The studio engineer career

Discussion in 'General Discussion' started by senterchris, Apr 10, 2002.

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  1. senterchris

    senterchris Guest

    HI, I am 20 and am at that all important time in life when decisions about a career must be made. I know exactly what a want to do and that is to be a studio engineer, 2nd only to "Rock Star," even it means being the "get lunch" guy for several years. I have been a musician for most of my life and am currently attending a college that offers a studio recording class and that will soon offer a certificate program in recording. I have taken the recording class and have learned a great deal. We also do some live sound to. We've been working with a pretty decent Pro Tools Le setup.But, enough background. Basically, I don't know how to pursue this dream.I guess what I am looking for is a "Road Map" so to speak, but as we all know that doesn't exist. There are a few studios where I live but I don't know how to aproach them about a possible intern job. These are fairly small studios, however they always stay busy. And, I don't know how all this stuff works, as far as finding employment goes. I don't have the money to build my own studio. I have been rabid about this dream for a while. I have even considered joining the military just so they will pay my tuition to Full Sail in Orlando when I get out, which by the way costs about $34,000 for a ten month crash course. Any advise will be GREATLY APPRECIATED. Thanks in advance.
  2. Well, im not an expert, but i say if there are studios you can apply for, then do that. Show them what you know and your showreel and see what comes up.

    You actually have the luxury of having studios around you, where i live in the UK, the nearest ones i can think of are in London, 200+ miles away from me, and since im also only 17, it means i dont have a lot to show off to any studios.

    Make the most of whats around you, its hard, but you need to be prepared when oppotunity knocks.
  3. ironsheik

    ironsheik Guest

    Here is what I've learned over the last 3 years on my road to becoming an engineer. I'm still in the slow lane but I see a lot of people doing things that I don't think will help a *career* in recording.

    First of all, you have to be genuinely interested in recording. A lot of people do it as a way into the music biz but aren't really interested in how the process works. I started by buying some software, a small mixer and doing some recording. I got the bass all wrong mostly but I was happy to learn that I had ears at least. At the same time I started a one day a week internship at a studio in Boston. One thing about internships: find one where the engineer is interested in teaching. I got stuck with a shmuck who didn't give a $*^t about me even though I was ten times more eager than most college student interns. The other thing is don't ask a lot of questions. The right engineer will hopefully explain some things to you after the session. There was one guy there who engcouraged me to take advantage of time in between sessions and just run mics through the board, calibrate the tape machine etc... That was cool. You end up taking a lot away from an internship ala The Karate Kid. Remember Wax On, Wax Off?

    After that I knew that staying in an intership, waiting to get hired was going to be a LONG process with slow results so when I moved to NY I built my own small studio. All the while I read everything I could get my hands on. I definately have more practical knowledge than any recording school graduate has and that's proven to me all the time when I work with my bud who went to recording school. He's got way too many rules in his head. I know them, but don't necessarily follow them.

    Also, the more usefull you are in a studio, the more they'll like you as an intern too. I started with minimal knowledge and couldn't help out much. If I started now, I'm sure I could be assisting with mixes and doing repairs right away. Buy some small GOOD crap, record some friends and see where it can go. Make friends and get noticed. You'll either start interning, freelance engineering or start you own small studio while working a normal day job. In any case I don't think the challenge is getting into the biz, it's staying and making money. Good Luck,

  4. I'd like to include the fact that time is a very necessary commodity, if you don't have ht etime to be in the studio then you won't get anywhere, if your married, or, even have a full family life outside work you'll find it extremely hard to juggle life, the universe, and everything. but if it's what you want, then as everyone else said before, just go out there and show you're motivated and willing to learn.

    good luck
  5. RecorderMan

    RecorderMan Well-Known Member

    Mar 28, 2001
    As you say, this is an important life decision:

    My advice is (and you won't like it; will dis it and are probably to young to understand the truth of it)


    Make it a hobby.

    Be forwarned. The music industry as it was is no more. It will never come back. Computers and corporations have distroyed it. Engineer's are becoming extremely irrellavant. Everybody with a DAW believes they are an engineer. The pies are getting smaller.

