Cutting Through the Noise with Lewis & Greg of Airwiggles!

In conversation with Hugh Wybourne

Lewis Thompson and Greg Lester are talking with me today, out the gate demonstrating their audio prowess with their fantastic audio setups - and, as a side note,  providing some audio-tech assistance that would have prevented the interview from happening if not for the help - so we’re thankful on two fronts already!

Lewis and Greg are Sound Designers that come to us from Soundcuts, an award-winning audio production company right here in Guildford who are close friends to G.G. Their services range not just throughout the games industry but into animation, live music, and more!

Greg Lester (left) and Lewis Thompson (right) at Guildford.Games Festival
Greg Lester (left) and Lewis Thompson (right) at Guildford.Games Festival

But these two have taken this extraordinary work a step further by establishing two completely free education-and-community-driven projects for the audio people of the games industry and beyond. Firstly, AirWiggles - an all-in-one online platform for events, communication, teaching, and sharing knowledge and learnings with other audio people all over the world. Like all your favourite forums, social platforms, and discord servers rolled into one (but without the downsides!).

On top of that, Lewis and Greg also run AirCon, the audio conference they founded alongside this amazing platform all available for free to watch live on AirWiggles between 10th-14th of June. There really isn't anything else like it,not that the G.G collective is aware of at least, which surprised me as it feels like the logical end result of covid pushing most of the community online. Then again, pulling off something like this is no small task (as team G.G are well aware!) and were it easy, everyone would be doing it. So I had to know if there was something that triggered the creation of these projects…

What inspired AirWiggles and why did you decide now was the time to create it?

GL: The whole thing spawned out of a lack of a centralised place, and it started off with the community over at with a discord server but it was a pain. There’s a big community over at Twitter which is really cool as you can interact with what you want, but the issue is you don't see 90% of it. If you don't have followers already you won’t have any chance of people seeing and feeding back to you beyond cold-messaging and most people have that disabled anyway.

So we had a bit of a crazy idea and I got together with Lewis and said: “Hey, what if we build our own thing and see what happens?”. We ran a beta back in 2022 August/September with our first event ‘Noise-Vember’, which was inspired by Inktober: different prompts every day, people making sounds, and everyone loved it! And we thought: “oh cool, we have something on our hands”. So we really focused on the question of ‘what do we want to build out of this?’ and then we partnered with A Sound Effect and switched platforms and really tried to make it as best as we can.

Our whole ethos is we want to make it The Home for audio people on the internet. And that is really what we’re striving for. To connect people not just online but also offline. We have an event calendar that consolidates and collects all these different kinds of events online and in person as well. We really try to bring the network of people together in the audio community.

‘The home for audio people on the internet’ is such a good way of putting it. We talked a lot about all the education and community available both through and AirWiggles, including the upcoming AirCon. Despite launching only last year, there is already a full archive of every talk and the dozens of speakers that came forward for it. The range is really impressive, and branches across creative, business, and industry talks and has a really diverse set of voices. With its already proven success, I wanted to ask:

Even though it’s only year 2, what do you think is in the future for AirCon?

GL: We're in the process of making the whole thing more sustainable for the long-term so that we can really build this into something special and something big. We see it very much as an ecosystem with a bunch of different parts that we really want to combine to create this thing that is the most useful thing for an audio user. Someone can come into this and they get direction, initiative, modular learning through the mentorship portal. It's providing people with options and opportunities and all of that. We have a lot of different ideas for AirCon, the first next step is to simply replicate the success this year. Last year was an experiment, I think this year I would say we're doing it for real. We would love to cater more towards audio as a whole, to branch out more also into film, podcasting, voice-acting, and also more technical audio programming.

