Hugh Robjohns and I are often asked to talk to students on various music technology courses around the country, and wherever we go we can always pick out the students likely to make it based on the questions they ask us. Not only does asking questions demonstrate a thirst for knowledge, it also shows a willingness to engage on a social level. Inevitably there are also students who sit at the back, ask no questions and even play with their phones. And these are just the ones who turned up... I don’t know how many of these students expect to fall into a job in a top studio as soon as they leave college, but the reality is that the number of big studios is on the decline as private studios become more sophisticated.
Not surprisingly then, we get a lot of job-related questions and Hugh usually points out that the audio industry is much wider than simply working as a studio engineer, so it pays to get as much experience as possible in as many areas of audio as you can. You may start out wanting to be a studio engineer but find yourself working in live sound, forensic audio, radio, TV, film or even writing music software, so try to keep your options open. If you do end up working as an engineer or producer, the chances are that you’ll be doing so on a self-employed basis, either finding your own work or contracting out to other companies, so you also need to know how to keep accounts, fill in your tax returns and so on.
My take on all this is that there are so many music technology students competing for jobs that a high level of expertise will be expected by any prospective employer, and work experience, such as a placement at a local radio or theatre, counts for a lot. Joining organisations such as AES or the Music Producers Guild can also help get you in contact with the right people. The old system of teaching the tea boy doesn’t really apply any more, so you need to have in-depth knowledge of the most common DAW in your desired area of employment, plus a basic knowledge of several others so that you can hit the ground running. If you can sort out basic computer problems and solder faulty cables you may earn more brownie points, but the one thing that colleges can’t teach you is how to have the right personality.
To be a successful studio engineer, live sound guy, video sound mixer, or whatever, the necessary skills must be in place, you must be entirely reliable and, ideally, radiate a sense of friendly calm. In short, you need to be a people person able to read the moods and intentions of others and to be able to offer solutions when problems arise. If you can tick all these boxes then you shouldn’t have too much trouble finding a role somewhere in the audio industry. And, finally, always do your research beforehand on the companies you approach; find the name of the person you need to talk to and send them a well-crafted letter demonstrating a knowledge of what they are about, rather than a ‘gizza job’ letter with your CV stapled to it.