Alex Di Vito
Company (Or Freelance):
Did you attend school for an audio-related degree? If so, what school and degree?
School: Leeds Metropolitan University (Yorkshire, England)
Degree: B.Sci. Music Technology
What inspired you to work with sound?
Ever since I was a child, I’ve had music around me. My dad’s been in a band since he was 15 and hasn’t been away from it since (he recently turned 50). I started playing drums at 11 and have been in bands since then myself. So sound was a natural progression from here. I think the fact that I was exposed to live sound and mixing in those circumstances really helped with my experimental interests in recording other things, such as short radio shows, funny clips and songs that I’d written. When college came along, I made friends who’d also done a lot of sound work which increased my motivation to get into it. Then it was clear that, from my university choice, I wanted to work with sound for a living.
How old were you when you found out sound is what you wanted to do for a living?
Well for most of my childhood and early teens, I loved the idea of architecture (who didn’t love the Sims at that age?!). It was one day that I had a revelation in what I wanted to with my life, the fact that it had sat under my nose this whole time: music and sound. As I said, I’d grown up with it, so why shouldn’t I pursue it? This would have been when I was about 15, which was a turning point in my live music life when I joined the now-going Spacebats as drummer with my brother and father.
Was a school degree the first thing on your mind, or do everything self-taught?
I couldn’t say I was the most confident with sound design itself without a degree. There’s so much more to that experience though. If not the actual teachings but the communication skills and literally getting to know people who could potentially provide a catalyst for a future career. There are many successful people who are self taught, one being a close friend of mine who now works putting firework shows on for Richard Branson… but I enjoyed the thrill of my degree and would have completely regretted not doing it.
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 definitely say that audio implementation is a favourite of mine. Ever since I went to college and programmed a Petrol Pump using Python, I loved the idea of coding and maths to create scenarios and the problem solving involved is such a satisfying exercise. I did all of my project work in the Unreal Development Kit at university, and a lot of the sound implementation happened within Kismet. Having a vision in my head and being able to implement it successfully was the most enjoyable process! I still do lots of systems now.
Saying that, sound design itself is equally as fun. Getting the sound of a cocking guns out of a toy car and using big clunky plastic wheels for loading bullets just shows the potential of where that process can take you. And when you start to mix and really get the sound to fall in to place, it’s a really spine-chilling moment sometimes, especially with music. And I can’t leave out the fact that the recording of source sounds is an equally rewarding and frustrating process. From letting the recording do itself, to wishing the guy over the wall would just shut up while you record some trickling water, it’s great when you can sit down, edit it and mix it to be just the sound you had in mind.
What sound tools did you learn in your school curriculum?
The main tools we were taught included Logic Pro and Adobe Audition (which I now swear by). Logic Pro was more for the recording, balancing and general mixing elements of a song or film dub, where Audition was great for editing and fine tuning single sounds. Heck, we were encouraged to use Audacity, but I mainly use it now for creating simple tones and importing them for editing in Audition.
What kind of projects did you have in your classes?
I think the best thing about this course was the wide scope of challenges we were set. After all, this wasn’t a course specified for any particular field in sound design or recording or even game sound design, but it wasn’t a bad thing at all. A lot of the earlier projects were sentence mixing, midi composition and music tech history. The meatier stuff came in at second year with a huge film dub group project. But the smaller projects were the first tastes of programming and implementation. Creating synthesizers in Synth Maker was great fun and such an eye opener for designing with pure tones. The Sound Design and Implementation module was also one of my favourites, dubbing over many clips from Star Wars Ep2 as well as doing granular synthesis.
Of course, the best module was Interactive Audio. We all got taught the basics, but were then let to run free with these tools and create a game level with audio at the forefront of it’s design. I created a completely wacky level about myself having a dream and having to solve puzzles to get out. I voiced the whole thing as if I was talking to myself from beyond myself within myself (get your head around that haha). I must say, there wasn’t one module that I didn’t think was useful. They all gave their own unique twist on sound and the different perspectives really help you see the whole picture.
Were your teachers audio professionals? Anybody the audience would know?
Yes! Many of them were professionals, some going off to California to mix an album for a couple of weeks, some retired from their career profession to teach, all hilarious and down to earth people that would spare much of their time to help you. Two particular people should be known by those who like to read up on their Game Audio Implementation: Richard Stevens and Dave Raybould, who wrote the ‘Game Audio Tutorial‘ book. These guys taught me through my Interactive Audio modules, as well as with my final project, but also with some of my other modules like Synth Maker and the one where I turned my brother’s car into an instrument (a story for another day!). They’re both very intelligent and could solve practically any problems I had, as well as being a great laugh!
