ESSENTIAL SKILLS FOR BECOMING AN AUDIO ENGINEER

Lots of people send me e-mails looking for work. The following ‘ideal standard response’ has been round the Internet and back several times and has been edited and added to by (I should imagine) dozens of people, including me. I have no idea who to credit as originator, sorry.


ESSENTIAL SKILLS FOR BECOMING AN AUDIO ENGINEER

This should be regarded as a minimum skill set. (N.B: unless you graduated from a conservatoire, a Tonmeister course, or in electronics please bear in mind that, in terms of the music industry, your qualifications are probably worthless, no matter where you studied. However, 'old school tie' connections can be very, very helpful).

You MUST be able to:

Write a piece for string quartet in the style of Bach
Edit and fix a drum track overnight so that when the drummer comes in the next day he thinks he can play
Meticulously go through a track and tune vocals to perfection using autotune or whatever, leaving no artefacts
Arrange for any ensemble - winds, strings, synths, loops etc.
Know the difference between M7 and M70 capsules
Stay up working for 48 hours straight to get the job done
Edit dialogue until you never want to hear a spoken word again – then do it some more
Make Gigastudio sing like a nightingale
Re-solder a TT patchbay from Normalled to Semi-Normalled overnight
Flawlessly switch between Logic, Sibelius and ProTools
Deal with two days of normalising audio file clips and keep your head straight
Orchestrate for a 70 piece orchestra, straight to manuscript, without a keyboard
Sort out drive issues on the fly
Put your family last and your "career" first
Ghost write for a "bigger name, bigger ego" talent and take no credit (this is standard practice, especially when you’re starting out)
Track a rhythm section with 5 raging egos and keep them all in line
Avoid buying a house or needing disposable income
Fix a tube mic
Tune a Guitar without using a tuner
Troubleshoot a computer (PC and/or MAC) and make it run like a dream
Pull a module out of a console and re-cap it
Drive an old car and make it last 15+ years
Troubleshoot analogue wiring
Troubleshoot digital clocking issues
Work an unfamiliar synchronizer to sync Video with Analogue tape machines
Play at least one mainstream instrument to a professional level
Show high level of competence on two other mainstream instruments
Mix a Rap song
Mic and record a big band
Get the most out of a self-indulgent prima-donna artist vocalist
Read musical scores quickly and accurately
Know the difference between balanced and unbalanced audio and how best to accommodate both in one system
Demonstrate ‘Golden Ears’
Be comfortable and conversant with virtually ANY style of music
Mix 5.1 and calibrate the speakers
Demonstrate a 6th sense about which mic to choose and which preamp to use with it
Get up at 4:30am to write so that you can field phone calls during the day.


Congratulations. You have now reached the level of ‘amateur wannabee’, and are ready to consider starting your freelance career. (You have to be freelance, because there aren’t any jobs. Well, nationwide there might be a few every year, but they go to people with a significant track record, and if you had that, you probably wouldn’t be here).

The next step is to offer your services for nothing to anyone that doesn’t mind you hanging around. (Please ensure that you can make great tea and coffee, and have transport to facilitate trips to the local takeaway, newsagent, supermarket etc. Also, learn how to clean windows, sweep floors and operate a vacuum cleaner (practice at home until perfect)). I would recommend tolerant, busy freelancers, theatres, recording studios (if you can find one), production companies of all sorts, radio stations (you’d be surprised at how many radio stations operate with lots of unpaid staff), and anyone else you can think of. I repeat, do not expect to be paid, because they really can’t afford it. Be constantly aware that if they let you through the door, you owe them big-time.

Don’t forget to network. Be nice to everyone. It’s not ‘who you know’, it’s not ‘what you know’, it’s both.

Buy equipment with every penny at your disposal. Lurk around the forums to pick up the best advice. Buy the best you can afford, one piece at a time, and learn it inside out. Don’t turn down any opportunity to be involved with anything even if it’s only tangentially related to your main area of interest. So you want to be a film composer, but you’re offered the chance to assist the live engineer at a local gig? Do it, you’ll learn something. A drummer wants a hand transporting his kit? Do it, you may learn something about tuning drums. (You get the picture).

Repeat all the above for several years, by the end of which time you’ll have an idea of whether you’re going to get a paying career or not.

Alternatively, if you are absolutely determined to have a music-related career, go to a conservatoire, get on Surrey’s Tonmeister course, or get a degree in a field of electronics. Then qualify as a teacher. You will have a career that pays (e.g. teaching a subject you love or working in electronics in a field related to music/audio). You can then do all the stuff I outlined above in your spare time, confident that you’ll be able to afford food and somewhere to live, and will still stand as much chance of ‘making it’ as anyone else. If I had to start all over again, then that’s what I would do.

Finally, don’t bother to e-mail me for work, because I haven't got any work for you (although click here if you're a seriously great session musician). Do e-mail me to say hello; I practice what I preach and I’m always up for networking. And now all that remains is to wish you all the luck in the world – you’ll need it.