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How to survive as a working audio engineer

How to survive as a working audio engineer

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Dan Dugan with Auto Mixers in 1980

It’s almost impossible to find steady work at the start of your career. Most audio engineers are grinders, we start small– going from one gig to the next (more significant) gig until we eventually have enough work to support ourselves solely on audio and music. The truth is that it takes a long time to get there, and there’s always the risk that it may never happen.

Long gone are full time studio jobs with benefits at a major studio. You’re not going to fall into a major recording session with a major artist. Geoff Emerick’s story of starting work at Abbey Road at 15 and by 19 was recording the biggest band in the world’s no longer a reality. (I highly recommend reading his autobiography Here, There and Everywhere: My Life Recording the Music of the Beatles)

Here are a few pieces of advice that may help you get by as a working audio professional

Get a flexible second job

This one might annoy some readers because it’s obvious and usually the last thing most people want to do. I’m sorry, but it’s true. There’s no shame in getting a second job that’s flexible while you try and make music a full time thing. I discuss in great detail in my post, “Is your career where you thought it would be? Neither is mine.” my initial struggle with taking a day job. Making enough money to live comfortably is hard, and you don’t need to make it harder on yourself by stroking your ego. If you find a job that allows you to do what you love while also paying your bills, you’ll be able to live comfortably and also pursue your passion without burning out and living on peanut butter and jelly. I would love to put 100% of my time into music, but I’m not sure if that would even be the best move for me. I think if I had no other job or responsibility other than being successful in music, I’d have a hard time motivating myself. Since I have other responsibilities and other sources of income, time for me is so valuable that I have a hard time wasting any of it. Coffee shop baristas, uber drivers, servers, and bartenders are all jobs with flexible hours that you can get just about anywhere in the world.

Give music, instrument, or production lessons

One of the more difficult solutions but given some time and effort, has the possibility of being very lucrative. Giving lessons in anything is a business in itself, and you’ll need to find clients for lessons just as you need to find clients to record and produce. Finding people is a lot harder than making a website and saying you’re a teacher. Like with recording, word of mouth is always the best way to find students. Do you have any friends or family that are looking to learn guitar? Offer lessons at a discounted rate to start. Put up advertisements and flyers, and post them on social media. Getting started by giving lessons is difficult and a long process that takes commitment and persistence, but if you’re able to stick it out, you are on your way to a steady stream of income that many find to be rewarding and still allows you to stay within music.

Write, talk or make videos about audio

If you had told me even a year ago that I would have an audio blog, I would have told you that you’re crazy. Writing essays and research papers for fun? Get out of here. Well, since posting “Things I wish I learned sooner about audio engineering” to Reddit and receiving a great response, I’ve found immense joy and fulfillment in learning and writing about the many different facets of audio. I only write about what interests me and things I think would be helpful to other engineers. This gives me the opportunity to learn more about things that I like which helps not only me but also other people.

It also turns out I am pretty decent at writing, and other people (surprisingly) enjoy reading what I have to say. Now I’m not making any money on this website now, but there’s always a possibility of that happening in the future. This is the life of a musician, spreading yourself out, throwing a lot of darts at the wall, and hoping one sticks. That’s what this whole list is about. These are just a few darts, but the more you throw, the greater chance you have at hitting the bullseye.

Develop a product or start a business in the industry that’s separate from recording

You’re probably thinking, duh! Start a business, why didn’t I think of that’ Before you attack me for stating the obvious hear me out. A lot of the other ideas I’ve stated in this article involve starting a business in one form or another. Giving lessons is a business, starting a website is a business, and making videos and starting a YouTube channel could be a business. You don’t have to be the next Elon Musk or the audio equivalent, Steven Slate. Think of other ways to make an income that may not be right in front of you. I’m constantly trying to think of new ideas, video series,  applications, software, etc. Most of them are terrible, but I think the more you brainstorm these types of ideas the more opportunities you give yourself to have a good one and see it through to completion. Everyone has ideas, but it’s the execution that everyone falls short of. I’ll go back to this website, most blogs don’t last more than three months, but If I make realistic goals for myself and keep showing up and writing articles, there’s a possibility it may turn into something much bigger.

Related articles:
Things I wish I learned sooner about audio engineering
[Even more] Things I wish I learned sooner about audio engineering
EMT 250 and the birth of digital audio
The “your mixes sound bad in the car” phenomenon

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