    Forget those studios near you that are always working....they'll want you to work for free. If you really look at the cash flow of those "facillities" there a modest income for maybe one or two people or a tax right-off.
    You might as well dream of being a rock star &/or winning the lottery...because the odds of success are seriuosly about the same.

    And paying $34,000 to full sail? ha ha ha. Come out to the west coast and give me half that money...I'll get you hooked up at a studio faster than the graduating class that you'd be in AND teach you more....

    Really though, you may not believe it now but one day you'll want a life, family, kids (or not...I am assuming). The recording industry has always been tough but not like it is now....
    ...get a solid career and record on the side.... you'll be happier twenty years from now ( and don't say nobody warned you)
  6. harvardshark

    harvardshark Guest


    That's the best advice I've heard in a long time :w:
  7. Kurt Foster

    Kurt Foster Well-Known Member

    Jul 2, 2002
    77 Sunset Lane.
    What RecorderMan says, but if you insist.... you should drop everything and move to a major recording center such as LA, New York, Nashville or maybe in your case Miami. You should try to secure an intern position at a major studio that is accommodating national artists / projects. Absolutely nothing else will suffice. Do what ever you asked to do and don't hesitatate to jump in if asked. After you accomplish all of these tasks it's still a crap shoot, a "in the right place at the right time" type of thing. My advise is to study electronics and
    computer engineering and record as a hobby...Fats
  8. Opus2000

    Opus2000 Well-Known Member

    Apr 7, 2001
    Yeah...I like the run away as fast as possible solution...lmao

    work your ass off...that's the best advice any one can give you....make people realize you are a "team" player. That is the key!
    Also what everyone else has already said!
  9. audiokid

    audiokid Chris Staff

    Mar 20, 2000
    BC, Canada
    Home Page:
    Video killed the radio, Napster killed what was left of profit, DAW killed the engineer, producer and...... Recorderman said it all (So true), however,... life is short and precious.
    I did it for more than twenty five years now. I wish I saved my coin along that way (when times were good) and invested it in things people need like real estate etc. Actually I did do that, made good return and like a passionate artist I bought more gear instead of ? Dam music business is our burden in life eh? If we don't do what makes us happy what do we have left? We need to survive and in the end a family means more than it all. Your children become your greatest creation. Now I have a new child coming (number 2) and what I will most likely do is use my skills and studio to produce music for me and my children. Teach them how important music is but to be realistict about it all. If my music doesn't sell, I don't give a dam. It's for me and I don't expect to ever get signed or be famous. This way there are no dissapointments. I'm not a failure, I'm a musician with a cool studio and a life.

    I do believe a new day will come though where we can sell music again. I would love to brain storm on this subject. I've wanted to do this here for some time but I think the reality of this subject keeps most of us from talking about it. At 20 who cares, at 40 you know how hard it is to make a good song heard, it's a lot more than being excellent. Successful business is necessity, luck and hype.

    I believe we are in a new era, the days of "big Studios" IMO are slipping away. The computers are taking over jobs that need more than two people to make it happen. Everything is becoming self contained including this business. Where it goes from here I don't know but music will always be here. More tunes will be created. The big question is how do we make money at it?

  10. Kurt Foster

    Kurt Foster Well-Known Member

    Jul 2, 2002
    77 Sunset Lane.
    IMO the only way street level guys like us can make any money in recording anymore is in song and talent development. I'm fortunate enough to have managed to secure a few contacts with record labels along the way and to have sold some projects to them. That's the only way I see anything happening. For example... a label I know of in a far away land likes to buy original projects in a certain genre mainly for the publishing rights. They will promote the product and put it out into international distribution but they really only want the songs. If I can find the right artist with enough original material I can get a lable advance of 7 to 10 K if they like what they hear. The trick is to convince the artist to sell their songs to the publisher. I can't tell you how many times I have had a conversation with a songwriter explaining the concept of 70% of somthing is worth more than 100% of nothing. Songwriters all think they have written the next "Yesterday" and are reluctant to part with it. I am guilty of this too. The most foolish thing I ever did in regards to this was turning down a home town aquaintances offer to follow him to LA and record a song for him I had written. I was afraid the guy was trying to get his hooks into my songs and I was overly protective. A couple of decades later he is in LA and is the owner of one of the major recording studios in the southland. His name? Skip Saylor. My name? It doesn't matter, you wouldn't recognize it anyway...... Fats
  11. Mike Simmons

    Mike Simmons Active Member

    Nov 5, 2001
    Home Page:
    Geeze guys, you paint it pretty bleak/black.

