Getting your big break in the recording industry may seem like an impossible dream, especially if you’re a current student or recent graduate. There’s no exact blueprint for making it happen, but thankfully we happen to know some pros who are more than happy to share their advice.
Throughout our Ask Me Anything interview series, industry professionals have offered up tips and valuable lessons for those who want to get their foot in the door.
Looking to get your start? Read on for some important tips from industry experts.
Check Your Ego at the Door
Each year the Audio Engineering Society holds their annual convention, where industry titans gather to showcase the latest and greatest in audio technology and recording products. Frank Wells has been an AES member since 1992 and held the role of president in 2013. When asked what advice he’d offer to aspiring audio engineers, it all came down to one thing – attitude.
“Attitude is still the most important thing. You can’t teach it. … No ego on yourself is what I’m saying; you’re not pumping your own ego. You don’t have to have the need to share your opinion. You’re going to get asked your opinion when you’ve proven your opinion is actually something they want. … The intangible attitude, you have to have the foundation of knowledge. You have to have the ability to work, but the attitude you bring to the equation is the biggest thing. So, you walk in with the right attitude, you tell people you’re willing to do whatever it takes to get started in that business and you show yourself and prove that and you’ll succeed. Somewhere, somehow, it will happen.”
Develop the Full Package
Recording engineer and music producer Jimmy Douglass has had a Grammy-winning career that’s spanned four decades. He’s worked with artists in every genre imaginable, everyone from AC/DC to Hall & Oates. He served as Timbaland’s main engineer for over 10 years. Douglass’ advice to students set on becoming producers and engineers is to take a look around at their peers and develop a connection with these other musical artists.
“I’m going to suggest that in your music school there are people like yourself, people who are trying to do the same thing. You are sitting around the next basic well of talent. You guys are the new talent. If you’re really that ambitious, you’ll find the talent in there. You will find that singer that can make songs for you, you’ll find that musician that can do the beats if you can’t do them yourself, you’ll find that writer that can write the songs if you can’t write them. When you come out of college, you’ll come out with a package… What makes you different is the initiative… You have something? I want something. Now we can talk.”
Absorb Everything Around You
Joel Singer is an audio engineer, mixer, co-founder and chief engineer of Music Mix Mobile (M3), a business that broadcasts remotely for clients worldwide. Over the years he has worked with artists like Justin Timberlake, Madonna and many more, and has earned a Grammy Award along the way. When it comes to students interested in audio careers, his biggest piece of advice is to listen.
“The biggest thing is that you want someone to just sit there and keep their ears and eyes open and take as much in as they can and then, over the course of time, start to contribute. No one’s expecting anyone to come out of school and contribute immediately. It’s just that way in my world.”
Don’t Let Anyone Hold You Back
The audio engineering industry is predominantly male, but that hasn’t stopped Lenise Bent from making a name for herself. Undeterred by naysayers, Bent powered through and found herself working with artists like Fleetwood Mac and on films like RoboCop. Here’s her advice for women looking to make their way into the industry.
“It’s absolutely appropriate for women to do this. When I started out, everybody tried to tell me women don’t do this. There’s no reason why women can’t do this. I think there are a lot of women out there who don’t realize that you can have a lot of fun, if you’re a technical person, if you’re wired that way… if you take things apart… and put them back together… if you have that sensibility… you can do it! And you’re embraced… We can all do this.”
Be Where the Action Is
Ryan Hewitt is known within the industry for his unrelenting work ethic and sense of humor. His recording and mixing skills have made him the natural choice for artists like Sheryl Crow, Blink-182, Red Hot Chili Peppers and more. He suggests that aspiring engineers move to where the action is and work as hard as possible.
“There aren’t as many studios these days and there are more people that want to get into the business. The main thing, I think, is being where you want and being where the action is. If you want to make rock records, you probably are going to want to be in Los Angeles. If you want to make country records, think Nashville; Indie stuff, Brooklyn. Be where the studios you want to work in are, because then you’ll have the opportunity to go and bang on their door every day until they let you in.
“I know there are programs like the Recording Connection that hook you up with internships. I am working with them to expand their project into internships with people who have home studios, like myself. That’s the main thing. Once you get the internship, it’s important to work as hard as you can and not be the person who goes home at 5 o’clock when their shift is done. Instead think, I’m done being paid at 5 o’clock, but I’m going to stick around until everyone else goes home and learn how to do whatever – back up Pro Tools sessions – all the really boring crap that all the assistants and engineers don’t want to do. If they can lean on you to do it, you’re going to be the first person they want in the room, other than the artist and assistant.”
Making it in the recording industry won’t be a cakewalk. It requires hard work, long hours and endless passion. Take your time learning the ropes and maybe one day you’ll be offering advice to a new generation of music students.