An Engineer’s Guide To Breaking Into The Industry - Part II
Or better, ask yourself "can you make a good cup of tea?"
How To Make The Most of a Work Experience or Internship Position
There is a lot of information about this subject online and my advice is to go and read as much as you can. You’ll soon find out that the same key points will keep reappearing over and over again and this is because it’s all really plain, simple, common sense. However, that’s not to say that it’s easy and in the heat of the moment with a mountain of pressure we can all make mistakes and forget to just be ourselves. Let's take a look at some of these key points and unpack them.
Can you make a good cup of tea?
This one can be taken both literally and also in a more broad sense. Yes of course anyone can learn to make a good ‘cuppa but what takes a little extra thought and perhaps some intuition is how to really ‘host’ a client, whether it’s an artist or engineer/producer.
Reading The Room
The studio can be a stressful place for clients and you have to be mindful of that anything you can do in order to make the session run smoother is always welcomed but be careful not to become a hindrance. A great skill to have is being able to read the room and know when to interject without being to much of a presence in the room (especially as some control rooms can be quite small).Try and be close by and on hand during the initial stages of the day while everyone is getting set up, then once things are up and running look around, is everything running smoothly? Try and blend into the background but always have your ears open and be on hand to assist the clients as quickly as you can.
I can’t stress this enough, your not expected to know all the ins and outs of the recording studio, every quirk, the best use for every mic etc. on your first day. It’s all about your attitude towards the job and willingness to learn and put time in. It’s always a good sign if your willing to stay late being the last person out the door and the first person to arrive in the morning. The technical knowledge will come later but the attitude has to be there from the start.
I remember my first day’s work at a studio very clearly. I arrived a bit early and sat in the car until I wasn’t in that ‘annoyingly early’ time frame! I met and chatted with some of the technical staff before the producer and band arrived and they gave me a pint of milk to take over to the studio ready to make coffee. The producer, who was also engineering the session arrived and within minutes I was making the first round of coffee’s. It was a quiet session, mostly mixing and some vocal overdubs so I sat in the corner watching and listening. I had so many questions although I waited until a good quiet moment to ask the engineer, once the band had gone outside for a cigarette. We recorded some vocals in the afternoon and I got to run pro tools while the producer sat at the desk, I had no idea what I was doing! I feel sure I spent that night watching tutorials on pro tools techniques and shortcuts! I wasn’t sure at the end of the day how it had gone so I wasn’t totally sure I’d be invited back the next day but I ended up staying for the rest of the week, and that's where it all began.
Transitioning - Intern to Assistant Engineer
Every studio will have its own system of hiring assistants. A lot of the time studios will hire interns or runners to essentially assist the assistants. This gives you a great chance to learn from them, learn all the tips and tricks that you can and look out for each other. It won’t go unnoticed if your putting in some serious hours, working super hard during the day, and night, and still being punctual and polite.
There can be a lot of luck and timing involved when it comes to climbing the ladder at studios. It could be a case of waiting for others above you to move on or leave their position. Sometimes you could get a break if an assistant didn't make it in one day, if you’ve been working on the session as a runner, it’s likely you’ll be asked to step into the studio session as an assistant. At this moment, you need to be able to step up to the mark and if you’ve put in enough work, staying late pondering over the patch bay and reading the consoles manual in downtime, I'm sure you’d be up to the task.
Transitioning - Assistant to Engineer
This is a difficult one, it’s likely that you will be doing both jobs for a while and there’s definitely some skill involved in balancing the two disciplines. You have to have an assistant hat and an engineer hat and you must be careful not to wear the wrong one! It’s all part of becoming an engineer, if you're lucky you'll get opportunities to use downtime at the studio to record your own projects and work things out for yourselves. I always jumped at the chance to do this, and I made a lot of bad recordings! But at least I got to make all of those mistakes while the pressure was off and no one was losing any money! After a while you’ll build up a bit of experience as an engineer on your own projects and maybe some smaller sessions but when it comes to assisting larger, higher profile sessions you need to be the best ‘assistant’ you can be and it’s not your job to be the engineer.
At this point it’s important to be persistent and keep your head held high, there will be moments where you really don’t want to assist anymore and that can get really tough. If you stick it out for long enough eventually you will break through and make the transition to full time engineer.
Coming up in Part 3:
- Networking and building up a client list as a freelance engineer
- Crossing over into a producer role
Find the 1st Part at An Engineer’s Guide To Breaking Into The Industry Part I
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