Is Going To School For Audio Worth The Price You Pay

Today, we are going to comment on a very common inquiry we get from many young producers who come through our studio in Chicago and book time. It is the question of whether it is useful or not to go to an audio school to pursue a career in music. With so much of the younger generation discovering a passion for music production (largely due to the affordability of powerful audio & production software), the natural move for a small percentage of them is to want to make a living engineering and producing music full time.

So just like many careers out there, the natural logic is to presume a degree is needed not only for the skill and insight but for the resume, proof of effort, etc. In addition, the idea of going to school to learn how to play around with mixing consoles, top end audio gear and microphones is pretty enticing. So if you’ve toyed around with these questions, let us give you a few thoughts to take into consideration. Remember, the ultimate decision though is up to you and no one else, don’t ever forget that.

No Degree Is Needed To Make A Living In Audio Engineering

We’ll just get right to the point here. No degree is needed to make a successful living recording, mixing, mastering, or producing music. As a matter of fact, it wouldn’t be all that shocking to discover that most of the top level audio engineers currently in the field didn’t go to school for a career in audio. It would even be fair to say that a decent amount didn’t even go to school at all.

Audio engineering and music production is not just a field of study. It is an artform, a craft. The typical method of training for a career in audio is an internship where an aspiring engineer learns and works under a seasoned audio engineer, studies and actively employs his or her techniques and philosophies in order to one day develop into a skilled successful engineer. Its been like this since the earliest days of recording. The two things that matter most in this business in order to induce ultra success are connections and experience. These days, one can go to any studio around the world, beg like a dog for an unpaid internship, and start the long and somewhat brutal process of planting one foot in the door. Of course you’ll make a lot of coffee, clean a lot of toilets and answer a lot of phones, but its all for that one day when you might be able to assist a session for the first time or be relied upon to edit some audio in Pro Tools before an important mix. Then before you know it, you’ll be sitting in more sessions, learning more techniques, asked to do more important things in order to make the engineer or engineers lives that you are interning under exponentially easier in the studio.

Go To School If You Can Pay

With all that was just previously said talking down the idea of going to school for audio engineering, a college education can be invaluable for an aspiring young engineer, giving you hands on experience with recording equipment and real world situations commonly found in most professional studios around the world. You see, its more than just recording and mixing. It’s learning the process to meet deadlines, proper session flow, understanding your clients or client psychology, the art of effective promotion, business management and so much more. Some of these things can be hard for an intern to learn in the studio. Having a firm grasp on all these concepts before beginning what is the usual mandatory internship makes it easier to get both feet in the door at a studio and thrown into everyday studio life.

The one unfortunate thing about going to school these days is the amount of money that one must shell out in order to get that piece of paper at the end that confirms you did it. So if you have the money to go or your family or relatives are willing to pay for it so you don’t have student loans, go to school, it would be silly not to. The amount of people you’ll meet, relationships you’ll develop, and life experiences you’ll have are ultimately important for personal growth and development. And you can apply these life lessons and relationships to the world of professional audio. Good people skills and relationships can lead to more networking, more networking can lead to more connections, and more connections can ultimately lead to more clients and business.

However, if you have to take out loans to go to school, it’s tough to advocate putting yourself in serious financial debt for a degree in audio. Why? At the end of the day, the sad fact is that even with an esteemed degree from a top college, you still have to be accepted into the school of ‘hard knocks’ as an intern in a recording studio. As we said before, the education should help give you a one up with your experience and knowledge over the rest of the interns. Engineers may turn to you more often to assist or sit in on their sessions, but that’s not always a guarantee. At the end, you’ll have to ask yourself if its really worth spending all that time and money on a degree only to do what you could have done for free without that certified piece of paper.

So in summary, going away to school for an education in audio is a great thing. As we said before, the relationships you’ll build and life experiences you’ll have are not only important for self-development and growth, but they will also help out in the real world environment of professional audio. However, not going to school shouldn’t be the excuse one uses for not pursuing a career audio engineering. Going back, most top-level engineers didn’t go to school for audio. They got in the door and advanced their careers because of their motivation, dedication, hard work ethic, reliability, and personality. They also advanced their careers because of their extraordinary hearing abilities. All these qualities are vitally important in the profession of audio engineering and can’t necessarily be learned in school. Plus, a seasoned engineer might be more willing to take a chance on a person with these qualities versus someone with a degree. You’ll never know though until you give it a try.

