Can I Become a Sound Designer Without Going to School?

Sound designer listening to a mix

Many people dream of becoming a sound designer, but far fewer understand how to actually get there. While there are no hard and fast rules for how to break into the field of sound design, there are still some ways to get there that are more likely to bring success.

The question that many aspiring sound designers ask themselves is whether formal education in this field is truly necessary or if you can just strike out on your own to have just as much chance at success. It’s true that there are many ways that a person can end up in a career in sound design. However, you’re doing yourself a huge favor by enrolling in a program devoted to sound design.

What Does a Sound Designer Do?

From music to sound effects, to atmospherics, the role of the sound designer is one of the most multifaceted in the film industry. You are responsible for making everything in the audio mix of a production blend together and elicit the desired response from the audience. You must not only know the right sounds for the right situations, but also have a firm grasp on how to mix those sounds together so that the end product is engaging.

The types of sound designer roles that exist are just as varied as the required skills themselves. Some sound designers work solely on either live shows or pre-recorded material, but there are others who are flexible enough to handle both. It usually takes a sound designer many years of experience to master just one of these two types of audio projects, so most who are just starting out will focus on one or the other.

Those who work on pre-recorded material need seamless communication with the director, producer, performers, and anyone else relevant to the project to ensure that everyone is artistically on the same page. Intimate knowledge of the machinery and equipment used to create these sounds, as well as the medium of playback, is necessary for you to get the volume levels and range of sound optimized for viewers.

In many cases, sound designers are building up an audio mix from the ground up, recording their own sound effects and sometimes even composing new music. Other times, they’ll be selecting from material created by other engineers and producers working on the project. In those situations, it is critical to have the communication skills and audio savviness necessary to determine what’s best for these unique, custom-tailored sounds and generate the optimal end result. Sometimes stock sounds are used with various filters and effects to transform them into something fresh and new, and it’s up to you to have access to these stock sounds and know just the right tweaks to make them sound completely new.

Can Someone Become a Sound Designer Without Going to School?

There certainly are professionals who have broken into their role as a sound designer without any formal education. These mavericks are in the minority, however, because there are so many technical aspects and industry standards that must be learned to have any hopes of working at the same level as other top audio specialists. Just communicating your ideas concisely and collaborate with colleagues in an efficient manner requires an extensive background in sound design and related fields.

The varied nature of sound design is a major part of what makes a well-rounded education so important. It’s possible to pick up on many small aspects of the job along the way through a casual interest and independent research, but the sheer volume of subjects to learn about makes it highly daunting for one individual to grasp purely on their own. It makes a considerable difference to be in an environment that supports your education by putting you on the right path and pushing you towards your goals with a clear-cut curriculum already laid out for you.

What are the Benefits of Receiving a Formal Education in Sound Design?

When you go to school specifically to be a sound designer, you’re given peace of mind that you’re learning all the necessary skills needed to succeed in this industry. There are so many online sources of information out there that it’s hard to know if you’re learning the most up-to-date techniques that industry professionals are using. With a formal education, instead of gleaning what you can from online forums and websites, you’ll be receiving your information directly from those who have real-life experience in what they’re teaching you.

Mentors & Educators

These mentors and educators often have a lifelong impact on the up-and-coming sound designers that they teach in school. The professional relationships you build between teacher and student helps to give you an idea of what it’s like to work with real professionals in the industry. Your mentors, teachers, and counselors will all help you make decisions in your education path and professional career that will set you up for the greatest probability of success.

Network with Classmates

In addition to your teachers, the fellow classmates that you work alongside during this educational journey will have a huge influence on the type of sound designer you’ll be once you leave school. When there are people all around you learning sound design at the same level, you have every opportunity to bounce musical ideas off them. These like-minded individuals will only make you more passionate about the art of sound design and likely inspire you to dig even deeper into your studies.

Get Outside Your Comfort Zone

Being in an academic setting in a sound design program also gives you the chance to experiment in ways that are difficult or intimidating to do on your own. You’ll be challenged to try out genres that are outside of your comfort zone, which often leads to new musical and sound design discoveries that you might never have gotten to otherwise.

Learn From You Mistakes

You’ll also be able to use all the equipment and programs that make the work of a sound designer possible. It’s one thing to learn how to operate the different types of audio engineering tools, but it’s another thing altogether to actually try your hand at them. In a sound design program, you’ll have the hands-on experience that truly puts you in the sound designer seat. All this culminates in an experience that allows you to make mistakes and ask questions to give you a confident understanding of your craft before setting out in the professional world.

Externships & Networking

One of the most enticing things about entering one of these programs must be the externships and networking that leads to real professional opportunities. It’s a great way to get your foot in the door in an industry that’s highly competitive and can be extremely difficult to break into if you’re on the outside. These opportunities for work experience and the career services offered by a sound design program make it a beneficial route to take for anyone serious about fulfilling their dreams of being a professional sound designer.

What Qualities and Skills Will Improve After Graduation from a Sound Design Program?

If you’re worried that you haven’t learned everything by your last day of school, don’t worry. Some skills can only be mastered through experience in the field, and that means you’ll only get better at them once you’re actually doing the work.


Communicating effectively with your colleagues on a project takes time and practice. It’s also something that varies from project to project because you will be working with different producers and designers. Everyone works in different ways and has their own personality quirks, and this human element is a big challenge for some sound designers. It can take years in the industry to learn to navigate. Once you’re working with people on a project, the sense of teamwork is highly gratifying and makes everything run more smoothly.

Technical Skills

There is also the raw technical knowledge and information that only improves the more you do this type of work. Since the technology used to design sound is always changing and growing, a sound designer’s education is ongoing. You will always have to stay on top of the latest software and tech developments. Fortunately, the experience of being in a sound design program sets you up for that lifelong journey.

Final Thoughts

Yes, it is true. You can become a sound designer without going to school, but only a handful of successful sound designers choose this path. If you want the best chance at success in sound design, getting a formal education is key to that success.

Film and Sound Design Program

Ready to learn more about becoming a sound designer? The Film and Sound Design program offers an occupational degree that immerses college students in the world and industry of film and sound design. IPR’s condensed program allows students to earn a multi-skill, multi-functional Occupational Associate of Applied Science Degree in as little as two years.  Students learn hands-on, entry-level skills in every aspect of the film business: story, preproduction, production, and post-production for video and audio. Work as a part of a team to produce your own film- from concept and storyboard, to production and editing – you’ll graduate with a portfolio of work to showcase your creativity and launch your career in the exciting Film Industry.

If you are interested in a career in film and sound design you should tour our Minneapolis creative arts college, see the labs, and meet our staff. Call 1-612-351-0631 or contact admissions to make arrangements.