We want to make more connections with people in person and we've got the meetup this year in London for the first time ever together with Game Audio London which are our collaborators. We have a huge audience in the USA so being able to put on a US AirCon meetup would be really cool but for the time being we're focused on the sustainability side. We have full-time jobs and we try to have a little bit of a life. We really just want to make cool things that we enjoy and that are cool for the community as well. We had ‘March Through Sound’ last year and this year ‘April Audio Challenge’ and we love it when people from the community proactively come and say “We'd love to put this on, can you help us?” because we can provide the logistics and all that stuff.

Despite promising not to take all the good answers, Greg covered a lot of what Lewis was planning to talk about and so he agreed with all that was said before but elaborated more on some of the higher-end plans for AirCon and its future and its potential for people getting involved. 

LT: We could potentially look into doing things like things in person somewhere, but at the end of the day AirCon is as good as it is because it's online, it's free, and it's accessible for everyone around the world. It's quite unique in that respect compared to some of the other conferences out there. For me, I’d love to do more of what we can do online which you can't necessarily do offline. For example one of the talks you get this year which I'm really excited about is really simple but it’s like a little audio-based pub quiz which everyone can play along with as everyone's at home so they can answer the questions live.

There's going to be plenty of other random ones which maybe aren't necessarily educational but are fun cool events that people can join in and have fun with and learn from and make friends from. Anything like that where we can do new experimental things whatever they are educational or fun and recreational or whatever, it would be a really nice idea.

I also really want to try to use a platform to help promote diversity in the industry. This year we tried really hard to make as even a gender split as possible for speakers, but I know that we can always improve that and I think there's a lot of people we haven't been able to represent this year and I would love to try hard and do that next year. We like giving people a platform who maybe wouldn't necessarily have one so that's probably my biggest goal I think. 

We talked a lot about how audio is naturally faceless as a lot of it is online and can be anonymous, on top of the fact that there are so many tools and so much information out there for people that want to get involved in audio. We spoke about how many great game jams there are and how often networking and meetup events are these days, and also how resources like and AirWiggles can really streamline the process for people that don’t want to or can’t go down the traditional educational route. Nonetheless, they mentioned how hard it was creating that diversity in AirCon despite how accessible the medium is, but I thought maybe they were doing above average:

Do you think audio is ahead of the curve in terms of being international and inclusive?

LT: I would say that in terms of inclusivity right now it is bad, it's not good. I wish it wasn't the case but we had to put in exceptional effort in order to get even like a rough gender split [between speakers] because we just had so many more men rather than women or non-binary folks applying to do talks. There's just more of them in the industry and so we did have to do a lot of reaching out outside our usual circles. You're right though, game audio is accessible to get into now especially with information, you don't really need money to learn the stuff because of things like Game Audio Learning and all the resources online. I know people who are women who are getting interviewed at the moment who haven't got a tonne of formal sound education or any kind of industry links but are learning stuff with free resources and the internet and are getting work, so it's definitely doable.

It's getting better, when we look at the statistics of who uses AirWiggles there's actually more women than you think.  I'm talking about one in maybe like six or seven members are female, but it’s still like nowhere near what it should be, because it should be 50/50. I can't say for sure audio is better than other disciplines, to be honest it might be worse. It's definitely getting better but that's not enough. 

Also, I should preface this by saying I am not qualified to talk about this. Again, look at our company: 100% straight white men in their 20s. From what I've experienced by trying to organise AirConand seeing the members we have, it seems we may be getting better but I know it's still got so much to go. There are so many more people with more knowledge who are more well-versed to fight this problem than we are, but we'll do everything we can to help. I'm not feeling too positive about it at the moment, I feel like it will get better but I don't think it's good at the moment at all.

Greg agrees with Lewis’ diagnosis, but focuses more on the potential of what they can do and the positive aspects of what they’ve created and how that improves the situation for the underrepresented people they’re discussing. 