 

Kris Anderson

Studio 11

345 N.Loomis St. Suite 500 5th Flr

312 372 4460

Mixtapes In Five Steps

Here at Studio 11, recording and producing the mixtape is what we do day in and day out. It’s an everyday occurrence, kind of like tea-bagging and the pudding dip, but that’s another story for another day. Over the last 17 years, we have recorded, mixed, and mastered close to 2000 different mixtapes for various rappers from Chicago and abroad. The writing is actually on our walls (come see for yourself). You’ll find that we have way more than a lot experience in the whole mixtape game. One thing that all this collective experience has taught us, it takes more than a well-produced mixtape to be heard. It takes a concerted effort from the artist, his or her manager, friends, family and even the fans. Here in this blog, we’ll discuss 5 detailed steps to producing, marketing, and promoting your mixtape so you can obtain the best and most impactful response out of its release.

Find The Right Studio

The first step on the journey of putting out a mixtape is finding a good studio in which to record your mixtape in. It’s important to find a studio that you are comfortable recording in, who understands your vision, and produces amazing sounding records. Always try and find out as much as you can when looking for a studio to record in. Who has worked in the studio before, what is the quality of the sound the studio produces, what is the speed of their workflow. Once you have found a studio you like and reserved the time you need, make sure that you come fully prepared. Write your rhymes at home to the music you are planning on recording to. Make sure all the lyrics you’ve written are memorized and well rehearsed before you arrive at the studio. Before you get to the studio, double check that you have all your beats with you in the best quality and format possible. It’s also important to have a back up plan just in case whatever device you brought your beats on such as a hard drive or cd doesn’t work.


Get A Good Mix and Master

After all the songs have been recorded, the next step in the mixtape journey is the process of mixing and mastering. To simply put it, mixing is defined as the process by which multiple sounds are combined into one or more channels. In the process, the source signals’ level, frequency content, dynamics, and panoramic position are manipulated and effects such as reverb may be added. This practical, aesthetic, or otherwise creative treatment is done in order to produce a mix that is more appealing to listeners. Always make sure your mixtape is cleaned up and mixed by a professional engineer who is experienced and knows what he or she is doing. Make sure that the sound is clear and crisp and that the sound levels are balanced throughout your mixtape.

Hire A Graphic Artist

When hiring a graphic artist to design your mixtape cover, make sure they understand your music and brand and that they can bring your ideas to life. Also be sure that they can bring forth their own creative cover ideas that will represent you and your mixtape effectively. So, with that being said, here are three tips to consider when hiring a graphic artist to design your mixtape:

Versatility: When choosing a graphic artist, make sure that they are versatile, creative, and have a wide range of design skills. The main thing is you want someone who can convey your individuality and the themes and messages of your music, not someone who has a pre-designed approach to designing mixtape covers.

Track Record: Request to see work they’ve done in the past. Additionally, when you’re hiring for services, such as PR, marketing, or website design, check track records too.

Professionalism: We know that the hip-hop/rap industry can be a little casual, but business is business. Make sure you have a timeline for the design job and ask that the graphic artist is being consistent and communicating effectively with you throughout the design process.

Use Social Media to Promote Your Mixtape Release

Engage: Follow other hip-hop artists, both established and up-and-coming, who have similar followers and fan bases. Additionally, follow DJs and other hip-hop influencers’, such as hip-hop editors, bloggers, etc. Keep track of who’s talking about you.

Fan Promotion: Constantly engage with your fans and include them on your journey. For example, you can ask fans for opinions regarding the title of your mixtape, which track to promote, mixtape cover art, etc. Join their conversations; don’t just always flood them with links pertaining to your music.

Plan: Plan an overall strategy so you do not get distracted from the main goal.

Find a DJ

When starting out, especially if it’s your first mixtape, don’t just look for DJ’s who are established to play your music. Go out and find Djs who are up-and-coming and who will truly believe in your music. The more Dj’s that have it, the more chances your mixtape will have to be heard. Power of the masses!

This list covers the overall basics. However, it is important to mention the viability of building your fan base prior to releasing your mixtape. Creating anticipation and hype prior to the release helps bring mystique and excitement to you as an artist and to the release as a whole. Don’t be cheeky, create that buzz!

All the best with your mixtape release!

7 Commandments of Audio Engineering

If you are wondering what you have to do to break into the music industry as an audio engineer in Chicago, have no fear. Recording in Chicago is no different than pretty much anywhere else on the planet, except for language. Here is a comprehensive list of skills that you can aim to develop to position yourself as a top engineer in the future. Notice that four of these skills are what can be defined as “base skills,” meaning they are imperative for any job in the music industry or elsewhere. The other set of skills are known as “job specific skills” and relate categorically to your work in the studio.

