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Life as a Recording Engineer

How Do I Become a Sound Engineer or Recording Engineer?

Everyone that wants to work in the music industry has to start out at the same place. Zero. They all have to start from nothing. You don’t know anyone, you don’t have the skills, and you’ve never made music. And then as you grow, and age, you start picking up those skills, and making connections that can lead to interesting places. 

The question then becomes, how do you start? How do you take those initial steps on the long and arduous journey that is any creative endeavour? Well. First off you need to have some basics down. You need to get your ground-floor skills and abilities mastered before you can progress to the next metaphorical level.  To get started in the business you really need all of these things: You need a good ear for music. You need to have a deep passion for music. You need a working knowledge of current audio software and hardware. You need to be ok with working long and unusual hours. You need to have good people skills. You need to be good at making industry connections. You need to be willing to reinvent yourself.  The job of recording engineer is one of the most common career choices for students who are trained in professional audio. Sometimes, these recording engineers are hired by recording studios; sometimes they open and run their own project studios; and sometimes they act as freelancers, hired by professional recording artists or producers to come into a studio to record. But what does life as a recording engineer really look like? What can you expect on a day-to-day basis if you choose this career path? Here are a few things you need to be prepared for.

EXPECT TO WORK LONG (AND ODD HOURS) IN THE STUDIO

If you’ve been externing with a mentor in the recording studio, you probably have already realized that audio engineering is not a 9-5 job. Recording sessions can take place at all hours of the day, and if you also do the mixing, that’s even more time you spend alone at the mixing board. It’s not uncommon to spend late hours tracking in the studio, go home in the wee hours of the morning, then get up 3-4 hours later to start another tracking session with another artist. (This is why you have to love what you do in order to be a recording engineer or sound engineer. It requires someone passionate about the work to maintain the grueling schedule with a good attitude.)

EXPECT TO DEAL WITH LOTS OF PERSONALITY TYPES

Life as a recording engineer means being able to work under pressure with lots of different people, each with their own different demands. Temperamental artists, demanding corporate clients, and taskmaster producers are all par for the course when it comes to this job. Of course, you’ll find people you genuinely enjoy working with but you have to know how to deal with people diplomatically. You need to be able to treat everyone with the same professional manner, no matter how easy or difficult they may be to get on with.

EXPECT TO LEARN NEW THINGS ALL THE TIME

In the recording studio, technology is always changing. As an audio professional, you will never “arrive” at mastering your craft or your toolbox, because there will always be a new piece of gear to learn, a new version of the software, a new plug-in to try, a new microphone placement technique that captures trendy sounds. For the recording engineer, keeping up with gear, technology and trends is part of the fun.

EXPECT TO BECOME A PROBLEM SOLVER

No recording project is the same as the others: each project will come with its own set of challenges. Audio engineering is as much art as it is science, because you’re always dealing with new variables, from phantom “hums” in the gear, to a bad recording due to faulty microphones or placement, to the vocalist who can’t get it right after 30 takes.  Whether you’ve been in this business for a few months or for 20 years, you’ll always be coming across a problem you’ve never had to deal with before. That’s why you can’t rely on formulas in this business. The good news is, these challenges are going to make you an expert problem solver. You’re going to learn to think on your feet, and you’ll come up with solutions that maybe others have never even tried. It might seem daunting at first, but great sound engineers actually thrive on the challenge of solving new problems, whether it’s revamping the microphone placement or implementing a creative fix in the mix. For many audio pros, this is the most rewarding part of the life of a recording engineer. Finding your way in the recording industry can seem daunting from the outside, but once you get in, it’s loads of fun. Fast paced work environments, fun co-workers and collaborators, and work that’s genuinely exciting. That’s what you have to look forward to every day. Sure, sometimes things can get a bit rocky.

Learn to Roll With the Punches

Yes, everyone once in a while there’s a large industry change and things shift under your feet, but that’s ok. That’s the fun of having a career like this. You’re always going to be thinking on your feet. You’re always going to be moving in the right direction, because you don’t have a choice. You have to pick a direction, and move.  For people who are just starting out it can seem stressful and anxiety inducing. But it’s really not. It’s really something that makes life interesting. It’s a way of being that beats going into an office, clocking in, and typing in Excel, right? Who wants to wear a suit and tie to work when you can be wearing normal clothes. Who wants water cooler talk when you can discuss the advantages to various pre-amp setups.  Overall, the recording industry will give you what you put into it. If you’re a hard worker, driven by a need to succeed, and willing to go the extra mile? People will want you around. You’ll be working in the industry sooner than you can say, “that bass drum sounds too loud.”

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