5 Careers In The Recording Industry: Exploring Horizons Beyond Your Home Recording Studio Setup
Most home recording studios are owned by people with diverse backgrounds who followed different paths to end up with their own setups. From the seasoned audio engineer with decades of experience, to the young student musician just starting out, individuals from various stages in their careers are making use of a home studio.
But what if you need more? You may already have your home recording studio up and running for a few years, but realize you need the exposure and experience of a professional recording studio to help you grow your own studio. Alternatively, you may start your home studio, but soon realize you want to be more directly involved with the professional recording industry as a home studio will never fulfill your long term goals or ambitions.
Whatever your reason my be, it will be helpful to know what your options are when looking at a career in the recording industry.
To help you out, we will be looking at 5 traditional positions in the big commercial recording studios. Its just important to note that these positions are not so clear-cut anymore and many have merged into one. They also overlap in most cases, blurring the lines between the different positions. For example, a sound engineer are able to do the job of an audio technician or step up to fill the shoes of a mastering engineer. This happens more often than you think.
Depending on size and type, different commercial studios define these job titles differently as well (and it keeps on changing!). As an owner of a home recording studio, you probably are already performing all the functions that would have been performed by all different professionals in big studio setup.
The reason for mentioning all of the above is not to confuse you. The aim is simply to warn and prepare you to be ready for the different scenarios that await you in this sometimes very finicky and ever changing industry.
With that said, lets have a look at the 5 traditional positions in the professional recording studio. We literally will be working our way from the bottom up.
Big companies like accounting and law firms, big movie and recording studios. Most of them have runners. If you have no experience or qualifications, this is probably the position you will be starting off with at any big studio.
From being a glorified tea or coffee boy/girl, to running all kinds of errands for the engineers and audio technicians. This is literally the lowest level in the studio.
But this is also an extremely valuable time if used correctly. Swallow your pride, and be willing to jump when your superior ask you to.
But if you keep your eyes and ears open, you are gong to learn how things work at a record pace. You will we be learning new things every single day.
By simply observing what the audio technicians, sound engineers and even studio managers do and listening to their conversations, you will be amazed at how quickly your technical knowledge and overall understanding of how things work in the studio will grow.
At some point you may be able to take the initiative to perform a few simple tasks that a audio technician would normally do. Keep at it and at some point someone may just notice your new found abilities and that can be just the break you were looking for.
If you are not looking for a long term career in the commercial industry, but just want to further your knowledge to apply in your home studio, spending time as a runner to get some access to the commercial recording environment and possibly be able to pick the brain of an audio technician or engineer, may just be the perfect thing for you.
The Audio Technician
For this position you will definitely already need a thorough technical knowledge or qualification and know your way around a recording studio. A Certificate in Audio Technology will be a recommended bare minimum to get started with. (Fortunately this 9-12 month certificate is offered by many technical institutions, community colleges and vocational schools.)
You need to know all the nuts and bolts of what makes a studio work and everything in it. From setting up the the microphones, connecting and running all the equipment, to recording and processing the audio in a Digital Audio Workstation.
If you love the technical side of audio recording and processing, as well as physically working with the equipment and the studio, you may find this position very rewarding.
Just keep into consideration that you will mostly be responsible for just the technical side of a studio. You will most probably answer to the sound engineer, producer or both. They are responsible for the more creative side of of audio recordings, which means most of these decisions are out of your control, and only passed on to you to implement.
There is a upside to this however. The logical next step up from technician is to sound engineer. Working closely with a sound engineer and producer allows you to get exposure to the creative side of recordings. If you have a talent for it and get the chance to show some creativity, it may not go unnoticed by the senior staff who may want to explore this talent some more.
Getting a better qualification will always put you in a more favorite position, but more on that in the next section.
The Sound Engineer
Like I said, the sound engineer is a logical step up an audio technician. But just gaining experience and work your way up to the position of sound engineer may not be that simple.
