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Mastering an Audio Engineering Career

Mastering an Audio Engineering Career

Curious about a career in audio engineering? I was recently asked about what’s really involved. Peek inside my world and see what you think. Perhaps it’s a good fit for you too!

    1. What skills are required in your position on a day-to-day basis?  Several skills are foundational. Communication and people skills are really important for working with artists every day to communicate clearly and help them feel comfortable. I have to be proficient with industry-standard digital audio workstation (DAW) recording software like Pro Tools, plug-ins, and other related software. Knowing basic music theory provides an understanding and ability to communicate regarding tempo, pitch, key, song structure, and so on. Basic studio equipment knowledge about microphones, outboard gear, EQ, compressors, guitar amps, drums, guitars, basses, patchbays, and so on provides a good framework to build on as I continue to learn. Also, general Mac/Windows computer skills are required for file management.
    2. What personal attributes are essential for success? In addition to a good attitude and communication skills, I’ve developed a good work ethic. It’s important to have a driving love for what you do because this career path is very demanding. Success also requires great attention to detail and being tech savvy. I must be flexible and always willing to learn because the gear and the industry are always changing.
    3. What parts of your job do you find most enjoyable? Most challenging? I really enjoy collaborating with artists to help make their vision come to life. Making great music with great people is satisfying, especially when I can be creative and technical simultaneously and when I see projects unfold from the very start through to the finished product.Work can be challenging, like when working with clients who are highly protective of their art. And while everyone wants to treat the work with due care, it can be easy to think of such an artist as being a diva or rude. There’s also the stress of dealing with technical problems on the fly with very limited time to fix things. But you can’t give up. Getting every detail correct adds up to a great finished project.
    4. Are there any negatives to your job? This can be a challenging way to make a living. You need the drive to go out there and make it happen. There’s no nine-to-five-type job stability. Climbing the ladder to become an established engineer requires a lot of long hours and weekends. You have to invest lots of practice hours to become fluent in the different processes.
    5. Are too many or too few people entering this profession? It seems like more people try pursuing this career path than the number of available jobs. It can be a tough industry to enter and earn significant money, especially at first. There’s a lot to learn in order to be really good.
    6. What educational preparation would you recommend for someone who wants to advance in this field? While college or advanced degrees are not required in this field, I highly recommend the connections and knowledge available through a good four-year college-level recording program. Most studio internships require that you have some school under your belt. If nothing else, it shows that you’re seriously committed. You need the hands-on experience to get started in the field, either from a school, at another job, or ideally, both.
    7. How do most people enter the profession? These days, most people go to school and then try to get an unpaid internship to get their foot in the door at a studio. It helps to take advantage of every opportunity to be involved and to connect with people who are willing to teach you. Simultaneously, it can be beneficial to get a related job in live sound production, audio editing, radio, music archiving, podcasting, post-production, or sound for film. Sometimes people supplement their income by teaching lessons or working on music in a home studio. It may take a few years to make a living in this field unless a person has the opportunity to work on really huge projects. Working at Sweetwater Sound has allowed me to assist on sessions with some incredible musicians!
    8. Can you recommend any courses I should take before proceeding further with my job search? A number of good courses are available online covering some of the basics you need to know. Berklee, Creativelive.com, and the YouTube channel Produce Like a Pro offer easy-to-understand instruction about both the business side of the industry and more in-depth topics presented by professional engineers. Many producers and engineers offer one-on-one classes and mentorships online.
    9. What professional journals and organizations should I be aware of? Several great magazines offering free subscriptions include Tape Op, Sound On Sound, Front of House, and Live Sound International. Most of those have websites and online articles as well.
    10. Is there anything else you think I should know? Even though this is a tough industry, if you really are interested and fully committed to working hard, it’s a very fun job! Do some research and see for yourself whether you think it’s a good fit for you. There’s plenty of resources out there to get you started right now.

Rachel Leonard

Prior to joining the Sweetwater Studios team, Rachel curated pro audio–related content for YouTube videos at Reverb and also ran live sound as the house engineer at Penny Road Pub in Chicago. Her experience working on so many genres of music — including classical, jazz, choir, metal, singer/songwriter, rock, funk, and others — has made her a vital member of the studio team.

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