Never trust a skinny chef

So you’ve decided that you want to be a sound engineer – and why wouldn’t you? In those social occasions when you’re having one of those Top-Trumps-‘What-do-you-do-for-a -living?’ conversations with people you’ve never met before you’ll trump teachers & nurses and wipe the floor with accountants and traffic wardens in the glamour stakes. All conversation will turn to you and begin with ‘WOW!’ You will probably get to meet more than your fair share of celebrities and never have to wear a tie to work again.

 

This month I’ve written a blog for totaljobs about what it takes to be a sound engineer. This is a field that has expanded greatly over the last few years, with an ever-increasing number of television and radio stations as well as the expansion in the gaming industry and multi-media capabilities of faster internet. Couple that with the falling prices on digital technology making building your own studio ever cheaper, it means there are many more opportunities to make a living out of audio.

 

You want to get into sound engineering? My first piece of advice is… don’t. I say this with a degree of self interest as there are already too many engineers for me to compete against. I say don’t unless you’re serious about it. The market is over-saturated with hugely under qualified people who have computers and the right software, but who don’t know their nyquist frequency from their Doppler effect, and the last thing the audio industry needs is more people de-valuing the skills pool and under-selling the importance of top quality audio production. Get good or get a different career.

 

My second piece of advice is… don’t if you don’t like a high degree of geekiness. Listen to a couple of sound engineers talking to each other and you’ll know exactly what I mean. We can talk for hours about the merits of using one particular microphone over another one for any number of applications. To do this job well you will have to put aside all thoughts of technophobia and be prepared to master every piece of hardware and software you’re presented with. And believe you me, there are an awful lot of them! It is a very technical job and can be very technically demanding.

 

Thirdly… don’t if you don’t like people. Mastering the technology isn’t enough to be a sound engineer. You will have to work with people and it is an absolute necessity to be able to coax the best performance out of whoever you’re recording. Whether it’s the next-big-pop-star recording their breakthrough single, or a checkout girl saying, ‘Unexpected item in the bagging area,’ reading people and creating the best working environment for them to shine is your responsibility.

 

And again… don’t. If you’ve never before considered becoming a sound engineer then I’d say it’s too late already. I would say that being a sound engineer is a vocation not a job. Sound has to be a passion. Your hearing has to be more than a passive sense. It’s not necessary to play an instrument to be a good sound engineer, but developing ‘musician’s ears’ from an early age is a definite advantage – hearing audio with the level of analysis that a musician can apply is vital. As is a commitment to audio – many people who have carved themselves a career in audio spent their teenage years hanging round recording studios or live venues for no money and sometimes with no actual job or role, just soaking up the atmosphere and watching what happens and why. Many colleges and universities now run music technology courses, and although these are a very good way to learn, prove your commitment and possibly fast track your way into the industry, it’s your portfolio of work that will get you a job rather than a paper qualification. You need to take every opportunity that’s presented to you and soak up knowledge and experience. I don’t believe you can do that unless audio is your calling.

 

Finally… don’t if you’ve been put off by what I’ve written. Sound engineering is no easy option. It’s fiercely competitive and difficult to get into. I’ve taken a deliberately (tongue in cheek) negative approach to writing this article because I think it better serves the mountains you will have to climb to become a successful sound engineer. I have mentored a few teens who have become professional sound engineers and I’ll add one more piece of advice that I’ve given to them. Have a plan B. Work towards your goal of getting a job in sound, but have a plan B in case it doesn’t work out, it doesn’t for the majority of people who try.

But if you succeed you will find an industry like no other. You will meet some fantastic people and you will be able to be proud of what you have produced. You can be instrumental in the success or failure of products or advertising campaigns. You can entertain or keep people safe. You’ll find an industry that’s personable and expanding. Get good at what you do and you can be a superhero to your clients. You can’t get any better than that.

