promotional short, or my compositions being perfomed at music festivals around the country. And even if it weren't for those, what about my personal work and interests? I recorded a clarinet being played in a bathtub full of water. I created a horror soundscape using recordings of things like coffee cups and altering them with CSound code. I'm an experimenter.

I bet if you've worked on a project that never saw the light of day, you still came away with something. Maybe you just learned what doesn't work. Maybe you picked up some middleware familiarity, or made your workflow more efficient. Maybe you have some sweet samples you can use for something else. There might even be something else entirely--business or interpersonal skills, time management. Whatever came of it, take it with you move forward. Copy, paste, transform. You might have your next symphony hiding in a "failed" motif--and we can be talking literally or figuratively here.

It wasn't all business at the dinner table that night. We geeked out about what microphones we would send to record sounds on Mars, or our theories about what makes chiptunes so attractive.

The next day, an audio designer who worked on one of my favorite AAA titles found me in the crowd and said, "I listened to your work last night. I think your chiptunes are especially strong, and I hope you make more of them."

We had just met, and he had taken the time, looked up my work, and given me feedback.

The way I was welcomed into the game audio family set the scene for the rest of the conference. The presentations and socializing during the two days of GameSoundCon have gotten me so excited to keep refining my craft, to reach out to others in the industry, and to help others wherever I can.

Although my enthusiasm and optimism are showing, don't get me wrong. Experience is so important, and until we have strong resumes and connections, it will be a struggle.

But in that struggle, we are united by family, by failure, and by fervor.

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