    I wanted to be a rock star when I was 20 too... didn't happen (surprise!) but when I got out of school I got a gig (with my marketing degree) at Diskmakers. They taught me bin loop mastering and from there I worked in a voice-over studio and got some enginneering chops. 10 years later I opened my own studio and have been at it for 13 years now.

    I have:

    A life
    A family
    A (mostly) 9-5 job doing sound
    A profitable recording studio

    I don't have:

    Gold records on my wall
    Gak habit

    In my spare time (and at my choosing) I record music projects. I just finished an CD last month.

    ChisS, think about what will be "enough" for you to feel successful at what you do. If you need star status, the recording biz may not be for you. There is a lot of competition for the high profile jobs. However, if you like gear, have the chops and want to make a living recording... have a go at it, there is plenty of opportunity for somebody with talent.

    Good luck man, and in the meantime see if you can get an internship!
  12. michael c

    michael c Active Member

    Apr 18, 2002
    Chris. Follow your dream. It's not the destination it's the journey there. If you have talent and commitment you will get to where you want to be. The computer has changed the recording industry forever but they still have to be operated by humans. Computers don't write songs and nor do they engineer them. They don't have ears and they don't have emotions.

    Become an engineer then a producer and then a talent spotter and hitch a ride.

    Good luck
  13. audiokid

    audiokid Chris Staff

    Mar 20, 2000
    BC, Canada
    Home Page:
    we sound like a bunch of jaded burnouts Nothing wrong with a bit of reality now and then, that being said, ya! If I never followed my heart I would have never known the world of music like I do. "an artist goes out into the world, experiences things and comes back to his table and reports them to people through different creative area's like dance, painting, music, stories, comedy etc. If an artist isn't allowed to feel and express the things we see and hear, life would be quite one sided". We are so lucky...

    Follow your heart.

    I highly recommend reading this book. It helped me realize what I was and why I do the things I do.
    The Artists Way
  14. rayman

    rayman Guest

    This is the big question that all young people ask....How do I do it? There have been many reply's to your question Chriss, what do you think about what you have read so far? I have been working in and out of the music/live production/recording bizz for all of my adult life and a good bit of my teen years. Some of it full time and some more with a full time job on the side (as I like to put it). Worked with Major act's, companies and small time stuff to, I did go to Full Sail (1997 grad) and I got some education there.
    College is just to get you started, don't go to college expecting to go strait to the top. Many very good tech's have got a long way just by working there way there, and you will work for free at lest once. (likely more than once) I think that one reply stated that you need to find the right studio to intern at. This is the most inportant thing, you have to be alert and a fly on the wall. If you do get that great internship and you get to be a part of the creative thing, rember that is just that (creative) so be carful what you say and do.
    If you think that you need to be apart of a team then learn how to work with others, follow rules and protocall's. You may not like what some guy (who ever your working with) is doing but you should look watch and learn as much as you can. Education can be a good tool but I feel that I learned more working for a lighting company than I did at school (I like and support my school). If you want to go that way you might want to think about some education in a related area aswell. A room mate I had in college had a BA in Recording Arts before Full Sail's degree, after he graduated from Full Sail he was hired right away by a major film company and got to do some work on a big movie. He did work for a good while (haven't talked to him in a while) for small money but I'm sure he's doing better by now.
    I know what your going thru, I have a 20 year old son and was once that age to. The bottom line is you must really want it and willing to work for it.

