Undergraduate Sound Design student, Alanah Walker, talks about why she loves sound design and where she wants to be in the future
I love film, and have based my career on it
I’m Alanah and I study BSc (Hons) Sound Design at Edinburgh Napier University. I live just outside of Edinburgh with my parents, sister, and two younger brothers. I spend a lot of my time working on university and freelance projects. However, when I’m not busy with that, I enjoy painting landscapes to relax in my spare time. I also go running, rowing and kick boxing for the mental benefits this gives me.
I am also really interested in cars as well as automobile audio. I love driving my car, and the freedom it gives me.
I love music too. From metal, to singer songwriters, to dance music. I love going to gigs too. I went to Download festival last year and can’t wait to go next year to see Kiss, Iron Maiden and System of a Down.
I also spend a lot of time with my family – I enjoy going for drives and taking my siblings out for day trips.
And of course, I also love film. I have based my career on it. Mulan, Citizen Kane and Bride of Frankenstein are my favourite films, but I love the horror genre most and am centring my Honours project on this.
I progressed from my HND in Sound Production, and when I read about the course and discussed it with the programme leader, I decided Edinburgh Napier was for me
My strongest subject in high school was music technology. I was lucky enough to attend a school which offered this subject. Without this, I don’t know where I would be today. I took my interest in this to Edinburgh College to study a National Certificate in Sound Production when I finished my Highers, aged 16.
While attending Edinburgh College having progressed to HND Sound Production, we had the freedom to base our Graded Unit work on anything sound-related.
Therefore, I chose to specialise in sound design for live-action film as it was a new area that interested me, and I utilised all the skills I had spent 3 years at college developing.
There were progression routes from my HND in Sound Production at Edinburgh College to study sound design at Edinburgh Napier University. I was unfortunately unable to attend the open day, but I read about Edinburgh Napier’s sound design course, and heard more about it during my interview with the programme leader, and decided it was for me.
I love horror films in particular
I love horror films and like the cinematography and mood it creates. I like Dracula in particular because I visited Whitby a lot as a child which is where Bram Stoker was inspired to write the Dracula novel. I have tattoos of Dracula, Whitby Abbey, and the lighthouse in Whitby.
I want to see my name in the credits of a big budget movie on the big screen
I am motivated by the idea of having a successful career as a sound designer and the stability it will bring to my life. I will be able to get a nice house and a fancy car, as well as be able to provide for my family.
Another big motivation to progress, is seeing my name in the credits of a big budget movie on the big screen. It’s a feeling unlike any other, and that’s from just seeing my name in the credits of an independent film on a cinema screen.
To help me achieve this life goal, I have an industry contact from a mentoring scheme I participated in called Music Plus. Music Plus organised shadow days and mentoring in sound design for me. I am still in touch with the man who oversaw this scheme and we have worked together since. He recently helped me to re-draft my CV and I am sending my CV to post-production companies along with tailored cover letters to get my foot in the door of post-production companies and help gain a graduate job.
I want to remove the stigma of females working in the industry and normalise the idea to men and women
In my three years in college and one year in university, I have only ever met six other female students over 4 academic years. This is reflected by sound department credits you see at the end of a film if you watch till the end. I really want to make a name for myself as a sound designer and for people to be impressed by my skills. This is particularly important in a male-dominated industry to me – I want to remove the stigma of females working in the industry and normalise the idea to men and women. This motivates me to work hard in order to be competitive with my skillset to male counterparts. I hope this paves the way for other women entering the industry.
My greatest achievement thus far is being selected to specialise in sound for a national course run by the British Film Institute at the National Film and Television School
My greatest achievement thus far is being selected to specialise in sound for a national course ran by the British Film Institute at the National Film and Television School. I spent two weeks working on a film which was screened at the BFI Southbank cinema.
Another thing I am proud of is the fact that I am registered as a freelance sound designer and have professional business cards with graphics which match my social media.
My biggest challenge is having anxiety, it used to make networking very difficult
My biggest challenge by far is having anxiety. This used to make networking really difficult for me. I don’t struggle as much these days as I forced myself out of my comfort zone so much and so often in order to help tackle this.
I even went to the opening party for the 2019 Edinburgh International Film Festival (EIFF) and networked there which opened some really great doors for me. While there, I bumped into my mentor and he invited me to see the UK premier of a film he scored which was playing as part of the EIFF. After the screening he invited me to the networking event afterwards where I met some really interesting contacts. Currently I am organising a tour of Abbey Road Studios as I met a composer who has a contact there.
