Over the past few years, Hugh Robjohns and myself have visited quite a few schools and colleges running music technology courses, and going by the questions asked of us, we can usually identify the one or two students in each group that are really destined to do well in their chosen field. While some people are drawn to audio courses because they see them as an easy or glamorous option, it soon becomes apparent that there’s a lot more to working in audio than ‘doing beats’, and students who don’t show up for lectures or don’t hand in work on time are probably not going to be the ones who make it. There’s a lot of competition these days, with virtually every college and university offering some kind of music technology course, so getting ahead is just as tough as it is when studying any other subject.
It may seem depressing that while the number of students keeps on going up, the number of operating professional studios continues to decline. For those who see engineering in a studio as the only way to scratch their creative itch, it is vitally important to appreciate that your engineering skills are only part of the package requirement. Clearly you have to be able to use both the gear and your ears, but these days you also need to have enough technical knowledge to fix minor faults and to do battle with intransigent computers. Even more importantly, you need to be a ‘can do’ person who helps provide a stress-free, comfortable environment in which your clients can be at their most creative. This isn’t something that can easily be taught, but it is nevertheless a vital credential for the job along with absolute reliability. Skipping a session because of ‘man flu’ just isn’t an option.
If you are prepared to look at the wider audio marketplace, you’ll still need to be reliable and personable, but having a flexible approach opens up many more opportunities. Live sound is still a healthy part of the business, as is installed sound, theatre sound, conference sound, audio sales and so on. Then there are those more specialist niches such as broadcast, mastering, music for games, running a rock star’s private studio, forensic audio, sound for film or TV, sound design, foley sound, sample library creation and Internet content management.
Even if you have all the necessary skills and personality traits, the old chestnut of ‘right place at the right time’ still applies, so use every social networking avenue to your advantage — hang out in pubs where audio or broadcast engineers congregate, offer to help out for free at festivals, and so on. Also make sure you do proper research on a prospective employer before contacting them. In short, you have to work to make the opportunities come to you, as pure chance has too much on its plate these days to treat you as a special case.