    good luck
    Raymond Ward
    A.S. Recordig Arts
  15. RecorderMan

    RecorderMan Well-Known Member

    Mar 28, 2001
    yes...and then there IS the long hard cold reality that the music industry has become. It has changed drastically in the last 2 years. Period. Those hoping to make a long term career would be very well advised to have a second back-up carrer if their sole intention is to be only an engineer. Those with the requisite talent to be a step up the ladder ( writing/arranging/producing & engineering) are where the buisness is now looking for it's next generation of careerists. They (the marketplace,bottomline,ect) want people that can do it all.
    Now this is NOT to say that you cannot make a living in this industry, and the scenerio I'm painting is in transition. But I live and work in LA. Arguably the busiest center of recording in the world (although people love to take shots at us). Nowhere else is there the amount of Album/Film/TV, etc infrustructure located to keep people working. So....if what I'm saying applies here...believe me it's coming to a town near you.

    So ...get an MBA...make a bunch of money and do it as a growing hobby on the side. Maybe then, with a hit, you can make your mark.

    Lastly....if you REALLY have drive, talent and Luck, then all my advise is just a sobering hurdle to jump over by those that have the it ...and won't quite...although for some the choice is made for them no matter how hard they want it.

    The great lie of our society if that of no-limits.
    Unlimited growth, and the illusion that if you want it bad enough and work hard enough you will reach you dreams. don't get there by trying, but there's not room for everyone that wants to be in this buisness.


    ...and on the lighter side of the news.....
  16. e-cue

    e-cue Active Member

    Oct 5, 2000
    I love engineering. Love it. Thank god I'm good at it, or at least have success at it. If people at the labels thought I sucked, and never hired me, well, I'd make demo's on 4 track cassette recorders after a long day of lawn maintenance. I don't care what format I'm stuck on, be it tape, DAW, or adat (well, okay... maybe adat).
    Don't goto Full Sail. It's too expensive. Goto a cheaper place, like the conservatory if you feel a need for education. Your true education will come your first year in a studio environment. Aligning tape machines, Digital clocking, signal flow, transfers, effin' up, getting yelled at for effing up, etc... THAT'S where I learned most of my skill. I'd suggest trying to get on with a good studio. Move where there ARE good studios. Most sailors don't live in Kansas. New York, Nashville, LA, London, Tokyo, etc... Good studios usually mean good gear, and good gear usually means good engineers like working there. Assist for the best one you can find. They will be your Yoda. If you get stuck assisting for a crappy engineer, be able to identify the crappy element. Drums don't bang? Overcompression? Tone deaf? Non-creative? etc... And try not to fall into the same traps. Study tape op. Read Mix and other trade zine when you take a dump in case you run out of T.P. And if you don't love engineering, please do everyone a favor, and quit. Most engineers out there DON'T get paid ish.
  17. RecorderMan

    RecorderMan Well-Known Member

    Mar 28, 2001
    me too, me too. EXCELLANT positive rebuttal to my doom and gloom. very good points. Just the sort of advice for someone that has the drive to get past the picture I paint. A good choice can only be made with all the options... :c:
  18. Kurt Foster

    Kurt Foster Well-Known Member

    Jul 2, 2002
    77 Sunset Lane.
    There is nothing wrong with painting a picture of doom and gloom about the state of employment in the audio busisness. It's how it is. A standard aproach to students, interns and up and comers; be as negative and discouraging as possible. That way only the ones who really have the fire for it will stick. Might as well weed them out asap. I think the recording business is going to continue to downsize into the home studio. National recording acts, movies, ads and television is where comercial audio is headed IMO. Music is going to be recorded in personal studios because that's the only thing musicians can afford anymore. As a player your lucky to get $50 a night working in clubs. How is the local band going to be able to record a 10k demo on that kind of pay? Videos, MTV, online chat and home viewing of movies have stolen the night club scene audience from the bars and there is just not as much work out there for musicians anymore. This all affects the mid level commercial studio operations, forcing rates up to compinsate for lost business and aggravating the situation. Or the studio owner lowers rates to attract more business and ends up closing the doors because they can't pay for maintaince, tax's, good engineers etc. I don't mean to be a Gloomy Gus but newcomers should know the facts. The dedicated recording engineer is a thing of the past. The ones who will be sucsessful are the ones who have a masters in business or a law degree, arrange music, play piano, guitar, bass and drums, produce and engineer. Get a home recording rig, learn as much as you can about music, computers and electronics. Get an MBA. Learn to earn money. It won't buy happiness but it will make being misirable a lot easier. Fats
  19. oxyent

    oxyent Active Member

    Sep 20, 2001
    Checking these posts I see NY, LA, Philadelphia, England, Australia and North Carolina all represented. What the guys have said is true, every bit of it. Your original question was about making a "major life decision". The hardest thing I ever had to learn, or at least, the lesson that took the longest was and understanding of the word "happy". It's life, liberty and the PURSUIT of happiness. So what makes you happy? What will it take in the future?

