What is a Sound Design Degree?

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Aspiring doctors are well aware of the required bachelor’s degree, medical school, internships, and residency training that they must go through. And while there are numerous professional roles that require less intensive schooling, employers still have rigid standards when considering new applicants for a position. But what about the more open-ended, creatively inspired career paths? For those trying to break into a job in the music or entertainment industries, the journey to becoming a working professional often seems unclear and anything but guaranteed.

It doesn’t have to be that way, though. Many successful sound designers and other audio specialists got to where they are thanks to a formal education focused on their area of expertise. While it’s not the only way forward, pursuing your sound design degree is still one of the most viable options to landing a real job in this sought-after field.

What is Sound Design in Film?

If you’ve ever watched a movie and been completely drawn into the emotions behind the story and dialogue, there’s a significant chance that it was not just the images but also the sound of the film. People take in a substantial amount of information aurally, and filmmakers are well aware of this and know just how to exploit it. While it might be surprising if you’re not already aware and looking for it, much of what immerses filmgoing audiences is the sound design that paints in the emotions and intensity with carefully curated soundscapes.

Sound design in film encompasses everything from the music, sound effects, ambient noises, and everything in between. A key aspect of designing the audio for a movie or TV show is getting the right mix to ensure that the most important sounds are boosted to the top while other more subtle noises lie inconspicuously in the background. The way that these effects and other sounds are mixed together does a lot to inform the audience about how to feel and what they should be paying the closest attention to on the screen.

If you want proof of just how huge of a role sound design plays in the filmmaking process, just try watching a highly thrilling, emotionally intense movie or TV show with the sound off. Even if you put on the subtitles, you may be able to catch everything that’s happening and follow the story just fine, but the intensity is all but absent from the experience.

What Does a Sound Designer Do?

Designing the sound for a film is an extremely diverse role that requires a variety of special skills. Depending on the type and size of the project you’re working on, you might have multiple roles to fill that are adjacent in the production process. In other cases, you work in a fully staffed environment where clear, open communication and a mindset of teamwork is the only way to succeed.

In some cases, you will use stock effects from a library of sound that the production team already has on hand. Other times, you will be recording your own original sounds to create an even more unique experience for the audience. In genres like science fiction and fantasy, it’s even more important for everything to sound original to create an otherworldly effect.

In the case of historical pictures or modern real-life dramas, sound designers must be careful to make everything sound close to the way it does in the real world; otherwise, the discerning ears of the audience will be able to pick out things that don’t sound right. Things like popular social media alert chimes, public transportation noises, and other standard sounds that people are highly familiar with must be carefully considered.

On the other hand, there are situations when designing a film’s audio, that the correct answer isn’t the way things actually happen in reality. One classic example is the behavior of thunder and lightning. We all know that you see lightning strike before hearing the thunder because of the way light moves faster than sound. However, if you try to go for this type of hyperrealism in a movie, the audience will be thrown off. Moviegoers are so used to seeing the light and sound match up when watching a film that it creates a situation where what’s the truest to life doesn’t come across as the most realistic in a movie.

Often, what sound designers are carefully considering is if a certain sound effect makes sense for what the viewers are seeing onscreen. If a car horn sounds too deep or loud for the type of vehicle that it’s coming from, it might come across as comedic or anticlimactic. Similarly, if a car crash noise sounds too dramatic or not dramatic enough, the intensity of a scene can be completely lost. That’s why these audio professionals always must listen to every sound with a fresh perspective to consider how the audience is going to perceive it.

Do You Need a Degree to Be a Sound Designer?

It is possible to break into many of the roles in the entertainment industry without formal education, but that doesn’t mean it’s the easiest way to do so. Oftentimes, landing one of these jobs comes down to having connections in the business, and going to school is an excellent avenue for forging those connections. When every foot in the door can mean the difference between finding a job and not, it’s incredibly valuable to be in an environment where you’re surrounded by people who have real-life experience in this type of work.

Beyond the networking connections, having a formal degree communicates to production teams that you’re serious about audio design. It’s a way of making it clear before you even get into the studio how much you know and what you’re capable of. Directors and producers will be even more apt to want to work with you, knowing that you’ve put in the time, effort, and commitment, and they know to expect a strong foundation of knowledge and skill that will enrich their project and make their lives easier.

What are the Benefits of Getting a Degree in Sound Design?

Throughout the journey of earning your degree, you’ll learn everything you could imagine about recording equipment and software. So much of a sound designer’s success comes down to their ability to use the tools that are necessary to do the job. For beginners, this takes a fair amount of trial and error, and it’s not fun for anyone when you’re still in that tinkering phase while actively working on a professional production. These sound design programs allow you to play around with every piece of equipment under professional guidance, so you’ll be ready to do the serious work when your time comes.

From the educators to your peers, you’ll have inspiration and valuable information coming in from all sides. The people you learn alongside can very easily build into lasting friendships, people with whom you can collaborate and bounce ideas off, eventually forming audio projects of your own. And world-class educators are there to make sure that you’re not taking any major missteps and are there to put you on the right path in an efficient and engaging way.

While earning your degree, you’ll also have the opportunity to work in real professional environments to see what it’s actually like to be a sound designer. There’s so much that goes into being a sound designer and so much variety in the work that you really can’t know what you’re getting into until you try it for yourself. Part of the process of completing a course like this is immersing yourself into those situations to learn in a controlled, guided manner what it takes to succeed once you’re working as a real audio professional.

Final Thoughts

The best part about graduating from a sound design degree program is the career services. Once you’ve graduated, there are career services there to help you find your first job. Breaking into the industry is often the hardest part, and you’ll have career counselors to guide you through it. There’s a lot of confidence that comes from finding your first job in the industry, and it tends to get easier from there, so these career services work out to be a great asset. Get your foot in the door in sound design and get a degree today, that will set you up for success tomorrow.

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.