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Class of 2015: You’re On Your Own, Kid

I always look forward to reading Mix’s “Class Of” issue.

I always look forward to reading Mix’s “Class Of” issue. Not only is it fun to geek out on the latest studio designs around the planet, but it serves as a reminder that we have not seen the end of the pro studio, despite the dire predictions.

Of course, what constitutes a pro studio has changed dramatically over the years, and purpose-built personal studios are increasingly taking up the slack left by larger ones. Yet, no matter how big a studio is, it’s just as tough to keep the lights on as the challenges of monetizing music increase.

Meanwhile, recording arts programs churn out legions of qualified engineers, many of who are in search of that killer studio gig. The awaiting reality for those aspiring to record, mix or master is not unlike the fate of the men and women earning a baccalaureate in a liberal arts subject that isn’t on Forbes’ radar: If you’re one of those people stepping out into the sunlight, ready to take on the world with your newly minted pro-audio skills, well, you’re on your own, kid.

But don’t let that spoil your buzz about the recording industry. Despite what you see elsewhere in these pages, much of the audio business has comfortably regressed into the informal aesthetic of its youth, with important music being captured in places that were not tailor-made for recording, just as in the early days of the industry.

And while nothing can beat a well-tuned room for tracking and mixing, you don’t need a million-dollar space to do good work or make a living. Furthermore, buy the best gear you can afford, but don’t let mid-priced mics and preamps keep you from capturing a magical moment or helping someone realize their dreams of making a record.

Despite it being easier than ever to assemble a studio full of gear (a few clicks online and you’re done), as a member of the Class of 2015 you will have to work harder than your predecessors to get the experience needed to make a good living throughout your life. Fortunately, the work is out there. Those who are the most engaged in their craft will go the furthest.

And because the jobs are increasingly being done in a freelance capacity, it helps to be a jack-of-all-trades and a master of something. Very often that mastery is the reward for putting in countless hours on a gig that you probably fall into accidentally—a common payoff in a career that is, at best, non-linear. Look for those opportunities to stretch yourself and revel in them.

Consequently, tomorrow’s audio professional must be nimble (to use tech-industry jargon) if he or she wants to be working 20 years from now. The volatility of the freelance biz means you have to be ready for anything. When students ask me where the gigs are, I tell them everywhere—sound for picture, game audio, and concert sound, in addition to basic recording, mixing, and mastering. The fundamentals are the same no matter where you go. Find that niche if you can, but be ready for change because it’s the only constant.

Above all, don’t let the naysayers fool you into thinking there is no money in this business. It’s there for those who look for it. Become a badass at what you do and the work will find you. I see this everywhere in our industry.

So, study the recording facilities in this issue, then remind yourself that it’s not about working in a multimillion-dollar room with vintage mics at your disposal. It’s about the craft. It’s about the personal connections you make. And it’s about helping other people sound amazing with whatever talent they have and whatever tools you can afford.

Consider this year’s batch of personal studios: They were built for people who started out in much humbler digs and still managed to become successful. And while your first, second or third studio might not be as highfalutin as what’s listed here this month, the body of knowledge required to design a studio doesn’t change depending on its cost: The same rules of physics apply. Yours should be the best you can build within your means, while keeping an eye open for ways to improve it.

For example, rather than purchasing a pre-configured pack of acoustical treatment and slapping everything up to match the picture on the box, do your homework and find out exactly what your room needs in order to function at a professional level. If you have to, pay for a consultation with a studio designer. At the very least, he or she will give you a list of things to consider. And that information will not only help you in this particular room but with every space you occupy in the future.

So, you’re on your own, kid. But look at it as an advantage you will have over earlier generations. You will have to make do with a lot less of some things (fewer full-time jobs, less mentorship) while having more of others (low-cost equipment). As you build a broad enough skill set to survive a future of new technologies and emerging job opportunities, every hurdle you tackle on your own makes you that much stronger.