    I thought I wanted to be a "star" so I put a band together and played central Texas clubs in the '70s. Decided after a couple of years that that life didn't make me happy after all. So I concentrated on writing songs and sending 'em off to Nashville. Dropping them in the trash can would have been a cheaper way to do the same thing ... the results would be the same. At the same time, I ENJOYED making the demos so I kept doing it ... proving that sometimes you don't really have a choice, something within you won't be denied. I went through at least 20 years of the "misunderstood artiste" game ... and then I finally changed my focus from MY material to other people's material (and trust me, there's TONS of great music still being created in Central Texas) and found I enjoyed recording (and sometimes producing) others. Maybe this will never amount to a hill of beans. Maybe one of the acts I work with will get a break and we'll sell millions of records. Or we'll have a demo picked up by George Strait or Bonnie Raitt and turned into a monster. And maybe monkeys will fly out of my butt ......... the point is, one time a couple of years ago as I was pondering all these "maybes" I suddenly stopped and realized that something totally unexpected had happened ... I was happy. The pursuit was over.

    So whether it's wife and kids (I have a wonderful wife), money in the bank (I ain't got squat), a flashy car (mine's 12 years old and needs work), or a nifty little project studio in what used to be the garage ... a studio that is turning out better and better stuff all the time (which is what I've got now) ... the biggest question you're ever going to face in life is "what's it gonna take to make me happy?" You don't necessarily need to be in the recording capitals of the world, but you DO NEED to be somewhere where there's lots of talented people who are interested in the same thing you're interested in. The people who gravitate to the music world are incredibly entertaining ... especially if you like your entertainment a touch on the weird side.

    Good luck Chris.
  20. jdsdj98

    jdsdj98 Active Member

    Jun 8, 2002
    Denver, CO
    Guys, guys, guys!! Come on, now. Let's broaden the scope of what's possible in this industry.

    I have a degree in music, was fortunate to intern with an incredible studio in New Orleans with a talented, "come here, let me show you this" minded engineering staff. I had big goals of being a big time music engineer in a big studio. But then I took my first job, loading cassettes here in Denver (not exactly a music studio hotbed). A broken leg put me in a wheelchair for 3 months, which allowed me to move into our studio, the start of a lot of good things for me (breaking my leg was the best career move I've made so far).

    Now, here's where I find myself:

    1. Recording/broadcasting audio for corporate webcasts.

    2. Recording VO's with high profile talent for local, regional, and national radio/tv spots and shows.

    3. Doing freelance camera and utility work for all of the local pro sports teams for in game entertainment screens (Jumbotron) and for highlight reels (sometimes on Sportscenter).

    4. Recording music when the opportunities arise with my own gear.

    oops. I didn't mean to write out a resume or toot my own horn there. I just wanted everyone here (esp. Chris) to realize that "recording" and "audio/video" isn't just about music. There are tons, I mean TONS of opportunities that exist in recording and audio/video outside of the music industry. I'm having a blast doing the things I do. Think about it, every single blurb on the radio, tv, hell, the voice in an airport shuttle train, was recorded somehwere by somebody. The work is out there. And that's the stuff that really pays. Joe Schmoe and his string band are all too often short on cash anyway.

    Not to mention the fact that the latest a VO session has kept me in the studio was about 7:30 PM,. :D :tu:

    Chris, go for it. But take ALL of the advice mentioned above. Just take those music blinders off and let things roll. You might be surprised where it takes you.
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    The New AT5047 Premier Studio Microphone Purity Transformed

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