For a lot of up and coming audio engineers, there’s a great deal of uncertainty when it comes to actual employment. This comes in part due to the way that we think of work.
- Written by Julian Lennox
In most industries, the paths are relatively clear-cut. The usual story is that you study, finish your degree and apply for a position at an appropriate employer. But the music industry is a different beast and the career paths aren’t always that simple. Some engineers will be lucky enough to step into a position that ticks all the boxes, but for the majority, it isn’t that straightforward.
“It’s for this reason that I believe the greatest advice ever given to me as an audio engineer is to be flexible and open minded when it comes to work”
This advice was given to me by an engineer who at that particular time was working in several very different industries, but each position he picked up had a very similar role. He was recording and mixing bands, doing FOH sound for live performances, lecturing at an educational institution and doing occasional Sound Design for short films amongst other odd jobs. The fact is that the skills that come with being an audio engineer can be applied to an extremely wide range of jobs.
Some of the most popular options available to audio engineers are in industries such as Film, TV, Music, Radio etc but there are also a wealth of positions that would not have been obvious when starting out. Industries like IT, Video games, Advertising, Forensics, Architecture and Education are also likely to provide work to an audio engineer. Due to the sheer scale of variety available, it’s absolutely essential to stay open minded when considering a path for employment.
Starting out, Audio Engineers will occasionally fall into the trap of trying to specialise their skill set and avoid jobs because they don't fit their ideal workplace. Having goals and plans are important but focusing too hard on one particular position can result in a lot of frustration and disappointment. For example, if you are hell-bent on becoming a big shot producer in a reputable studio in Nashville and only focus your efforts on making this happen, you may be putting too many eggs into one very unlikely basket.
Instead, educating yourself in different fields and trying to gain some understanding in how you can apply your skills can get the ball rolling. Therefore, when you inevitably do meet someone involved in that particular field, you can put yourself forward for a potential position, seeing as you not only have the skills, but an idea of how to apply them. Having that kind of flexibility opens you up to the possibility of actually taking on some projects in which you can try out some of these new skills. The first couple of jobs probably won’t be the best work you’ve ever done but the only real way to get better at what you do is by doing it again and again.
A great example of this situation is the high profile music producer Butch Vig. During his early life he studied film direction and wrote electronic music for short films. He then met a guitarist named Steve Marker and they formed the band now known as Garbage. After a couple of recordings, he started to get more involved in the production aspect of music creation and went on to produce a number of notable albums and he is now considered one of the top producers in the industry. The movement of Butch Vig from film/movie score composer to musician and then to producer shows just how much his career path has wandered and a lot of that had to do with who he met along the way.
So while the aspiring audio engineer can still have the dream of becoming a big shot producer, the reality is that they may have to do a lot of work in fields and industries that they may consider unrelated in order to reach that end goal.
“It’s not what you know, it’s who you know”
The nature of the industry and the emphasis on your contacts and social skills further solidifies my point. Just like Butch Vig, the work that you end up doing is often dictated by chance encounters with the people around you. So at any point you may end up running into a future colleague who works in a completely different field that you may end up in. This also proves the necessity of being flexible as you may not have considered working in sound for video games until you met that old friend who just got a job at a major video game developer.
- Written by Julian Lennox; professional Audio Engineer with a background in Studio and Location Recording and tutors several units in the Audio Engineering & Sound Production course at JMC Academy.
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