“It might sound really simple, but by the time I’m retired I want to be able to look back and say with 100% certainty that I’ve done exactly what I enjoy.”
This is what Sam Carson tells me when talking about what drives him in the industry and more broadly, in life. That kind of sentiment was the reason for him to take a sharp turn before finding Jungle Studios where he is a sound engineer at its non-advertising sound design department The Attic.
In Falmouth University Sam pursued an undergraduate degree in animation and visual effects, but he soon realised his passion lies elsewhere. In fact, he only stuck out for the second and third year to be able to get to his sound modules. This is where sound design and foley became a real possibility. “I pitched my audio skills to my cohort and from that point on I never looked back,” he says.
As a kid, Sam’s curiosity was soaring high in more than one sphere - some days you could find him cross legged watching a David Attenborough documentary about animals right up next to the screen (“to feel more immersed,” he says) and others, playing football or ice hockey. “I tried my hand at everything,” he admits. And some things came easier than others - swimming, drawing, music and his interest in animals are a handful of the hobbies that stuck with him, so it’s safe to say there was no dull day.
Growing up in South Devon, only a stone throw away from the beach and some incredible scenery, Sam was also exposed to a mix of cultures through the tourism in the area. Today, he finds his understanding of multiculturalism essential to his job, especially when it comes to attention to detail and the aesthetics of sound. “It forces you to break away from a one-dimensional point of view.”
His first taste of the industry Sam got just before finishing secondary school. He was doing work experience with a family friend and BAFTA award winning dubbing mixer and foley artist Paul Roberts. During their time together, Sam got to work on a few projects and they became the culprit for his understanding of foley and sound design importance. As well as how fun they are, of course.
So, after going through his degree at Falmouth, Sam scraped together any evidence of experience into a showreel and diligently put together a CV. Armed with both in hand, he started the big handout to all post houses and contacts he could think of. Soon enough, he collided with Jungle Studios and won his first post there as a runner.
“It became very clear that I needed to be proactive with my time in and out of work,” Sam says, talking about his first days on the job. “In my breaks I would go to a studio if there was one available, so I could learn as much as I could to propel me into the transfer engineer role.” That role he got after a bit over a year at Jungle and it enabled him to further his knowledge of protools, as well as pick up a few personal projects outside of work. Another couple of years later he stepped into his current role - sound engineer - and started his work with The Attic.
Through the three role changes and all the grind that came with them, Sam learned one all-important lesson: “Trust your ears.” He goes by it until today and reminds himself that almost daily. “If I’m not 100% happy with how something sounds, chances are, it’s not right.”
Sam’s first ever professional undertaking at Jungle was something that his little self would have been totally proud of - a narration record for a nature documentary. “As far as first jobs go, I feel like this was one of the better ones. The clients and the voice over artist were lovely,” he remembers. “I thought, if only my ten-year-old self could see me now. From sitting in front of the TV as a consumer, to this moment right now. I felt a huge sense of pride.”
This was also the project that Sam believes changed his career the most. “After getting that initial taste for the job I had been chasing for years, it became apparent to me that I made the right decision,” he shares.
After that initial taste, Sam could more easily make up his mind about what he loves the most. And while there is still a long way to go, he relishes the creative licence and the variety of ways in which he is allowed to approach a brief. “Watching my vision come together piece by piece is incredible.” However, sometimes time constraints rush the puzzle pieces together - “Getting a piece to a place where I, as an engineer, am happy and the clients are happy is challenged by how much time we have. I like feeling like I’ve given the project everything I’ve got in me, so I’m forever trying to find faster ways of doing the same task, just to cut down on time.”
When talking about speeding processes up, we can’t forget new tech, which is something Sam appreciates and as an audio engineer is acutely aware of. “I dedicate some of my time researching and listening to or going to events to gain insight.” Sam’s been keeping a close eye on Dolby Atmos’ explosion during the last decade or so, and the way in which it flipped cinema, games and music. “I’m so excited to experience the world of mixing for Dolby Atmos. And I’m even more excited to see the possibilities the next innovation brings us.”
While one aspect of the sphere is galloping forward, though, others are stagnant. And that remains obvious to newcomers and senior sound-stars alike: “I’m not really the type of person who gets really riled up about anything, but I really would like to see a more diverse gender balance. Not only in my specialism, but in the industry as a whole.”
Recently, a day can’t go by without Sam nitpicking a film or advert for its sound design. “I can’t watch TV the same ever again,” he laughs. “I now notice any slightly out of sync ADR, or I pick out things I would have done differently on mixed TV, which drives whoever I’m with as well as myself crazy.”
But while Sam seems to never be able to switch his sound-engineer ear off, the industry might often forget about the role’s importance. “Ironically, I feel like adland could do with a little bit more advertising to bring some more recognition to the sound engineers,” he says. “I only discovered the role after doing some research. Equally, when I explain what I do for a living, people rarely understand the role, as they all seem to think the audio for films and TV is all captured on set.”
So, while Sam can’t quite stop thinking about engineering, he still indulges in all forms of creativity, especially films, games and music. One of his favourite pieces of sound design happens to be in ‘Godzilla’ (2014) for Erik Aadahl’s iconic recreation of the Godzilla roar. Besides this, Sam loves his travelling and his fitness and most likely still indulges in the odd David Attenborough documentary.