Alumni Interview with Dan Lehrich
Name: Dan Lehrich
Major at Berklee: Electronic Production and Design
Graduation Date: 2004
Professional Title: Senior Producer Mobile
Employer: Disney Interactive
What are some of the accomplishments you’re most proud of in your career thus far?
Generally speaking, I’m just happy that I’ve been able to have this career at all. I really enjoy making cool stuff with teams of talented people and I have been extremely lucky to be a part of some great projects.
More specifically, I’ve created thousands of sound effects and made some great-sounding games as an audio lead. I created and prototyped a DJ game in Max/MSP called Scratch: The Ultimate DJ that was picked up by a publisher and turned into a huge project where I was able to create something really special at the intersection of music and gaming, and work as a game director with a lot of talented musicians and developers along the way. I’ve worked on some iPhone apps, including a music remixer I created, DimSong, that got some recognition and was a finalist in the SXSW Accelerator competition. And now I’m working with Disney on Disney Infinity, which is an amazing game that I’m privileged to be a part of.
What are the most challenging aspects of your current job?
As a producer, the challenges I face vary from day to day. I work directly with the development team to provide guidance, troubleshoot, and ensure we are delivering a great experience for our players. I’m also responsible for working closely with our marketing, finance, business development, and public relations groups, both to evangelize the product and to make sure that we’re set up for success on all fronts.
As a sound designer and a game director, I was 100 percent focused on creating the best game possible. You’re battling against technology and memory constraints, creative roadblocks, schedule and budget … you name it.
Every day is a new challenge, and I think that’s one of the things I love most about my work.
What would you say are the top requirements for someone entering this line of work?
The game industry moves very fast—there are new technologies and game systems all the time—so one of the most important requirements is to be flexible and adaptive. You have to be a problem-solver. Making games often boils down to trying to figure out the best way to get something done without any clear path or definitive right answer.
If you are interested in a particular discipline (sound, art, etc.), then clearly you need to hone your skills and be able to demonstrate that in a reel, but you also need to constantly learn new tools and strive to improve your process. And you have to be fast—faster than you ever thought possible as a student. As an example, we’d typically build a schedule for a sound designer that had them creating 10 sound effects a day. That’s start to finish, from concept to completion, fully implemented into the game engine, and properly mixed. The days of slaving for tens of hours over your work are behind you.
You should know and love video games. Not necessarily in the hard-core gamer way, but playing and enjoying games, and having opinions about them is key.
And finally, be a good person and an even better coworker. Actively seek out and address problems as you see them, and be nice to everyone around you. It’s a small industry and you’ll continue to run into people throughout your career. Make sure that people are happy to see you.
What would be a reasonable salary range to expect if I entered this field? What is the long-term potential?
It’s hard to say for certain. The games industry is pretty diverse and I’ve worked across a number of disciplines. The best resource I know of for salaries within the industry is the Game Developer Salary Survey, which polls thousands of developers and publishes the results.
This industry has changed dramatically in the past five years. What have you seen from inside your company? Where do you think the changes will happen in the next five years?
I’ve been lucky to work in a variety of situations over the past five years during a time of rapid change in gaming. Five years ago I was a creative director at Activision working on the next generation of music gaming, then I worked freelance on a number of mobile and web projects, and now I’m at Disney working to deliver amazing experiences to a broad audience.
The biggest change in the industry that I’ve seen is the shift away from AAA console games towards mobile and other platforms. It’s easier than ever to make and release a game independently with a smaller group of people, and at the same time it is more expensive and risky to make a big-budget console game than ever before.
How has your Berklee experience prepared you for what you are doing today?
I picked up a lot of specific skills as a music synth major that were incredibly useful to me as I started in the industry. Sound design, synth programming, mixing, digital audio basics, etc., are all very useful in creating audio for games. I also learned basic programming and logic through Max/MSP and CSound classes, and this understanding of interactive systems and data flow served me well as I collaborated with programmers, and eventually I was able to create and develop my own game prototypes.
Berklee also showed me how to be curious, how to chase that curiosity and follow it down the rabbit hole, and how to stick with it and come out the other end with new skills and interests. Your education is what you make of it: there are opportunities to learn great things at this school and work with great people, but you have to seek it out instead of waiting for it to come to you.
If you could offer just one piece of career advice to students, what would it be?
Learn how to learn. Embrace learning. Become comfortable and happy about the fact that your education does not end with a degree. The most successful people I know are the ones constantly pushing themselves and acquiring new skills.