If I were starting over again and needed to know how to become an audio engineer, here’s what I would do: find an expert in my city and pay them to train me. And if I didn’t know who in my city could help me or where to begin, I would go to soundgirls.org and sign up for a mentorship there.
The latest science says that the key to becoming an expert is diligent practice. Not just repetition, but focused action with the goal of improved performance. And how do you get that? Individualized training.
One consistent finding across disciplines is that coaches are often essential for sustaining deliberate practice. In many cases, it is nearly impossible to both perform a task and measure your progress at the same time. –James Clear
Schools are great, but the truth is that I could teach you how to do my job in a day. Of course, after only one day you wouldn’t have enough information or experience to do the job really well, but you would know enough to get out there and start working. And as we all know, on the job is where the real learning happens.
So if I were starting all over again and wanted to know how to become an audio engineer, I would do whatever it took to get into the line of fire as quickly as possible. Inexperienced sound engineers always want to know how to operate X, Y, and Z digital console, but if you wait until you feel totally prepared you’ll never get started. No matter how much I learn, some new problem or piece of hardware always shows up. The real skills that you need are quick problem solving and knowing how to find answers fast, skills that, again, you learn on the job. Usually through urgent phone calls to friends, colleagues, or mentors.
The first time I ever attended a Meyer Sound seminar with Bob McCarthy, I asked him if he would be my mentor. Not really. I didn’t have the guts. I asked him how I could get a job designing and tuning sound systems. He said, “See that guy over there? That’s Matthias. He’s is going to fly to Macau next month, on his own money, to see me work on a system there. You could do something like that.”
And I thought, “Oh shit, that’s way beyond me. I barely have enough money to fly to Germany for this seminar.”
After that I began calling Bob McCarthy my mentor, even though I never asked for his permission and we’ve never worked together. I just call him on the phone sometimes and ask him how to do math. He’s a minor celebrity at this point. So I wonder how many other people out there are calling McCarthy their mentor? I guess it’s part of the Choose Yourself economy. We should form some kind of support group.
If I don’t even have it in me to ask my mentor to be my mentor, how can I expect you to do the same?
Bring ideas and commitment to take action.
If you can walk in the door with enthusiasm about what you want and ideas to barter, you are already way ahead of everyone else. I get lots of emails from people asking me for leads on work. They often don’t know where, when, why, or what kind of work, so I have to pull all that information out of them. Then there are people who want to take my courses for free…period. No offer. No ideas. Usually just a sad story about how hard their life is.
I also work with a lot of students who don’t take action. I’ve done about 135 career consultations over the last 3 years. In every one of them, I challenge the person to take some kind of action to move forward. Of those 135, only two have ever followed up with me about the actions they took. And right now I’m running a free business training course for audio engineers that includes 14 homework assignments that involve emailing me. Three people have emailed me.
But you won’t do that, will you? You’ll walk right up to that expert and look right in their big fat eyes and say, “I really want to work as a sound designer on fun, modern musicals like Rock of Ages, because I love the emotional power of audio. I want you to help me get there. I want to meet for one hour every week for two months. In exchange, I’ll write a review of your book and post it on Amazon, Facebook, and LinkedIn.”
And then you’ll commit to taking action on whatever that expert says. The more energy you put into it, the more you’ll get back. Next thing you know, they’ll be referring you for gigs and buying you coffee. All because you listened to them and took action.
The availability of free information today is a false sense of security. You can get lost for hours and hours in forums, tutorials, and Youtube videos. It can feel like progress.
Don’t be fooled. Unless you are seeing results, you are spinning your wheels. I can tell you for sure, if I was starting over again on how to become an audio engineer, I wouldn’t spend years of my life reinventing the wheel. I would find an expert in my city, pay them to train me, and get results fast.
Do whatever it takes to find the right teacher and get started. Free options are available to the creative and motivated.