12 Tips for Aspiring Audio Professionals
In the following article, Logic Pro Expert team member Eli Krantzberg reflects back on his long career as an audio professional, and gives you 12 things he wishes he’d known when he was first starting out. An Apple Certified Pro, Eli has made many music software training videos for Groove3, including training videos for Logic Pro. Welcome to the team, Eli!
12 Tips for Aspiring Audio Professionals – If I Were Starting Out Now
I’ve spent my career as a working musician and educator. I’ve made some mistakes, and done some things right. Like all of us with long careers, I’ve learned a lot along the way. Would that I could, I’d travel back in time to when I was just starting out, and offer some guidance to my younger self. Here are a dozen suggestions I would propose as being the cornerstones of a successful career as an audio production professional. Some were not self evident when I was starting out, due to changes in technology; others are solid timeless work habits.
1. Choose one DAW and stick to it.
Learning a DAW is a big investment not only in money, but in time. I think of it a bit like playing the stock market. You can buy and sell and hope to beat the market. Or you can go long by making informed choices, after doing your due dilligence and research, and stick with them. The fact is that DAWs, just like various stocks, leapfrog each other. Some are ahead of others at various times. Others are behind for a while, then catch up later. But if you have a solid stock, you’ll do fine in the long run. The advantages of sticking with one DAW through thick and thin is far greater than switching mid-stream and starting over again and again. You will become of a master of your DAW; a specialist in one, rather than a generalist knowing a little bit about multiple DAWs. I’m not suggesting you avoid using different or specialized tools. But have one DAW above all others that is yours, a DAW that you master.
2. Believe in yourself and invest in your future.
Invest in good gear sooner rather than later. There are certain pieces of kit that don’t go out of style. Great mics will always be great mics. Great preamps will always be great preamps. As a studio owner, you of course have to have multiple mics around for various situations, no single mic is perfect for everything. And I am a big believer in budget priced mics. I own plenty of them, I think they sound great, and use them often. But make sure to have a couple of “gold standard” mics around as well. Often they are great and will elevate your recordings in ways otherwise unavailable. My prized mics are a matched pair of Neuman KM 184’s and a Lauten Audio Horizon tube mic. But I use others as often as I use those, depending on the situation.
3. Find your niche, and become an expert at it.
Of course we all have to know how to do everything when we are running our own studios. We have to track, edit, mix, master, etc. Not to mention compose, arrange, play, produce, and maintain gear. But if you can really excel and become a specialist in one of these areas, it will help distinguish you from the guy down the street charging ten bucks an hour less than you.
4. Checks and Cheerleaders.
At the beginning it will be a struggle to find paying clients, as it is in any business. In today’s economy, it is not uncommon to do some freebies when you are starting out. It’s kind of like “interning”. If you are going to do freebies, make sure you are not wasting your time. Make sure the types of projects you are donating your effort to at least have the potential to turn into paying gigs in the future. In other words, go where the money is. If you choose to work for free, at least make sure there will be paying work on the horizon resulting from your charity. You will have people telling you that working for them for free will be good exposure and help get your name recognized. I have found that these types of merits are usually more hype than reality. But if it truly seems like the exposure will be valuable, that is certainly a consideration. I’m not advocating working for free as a viable long term model. But if you do choose to take on some free or low-paying work, make sure there is some value in it for you either in the present or in the future.
5. Participate in an online community.
Build an online presence and make yourself known. It’s an investment in your future, equally if not more valuable than expensive vintage gear. Online communities are great vehicles for networking. And best of all, it doesn’t cost anything, and it doesn’t matter what level you are at. If you are a newbie, listen, read, post, ask thoughful questions. If you are more experienced, you can reply and add value and content to the group, and help enhance it’s overall value. Everyone benefits. Form offline relationships with people you connect with; they could turn into valuable colleagues that you can network with in the future.
6. Find a mentor.
I have had some great teachers in my life. Both the traditional kind, and via online connections. Study, learn, observe, work hard, you can learn and pick up a lot from more experienced professionals. In my case, a long standing online friendship ultimately led to being hired to write for Electronic Musician magazine. This would not have been possible for me without first connecting through an online community.
7. Develop other interests, and maintain a well-balanced life.
All work and no play does not make for a healthy emotional life. It is so easy for us all, doing what we do, to spend hours, days, and even weeks, sequestered in our studios working alone. Gratifying and fulfilling though it may be, there does need to be more in life. At the very least, get up and go out for a walk at least once a day (My wife still has to push me to do this!). Call up some friends and go out to a movie; get out of the house, let the sun shine on you. It’s all part of a happy and well balanced life.
8. Avoid the trap of techno poverty.
I have seen many very successful colleagues struggle to afford a decent quality of life. Why? Because they turn all the money they make over into new equipment. Depending on the nature of the work you are doing, it can be very important to keep up to date with the latest software and hardware. But more often than not, it isn’t. Make sure you are actually turning a profit and earning a decent living at the end of the day. Avoid unneccesary debt and make sure you aren’t spending more on equipment than you are making.
9. Buy your software and sample libraries legally.
I know it is tempting to download plug-ins and samples from torrent sites, and there are all sorts of rationalizations we have to convince ourselves that it is okay. But ultimately, going the legit route will allow you to sleep better at night and feel good about yourself.
10. Buy good plug-ins and learn them well.
It is so easy to be seduced by the latest shiniest newest plug-in or synth. But really, you are better off owning a few choice pieces of software and learning them well so you can get the most out of them. I have seen many clients with drop down menus of compressors and equalizers to the floor, full of plug-ins they never or rarely use; and then use only the presets. Get a few good ones, learn them, make them work for you, explore them, find unusual useful ways of using them, share what you discover online, you will be creatively richer for it.
11. Learn to play an instrument.
Even just a little bit. If you are a producer or engineer, working with beats, or a DJ into audio production, learn the fundamentals of playing an instrument. It will not only open you up creatively, but will help you to better communicate and understand when working with musicians in creative situations. Even if it’s just a few chords on guitar, or a couple of beats on a drum kit; it will stimulate your imagination.
12. Be as egoless as possible.
I am not ashamed to say that there are more talented engineers than myself, with better gear than I have, that charge less than I do, that are “right next door”, figuratively speaking. But I have happy satisfied loyal clients that come back over and over again to work with me, It’s not because I am the best, I’m not. It’s because they feel good working with me. Make sure to listen to your clients and support them. Phil Spector was a genius at this. Even if you may not completely agree with some of their suggestions, gently guide them down the right path, in a positive supporting way rather than aggressively. If you don’t have the personality to do this, fake it till you make it. It’s worth it. For you and for them.
So, these are some of the things that I would tell my younger self if I had the opportunity. Perhaps sharing them with you can offer some food for thought. I wish you all the best of luck, no matter what stage you are at in your careers, and welcome you to this brand new Logic Pro Expert community. I look forward to contributing on various topics, revolving of course mainly around Logic Pro, associated third-party plug-ins and related workflows. I encourage every one reading to not hesitate to post and participate. Help turn this into a living breathing community of Logic Pro users that can all benefit from each other’s knowledge, comments, and insights.