Tyler Gillis, a CAT Audio Engineering and Production alumni, is making a name for himself in audio. In this blog post, he talks to AEP Department Head Chris Holmes about his journey since graduating in 2016.
Chris Holmes: Can you please give an overview of who you are, what your company is called, and what services you provide?
Tyler Gillis: My name is Tyler Gillis, and I am the founder of ‘Aftertouch Audio’. We offer a wide range of services for both films and video games including: Sound Implementation, Sound Editing, Sound Design, Foley Recording, Sound Mixing, ADR Recording, Location Sound, and Dialogue Editing.
We also offer a wide range of services outside of the visual entertainment industry including: Audio Books, Sounds for Theme Park Rides, Batch File Processing, Audio Forensics, & Live Action Sound Design.
CH: What was the most challenging part of starting out in the industry?
TG: The most challenging part I went through when starting as a Sound Designer is making and maintaining your connections.
As a freelancer, I’ve always said that 70% of my actual job is looking for work and maintaining my connections; the other 30% is actually doing audio work. Anywhere from 70-80% of my income is based on word of mouth and repeat business so being able to keep in touch with your clients and keep them happy is crucial to being a freelancer in the audio industry.
CH: What was your “turning point” moment when you were able to see your career taking off?
TG: The turning point in my career was really just having the courage to leave my 9-5 job and taking that “leap of faith” (Into The Spider Verse).
Now, this is not something that I would recommend everyone do as I had built up several repeat clients over the years while working a full-time job, often working well over 100 hours a week just to juggle both sound design jobs and my full time job.
When I had finally quit my job I only had $37 in my bank account, so I was in no way financially stable to quit, but having built up that work ethic of over a 100 hour work week I was able to light that fire under myself and find projects to work on.
You’d be surprised how much you can get done when you have 100 hours a week of “free time” and nothing else to focus on.
Now that I am here though, I have some weeks where I work 10 hours a week, but I also have some weeks where I work 50-80 hours – just depends on what comes up or what my motivation levels are that week. Keep in mind that this is also very different life style than working in a studio doing the same work.
CH: What project would you say you’re the most proud of?
As a freelancer, I’ve always said that 70% of my actual job is looking for work and maintaining my connections; the other 30% is actually doing audio work.”
TG: The project that I am currently most proud of is ‘Heartbeat of The River’. This documentary was about the life journey of a salmon from birth to death. There were a lot of atmospheric & natural sounds within this film that needed to be cut in as well as some really cool sound design moments like a single salmon egg hatching.
This film also has gone on to win countless awards in several festivals around the world and it was an honor to be a part of this project.
CH: What would you describe as the most rewarding part of what you do?
TG: The most rewarding part of what I do as a freelance sound designer is also the worst part of what I do. I have a lot of free time in between projects as I work solely on contracts, which means I have a lot of time that I can take to myself, which can be a good thing; but this can also be a bad thing as you always need to have that fire burning under you so you don’t fall behind when looking for new work.
CH: What would you describe as the least rewarding part of what you do?
TG: Easily the least rewarding part of what I do is BGs (Ambient Sound Designs). This is the area in sound design that I am super passionate about but often goes unnoticed by your clients.
In my opinion, being able to create detailed BGs can take a project from an amateur level to a pro-level almost instantly. BGs can take a lot of time to get correct and stand out on their own without being too distracting.
If you want a good example of what an amazing BG track sounds like, try watching the first few minutes of Season 10: Episode 17 of The Walking Dead.
CH: You’re currently wearing a lot of different hats, from Sound Designer, to Foley Artist, to Sound Recordist, and even doing Forensic and Salvage Audio work. How do you keep a balance between the different requirements of these jobs, and how do you manage your time when multiple different overlapping jobs come up?
TG: While I do wear a lot of different hats, these hats rarely cross over with one another. If I find myself getting overwhelmed with work, I do have some friends within the Audio Industry that I trust and can hire to help get me out of a pinch.
