Different jobs at a post-production sound studio

If you’re looking to build a career in post-production sound (sound for picture like television, film, web) there’s two primary routes:

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  • Work for yourself
  • Work for a facility that specializes in post-production sound

There’s advantages and disadvantages to both. If you don’t have a lot of experience, working for yourself could mean high competition for low budget projects with varying quality level. At the same time, it can be good experience to do all the sound jobs yourself.

The main advantages of starting out at a facility is:

  • You get to work with professionals which means more learning opportunities and relationships to help you in the future
  • You'll probably get better credits than the projects you land on your own. Having credits will help if you decide to go freelance later
  • You'll have the security of having a job (and knowing where your next gig will come from)
  • You’ll get exposed to a lot of different projects, styles, and people. All of this is good for your chops
  • Even if you may not get a lot of hands-on experience for a while, there's a ton to learn observing

The main disadvantages of starting out at a facility:

  • It can be a lot of grunt work and long hours
  • You may spend more time out of the studio (helping with operations and tech) than in it 
  • It can possibly take years to move into hands-on roles like engineer or re-recording mixer

The jobs at a post-production sound facility typically include:

PA: A “production assistant” is someone who aids in daily operations. On an average day, you might be making coffee, answering phones or sitting at the front desk, stocking the kitchen with snacks, studios with supplies, running errands (picking up food, supplies, hard drives to and from clients), taking out trash.

You may be one of the first ones to the studio in the morning and last to leave.  PAs don’t get to hang out in sessions much (unless it’s allowed off the clock) but there’s a lot you can learn just being around. PAs are hired as employees. PAs may be interns who were promoted or people who applied from outside the company. PA jobs are high demand and studios get a lot of applicants since it’s the “foot in the door” job.

Intern: Interns often do the same duties as a PA but may get more opportunities because they aren’t getting paid. An intern might get to sit in on sessions or do occasional light work (like sound editing). Interns come and go more frequently than PAs and there is no guarantee of getting hired. I know people who waited it out in internships for over a year (without pay!) before moving into a paid PA position. Unfortunately, some studios abuse the intern status so it’s important to ask questions to make sure it’s not just a PA job without pay.

Assistant (also called A2, assistant engineer, or machine room operator): Assistants help support the technical operations of the studio. If an engineer or mixer has an issue they call an assistant to help. Job duties might be troubleshooting computer or gear issues, setting up and testing mics, opening and splitting AAFs, prepping Protools sessions, file management/archiving, tape laybacks, quality control, and receiving/sending files to clients.

The way assistants tend to move up is slowly getting opportunities at the studio. These can be things like engineering sessions, doing sound editing, or small mixing projects (in addition to his/her normal job the rest of the time). Assistants are usually employees. If you’re an assistant who can engineer, edit, handle your own tech support and know the day to day operations of a studio you’re truly an indispensable employee. An assistant could be a promoted PA or intern but may come from the outside.

Sound editor: sometimes sound editors are role specific (dialog editor, sound designer, Foley editor) or sometimes a single sound editor covers all of those roles. Sound editors can be employees or freelancers. Sound editors are increasingly expected to know how to do detailed audio repair (using software like Izotope RX).

There still is a hierarchy of sound editors. Entry level sound editors may only do simple tasks like cutting background sound fx, edit recorded Foley, or light sound design (these may be called "assistant sound editors"). Lead editors get to do the heavy creative lifting. Sound editors can be trained and promoted from within or come from outside the company. Freelancers are expected to already have some editing experience/credits and possibly work off-site. Side note: A "Music Editor" (by title) is not an employee of a post-production studio. Those jobs fall under music/music editing companies.

Engineer: there’s generally three types of engineering gigs in post-production: recording voice-over, ADR, and Foley. Some facilities have dedicated engineers and sometimes engineering duties are part of other jobs. For example, a mixer may record VO as part of his/her mix session.

Some engineers are hired freelance by the session or project and others are employees. Freelancers are expected to have engineering experience/credits already.

Sound supervisor: the sound supervisor oversees the sound process. He/she may be involved with scheduling or delegating work to sound editors. If there’s questions (technical or creative) before the mix, the sound supervisor is the person in the know or who will communicate with the client to find out. Traditionally, the sound supervisor has a meeting or spotting session (watching down a project to take notes and ask questions) with a director or picture editor. The supervisor also attends ADR sessions and the mix. Unfortunately, sound supervisor is one of the first jobs to go or gets combined into other positions if there’s budget constraints. Some studios don’t have a designated sound supervisor, either - sometimes a lead assistant or lead sound editor handles similar duties but doesn’t hold the title.

Re-recording mixer: this is the person responsible for taking all of the elements of a mix (VO, edited dialog, recorded/edited ADR and Foley, sound design, music) and blend them together. Mixers are at the top of the hierarchy (in terms of sound jobs and pay) but along with that comes more responsibility; You're the point person with a client, which can be stressful at times.

Re-recording mixer work is increasingly becoming freelance/contract but full-time opportunities do exist. Freelancer mixers generally are expected to already have significant experience and credits and, in some cases, bring their own clients to a facility.

Important people to know behind the scenes

Operations manager: Oversees day-to-day tasks and handles issues at the studio (with clients and employees). He/she is involved with other aspects of the business such as accounting, sales, scheduling, HR, etc. Usually the studio owner is not the operations manager so these two people work closely together.

Scheduler: Scheduling coordinates client bookings and also books freelancers for sessions. Sometimes the scheduler is also the operations manager. It’s in a freelancer’s best interest to have a good relationship with the scheduler since he/she may get to choose who to call for a session.

Sales: You probably won’t see a good salesperson at the studio all the time. It’s in your benefit to get to know the sales people, though, since they generally have a lot of relationships in the industry.

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