BASE SKILLS

1. Ability to read, write, and follow directions. So why is it so critical to follow instructions in a recording studio? For starters, you could fuck up the gear in the studio. You are also working with client’s master recordings that are the result of perhaps thousands of hours in time and financial investment. In Chicago, some of those clients might not be to happy if their masters get messed up, so it could potentially mean your life. More over, following instructions also means that you are reliable and dependable, which in turn brings confidence to the head engineer or manager that you can be developed and mentored to integrate and properly accomplish client requests. Following directions is crucial to discovering how to work successfully in any recording or production studio, let alone life.

2. Communication. There have been many times when I was engineering a session when the artist or producer turned to me and said, “It just doesn’t sound right. I’m not sure really what it is about it, but it is not grabbing me.” We often spend long hours trying to figure out how to understand our clients. In a way, one could say we are quasi-pyschologists. The ability to communicate clearly is crucial in order to be as productive as possible in the studio. Many delays and fuck ups in the studio are a result of a lack or breakdown in communication. Knowing when to and not to speak out comes over time through patience and practice, and understanding.

3. Ability to stay cool and calm. Musicians can get pretty emotional in the studio. In essence, they are dumping their emotional well being into their performance for all to hear. So they get very emotional. A good engineer must know how to stay calm and reserved when a musician voices their frustrations. I have seen many sessions where fights break out in the control room between band members or band members and management. These people have actually swung at each other, which generally is not helpful to the whole creative process. Remember, your job is to keep the project on track at all times, so it is important for you to always remain calm and relaxed, especially in Chicago. May the force be with you.

4. Basic computer knowledge. So, how much do you really need to know about computers to become a good recording engineer? Well, many ambitious producers and sound engineers have a good deal of experience and knowledge operating sound recording and editing software on a computer. It’s certainly a bonus. The more you know about computers, the more valuable your service will be in the studio. It is important to master the basics, such as word processing and data entry, as well as understanding spreadsheet functions so you can use the computer to do simple math. It is important to be comfortable with these basic three applications as well as the computers recording and production software. A basic computer course at your local community college can teach you these fundamentals. It’s also important to know both the Macintosh and PC platforms. Macintosh more so for composing, recording, and mixing. PC’s for business management and data entry. Initally, all the best computer editing software for sound and music was found on a Mac, but over the last couple years, the PC has been making strides in the audio department. Many programs that were once exclusive to Mac are now available on PC as well.

JOB-SPECIFIC SKILLS

5. Critical auditory skills. If you haven’t heard or experienced sound in an acoustic setting, you might not know what you are listening for which can bring you problems as an engineer. You’ve got to use your ears and really listen to the sound or music. As an engineer, it is important to get out there in the real world and experience every type of music that there is in a concert setting, from country to jazz, rock to big band, and opera to blues, etc. Remember, musical recordings are really just sonic paintings. In order to be a competent recording engineer, you have to come to really understand what instruments sound like naturally, by themselves or together in ensembles. Look at your time spent developing these skills just as you would if you were doing homework. Go out as much as possible because it is important to hear it all. You never know when that time is going to come when a client steps into the studio with a certain kind of instrument, sound or musical skill that you might not be familiar with. This unfamiliarity can lead to poor engineering decisions’ which in turn lead to poor or undesirable recordings. That is why it is important to know how each instrument sounds naturally.

6. Audio aptitude. It is important to develop a comprehensive knowledge of audio, such as level, signal flow, phase, frequency spectrum, microphone selection/placement, and acoustics. Whether you went to a reputable audio school or learned on your own, it is important learn and understand the basic concepts of how to make a recording, do overdubs, correctly edit, manage a mix-down properly, and master. Even the knowing the process of duplication and distribution to stores and online retail outlets sure doesn’t hurt either.

7. Studio Chi. The overall tone or vibe that an engineer brings into a session with a client is vitally important to the overall energy and creative workflow in the studio. Some of the best engineers out there are the ones who create a climate that is conducive to positive and creative workflow. The equipment doesn’t really mean much if the vibe of the session is no good. Even with a half million dollar recording console, is it really doing any good if a client walks in and doesn’t feel right. When artists are babied or pampered in the studio, they tend to lose their inhibitions, open up, and perform much better overall. A good engineer will be able to help generate that vibe in the studio in order to capture and bring it out in the song.

Now you know the basic skill set needed to a good career in field of audio engineering. The first six you can learn in school, whereas, the seventh takes time and experience. It’s important, not only as an aspiring engineer/producer but also as a musician, to sit in sessions and watch how other engineers do their thing. Internships at major recording facilities are a great opportunity to see how things really work in a professional studio. After awhile, you will find that every session and client is different as well as what is specifically needed to create the right mood and vibe for each session. At the end of the day, you’ll probably find yourself playing psychologist as much as you are being an engineer, producer, songwriter, mentor, friend, fan. The list can go on and on.

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