 

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studio maintenance for voiceovers

4919975196_41f5870353_zI’m going to start this blog by admitting to one of my shortcomings. Not only am I awful at DIY and home improvements/ maintenance, but I am totaly disinterested in getting any better at them. When we moved into our house my Father-in-law spent an afternoon showing me how to re-roof the shed (it had a huge hole in it, so it really needed doing) but the thing was I couldn’t care less how a shed gets re-roofed. I wished he’s just got on and done it himself and left me inside to do something else. My Dad is also a very practical man and at the age of 70 he’ll still repoint his own walls and fit his own TV ariels on the chimney. But I hate that kind of work. I know I’m not good at it, so I can’t help but find it a colossal waste of my time. They are jobs that need doing, but not by me. They need doing by people who can do them better, leaving me to do something I’m good at. That said I get embarrassed at having to ask tradesmen to do simple jobs for me. There are quite a few people I know who don’t know how to wire a plug, bleed a radiator or change headlight bulbs in their car; all of which I’ll happily do. I’ll also change a tyre (should the need arise), and last year I had to fit new valves in the toilet (we were only without a working loo for 3 days whilst I got it right – not a bad effort!).

I mention this because I want to demonstrate that I am sympathetic towards the situation I’m about to bring up.

2014-09-22 10.29.55Over the time I have been operating as Bee Productive I have visited quite a number of Voiceovers’ home studios and have seen not only a wide variation in studio equipment and set-ups, but also a huge variation in technical know-how. There are a large number of VOs who know exactly how their studios work – and they never call me out as they can fix their own problems – and there are those who can do quite a bit and just need a bit of reassurance, but there are an alarming number who haven’t the foggiest what they own and use on a daily basis. I understand where you’re coming from. You’re looking for a career and somehow you settle on becoming a voiceover artist. You enjoy reading(!), and yearn for the challenge of the performance, of making sense out of the written page, breathing life into the squiggles on the paper. You want the challenge of the lilt and flow of language and can bring meaning into whatever badly punctuated piece of text you’re asked to let your tonsils loose on. But what’s this? In order to fulfil your dreams you need to buy and use some expensive pieces of electronica? You’re not interested in that, you want to read. But what?… I can’t do my job without this kit? Guess you’ll have to buy it then. It’s a necessary evil.

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Which one’s the high pass filter again?

I do know where you’re coming from. I didn’t buy a car because I love the second law of thermodynamics, but I have to live with it. I know that things will drop off it and they will need repairing.  But there is a difference. If something goes wrong with my car I’m inconvenienced and I need to get it repaired. Unless it’s very serious it doesn’t stop me from working and earning a living. But what about your studio? If that goes wrong there’s a good chance your livelihood will be affected until you can get it fixed. Knowing a few things about how your studio is put together could not only save you a repair bill, but it could save you from losing that big money agency session that’s booked in 15 minutes after you discover that your desk isn’t working. Now do you see the point in knowing a bit more about how it works?

help for voiceoversUnless you’re an accountant you don’t go into business to have to do accounts. I don’t know anyone (accountants excepted) who enjoys doing them and I know so many people who put them off as much as possible. But it’s a necessity of business. For a voiceover I would say studio management is as well. It’s not a legal requirement or anything but let’s face it, would you do your accounts if that wasn’t? It is as beneficial to understand your studio as it is to understand your cash flow. I’m very happy for voiceovers to not know as much as I know about studio mechanics and management as I totally get the value of hiring specialists to do jobs. But I think there is a level of knowledge that you need to have to keep your studio ticking over that is surprisingly absent in some VOs.

So here are a few questions. I would consider these essential to running your own studio.

1. If you’re doing a remote session and the producer at the other end asks you to adjust your levels, do you know how to do it?

2. Do you know what a clean feed is and whether you’re sending it?

3. Do you know the difference between balanced and unbalanced jacks? Or male and female XLRs?

4. Do you know the difference between 16 and 24 bit audio? or 44.1KHZ and 48KHz files?

5. What’s phantom power and why do you use it?

6. What are G.722 and Zephyr? Why/when might you need to know? (possibly not an essential question)

 

 

So here’s the sell-y bit. If you want help answering these questions or making sure your studio set up is as well as it can be then get in touch. I’ve already helped dozens of VOs and upgraded many studios. I’ve been in the industry for many years so I know what VOs need from their equipment. I can attend your studio in person or work remotely (depending on the job) and help you get the most out of your studio equipment. It can only help your career.