Game Audio Career Advice from Grandma
Building a successful career making music and sound effects for video games is hard work.
If you're like me, you have to persevere through a boatload of stress, self-doubt, imposter syndrome, etc...
The struggle is real.
While time management techniques, confidence-boosting negotiation tactics, and a mindset for success all play an important role in your career development, today I want to share with you a few nuggets of wisdom that you might not expect from a business blog.
That's because it's the kind of advice that comes from grandma...
Grandma knows what's best
Are You Eating Enough?
Freelancing and running your own business can really drain you.
Some days you just feel like you've hit a wall and couldn't possibly get any more work done.
Can't... keep... working....
While not being 100% all day every day is totally normal, it can cause undue stress when you've got a looming deadline or worse, when you've got no work coming in and you feel like you can't possibly take a break with no paying projects on your plate.
When that's the case, many of us focus on the stress and assume the answer to our problem must be related to stress management.
If we're not careful, we can even start telling ourselves stories about how we're "not cut out for this" or "just not good enough".
The problem, however, may not be psychological but physiological.
Have you ever felt tired, sluggish, or foggy after eating a big meal?
Perhaps you've noticed a considerable decline in your mood when you're hungry?
We all know how food can affect the way we feel.
And yet many of us don't make the connection between food and our energy levels/mental performance.
Gotta get that green stuff.
Just like quality music and sound design benefits from fantastic source material, the quality of raw materials that your body has to work with dictates how well you will perform on a day-to-day basis both physically and cognitively.
Not eating enough or eating food low in nutritional value leaves your brain and body starved for the nutrients it needs to perform at peak levels for prolonged periods of time.
You might not connect what you put on your plate for dinner with your work, but you should.
There are lots of studies showing how poor diet is connected to low energy, poor performance, increased risk of depression, etc...
I'm not here to be your personal health coach, but if you find you don't have the energy to make it through the workday, maybe you just need a snack.
Yes, a snack. No, not like this.
I personally keep a stash of nuts around my desk for when I feel a little low.
It's a quick and healthy way to inject my system with a little boost of energy when the tank is empty.
Try placing a healthy snack at your desk and see if that can help you beat the blues the next time you are feeling tired.
If you still have energy issues, maybe try switching up your breakfast or lunch routine.
When your body doesn't have the right input, the output will be equally poor.
As the classic recording studio saying goes, "garbage in, garbage out".
Maybe You Should Get Some Rest
It probably comes as no surprise to you that sleep supports nearly every system in our body.
The rejuvenation provided by sleep is vital to our ability to think clearly, learn new information, and manage our emotions.
In fact, it has been proven that driving while drowsy is equally as dangerous as driving drunk.
None of us would get behind the wheel after drinking, so why would we show up to work on our business in an equally precarious state?
Natural Sleep Cycle or Sleep Deprivation?
We've all heard of early birds and night owls.
Some people really do enjoy their best hours of mental performance in the middle of the night or after getting up at 5AM.
Whatever your particular routine may be or the amount of sleep you need to function well, it's important to simply be honest with yourself about what works for you and what doesn't.
In some circles, it's become kind of a weird flex to brag about how late you were working, as if being useless and accomplishing little at your desk for 16 hours is better than getting a solid 6-8 hours of productive work in and enjoying the rest of your day.
Don't fall for that stuff. That's not cool.
Good for you...? I guess...?
Many of us are also totally out of wack with our natural sleeping rhythm because of the light-producing activities we enjoy late into the night without noticing how tired we get.
If you want to combat issues with your sleep, there are two things you can implement right now that will probably help:
1 | Wake up at the same time every day.
Going to sleep at the same time every night is difficult.
Depending on how active you were during the day, you may or may not be tired at the same time in the evening nor will you need the same amount of sleep to recuperate from each day's work.
When you wake up consistently at the same time, however, your body starts to understand that rhythm and it will be better prepared to give you signals in the evening to tell you when you need to rest in order to start the next day at the same time as usual.
2 | Turn off the electronics
I know you've heard this before, but that artificial light is totally screwing with your brain.
The world has become increasingly more digital and we all know how hard it can be to get away from our devices sometimes.
I have a simple trick that works for me:
When I feel a little tired or find myself yawning in the evening, I turn off the phone or computer screen and relax my eyes for a few minutes.
That little break from the light (especially when it's a light you're holding right in front of your face; hello smartphone) is often enough for my body to hit me with those heavy nighttime signals when I'm truly tired.
If I don't find feel an overwhelming desire to run to bed, I let myself continue whatever I was doing.
That being said, I'm personally a huge fan of reading some good fiction before bed to relax my eyes after a day full of screen time and let my brain wind down before turning in for the night.
But you know... you do you.
A nice read with my teddy and then it's off to dreamland.
Go Play Outside With Your Friends
Another plague of being a freelancer and running your own business is its tendency to completely envelope your life.
Especially when things are difficult, many of us default to "I just need to work more" mode and let everything else fall by the wayside.
"Never get so busy making a living that you forget to make a life."
Believe me, I know that burning desire to make your business work and the feeling of wanting to give it your all to achieve that goal.
It's ironic therefore to consider that ignoring your social life and locking yourself inside all day actually leads to less productivity and worse work outcomes.
Recharge Your Battery
Working long hours tends to reduce your level of fitness, play havoc with your diet, and put stress on your mind and body.
And loneliness and social isolation are linked to poorer health, depression, and increased risk of early death.
Scary stuff, I know.
For your short-term work performance and long-term well-being, you must stay active and connect with people.
Am I suggesting you start running marathons and become a extroverted socialite?
What I am suggesting, is that if those extra hours at work keep you from hitting at least the minimum criteria for fitness and stimulating social activity, you're actually reducing your chances for success, not increasing them.
If you're like me, you will always find a way to slip back into work mode if you don't check yourself.
That's why I use the simple trick of putting fitness and social time on the calendar.
Whether it's dinner with a friend on the weekend or a morning yoga session every Tuesday & Thursday, putting things in the calendar somehow always seems to make the commitment more serious for me.
If that works for you, cool.
Otherwise, try out other methods until you find the best solution for your life.
Everybody knows that grandma knows best.
And it turns out all that tried-and-true advice can be supported by solid scientific research.
Since the game audio community is in many ways like a family to me, I hope you enjoy the familial metaphors I've used in this post.
As I've mentioned before, your life and work are not separate entities.
The choices you make in one affect the other.
A holistic approach to all aspects of your business and personal plans is the best way to achieve your goals and build the kind of life you want for yourself.
Now go grab a snack, take a nap, or maybe phone a friend.
It just might be the boost you need to make your game audio career stronger than ever!
Hi, I’m Ben Gallagher.
After struggling for many years to make it as a game audio freelancer, I created The Game Audio Pro with the goal of helping others understand the fundamental business skills that are often the difference between success and failure for freelancers.
If you're ready to take your game audio career to the next level, download my guide to The Most Important Mindset for Game Audio Success.