For example, If I have a decent sized project with a tighter deadline, I might source out the Foley and Mixing to a friend of mine so I can focus on things that I enjoy doing; or sometimes I’m working on two things at once and I just want to mix the 2nd project, so I’ll source out everything else.
As a freelancer, you tend to do everything and you tend to have many different hats, but it is also very important to know as a freelancer how much work you can take on yourself without losing hair and knowing when you need help to finish a project.
Keep in mind that Hollywood-style films usually have a team of foley artists, a team of sound designers a team of mixers, and a team of people that just handle dialogue. So being a freelancer you tend to do it all or you get signed on to be a part of a team.
CH: What would you say is a currently over-saturated market for audio?
TG: Sound Effects libraries are 100% over-saturated, and most of what you find out there is complete crap. Ambiances are 15-20 seconds long instead of 7-25 minutes long, files don’t contain metadata, sounds are all processed the same and sound too similar to one another, source files have long fade in and fade out, or just the sample rate is not high enough, I could go on and on about this.
While it is true you can make a good chunk of side change in the Sound Effects Library industry, and it is important to know how to record your own sound effects for your own sound effects library.
This industry can be a tough one to break into as anyone with a microphone nowadays can create a “sample library”.
CH: What would you say is a currently under-saturated market for audio?
TG: Good ‘Location Sound’ people are really hard to find nowadays. If you know how to operate a boom, how to mic up talent, and have your own equipment, you won’t have an issue finding work.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve received poorly recorded audio that ends up taking 2-3 extra days alone to clean up which ends up hiking up the post-production audio budget quite a bit. “Fix it in post – am I right”?
CH: Where do you see audio moving in the next 10 years?
TG: This is a hard question to answer as audio as an industry has not changed much in the last decade. The new compressor is out, the new EQ, the new reverb, TG:or the new lav microphone is out, but really, they are all very small updates, or sometimes they are just the same product repackaged.
The biggest thing to happen really was we are moving away from analog consoles to completely digital systems.
With that being said, the biggest thing I can see changes in the audio industry is Ambisonic audio for film. Ambisonics has been used in video games now for decades but in a different way and it is starting to make its way within the film industry and on popular social media platforms like YouTube.
When I got my first job working with Ambisonics there was not an established workflow yet, so I had to figure things out and ended up building an X/Y controller that I placed on the top of my headphones. This controller would rotate the picture based on which direction my head was looking. This ‘in my mind’ was the best way I could come up with to check my mix the way an audience member would experience it instead of having to use my mouse to rotate the picture.
Long-winded answer, but the short form is I think Ambisonics becoming more standard practice.
CH: If you could go back to your first quarter at CAT, what advice would you give yourself?
The project that I am currently most proud of is ‘Heartbeat of The River’. There were a lot of atmospheric & natural sounds within this film that needed to be cut in as well as some really cool sound design moments. This film also has gone on to win countless awards in several festivals around the world and it was an honor to be a part of this project.”
TG: Make sure you have a solid foundation of the basics of audio plugins.
I found myself networking more than really understanding what things like a compressor or reverb actually did. I mean I knew that a compressor squashed the sound and reverb made things washy, but in school, I found myself relying on the “preset names” than actually understanding what was going on within the preset so I could make better decisions mix wise and it would have saved me a lot of time post-school.
CH: What advice would you give to someone trying to break into the world of audio?
TG: It is less about what you know and more about who you know. Friends enjoy working with friends, and if people enjoy working with you then they are more than likely to work with you again.
Spend some of your free time trying to teach yourself new things about the tools you use or redesign a film you enjoy, I can’t tell you how many jobs I’ve gotten by just taking a trailer that a smaller indie studio had cut together, redoing the sounds for it and then send it back to them.
Love your craft and love what you do, and you’ll find that the work will tend to find you.
Words: Chris Holmes