The definition of an audio engineer has undergone a lot of changes over the years as advances in modern technology and computing have allowed individuals to fashion home studio projects that can be and sound as professional as any other commercial studio with mountains and mountains of exclusive analog processors and equipment that cost more than what most people afford to pay off in a 20-year period.
Granted, personal home studio projects haven’t erased the need for commercial studios altogether yet certain engineers have been able to create very successful home-based studios that do indeed rival commercial operations in almost every conceivable aspect imaginable. So, at the very core, what is it that makes an audio engineer an audio engineer?
What Makes a Good Audio Engineer?
After having a few clients of my own and experiencing my own set of personal successes and failures along the way, I’ve come to believe that, first and foremost, it’s a love the craft and thirst for knowledge about all things audio-related that makes you an audio engineer.
Granted, I don’t claim to be a resident expert (I just haven’t really been in the industry that long to claim such a title), nor do I have a long list of accolades and grand praiseworthy successes that would give me bragging rights in any situation, but I do have a thorough understanding of the amount of time, money, and dedication that one must have in order to really operate in this industry at any level.
Important Skills to Develop
First off, you have to know how to improvise in situations when everything seems to go wrong. I know that sounds a bit simplistic, but once finely honed, your ability to come up with workarounds on the drop of a dime will come in handy and save your ass when least expected!
And as the audio industry has become firmly entrenched and wholly depending on computing and digital technology in general, it’s never been easier (and more important) to always back up EVERY SINGLE PROJECT THAT YOU CREATE OR WORK ON! Yes, it’s THAT IMPORTANT!
The consequences of not doing so will really hurt your ability to retain or gain future clients should your workstation “brown out” or crash in the middle of a project, and with the various methods and resources available for you to back up your projects with, there’s really no excuse for not doing so!
Honing Your Craft
That being said, being an audio engineer presupposes possessing an intuitive understanding of the tools that you use in projects, and what it means to make something actually sound polished and professional. You need to have a well-organized workflow that makes sense to you and is easy for others to access should they have a need to open your project.
This includes naming tracks and identifying areas along the timeline wherever changes, edits, processing, recording, etc. take place along the timeline of a project by means of markers and additional notes that you can attach to those markers in the process.
Of course, those functions and processes will vary depending on your DAW of choice, but it’s up to you to get out there and learn as much as you possibly can about your DAW, and you can find a plethora of forums, videos, PDF’s, and blogs that cover all the different kinds of functions and features of every currently existing and viable DAW out there, so it’s really just a question of the amount of time and energy that you’re willing to put into learning your DAW inside and out.
Music is Art – Don’t Forget That
Thirdly, it’s crucial that you keep an open mind when it comes to working on projects as an audio engineer. Music is a highly personal thing that, by its very definition, is the artistic product of someone else’s thoughts and emotions, and should be respected as such.
Taking time to learn about things like music theory or the history or influences behind the genre that your client specializes in will go a long way besides just being able to “punch in and punch out” or perform edits.
This is because your understanding of the genre will really come in handy when it’s time to perform a mixdown or a certain edit or change that will align your client’s project closer to the accepted standard and quality that have already been firmly established for that genre.
For people who can evenly balance analytical and creative thinking, working in projects like these can be a highly rewarding experience, although the positions will be few and far between for most except those who prove to be outstanding at what they do!
You Will Fail In The Beginning – Don’t Worry, Everybody Does
Lastly, it’s important to realize that if you’re starting off, you’re going to go through some rough patches and failures; it’s simply an inevitable and inexorable fact that has befallen every professional in the industry, no matter how experienced or successful they are. What will make all the difference, though, is how quickly you learn from your mistakes, because you won’t be given too much leeway to make many more before they begin to leave a mark on your reputation!
Granted, beginners and novices will be granted ample room to make mistakes, and as long as you’re honest about what your actual abilities are in the process, people will tend to be more forgiving.
Want to Jumpstart Your Career? Find a Mentor
For those of you who are concerned about being able to learn and apply what you learn along the way without making as many mistakes, my advice would be to find a mentor or collaborate with other people who are stronger in areas that you’re not so great at.
Having a solid team of people who are knowledgeable about different aspects of the recording process is definitely a great way to become well-rounded about the various ins and outs of audio, and it also serves to relieve the burden of ensuring that the project enjoys a successful outcome and that your client is satisfied!
Furthermore, should you prove to be highly efficient when working with certain individuals, you’ll be much better off than lone wolves who may not work as well with others, and when you do decide to take on projects on your own, you’ll likely be much more experienced and prepared when it comes to addressing your client’s needs and collaborating effectively with them to carry out the project from start to finish!