Joe Thomas Cavers
Junior Sound Designer
Did you attend school for an audio-related degree? If so, what school and degree?
School: University of Edinburgh in Scotland, UK
Degree: Bachelor of Music in “Music Technology”
What inspired you to work with sound?
I first picked up a guitar aged 13, and ever since then I knew I’d want to work with audio in some way. I think over the last 10 years, that interest grew steadily away from “music” and into “sound” more generally.
How old were you when you found out sound is what you wanted to do for a living?
See above, 13. It wasn’t until around the age of 20/21 however, that I worked out that game sound was exactly what I wanted to do.
Was a school degree the first thing on your mind, or do everything self-taught?
The decision to do a degree was an odd one. Before I went to Univeristy, I was very much in the mindset that I wanted to work with music, or live sound. The Scottish Goverment pays for your university fees if you’re from Scotland, so going to Uni in Scotland was really the only option I ever had. I thought the degree at Edinburgh University would lead me down the live sound/music industry path. After one year of doing a lot of audio-related maths and physics, as well as some more general music courses (composition, music history) I was completely confused. The degree didn’t seem to be leading me where I wanted to go! I took a year out and played in a band, touring and doing shows. This quickly showed me that the music industry, and live sound weren’t for me. I liked playing with audio in software and recording, but the music industry wasn’t quite what I was after. After the year out, I decided to go back to finish my degree, since I figured it’d be worth having and it was probably going to be more fun than having to get a “real job” :). Thankfully, being in an academic environment for another 3 years gave me the time I needed to work out what I wanted to do.From before my degree, right to the end of it and into my job, things such as recording, using a DAW and editing sounds were things I taught myself. My degree was very academic and improved how I consider sound more than giving me actual vocational skills. So to answer the question, most of my day-to-day skills were self taught, but these were definitely augmented by my academic studies!
What is your specialty/preference of the sound fields (sound design, music, recording, audio programming, implementation, etc)? What do you like most about it?
I’d say my speciality is sound design for games. What I like most about it is that the medium is in it’s infancy and there is still so much to be explored in both sound for games and games themselves.
What sound tools did you learn in your school curriculum?
As mentioned above, my degree didn’t cover traditional recording techniques, so we didn’t cover things like Pro Tools and Sound Forge i.e. the things I now use daily. What we did learn to use were environments like Pure Data and Max/MSP, as well as looking at a little bit of audio programming in the form of external objects written for Max in C. We did however have one module covering Logic Pro.
What kind of projects did you have in your classes?
Our projects included straight up free composition (which I chose to do every year of my degree), programming an algorithmic composition in Pure Data, programming a quad-output delay as an external object for Max in C, demonstrating a usable working knowledge of a selection of Logic Pro’s features, and a final year project, for which I chose to do sound design for a 9 minute short movie (with an eye to using it as part of my showreel post university). We also did traditional essays on varying topics, including music history and popular music aesthetics.
Were your teachers audio professionals? Anybody the audience would know?
Our lecturers are highly respected in their fields, but often not known outside of them. For example, the founder of the Mercury Music Prize and long time rock journalist Simon Frith lectured us on Music Aesthetics, the composer Nigel Osbourne lectured us in Composition, Michael Edwards taught us a number of programming classes and the DJ Mike Dred lead our module on Logic Pro.
Did you do any side projects during school? If so, what were they like?
Towards the end of University I started working on short student films, and the occasional indie game. These were often done for free and were more for the sake of getting experience than anything else.
How many of your side projects were published? Any of them turn profitable?
The only one springing to mind is a game I did the sound for called “Run From The Sun”. This was a flash game involving a fairly simple mechanic, you can check it out here: http://www.kongregate.
How large was your graduating class? Were you all close?
Our graduating class was only 6 (!) but we were also quite close and shared classes with the general “Music” degree, so all in there were about 35 of us (or so?) on Graduation day.
How often do you work with your old classmates today?
I don’t work alongside any of my classmates now, but I’m still close friends with a number of them and one of them is my current housemate!
Any old classmates you want to mention? The more the merrier with the audio community!
A shout out for my housemate Alex Fraser who’s currently interning with Mandy Parnell at Black Saloon Studios (link below) 🙂 http://www.mandyparnell.
Do you feel more prepared for the sound industry than if you had not graduated from your program?
This is a topic that comes up often with a few sound designers I know. Some of the best sound designers I know have no education beyond school. Others have studied up to the postgraduate level. Although a lot of my day-to-day skills were self taught, I find myself continually thinking about the information I absorbed at University and how it relates to my sound design. I’d have to say that it did help me a lot, if not in the direct way that say, studying somewhere like Full Sail might have done.
Do you have a website for your portfolio? How often do you blog on it?
I have a site at http://flavors.me/joecavers that includes my blog. Although it’s not updated often since I can’t always talk about what I’m working on, I do try to find time to work on little bits and pieces, and I try to share things I find online. There are a lot of people doing a better job of that than me however!
Do you use social networking? How often, and what communities?
Anyone who knows me knows I’m a big proponent of using Twitter. The game audio community on there is absolutely incredible and have given me invaluable advice so many times I’ve lost count.
Any last words for future audio guys looking to carve their education and career paths?
I think that could be an entire set of questions by itself! One thing I think it’s important to realise is that a degree alone, from any school, won’t secure you a job. What’s more, school might not be for you, it’s definitely not the best method of learning for everyone. Landing a job in game audio is only possible with a combination of things, and I think Ariel Gross summed it up recently over on AltDevBlogADay better than I ever could! (Link here http://www.altdevblogaday.com/2012/06/25/a-big-jumbled-blog-about-joining-team-audio/ ) If I had to try and sum it up, I’d say work hard, love what you do, and have fun doing it!
About Sonic Backgrounds
The sound industry is an ever growing field, ranging from linear sound design in film and TV, to interactive audio in games, and from live theatrical sound design to field recording for the creation of custom libraries. It is only recently however, that school programs have begun to offer degrees in the sound-specific variety. Graduates of these new programs are now coming into the industry, and it provokes the interesting question of how these new, specific programs are preparing individuals for the sound world, as opposed to the older approaches of entry, such as pure passion, musical talent, a film degree, or a computer science degree.
“Sonic Backgrounds” is an interview series focused on interviewing recent graduates of these educational sound programs around the globe, to see what exactly they are providing, and how they are shaping the new “academic”-based sound artist.