Andrew Lackey Special: Surviving the Crunch; Being Healthy Sound Designers

by Andrew Lackey, December 24, 2009

For many of us, this time of year is about spending time with family and friends; the other “half” of the life balance. I jokingly put half in quotes because that “half” can look a lot more like a sliver on the pie chart during some projects. One of the dicier topics in our industry is “The Crunch”: the final weeks or months of a project where there aren’t enough hours in the week to get everything done to the quality bar you’ve set. Audio Pros are particularly vulnerable to this problem since sound production is finessed and finalized at a very late stage in the process. I’ve worked in TV, Film, Video Games and Commercials…as an in house sound designer and as an external contractor….”The Crunch” is universal.

The prevailing opinion in the biz is ‘deal with it’…’it’s part of the job’. I agree with this, and even embrace it…to an extent. To function well on commercial products, creative right brainy people need limits…especially time limits. Crunch mode helps focus your attention, cut ideas that aren’t paying off and commit to the creative choices you’ve made.

However, there comes a point in “The Crunch” where personal well being becomes an issue. In a generalized observation gathered from myself, my peers, my mentors and younger people coming into the business, we often go over the line. Yes, “The Crunch” is part of the job, but sacrificing your health and well being is not. In this article, I offer you no guidelines; only evidence that your personal health is supremely important. This line is always up to you to define.

Two Aspects: Health and Well Being.

Health – Stress while recording a lion is good. Weeks of stress during a crunch is bad.

The sustained and habitual stress of our work sets us up for what doctors call Chronic Stress. Stress in small doses is good. In fact, it keeps you from doing stupid things like stepping out into traffic. It helps us survive very dangerous situations. The problem is that our bodies can’t stay in that state very long without doing internal damage. Chronic stress is just that. This constant state of stress doesn’t allow your body to recoup, and your cardiovascular system, digestive system, weight and mental health are all at risk. Many doctors believe this to be just as bad as a serious addiction. Look it up.

Wellness – We can all learn a thing or two from Ben Burtt.

At the end of Ben Burt’s recent acceptance speech for the Charles S. Swartz Award, he warmly and sincerely says:

“And lastly I want to urge everybody that…we know in post production you’re in a very tough business that takes a lot of sacrifice of your time and energy. I’ve never fully solved this problem, but I’ve learned over the years that you have to make time for your loved ones. That you have to try to get home for dinner and be with those kids across the table at night if you can. And I know the business doesn’t favor that kind of activity…it doesn’t put an emphasis on that. But you find in many many years that those loves ones that you leave at home, that are waiting for you, matter a lot more ultimately than the films and shows that you do. So try to find a balance there. Try to find projects that allow you to do that, or make decisions that allow that to happen. Thank you for this award its really an honor.”

Ben opened huge doors to the wonders of sound that we’re all playing in. He has had an amazing career in doing so. Yet, in a lifetime achievement award he is saying…”loved ones are more important”. This isn’t the first time any of us have heard this advice, and on some level we know balance needs to be maintained to keep ourselves and our lives functional. The fact is humans need this practice of community, commitment and belonging to stay healthy and happy. To a certain extent we build these relationships with our coworkers, but spiritual leaders, doctors, and sound design visionaries agree… spending quality time with loved one’s is at the core of content happy lives.

Now for the hard part; making it happen.

I for one haven’t always been skillful creating this balance for myself. Ultimately this is your challenge, but here are some suggestions.

Start to notice your health and well being.

Think about the last year. What have been the good times and bad? How are you doing now?

Take really small steps.

Eat an apple today, and allow yourself to slowly graduate to better habits like regular exercise and leaving work at a specified time.


There are many forms of stress management…all with great side benefits. Be curious about what spiritual, philosophical, and health wisdom you can seek.

Encourage others to be healthy.

Altruism and compassion are the keys to happiness if you believe the Dali Lama. I feel we struggle against a culture that during crunch time manufactures a sense of duty that attempts to supersede our desire for personal well being. Showing co-workers compassion for their stress is not only a way to keep that in perspective, but a kind practice you will get benefit from.

Value planning for great results and graceful execution.

You have to get the job done…and well. No doubt about it. Define the results you want to achieve on a daily, weekly and monthly basis and work as gracefully as possible to achieve them.

Communicate your intentions.

Be frank and honest about where your limits are, but also keep in mind that ‘negotiation’ needs flexibility. Sometimes just stating your preference not to work 120 hours this week is a good first step. There is a great state of mind termed: Equanimity Try to keep that in these situations.

Continually evaluate your situation.

Retain your power by continuing to evaluate your situation. This doesn’t necessarily mean look for another job, but that is certainly one evaluation you could make. The more ideal approach is the make many small adjustments from periodic evaluations instead of one big one. You may still end up looking for another job, but there may be other adjustments that will benefit you as much or more. Ask yourself, “How’s this working out for me?”, but there’s no need to freak out if the answer is bad. If you’ll notice this step is the same as the first.

Our jobs wouldn’t be any fun if we were punching a clock and stamping widgets. The challenge for us as individuals and as a community is to balance our open hearted love for what we do with the principles of healthy living. I hope you find this helpful.

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