Did you do any side projects during school? If so, what were they like?
Not game audio projects as such, no. I did help out a lot at a local church for the theatre productions, doing the back stage change overs and sound cueing for the pantomimes (always a hilarious job). Currently, I create a lot of systems in UDK and have plans for games that would be nice to release, but I’d ideally like to work with others on things like that and get the wheels moving.
How many of your side projects were published? Any of them turn profitable?
Unfortunately no. I love the idea of a sound library that could be put together. Foley is a big love of mine in game sound, so I could do a plethora of those sounds!
How large was your graduating class? Were you all close?
For the entire course, there were about 200 of us that graduated. From the class that I was split off in to, there was about 15. I can’t say I was close with many of the people there, which is sad to say, but it didn’t help that the group I worked with through most of my degree had either quit or taken a gap year. I loved working with those guys, but it was a shame our priorities were different. I can’t say it’s affected my time at university though, I still enjoyed it and was successful at the end.
How often do you work with your old classmates today?
Not at all. Many of them live far away and I’ve moved back home. We were very different people really, we worked well as a team but didn’t have the same career interests. It didn’t help that they didn’t follow in to the final year with me, but none of them were interested in game audio, so that came between us too. There were people I met who liked Game Audio, but it was far too late in the degree to really get to know them for regular interaction. Such a pity, but I fight on! I’ve met many great people on Twitter and converse with them regularly. I hope to collaborate with some of those in the near future 🙂
Any old classmates you want to mention? The more the merrier with the audio community!
I would like to mention one person who I’ve mentioned previously in this interview. He is the marvellous Tom Denney. This guy has been my friend for many years now and has been an inspiration to watch, going from strength to strength in his career that he’s needed no external education for… he’s just gone and done it. He’s worked on everything from local theatre productions to west end productions, in both sound and lighting. His current career path is in the lighting and pyrotechnics field, but he did a lot of work in live sound and was great at it. If you come across him, you won’t regret it!
Do you feel more prepared for the sound industry than if you had not graduated from your program?
Indefinitely more prepared. There are far too many things that my university experience taught me that I wouldn’t have had a clue about without. The only other way I could think about getting that knowledge is by knowing someone in the industry and prying out their understandings with a crowbar. And when I said previously that the course had a wide berth of teachings, it wasn’t just on the projects they taught. They really did open your eyes to everything there is about the industry, the hard work that needs putting in, and definitely the fun you can have along the way.
Do you have a website for your portfolio? How often do you blog on it?
Yes, I have a sound design blog over on Blogger: http://advsound.blogspot.
Do you use social networking? How often, and what communities?
I used to use Facebook a lot but feel it’s turned into what Myspace failed for being. Twitter is my go-to place for social networking and I’ve already said I talk to people in the industry that way, not just about game sound but also general things in life. Such an easy way to get your point across too! I do have a LinkedIn account, but don’t really use it that much… I should try to haha.
Any last words for future audio people looking to carve their education and career paths?
I think for anyone going in to audio education at a college or university level, I say you should definitely pursue it if you have a passion for it. The best way to go about it is by keeping an open mind and taking any constructive criticism you’re given. It’s not nice when you work on something for hours and a teacher tells you it’s not good or right, but if you can sit back and see it from all angles, it can be a great thing to take advantage of. Also, soak in as much information as you can from your teachers or lecturers, you are lucky to have them around you! Especially at university when these people may have worked their way up through a professional career, you should try and corner them for questioning as often as possible. Their insights can be a goldmine for knowledge and knowing the right directions to go in to head up a successful career or at least looking out for one.
My insights for any one looking to get a job in the field of game audio is to have patience, work hard and get to know everybody you can in the industry! And I say that in a way that means they’re your friends, not someone who you can leech to get into the business. Being able to collaborate with people on projects has proven to be a very good tool for many, so try and make friends who you can work with as a hobby, if anything. A job isn’t just round the corner though, so that’s why I mention patience. I certainly have a lot of it, and fill that time by working hard to make products that I enjoy to create and play, while also trying to educate others with my blog. And I know I can’t really say much because I’m not in the industry, but these were things I learnt by speaking to my peers and professionals. I hope what I know now really does help me build a successful career in game audio.
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.