So you’ve decided to become a studio engineer.
At first, it might seem pretty intimidating, and no question, there is a lot to learn.
But once you get to the point of being able to connect a microphone and start capturing performances, your confidence will begin to grow. Then it’s just a matter of taking the next step, and then the next.
Here is a beginner’s guide to getting started as a studio engineer.
Get Educated About What Being An Audio Engineer Entails
The first step you need to take to become a skilled studio engineer is to get educated.
Some insist on the idea that you need to get a formal education in studio engineering. Others say you can learn it all on your own.
I don’t think either answer is wrong. What you need to do is take a closer look at your own motivation level. How driven are you to learn?
The information is out there. You can buy books, subscribe to magazines and blogs, listen to podcasts, watch videos on YouTube, attend local courses and workshops, and more.
If you’re serious about learning the craft, I would expect you to have at least a small repository of study material on your bookshelf.
Whether you choose to go to school or learn from home, it’s going to cost you some time and some money. But for the same amount of money it would take for you to take a two-to-four year program, you could build a huge library of books, magazines and DVDs, and learn from home at your own pace.
The choice is yours, but I would encourage you to make it wisely.
Get Your Own Recording Gear
There’s nothing saying you can’t start purchasing gear before you understand the basics of studio recording. But then your buying decisions might be based on what “seems good”, and what “seems cool.” In that instance, you might end up having to re-buy certain pieces of gear later, because what you bought doesn’t have the functionality you need.
Granted, most engineers tend to upgrade over time. You don’t have to “get it right” the first time, but you should get the basics covered.
It’s important for you to have gear of your own that you can experiment with and get familiar with. That way, you can work on your craft whenever you like, instead of having to wait for those brief moments at school where they let you fiddle with a mixing board, or when a friend lets you borrow his or her equipment.
There are essentially nine items every studio engineer should acquire to start their own recording studio. They are:
- A computer. Any computer will do for starters, but eventually you’re going to want a dedicated machine with plenty of power.
- A digital audio workstation, like Cakewalk SONAR, Pro Tools, Audacity, Tracktion, REAPER or otherwise.
- An audio interface, like a MOTU Audio Express, or a PreSonus AudioBox. It really just depends on your budget.
- A microphone, or even multiple microphones. You’ll need at least one just to get started, but odds are your collection will grow pretty quickly over time.
- Microphone stands. Again, there are different stands for different purposes, but two standard vocal mic stands should be good for starters.
- Studio monitors. A pair of good monitors will allow you to hear everything in your mix.
- Audio cables, for connecting one device to another. You will need at least three XLR cables to start.
- Studio headphones, for mixing, and for use with musicians in the studio. If they’re overdubbing, they’re going need to be able to hear the parts that were previously recorded.
- Pop filters. Setting this mesh screen in front of a microphone for vocalists helps filter out harsh consonants.
These are just the basics, and there is an assortment of other gear that’s meant to be used in conjunction with the items already mentioned. But these nine items should help you to get started.
Practice, Practice, Practice
Once you have your gear, it’s time to play with it, and play with it, and play with it, until you feel confident that you know everything there is to know (or at least everything you feel you should know) about it.
Bad engineers can’t get a great sound out of amazing equipment, and good engineers can’t get a bad sound out of horrible equipment, given some time to fiddle with it.
If you know your gear, you won’t be taken aback by unexpected errors or malfunctions. You’ll also be better prepared to get the best sound possible for your clients.
Initially As A Recording Engineer, Take On Clients For Free
Now it’s time to put your knowledge to the test. If everything you’ve learned to this point is sound, you should be ready to start recording with real musicians.
To get the ball rolling, however, it’s a good idea to start taking on clients for free. Why do I suggest that?
First of all, it’s important to get experience, and the best way to get more people in the door is to offer your services for free.
Second of all, if your clients are happy with you, you’ll have a hard time not getting paid. That’s a good time to start charging, because you know for sure what you’re offering is valuable to others.
Take note – I’m not suggesting that you offer your services for free indefinitely. After all, the reason you’re interested in studio engineering is because you want to make some money. But getting the right kind of experience will make a big difference, and will help you get your name out there much faster than you would be able to otherwise.
How To Earn As A Studio Engineer
So now we get onto the fun part, actually earning from being an audio engineer. It’s possible to take the skills you’ve learned and have other people pay you for working on their tracks for them. My friend Graham Cochrane over at The Recording Revolution is actually running a webinar about how to do just that, so I’ll let him show you how to make an income from being a studio engineer. He’s the expert at this, so no point me just repeating what he said right. 🙂
In the long run, you’re going to want to invest in more gear, as well as acoustic treatments. Getting a great recording isn’t just about having amazing preamps and microphones – though that certainly helps.
Eventually, you’re going to want to treat your room so that you can cut down on external noise, and enhance the recorded sound of voices and instruments in your space.
But if you make it that far, you know that you’ve got a solid business on your hands, and that’s an encouraging thought. Getting established is often the hardest part. Don’t forget – while it’s good to have engineering skills, you’re also going to need effective marketing skills to get clients in the door.