Teaching classes at the city-college level is some of the most satisfying work I’ve ever done. The real payoff is at the end of each semester, when I’m often amazed at the high quality of the final projects. But it’s not just the singer/songwriters, rappers and beat makers that impress me. The proficiency shown by the budding sound-designers and engineers is notable, and I marvel at how the most talented ones can easily transition between audio apps, video editors and loop sequencers. By the time they finish the certificate program, these students have a solid foundation in technology that will serve them well in the real world, only…
“Don’t these kids know there are no jobs out there?”
Or so the old-timers like to say. It turns out that the work is definitely out there if one persists. A California state audit revealed that 100 percent of the students in our certificate program find work in their field of study (not just flipping burgers). You read that correctly: 100 percent. Yes, it’s hard to believe, even for those of us who view the glass half-full.
Consider how pervasive audio is in our everyday lives: Somebody has to create the sounds that accompany cable TV ads, video games and smartphone apps. I’ve been fortunate to see students from our program find gigs at Electronic Arts, Activision and a host of small startups that create sound for game consoles and mobile devices. It’s grueling work that involves insane hours, often for moderate wages, but it’s work within the Industry. And my ex-students thrive on both the pressure and the rewards.
Unfortunately, it can also be tenuous work. Sound designers are the first to go if a product doesn’t sell or if the company has a bad quarter. Few, if any, of these companies seem to have long-term plans that involve their audio teams. Consequently, audio creators must learn to roll with the punches and keep their contacts and reels up to date because, with few exceptions, it’s a freelance world.
But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. While freelancers must continually be on the lookout for gigs, they don’t have all of their eggs in one basket, either. Of course it’s glamorous to work for a major production company, but that thrill quickly fades after you’ve been laid off. And as product lifecycles become shorter and shorter, the developers also come and go with increasing speed. Those who want to be successful in the biz need to embrace this and keep an open mind about the industry, because it is continually changing.
It’s Never About You
A few months ago in this column, I noted how internships remain an important part of the learning process for up-and-coming audio professionals. However, a mastery over technology shouldn’t be the only goal of an extra-curricular education. The curriculum in the School of Hard Knocks involves learning professional behaviors. While we do our best to help students develop the interpersonal skills required in the real world, it’s something they will only master outside the classroom.
Recently, a student asked me for advice before his interview for an internship at a well-known studio. I told him that the most important things a second engineer can do—any audio professional, really—is to listen and be humble. As engineer/producer Dave Hampton recently noted in an interview, ours is a service-oriented business, and it’s never about you. Engineers must remove their ego and put the project first, especially in situations when they know they’re right and the client is wrong. Learn to deal gracefully with situations like that, and you’ll go far.
Learn to Relearn
This student also was worried that he wouldn’t have the chops to land the internship. I explained that the studio wouldn’t expect him to know everything. And besides, the speed with which technology changes means he will always be learning on the job.
In his New York Times article dated September 8, 2012, Thomas L. Friedman quoted the vice chancellor for work force and economic development at the California Community Colleges System, who noted that prospective job seekers typically have one of “four basic skill sets”: “ready now,” where they have the exact skills needed by an employer; “ready soon,” where it’s clear they can be trained easily for a particular gig; “work ready,” where they have a solid educational background and can eventually be trained for a job; and “far from ready,” where they’re not prepared for the tasks required in the modern workforce.
All of the recording arts programs I know of strive to graduate students who, at the very least, will fall into the “ready soon” category, if not in the “ready now.” Because our industry has such a wide variety of skill requirements—recording, editing, production, scoring, coding, etc.—and numerous production systems in use, it’s nearly impossible for students to be completely ready for everything they might encounter.
Consequently, among the most important qualities that successful audio professionals must have are the abilities to adapt to changing situations and to learn new skills quickly. And they must always remember that the client comes first.