A better or more advanced qualification is often required to be seriously considered for this position. Two options are available:
Associate's Degree Program in Audio Production and Engineering: This a 2 year degree that includes all the skills covered by a Certificate in Audio Technology, as well as covering sound system design, audio mixing techniques, architectural acoustics and the basics of music business.
Bachelor's Degree Program in Audio Production: This a comprehensive 4-year course that covers all important aspects related to the recording industry. The basic technical skills required by an audio technician are covered, as well as many more advanced applications. Students are also taught how to record and edit sound in different environments like the studio, live and outdoor events and in digital media formats. This is obviously a long term and costly investment, so make very sure this what you really want to do before making any final decisions.
These qualifications are obviously no guarantee to secure a position as a sound engineer, but will go a long way to help you stand a better chance.
A sound engineer can do everything an audio technician can, but have more control. Armed with more experience and a bigger skill set, the sound engineer works closely with the producer and are very involved with the creative side of audio recording. Important decisions rest on his shoulders to make changes to the editing and mixing of the recorded tracks that can result in very different end results.
If you are very creative, have the experience and all the technical skills, as well as the necessary qualifications, this can be a very lucrative long-term goal for you.
The Mastering Engineer
This position can be considered the top and most prestigious position in any big recording company's studio. There is general consensus among many sound engineers that only decades of experience as a sound engineer can prepare you to be even considered for the position as a mastering engineer.
Only after absolutely everything is done, from recording, editing and final adjustments in the DAW software finished, and the mixing of all the different tracks are finalized - only then does it reach the mastering engineer.
In essence, the mastering engineer puts the final touches on an audio production as a whole and prepare it for output to digital media.
Here some fine-tuning and polishing of the audio is done to make it stand out and shine. Some final adjustments, equalization and balancing can still be done at this stage. It is just important to note that at this stage any changes that are done, are done to the whole audio production. No changes or effects can be applied to individual tracks anymore at this point.
A mastering engineer must possess quite a few abilities. He/she must have experience with working on final audio productions and knowledge of how they are produced. A well-tuned ear, a creative touch, and a full understanding of the recording and editing process is a must. (Many mastering engineers used to be sound engineers, and as a result many sound engineers strive to reach this sought-after position.)
As you can clearly see, this is one position you can only reach after you mastered all the other roles in the studio and have been spending many years honing and fine-tuning your skills.
Simply put, the producer runs the whole production, both inside and out of the studio. They are directly responsible for the studio and everyone working in it, as well as working with the recording artists, setting up schedules and time-tables.
They are already involved in the planning stage of the project, deciding what should be done when and where, and also who should be involved at what stage. They are even involved with working out the budget of a project and ensuring everything is kept within this set budget throughout the whole production process. Then they must make sure everything takes place according to schedule and moving along smoothly.
Needless to say a producer must have a very broad vision of the whole production, including having a clear view and understanding of the end product and making sure evryone and everything is working towards this end goal.
Having extensive knowledge and experience in the recording industry simply won't be enough to cut it as a producer. The ability to plan, effectively organize and work with people is absolutely essential. And like I already mentioned, having a clear vision of the end product and knowing what is necessary to obtain it, is vital.
It is a daunting task indeed. This is probably why there not an abundance of very successful producers out there, and why there is such a high demand for a good producer.
As you can clearly see, no matter what your specific interest within the scope of the recording industry may be, there is a position that will satisfy your needs. Some of it may just take a lot longer to achieve than others, and can be an expensive exercise that requires your full commitment.
As a result, I would recommend you take some time thinking things through when considering a move into this rewarding but sometimes hectic and stressful industry. Evaluate where you currently are, what your goals are, and if you see yourself venturing into this world as a full time career, or just to gain some experience for your own personal venture.
This is a decision no one but you can make. Armed with the knowledge in this article, you will have a much clearer idea of what is available out there, and help you to make an informed decision. Just remember, even if things don't work out exactly the way you planned, and your home recording studio is still a passion, you will always have something to come back to. And most probably with a lot more knowledge and wisdom.
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Catch you in the next article and happy recording!