The Emotion of Sound
Gregory Wilson is a D.C.-based audio designer and technician who recently graduated from Recording Connection and currently serves as a member of their Program Advisory Committee. His optimism, positive attitude, and talent is propelling him towards his dream career in game development sound design.
How did you originally get interested in sound production?
I started in school for game development. I got to learn all the different factions of game development: programming, audio, 3d modeling, art and design, and writing. The one I fell in love with the most was sound design. Music and sound effects. [Integrating these effects into the world of the game] and seeing them go hand and hand with the characters. [Sound] really gives life to things. When I graduated college in early 2021, I was looking for internships, but unfortunately, because of the pandemic, I wasn’t immediately able to get a good [gig] in the game development industry. Studios were closed, people were working from home, there weren’t really internships available in my area. Studios were [only] looking for people with a lot more experience—junior and senior level positions—and sound design is one of the smaller [niches] in game development. I decided to fully [commit] to sound design, [and build a more specialized resume to help my chances].
Had they offered a sound design focus at your school?
There was a sound design focus when I was studying game development, but it was [geared towards] taking digitally created sound effects and implementing them into the game, and I wanted to record and master my own.
You’re a unique RRFC student, in that you are more drawn to sound effects and design than making traditional music. Is there something that you can point to that explains the origin of this hyper-specific interest?
I was introduced to sound design through game development. I want to have a career in the game industry. I like making music but making sound effects comes more naturally. I can see something happening in a frame and think, “this is the sound I want this to make and here are the ways I can [achieve] that and have it feel natural. [And that process is one of innovation and adaptation]. Let’s say you have someone walking through the snow. I’m not going to go and stomp around in snow to record that—I can do something like grabbing a velvet bag and rubbing it together and that [better replicates that specific sound]. One time my father accidentally bought a large amount of clay, which ended up deteriorating over time. For one project I got a bucket of these clay boulders and shook them around to make boulder noises for a “rock Gollum” boss character.
It sounds like what draws you to games specifically, is working with character and story.
Yes! One of the most important things for me in a game is that [it takes the form of] an interactive movie. You’re inserting yourself into another person’s story, their life. After making decisions for them along their hero’s journey….you feel just as fulfilled at the end as the character does.
Do you find yourself more drawn to heroes or villains?
It really depends on the character. Recently, a new God of War came where you have Kratos and his son going on their journey, but I was more connected to the story in the previous game and Balder’s story. You find out what he’s cursed with and what his mother did to him and how that’s effected his journey. The music that plays in Balder’s background as he’s confronting his mother adds a lot of extra depth to his character. This is something you see a lot in games, the intensity of this music [matching] the intensity of the characters’ emotions.
Do you ever record live sounds in the world for future use?
Yeah! I have a H4n Pro Audio Recorder and I take that out a lot. Especially if I’m on vacation I’ll take that with me. Whenever I’m in an area that I’ll think I can find something interesting I’ll break it out and see what I can find. One time, I was on the beach recording some wave sounds for my library and I got the most amazing “Wooooowwww!!!” from someone who saw a dolphin. I think they may have been drinking. It was an iconic vocal sound.
Where’d you originally hear about RRFC?
I found RRFC through [a local recording studio that I was looking for an internship at]. After speaking to someone there and learning about the program I realized this was my next step into delving deeper into audio engineering. It sounded more beneficial than a [traditional] internship.
Who was your mentor?
My mentor was Lyrion Neeley, one of the producers at [the studio]. It was absolutely fantastic working with him. It helped that I had some experience… At the time I only knew some of the basics of recording and augmenting sound and music. But Neeley helped me to understand a lot of theory that goes into music programming through DAWs, that I didn’t understand yet. Working with him, I really got to understand what I can do with the sounds I’ve created. I got to develop my personal sound.
My mentor was Lyrion Neeley, one of the producers at [the studio]. It was absolutely fantastic working with him.
Can you describe the day-to-day of your program?
I would go into the studio twice a week to have sessions with my professor. We would first discuss what I’ve [already] learned and [use that as a map for my future education]. One of my first projects was to do opening cuts for video game logos (think “Segaaa”). I had to take an animated logo and provide audio for it, with the challenge being I could only use three notes. That was my favorite things about the assignments he would give me, he would always put these challenging spins on them.
What have you been doing since you graduated last year?
I’ve had a great journey in audio since I graduated. After I graduated, I contacted career services to see what audio engineering jobs were around me. They weren’t able to find anything locally for game development, but they did find a local church in D.C. that was looking for an engineer. I ended up acquiring that position and working with them for three months. It was a lot of fun and I got a lot of hands on experience. Then a recruiting agency reached out to me on LinkedIn looking for an audio engineer, I interviewed, and I [got the position as an audio technician immediately].
As you touched on, game development, let alone sound design in game, is one of the most competitive industries on the planet, can you speak more on this?
I was going at it head on, but headfirst isn’t necessarily the way to start. You might want to start in another faction of game development and [work your way towards your field]. Once you spend enough time with your foot in the door, as a program intern or a game tester, than you can meet and network with people in the industry.
Do you have these sorts of opportunities at your current job to network toward your goals?
Yeah! I have a lot of opportunities [in my current job] to grow in the audio industry. There are even opportunities to pursue serious game development. [I want to move in that direction in house.]
Do you have any advice for someone considering Recording Connection?
If you have the opportunity, leap at it! I understand that it can be expensive for people if they don’t have the funds right now. That is fine, what you can do for free is build connections with people in your local studio and once you’re able to get those funds, jump into the RRFC program. It may seem scary once you’ve graduated, the same way it is when you graduate college, but you have to find these opportunities. It might not happen right away but be patient and continue to look for any opportunity you can to get you where you want to be. The best part is, that you might not know it yet, but there are millions of different paths that lead you to the career you want. My dream was to work in game development, now I’m working for corporate AV and there’s an opportunity now here where I can build my skills and then go back into game development with more experience. Jumping at whatever you think might help will end in your favor.
My dream was to work in game development, now I’m working for corporate AV and there’s an opportunity now here where I can build my skills and then go back into game development with more experience. Jumping at whatever you think might help will end in your favor.