I have developed my research skills at university, to become more employable
I have learned how to find and read interesting academic papers/podcasts/articles so that I have the research skills in order to craft interesting, relevant, and researched sound design, making me more employable and less expendable.
I spend most if my time on the Jack Kilby Computing Centre which has a good vibe and communal feeling
I live at home on the East Coast, so I think my experience is different to most other people’s, especially those close to the city centre who have good transport links.
My favourite things to do in Edinburgh include visiting cocktail bars, shopping, and relaxing in Princes Street Gardens when the weather is nice.
I also don’t spend much time in University, but when I do, it’s usually in the Jack Kilby Computing Centre which has a good vibe to it. Everyone is usually in the same boat, especially around deadline time - stressed and working hard - so it has a communal feeling to it, and I am always productive when I go there. It’s fantastic because it’s open 24/7 too.
You need to be willing to put the work into your degree to get far
Getting a degree in sound design simply is not enough to succeed as a sound designer. It may get you an interview, but that’s all. You need to be willing to put the work into your degree, as well as network and complete external/freelance projects, otherwise you can’t expect to get far. The industry is all about networking and who you know, so developing a strong skillset, as well as a strong network, will give you the best chances of succeeding.
I’m currently looking for a grad job or work placement, and I plan to make a fresh showreel
I am currently looking for a grad job and seeking shadow days/placements in Edinburgh and Glasgow post-production houses.
I also plan to make a fresh show reel to reflect my current skillset.
Also, I hope to complete a postgraduate degree in sound design at the National Film & Television School at some point in the far future.
Former Sound Design student Janette, discusses her time at Edinburgh Napier
I studied an online Masters degree in Sound Design at Edinburgh Napier University and graduated in 2019.
I wanted to keep learning about sound design techniques
My background before taking my online degree course was mainly studying for my bachelors in Digital Music Production Engineering in Mexico City, where I graduated with distinction.
After university, I worked in a variety of audio production roles and then made the decision to do a postgraduate degree because I wanted to keep learning about sound and explore different sound design techniques.
I liked the course structure at Edinburgh Napier and the opportunity you get to hear from experienced lecturers
I chose to study at Edinburgh Napier because I really liked the course structure for Sound Design, and the opportunity to hear from guest lecturers who have wide-ranging experience in different fields of sound design.
Highlights of my studies
During the interactive media module, I created an Interactive Zen Garden, which allows people to interact with different plants and depending on where they placed their hands on a particular plant, different sounds could be heard and some parameters were modified.
I also enjoyed working on my dissertation, which involved me learning a lot about Virtual reality and sound for Virtual Reality.
Through my dissertation, I had the opportunity to talk to many sound professionals with past experience in that field and that helped me a lot and encouraged me to step out of my comfort zone in order to meet and interview them.
While writing, and creating the sounds that I needed for the dissertation, I learned a lot and I enjoyed the whole process. Dr Iain McGregor gave me invaluable insights and recommendations about my dissertation.
Having the opportunity to travel to Edinburgh and receive my diploma, and being part of the graduation ceremony was the best part of it all!
Get out of your comfort zone and succeed
The biggest challenge for me when studying my masters was to get out of my comfort zone. During some modules, I collaborated with new people and worked with them on projects.
Other things were also different between my Undergraduate and my Postgraduate courses. For example, my Undergraduate course was a face-to-face program in Mexico City, while my Postgraduate course was an online degree.
An online course requires a lot of discipline in order to attend the lessons and keeping in touch frequently with my lecturers. This taught me how to study on my own with some guidance, tools and material given to me by the lecturers.
The most valuable knowledge I got from the course was the feedback from lecturers
For me, the course gave me the skills and experience that I needed in order to take the next step in my career. The most valuable knowledge I got from the course was through feedback and suggestions from the lecturers, which gave me the confidence to keep on learning and improving even after the degree ended.
The guest lectures were eye-opening and very valuable
My advice to anyone considering doing the course would be to do it! The course will help you in your professional career.
Receiving guidance and feedback from supervisors and tutors was really helpful. The guest lectures were also really eye-opening and of course, talking to people with a lot of experience in the field is very valuable.
I’m going to keep working in the field of sound design for advertisement and continue to learn more about sound for Virtual Reality and games in general, so that I can one day get a job in a videogame company.