Sean Doyle is a sound professional with as diverse a skillset as they come. Between music production, dialogue editing, foley, and his current work at the ABC, he cites his education and the embracing of different roles as key to his continued work.
These days, being in ‘sound’ or ‘audio’ as a profession can mean a number of things. With creative work so significant to so many industries, the demand for audio engineers, artists, and producers is skyrocketing, and at the same time, young people entering the industry are finding that the broader your skillset, the better you’ll be positioned to meet the demands of potential clients.
Sean Doyle is one figure who fits this mould. His career to date involves positions at the ABC and Fox Sports, in music production and promotion, event production, art, and more. He’s supported this with a certificate in audio engineering and most recently, a Masters of Sound at the Australian Film, Television, and Radio School (AFTRS).
We caught up with Doyle to chat all things audio, find out more about his work portfolio, and grab some advice for anyone who’d be interested in treading a similar path to his.
HAPPY: Hey Sean, How are things? What are you up to at the moment?
SEAN: Things are going well, even with lockdown. After graduating, I’ve been working non-stop on jobs from all over the sound discipline. I’ve been boom swinging Q&A at the ABC, working on Masters student films from this year’s cohort, and producing and editing podcasts. I’ve even taken advantage of other roles I’ve fallen into, like Comms Engineer for ABC studios, and helping a known cultural institution with their music content marketing strategy.
Outside of film and television, I’m also a music producer and DJ in the 8bit and hardcore scenes. I organise underground raves, and develop a series of audio-visual art works for streaming and IRL. So yeah, I have been pretty busy.
HAPPY: Can you tell us about how you first got into sound as a career?
SEAN: After working in Japan as a TESOL teacher, I returned to Australia and moved to Sydney in 2007. I was enamoured with Sydney’s experimental electronic music scene, and launched myself into electronic music production. In 2009, I did a Cert IV in audio engineering, purely to make my music better. This was my gateway into my love for sound. From there, I took an entry level position at a television station, and worked the next two years at that company trying to advance into an audio job. At last I got the role of full-time Audio Director for the Fox Sports News channel, where I mixed live news for nearly five years.
When the channel was sold, and I was made redundant, I had to rethink my career options. And after a short stint as a video automation pilot, I realised I had to seize the day and train up for my dream job, which was editing and mixing audio post-production content. So yeah, my love for sound came from wanting to make my music better, and I’ve always been curious to learn, and extend my skills.
HAPPY: You’re particularly interested in the human voice, where and when did this passion first start to form?
SEAN: I was a singer in a metal band when I was 18, and as a child always loved doing accents and silly voices. I spent years cutting vocal samples out of films for my dance tracks. So I think I accidentally taught myself dialogue editing by making music. But I’ve had the chance to refine that with TV News audio experience. Someone pointed out to me that my father was a radio announcer for 20 years and probably it is in my genes, I couldn’t help it.
HAPPY: What would be the ideal job for you? Why?
SEAN: Well, one of my dream jobs would be to work in ABC post production to be a promo producer and voiceover recordist. Saying that, I have learnt that for me, I prefer to focus on sound work that has a creative aspect, to balance the technical and creative. For this reason I still produce music, and am working in AR/VR where I think I can discover and experiment with new sound experiences. There is a big trend toward immersion and auditory perspective through ambisonic sound, made possible with the Unreal game audio engine. I am investing time in and experimenting with this, and how virtual expressions of culture and identity can change our relationships with how we see ourselves.
HAPPY: You’re doing a really broad range of work at the moment – is that useful to your skillset, or is that more just a result of being a freelancer?
SEAN: This is a really good question. I think there’s a period after school where you have to decide how much free work you are going to do, before you are ready to value your own skillset. The approach I take is that I either offer my skills for free if it’s about learning and I see it as an investment in my skillset, or charge industry rates for roles I’m experienced in. So, I do accept TV Commercial Sound Recordist roles at industry rates, but also do things like volunteer for roles like re-recording mixer. I try to avoid discounting my rate or value.
HAPPY: You’ve also completed a Masters of Sound. First, how did that evolve your technical understanding of the field, and second, did it provide any insider info as to how it works on the industry side?
SEAN: The Masters program helped me develop my craft by working with amazing up-and-coming creatives, being pushed by my teachers, and having an environment that reflected what it would be like in the industry. The course was often focused on emulating the working conditions of the professional industry. This helped me identify which part of the production chain I want to focus on, and even introduced me to a few roles I hadn’t explored.
I got to work on three great projects with some of the best student directors in the country; Izzy Khan, Jenny Hicks, and Jayden Rathsam Hua. My sound teachers Stephen Murphy and Mark Ward drove us to consider possibilities for innovation in cutting-edge technologies like 3D sound. These ambisonic sound explorations opened my mind to the potential of immersion and auditory perspectives afforded by this emerging tech. It’s really inspiring, and I’d love to pay it forward by teaching the subject in the future. Also, you start to feel incredibly grateful for the Mix Theatre. That room is incredible!
I still need to complete an internship. It would be my dream to work in one of the sound-post houses, like Big Bang Sound Design, Cutting Edge, or Spectrum Films, because they represent the best of the Australian film industry. I aim to keep trying for an internship or entry level position there.
HAPPY: Do you think making connections is an important part of undertaking formal study in a creative field?
SEAN: Absolutely. I hope that I’ve made some lifelong connections through the course. The strategies of choosing your collaborators in the Masters course were vital in making sure your learning and personal goals were met. I love working and contributing to creative teams, as I love working with some amazing up-and-coming artists, like composer Scott Majidi, production designer Calum Wilson-Austin, director David Robinson-Smith, and documentary director Adam Finney.
I love the idea of receiving further mentorship, and I’m equally really open in helping other people starting out in sound, and sharing some of my experience. So yeah, working collaboratively, also supporting your peers so they can gain experience, and critically analysing your heroes is pretty important to my approach.
HAPPY: What kind of work do you have coming up?
SEAN: Well I am juggling paid work and investing my free time in projects I can train up on. I am editing podcasts from home, doing digital marketing for those podcasts, have three short films I’m doing foley for this year, have freelance TV audio work for ABC and others, launching a new music collective in Sydney, and developing a new AV/VR installation I’m super excited about. I mean, would my career be simpler if I could stick to one discipline? Probably! Haha. But I’m not creatively enriched by that process. How can you explore the potential interconnectedness of disparate concepts, if you accept the box they put you in?
HAPPY: Solid answer! And to finish, do you have any advice to someone who might just be getting started along a similar career path to you?
SEAN: There’s probably a million things I could say. If you treat your peers as competition, they won’t drag you up, they’ll just push you down. Other than that, be comfortable in your own skin, as in, be comfortable with self-critique without being self destructive. Value your own taste, it’s what got you here. Your work won’t compare to your idols, and that’s ok. That’s because you have impeccable taste in idols. In the future, if you keep practicing your craft, you will have the experience and skills to express your taste like they can.
Learn from everyone. Be comfortable accepting that the opposite of what you think is true. Ask for help. Pass on and be generous with your experience. Balance paid work with dream work. Challenge yourself creatively every time. And contribute to independent creative team projects, as they are what drives innovation.
Applications for the 2022 Sound Program at AFTRS are now open. Find out more here.