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[What are the key things you need to work as a video game audio lead? LucasArts' Jesse Harlin picks the 'three Rs' that he thinks game audio managers need to have, in a column originally published in Game Developer magazine.]
Previously, we've talked about making the jump from freelancer to on-staff sound designer. Being on staff eventually brings with it assent up the rungs of the corporate ladder. With enough years and completed titles under your proverbial belt, the opportunity to lead a project will inevitably present itself.
While the temptation of a higher salary and an increasingly impressive resume can be a powerful draw, and while all audio leads need to have a rock-solid understanding of the process and pitfalls of sound design, the role of audio lead is actually a radically different one than that of sound designer.
At its core, the job of audio lead is a management position and with management comes an entirely new set of expectations and job requirements-frequently at the expense of actual sound design.
While titles, companies, and personalities will vary greatly, the common facets of all audio lead positions fall into three separate categories that we'll refer to here as The Three Rs: Resources, Representation, and Responsibility.
As a good friend of mine describes his job, the audio lead is responsible for everything that comes out of the speakers. This means that simply having folders full of music, voice, and sound effects assets on a hard drive or checked into Perforce isn't enough.
The company is relying on the audio lead to make sure that those assets make their way out of the speakers at the highest quality level possible while coming in on time, on budget, and conforming to all necessary console compliance specifications.
To accomplish all of these goals, an audio lead has to become proficient at juggling resources.
Unless the game is small, the audio lead will most likely need a support staff of at least one additional sound designer. Larger games require elaborate audio teams that can include both on-staff sound designers and teams of outside contractors.
Regardless of the size of the team, the audio lead is responsible for a staffing plan that realistically determines the number of designers, when those designers roll on to and off of the project, and which is flexible enough to change if the needs or scope of the project changes during the development cycle.
This might mean coordinating with human resources and top management to interview and audition new hires.
Manpower isn't the only resource audio leads track. It also falls to the audio lead to decide what audio engine will be used. This decision might mean going with an established piece of tech that has been in use at the company for years.
Even then, some changes to the tech may be needed, and the audio lead is responsible for specifying these changes to engineering staff. If no tech exists, the audio lead will need to either evaluate available commercial middleware or spec out the design of new internal technology.
Lastly, the audio lead is responsible for daily administrative work. This could be anything from early pre-production documentation such as milestone roadmaps or Microsoft Project files to assigning designers audio bugs to signing timecards and answering the inevitable mountain of email.