An Engineer’s Guide To Breaking Into The Industry - Part I
Decision Making and Education vs Experience
This is an article that I have been wanting to write for a long time. I want to tell it how it really is and give real honest advice, warts ‘n all to anyone, of any experience level, of any age, who is serious about becoming a recording engineer. I will examine the different entry points to the industry, believe me there is no one size fits all package deal, I’ll also be delving into my own route and highlighting some defining moments.
Are You 110% Certain That This Is What You Want To Do For The Rest Of Your Life?
I actually wasn’t that sure until I was 18. I changed my mind at the last minute to not leave school and enroll in a music technology course at college (UK - A-levels at 16 years old). I wasn’t certain that it was the right thing to do and wanted the security of staying in school and getting some broader A-levels (Music, Physics, Computing, Design Technology). I did poorly in all of these and got C, D, D, E respectively. School really wasn’t my thing. After the 2 last years of school were up I applied for a Music Technology BSc at University (Cardiff School of Creative & Cultural Industries, now the USW) and was offered a place.
I ended up making friends at University with some guys who had done the same Music Technology course at the same college that I almost went to at 16. This goes to show how our different paths still lead us to the same place.
I’m sure that if you know this is the career for you and it’s wholeheartedly what you want to do in life then YOU KNOW. Just like I did, when you think about it constantly, dream about it, and every decision you make is based on carving out a career path in the music business.
Formal Education vs Experience
I feel very strongly that real world experience will always outweigh formal education. There are countless situations I have found myself in on recording sessions that are very difficult, if not impossible to recreate in an educational environment. There’s something inherently different about the way you think and react under real world pressure where time is money and tempers are short. Here’s an example: Your running Pro Tools on an orchestral recording day for a film with 40 musicians in the live room and 10 people (directors,producers, music execs) in the control room breathing down your neck. You go to open the next cue and the session is corrupt, it crashes, you have to think on your feet and rebuild a new session while the potential of 1000’s of dollars per minute of overtime is looming! You just don't know how your going to react until your in that situation but, perhaps if you had been able to be a fly on the wall on that session as an intern, you’ve been subjected to that pressure and have an idea of how to handle things when it’s your turn.
There are some pros to formal education that led me to follow (blindly) that path initially. Undertaking a university degree in music technology can make you feel like your taking a step forward in the right direction, this can be really helpful and inspiring. I grew up in rural West Wales where there weren't any professional studios to get real experience in and I didn't feel ready at 18 to move to a city without any prospects so moving to a city to study felt safer. You have to remember that once you start that course, you are IN the music industry. Not when you leave having thrown your mortarboard high in the air, your in the industry the moment you make that decision to study. This is SO important.
How To Get That Experience
I believe that the key here is commitment and persistence while keeping a friendly face and a positive attitude in the way you present yourself to Studio Managers. Producers, and Engineers. It’s going to take time and there’s going to be setbacks along the way. A realistic reply rate from sending out ‘work experience’ and ‘internship’ opportunity emails is around 10%. Sometimes a follow up call can help jog the memory of a busy manager with 100’s of emails but generally speaking, knocking on studio doors unannounced is not wise and could show disregard for the studios privacy.
A defining moment for me was during my second year at university applying for an assistant engineer position on a music jobs board website, working alongside a producer in the South Wales area. That’s really all the information I had, it could have been Joe Bloggs in his garden shed for all I knew but it was worth a try. I waited 2 weeks and didn't get a reply so I did a bit of digging and found a telephone number on a website that was linked on the advert, this re-routed to a mobile phone and Nick picked up. ‘I haven't got back to anyone yet I’ve had hundreds of applications, since your on the phone do you want to come to Rockfield Studios on Monday for a weeks trial?’ Of course I accepted and cancelled any other plans I had the following week to make it happen.
Coming up in Part 2:
- How To Make The Most of a Work Experience Position.
- Transitioning From Assistant To Engineer
In this section of the blog you will find recording advice, tips and tricks from fellow artists and music producers.
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