GL: Our job in this is two-pronged. One is providing a safe space, because I don't think for example Twitter is a very safe space, and I don't think that a lot of discord servers are necessarily safe spaces. Not to put Discord servers down because they're great, like for example Presley Hynes has an amazing Discord server about sound design so shout-out to her. We try to have a very personal connection but people are just the people, so no matter if you're a 20-year-experience top of the line Audio Director who's got all these crazy titles or if you're just a new person that has zero experience, it's not about how many followers you have it's really just about people who are into audio, who ask questions, and share information. I think we've really been able to build that community not because of what we've done, but because of the people that are in it and because of how amazing they are towards each other. 

The second thing, is to provide a platform for women, for people from different backgrounds, and people of colour. It’s tricky especially with women because like, we men have so many role models and what's important is to showcase people like Nia Hansen who is an insanely incredible sound designer and she's a wonderfully active member on AirWiggles who shares all of this amazing information. Adele Cutting as well built her own sound company and has been doing it for so long and did this all from scratch on her own from nothing. So I think it's really important to provide a platform for role models.  

I think I'm more optimistic than Lewis is, the people we have on the platform are awesome and I'm really proud of that I have to say. It really doesn't matter who you are, and that's the baseline, like if you're into audio and you know your cool person and that's all that matters. Gender, ethnicity, whatever background, it's just we're all people that love audio.

It’s so good to hear these two not only putting in all the extra work unfortunately required to get the diversity they want to see at AirCon, but also being self-aware enough to know there is so much more work to be done and that this diversity should, one day, be a natural element of the industry rather than something that needs to be worked for. There’s a lot more that we talked about in terms of ways in which people can approach the industry these days and how you might get yourself noticed, but we’ll expand on that another time (watch this space for a part 2!). After such heavy discussion, I wanted to ask them, on a lighter note:

What do you think is the most interesting thing happening in Audio right now? And what have you personally been into right now?

GL: For me what's really exciting at the moment is teaching and what we're doing with,  very excited to make that hopefully the best place to learn game audio and I'm putting a lot of thought into how things are taught from a traditional perspective and how we can make that better. I'm speaking to a lot of people in university and friends of mine and people who are trying to get in and figure out what they are struggling with. Really that's what I'm very obsessed with, how can we make this better and share the info better. I'm also just a huge fan at the moment of vehicle stuff, I think that's a super interesting area and there's so much techy stuff. I have some friends who are working on some car games and I nerded out with them about it.’ is sort of Greg’s baby and in a sense the proto-version of large parts of what AirWiggles has become. If you’re interested in learning professional game audio skills in a modern, modular way, then you should definitely check it out. 

LT: I'll give you two answers, one slightly more egotistical and a more generic one afterwards. The first is the continued growth of AirWiggles, in the last six months especially this year it seems to be going up a gear like to the point where it finally feels bigger than just friends of me and Greg. People are doing all their own challenges and partaking in things and it’s really lovely seeing some people connecting with each other and giving each other feedback. In terms of actual sounds and stuff I'm not sure if I'm excited or scared by some of these new tools that use elements of AI, because I feel like it's AI which isn't really taking anyone's work but we're just gonna be doing newer cool things. Things like AI voice-swapping and generation, whilst I think are very dangerous in a lot of aspects, I think have some cool potential uses for sound design for like monster voices or making new sounds which wouldn't be otherwise possible to make before. So I'm cautiously excited for some of that stuff although I'm also looking at it with a bit of worry about the actual implications of it all.

GL: I think in summary, we’re just very excited to use all these new toys.

LT: As long as the toys know to stay in their lane and don’t put us out of a job. 

A classic half-full / half-empty outlook from Lewis and Greg there again, but nonetheless some really interesting insight into the near-future of the industry right now. There’s so much more we spoke about that we couldn’t fit in here, so if you want to hear more from these two you’ll need to catch them at AirCon from the 10th-14th of June over on AirWiggles!

They’ve put a truly astounding amount of work into both of these and you can really tell by talking to them just how much they care about promoting the community they’ve built here. We’re so proud to house such a talented duo  here in Guildford, but as I’m sure you can tell, their goal is to bring the whole world together! For now, though, we thank them for their time, and we hope that you’ll be checking out AirCon when it starts next week!