I just got back from AES and jobs are on my mind. The day before the floor opened, I participated on a panel titled “Career Paths of the Audio Professional.” It was moderated by Paul Freudenberg (Rat Sound), and included myself, engineers Robert Scovill, Fred Vogler, Shawn Murphy, Dave Rat, Brett Valasek (ATK Audiotek), Claudio Lastrucci (Powersoft), and Mario Di Cola (Audio Labs Systems). The panel was evenly divided among independent contractors and business owners, and was well attended with an audience spread across the age spectrum from students and up. Paul took us through a range of questions and we talked about our personal experience, how we got started, and our thoughts on the current state of the industry.
Where we all agreed is that attitude and passion were the chief factors influencing success. One of the big laughs was provided by my quote from engineer John McBride stating: “Nobody ever got fired for bad audio, just for being a dick.” Other panelists chimed in that they’d take an untrained “someone” with great attitude and manners over someone who knew it all, or thought they did.
Opinions differed on questions of training and education, with some panelists saying, “Just do it,” while others were adamant on getting a high level of training—with reservations. More than one of us said early lessons had to be unlearned later in their career, thinking it was a good idea to choose your trainer(s) wisely, especially when there are so many current options.
For me, the often-cited argument that there are no jobs doesn’t hold water; the industry is just more complex. It’s easy to complain, pooh-pooh the state of things and remain stagnant. With that argument and attitude, you’ve already accepted defeat. Yes, production budgets are down, more music than ever is DIY and there is much competition, but that calls for more skills that add to your value as an audio pro. Independent contracting is tough, and always has been. Friends of mine who started as full-time recording engineers have taken on live engineering skills, dividing themselves between workflows. Live sound is booming, with everything from touring, to club, to houses of worship using much of the same gear. You can always tell how well an industry is doing by the level of investment. Clair Global just opened Rock Lititz, a 1,000,000-plus-square-foot facility designed for tour integration, design and rehearsal serving the live sound industry.
Experienced pros can consult, teach and write as well. There is a hunger for quality knowledge, especially in this age where everyone is a content creator, videographer, bloggers and more. All pros have to accept a fragmented model of income, where more skills add up to more $$$.
But what if you’re just starting out and are developing your skills? Interns abound when you have so many students leaving audio schools and hitting the market. Again, attitude is king. Think of yourself as an audio concierge who can offer great communication, service and basic skills, learning more hard skills as you go. School? No matter what the training path, choose a high-quality program with trainers at a location where others are making a living doing what you want to do. Those parameters marry the “just do it” with more traditional class-based programs and can put you on the fast track.
During the show, I chatted with an experienced engineer with deep credits whom I had assisted on some recording sessions early in my career. Over time, his work had shifted from making records to film and live mixing for the major awards shows—he’s a very successful guy who had adjusted his skills with the industry. His main complaint was that film work was largely moving to Canada and Europe, and he was challenged with his work being characterized by banner years followed by others far from it. So, is it tough? It’s always been tough. I remember hearing stories like these throughout my career. Being an indie is not a guarantee, but it allows you to pick your work when there’s bounty, and scratch your head and move forward during a bust.
Blending attitude, passion and skill—in that order—will take you a long way toward making a living at what we all love, making quality sound.