A Studentís Guide to Starting a Career in Audio
By Sam Mallery
Anyone with a passion for audio and undying tenacity can initiate an audio career, and determination will govern who achieves what in the professional realm. In this article we will outline a few different careers in audio. We will present an overview of the duties of each job, what equipment you should familiarize yourself with, and most importantly - how to start knocking on the door to get in. Unlike dentistry or certified public accounting, professional audio has no predetermined path to follow. Formally studying audio in school is highly recommended (it will allow you to fly though deep concepts and techniques that would otherwise be guesswork in the future), but forging a bona fide career in audio is never guaranteed, even with a diploma or certification from an audio school. What you accomplish in the professional sphere has everything to do with your networking efforts and the quality of your work. Maintaining and multiplying your contacts while consistently providing competent audio services is the key.
Getting comfortable with the terminology, techniques, and concepts of sound is a slow process. It can be very intimidating in the beginning, but donít let it hold you back. The positive thing about the complexity of sound is that you can never truly master every element of audio. There is always something new to learn. You can constantly strive to tackle new challenges in this field. If you love sound you will never be bored. Weíll start with a job thatís always in demand and offers professional independence, unlimited travel opportunity, and a respectable living.
Electronic Field Production
A professional EFP audio person is responsible for capturing the best audio possible for film, video, journalism, and any endeavor that requires clean audio in the field. Positioning a shotgun microphone and properly mixing signals is a task that can’t be automated by machinery. It requires a skilled audio professional to get the best sound possible. A great way to get started in field production is to purchase some basic equipment and offer your services for free to smaller productions. As you acquire experience and equipment, you can start invoicing your clients. Building up your own sound kit can really help you get jobs in the beginning. It’s not terribly expensive to get started. Decent shotgun microphones cost around $250 and up, and entry-level boompoles will set you back around $150. It’s a smart idea to start out with a complete boompole kit so you’ll have good wind protection and all the accessories you need right from the start. Be sure to check out the links to more free educational material at the end of this article.
Live sound (also referred to as Sound Reinforcement) is the most fundamental service provided in professional audio. Every sizable concert stage, house of worship, and community event relies on skilled professionals to bring the show to life. Getting involved with live sound isn’t difficult. Small stages and sound systems are everywhere. You can easily get started by reading and educating yourself on the principles of sound. You should volunteer as an assistant at smaller venues to get some much needed hands on experience. Try to position yourself to be the apprentice of a seasoned live sound veteran. There is a lot you will need to learn about acoustics, feedback suppression, and the complex sound systems themselves. This works out well because your mentor will need someone to help them ring out monitors, run cables, and grab doughnuts. Showing up on a job without a strong knowledge of live sound is intimidating, but walking in with your own SPL Meter, a roll of console tape, and a Sharpie will state your seriousness. Walking in with a Qbox will blow them away.
Sound Design for Video Games
The gaming industry is so huge that it’s eclipsed Hollywood in both popularity and profitability. The success of a video game is reliant on creative and entertaining sound design. It’s a very competitive field, so the more skills you have the better your chances are of getting in. Acquiring advanced computer programming skills will give you a competitive edge. However, it doesn’t take a brain surgeon to create the sound of exploding electronic monkeys. In sound design, creativity trumps technical thinking. So the good news is that mind numbing computer code isn’t an absolute necessity! There are a couple esoteric software applications that you should study in an academic setting if possible. Applications like FMOD Designer and wWise that are specifically used in the creation gaming audio. It’s also wise to learn industry standard audio applications like Pro Tools, Logic, and Ableton Live. The plug-in instruments that run within these audio applications are equally important, so dig deeply into tools like Pluggo and Komplete. The most critical thing is to get in the door. Start by applying to test products with game manufacturer’s Q/A departments. These companies are looking for people who inhabit a deep and impenetrable love of video games. Be a fanatic. If you can befriend someone in the industry, your chances of having a gaming career will vastly improve.
Theatrical Sound Design
Theatrical Sound Design shares many similarities with general Sound Reinforcement, but as a profession it’s unique enough to warrant it as a separate career. Running live sound as a theater tech is really exciting because the audio cues that you trigger, and the overall sound design of the piece that you help create are as critical to a play’s success as the actors on the stage. You can get started by familiarizing yourself with live sound with books and videos like Yamaha’s Exploring Sound reinforcement DVD. When you’re starting out it’s imperative to attend as much live theater as possible. Even in larger cities, the communities of people who are currently active in live theater tend to be very small. Don’t be afraid to introduce yourself as an aspiring theater tech and offer your assistance as a volunteer. An opportunity like this will allow you to familiarize yourself with digital mixing consoles, feedback suppression techniques, and all of the other interesting nuances of theater life.
Whether you realize it or not, professional audio is everywhere. It’s in fitness centers, office buildings, sports stadiums, hospitals, and schools. These structures rely on installed sound systems for their day to day operations. A distributed audio system needs to be custom designed and assembled by skilled audio professionals. They’re also referred to as “70-Volt Systems” and “Constant Power Systems.” Optimally designing and installing a well thought-out system will help a business function properly. It might sound silly, but a good system really can make the world a better sounding place. Have you ever been in a waiting area and missed your cue because you couldn’t understand the voice being paged? You were the victim of a poorly designed distributed audio system. Help rid the world of these evils by reading these B&H educational articles on the basics of distributed audio and how-to utilize web resources about designing systems. Learn as much as you can about the special amplifiers, speakers, and other important gear used in these systems. Get in touch with a local distributed audio contractor and find out what requirements they have for entry-level positions.Expand your knowledge!
As mentioned earlier, you can never run out of things to learn about audio. It’s a smart idea to continue educating yourself in any way possible. There are numerous books, DVDs, and software training programs available. Thank you for reading this B&H educational article. If you’d like to learn more about electronic field production, be sure to check out these other B&H educational articles:
The B&H Guide to Portable Wireless Systems
If you have any further questions about professional audio in general, don’t hesitate to contact us at 1-800-416-5090
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