Jason Cushing listens. The Bellingham, Washington native attended the Art Institute in Vancouver, BC, before moving to New York to hone his craft, and he’s now been engineering audio for 16 years in Vancouver, New York, Toronto, and Montreal. He worked for Fox Studios, before taking a job as an engineer in Vancouver for Electronic Arts, then moved on to BioWare studios in Edmonton, where he pitched in on games including Mass Effect 2. More recently, Cushing started SoundMorph, his own sound-effects company, and has since exited the video game world to focus on his business full-time. We caught up with Cushing, who is currently based in Montreal, to talk about his career, the challenges facing engineers, and what trends he’s seeing in the audio industry.
Jason Cushing in the studio
Punching the Clock
“My first gig out of school was pretty grueling,” says Cushing. “Back in the early 2000s, computers were still a pretty new thing to recording studios, so we did a lot of backups to DAT machines and other ancient technologies. One of my main jobs starting out was just writing down take numbers and timecodes during voice recordings, for 8-12 hours per day. If that doesn’t turn you into a robot, I’m not sure what will! But everyone has to start somewhere.
Sinematic – Stutter Risers 06 by Soundmorph
“It took me nearly eight years of grinding my way through studios until I was actually making some decent cash. That might not be the path for everyone, but it was for me. Finally, in 2007, I was offered work with Electronic Arts working on the Skate and Skate 2 games. After that, I worked at BioWare on Mass Effect 2, and spent a few years as a senior sound designer in mobile games here in Montreal, before founding SoundMorph.”
Patience Is a Prerequisite
“Like any industry, to be really good takes time,” says Cushing. “So getting to a point with connections in the industry, skills, and a sprinkle of luck, for sure took time — at least for me, anyway! The toughest part was being patient and continuing to work hard and not lose hope. It took me years of pestering EA until they finally hired me, and some guys got positions right out of school. I remember thinking, ‘What’s a guy gotta do to get into this place?!’ It’s not only time — creative industries are highly competitive as well. Who doesn’t want to work on sound for Star Wars, or create an engaging soundscape for the newest Electronic Arts game?”
The Future of Sound
“In the past five years, plugins and software have really taken off in an exciting direction for sound,” Cushing enthuses. “There are many more audio programmers and sound designers out there creating than ever before. And they’re making some amazing tools, drums, synths — anything you can think of sound-wise. The gear we have access to now is just really endless. I think it will be fun to see more integration of gesture-controlled hardware and software, where you can actually control audio with movements with either your body or an Oculus Rift. Adding life to sound by having more control over it is something I think produces more of an emotional connection with the end result, as well.
“I haven’t worked on any VR yet, but I’m sure I will soon. Sound is going to become more and more interactive as time goes on. Games were really the beginning of interactive sound — you pull the trigger on a gun and it shoots. You have the control to make the sound. That’s a thrilling feeling. For VR, audio will become even more relevant and nuanced.”
Insights for Emerging Engineers
“If I have to pick just one piece of advice, it’s this: Don’t give up. You’re going to be generally facing a steep uphill battle getting into a workplace where you really want to be. However, I do suggest picking somewhere you hold in high regard, and going for that place. What’s the point in settling for less?
“There’s a huge amount to learn from working at companies with others, but never be afraid to strike out on your own, as well,” Cushing adds. “Being that I am a somewhat recent entrepreneur myself, I can tell you that there’s no feeling of freedom like being in charge of your own destiny, not relying on a company for a paycheck, and being your own boss. It’s great! But you need to have skills and experience to get to that point as well. Trying to become an entrepreneur before you’re ready is a foolish choice.”
It’s Not What’s in Your Studio, It’s Who
“I get asked this question quite a bit actually: ‘What’s in your studio right now?’ Obsession is a funny thing in this industry. And while I do think it helps in quite a few professional situations, I also feel that it’s not the gear that makes the sound good; it’s the person behind the gear. For example, I doubt musicians like Jimi Hendrix or Kurt Cobain had a ton of gear at their disposal when they started out. You know what they did have? Determination and passion. So, just keep that in mind if you’re starting out!”