By: Gene Lebrock, Director FIDM Productions, Director of Digital Media
To be successful in this industry requires a working knowledge of current and trending technologies and techniques.
Digital media degrees have become far more prevalent in college curriculums these days, in large part because the world has gone digital. To participate in business or work effectively in almost any arena requires computer skills and technological savvy, and digital media studies provide those skills. More importantly, a degree in digital media prepares students for a wide variety of careers in the exciting areas of entertainment, broadcast journalism, media communications, and advertising. Companies large and small are seeking the skills students gain through a digital media curriculum.
There is a Digital Media curriculum and degree program for everyone.
In this rapidly expanding industry, students can choose to obtain an Associate, Bachelor’s or Master’s degree. There are also multiple certificate programs for professionals seeking to expand their skill sets or recent grads seeking to change career paths. Students studying digital media will develop skills in production, post-production, and distribution.
Depending on the specific degree program and curriculum, students will typically develop skills in the areas of editing, computer illustration and graphic design, motion graphics and animation techniques, web design, digital audio design, and video production. Potential employers include the obvious outlets such as television stations, news networks, film studios, gaming companies, software companies, and advertising agencies. Additionally, potential employers of digital media artists exist in many less obvious companies and industries – everything from clothing lines to auto manufacturers – literally, any company with a web presence that relies on computer-generated effects animations, and content.
Above: Thirty second trailer for “Avengers: Age of Ultron” by Create Advertising.
The entertainment-based industries of film and television are highly competitive. Although they definitely offer a “glam-factor,” only the best and most ambitious are likely to find a home here. By contrast, computer software and/or gaming companies frequently offer competitive pay, many more job opportunities and potential for growth.
Working for a company in this arena offers a wide range of opportunities for artists, including creating websites, designing video games, and creating content and animation for online publications. Other job possibilities include working in the government sector or education industry, including a teaching career. Finally, many digital media artists will, at some point in their careers, opt to work freelance as a self-employed artist.
In 2012, about 57% of digital media artists were self-employed. The difficulties associated with life as a freelancer are outside the scope of this article; however, the benefit of possessing a skillset that enables you to work independent of any single company can prove invaluable in times of economic instability in the marketplace.
The Bottom Line: Money, Hours, and Potential Growth
The median salary for entry-level positions in the U.S. digital media industry is estimated at $41,652 per year, with a range between $30,572 – $60,372. Keep in mind, though, that these are entry-level positions, frequently paid at an hourly rate. Ultimately, digital media artists are usually paid more, and this industry offers excellent opportunities for growth.
According to the data published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (“BLS”), the median annual wage for multimedia artists and animators was $69,410 in 2014, with the top 10% in the industry earning more than $113,470.
The BLS estimates that employment for multimedia artists and animators will grow 6% during the period from 2012 – 2022, lower than the estimated average for all occupations.
As of May 2012, the top four industries in which digital media artists were employed, with their related median wages were: motion picture and video industries ($72,680), software publishers ($62,310), advertising, public relations and related services ($60,220), and computer systems design and related services ($58,950).
Work schedules for digital media artists vary widely. While many may work a regular schedule, overtime is a common job requirement, and many work a wide variety of shifts based on varying deadlines and employer needs. When deadlines are approaching, it is not unusual for them to work nights and weekends. (BLS)
Digital Media Industry Challenges
Getting started in the Digital Media industry is challenging, and frequently entry-level positions are not that rewarding. As the newest member of a team, typically newbie artists wear many hats and can even become the runner for the entire team. Digital media artists may work on commercials, television shows, feature films, music videos, computer games, e-books, websites, and much more.
In any event, the work of the digital media artist is typically behind-the-scenes, and rarely acknowledged by people outside of those on your team who are aware of how much time and effort went into any given project. In short, if you are expecting public recognition early in your career, digital media will probably not be the best fit. Ultimately, many digital media artists will move towards supervisory roles which are much more visible, particularly when projects receive recognition by the company or industry.
In addition to the lack of public recognition, at least initially, maintaining your technological savvy is a full-time job in and of itself. Technology is constantly changing, and digital media artists must keep on top of the new trends and techniques or risk becoming obsolete. If you are not committed to keep upgrading your skills and keeping in touch with your industry for the life of your career, you will not stand a chance in this industry.
One other potential challenge to consider: digital media artists are part of a production pipeline. Theirs is typically a collaborative job, working with other team members and directly with the clients to ensure their needs and preferences are satisfied. Polish your social skills, and learn to accept constructive criticism. It is important that all team members be able to communicate effectively, and nothing shuts down communication faster than resentment or defensiveness. Like any skills, social skills will get better with practice. Eventually, excellent social and technical skills enable digital media artists to pursue top positions within the industry.
Three Tips for Getting Your First Job in Digital Media
1) Always remember – branding is everything. A digital media artist’s product is themselves. The resume for a savvy, talented digital media artist should look different than that of a person applying for a bank job. The digital media artist’s resume, business cards and website are an excellent opportunity to showcase the very skills they are trying to sell to a potential employer or client. There are a variety of professional resume writers, but cost can be prohibitive and the services may not be industry-specific. For students, the best resource is often instructors or faculty who are working professionals. These people have the best access to what is currently happening in the industry, and how to best target a resume to impress potential employers.
2) Know your industry! Digital media is technology-based, and any artist wanting to survive in this industry needs to know about the current trends, as well as be familiar with the cutting-edge tools, including hardware, software, and production equipment. Attending industry conferences is a great way to make connections, find potential employers or collaborators, take courses to learn new skills or refresh existing skills, and keep a thumb on what is happening in the industry. This is a great way to stay ahead of the competition.
3) Don’t be afraid to experiment! Innovation is everything in this creative world. In yourspare time, and even on projects when appropriate, take risks. Explore innovative ideas, devise new techniques and styles, and always push the limits of creativity. To sum up, digital media is a terrific industry with a lot of creative growth. Career satisfaction is elevated by the fact that the jobs within this industry are so creative. This is not a career to choose just for the money. Digital media artists need to be creative, innovative, interested in technology, and willing to be continue learning for the rest of their careers. With the right attitude, commitment, and willingness to learn, there are great chances for success and creative fulfillment.
Start college and kickstart your career in digital media.
FIDM/Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising isn’t just a recognized leader in the study of design and creative business– we’re a training ground for the exciting career in digital media you’ve always dreamed of pursuing. Designed to build a strong foundation of general filmmaking knowledge, students emerge with an understanding of all aspects of production workflow, from pre-production through post-production including editing, sound design, digital composition, motion graphics, 3-D modeling and animation, production, digital storytelling and web design.
Creative careers begin here.
With four California campuses located in the heart of the fashion and entertainment industries, FIDM is a leading, accredited college offering specialized Associate of Arts and Bachelor’s of Arts degrees. FIDM has been educating students with creative and leadership skills for the global industries of fashion, visual arts, interior design, and entertainment for more than 45 years. Learn more at www.fidm.edu.
The FIDM Digital Arts Blog is dedicated to professional and aspiring graphic designers and filmmakers, illustrating the range of career opportunities within these fields written by FIDM/Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising. See more at www.fidmdigitalarts.com.