Back in the spring, Wes made a great comment while we were in a recording session. We were talking to our Production Assistant about the state of the recording industry and he said:
"What we need is less students and more entrepreneurs."
That statement is still in my head. Each year, around 15k fresh-faced graduates leave their college or vocational school, degree in hand, with the hope of landing a dream job behind a mixing console at their favorite recording studio. Sounds attainable, and it should be; you work hard, you make connections with the right people, and voila, you got it. Unfortunately for most aspiring engineers, it's not that simple and there are many external forces at work that have a lot to gain by making them believe that it is.
Check out this article I found today. I'm just going to tell you flat out- it's a lie.
Yes, there is a renewed interest in recording thanks to the advances and increased affordability of digital recording technology. But I don't see a shortage of engineers being such a problem that it creates a demand to the point where "a good engineer can earn a significant amount of money in a short amount of time." No, that just isn't true.
As I said, tens of thousands of people are certified to be engineers; whether through college or vocational programs like the Conservatory Master Recording Program or (gulp) the Music Industry Workshop. The reality is, there are tens of thousands of engineering grads hitting the job market every six months, and only a few hundred actual positions. Some of these grads will land an internship at a studio with the hope of one day attaining a full-time, paying gig that may not materialize until after many years of free service.
Case in point, the PA I mentioned at the beginning of this post. Wes and I have the great opportunity of working with some of the best studios in the city when we need to outsource our services, which isn't uncommon. We have formed great relationships with studio managers and their staff, all of which have a similar structure when it comes to job hierarchy.
Our PA's studio has a chief mixing engineer who commands the majority of the gigs that come in. When the time comes for him to retire or move on to a better gig, there is an assistant engineer who has worked under him and will be his replacement. The PA directly under the assistant engineer will move up to the assistant position. The rest of the PAs will continue working, in most cases for free, until the pecking order changes again. And so on and so on.
This process can take years, and meanwhile our stalwart PA will have to hold down another job, maybe even two or three, to pay the bills until the day comes, if it comes at all, for him/her to move up into the engineer's chair.
I guess there's no harm done if these people choose to be there, and my intent is not to squash someone's dream or discourage them from doing what they want, I just think it's deceitful for organizations to pass off engineering as a lucrative career move in today's job climate. These companies make millions every year in tuition money spent on training programs and recording certification that may not benefit the students in the slightest.
Again, I'm not a dream killer. To anyone interested in a recording career, I suggest the following:
-Read as many books on the subject as you possibly can. You don't need to sit in a classroom to do that.
-Purchase some recording gear that is within your budget and level of ability and practice, practice, practice.
-Don't do it for the money. If you're in it for the paycheck, you are going to be sorely disappointed. Sorry. I don't care to share how many times I've talked with people who have this outlook on the industry: "Well I'm a musician, but I figure being an engineer will be a good fallback job to pay the bills." No. It's just as hard to be a successful engineer as it is a successful artist. With home recording on an unyielding uprise, I'd say it's almost harder.
-Beware of any industry program that promises an easy, "A-to-B" success path towards your field of choice. Doubly so if they're trying to pitch you their program in a music equipment retail store like Guitar Center. There is a purpose and agenda behind that.
-Study other facets of business, music and otherwise, and apply it to what you do. Why be an employee if you could be your own boss? Innovate. Please innovate.
Both Wes and I have had experience with traditional methods of learning how to be an engineer. Him moreso than myself, but the common fact is, we've both learned more about the trade outside of any curriculum than actually in one. Our PA friend undoubtedly knows more about the ins and outs of a mixing console's functions than I do, but I work on a great board whenever I want and occasionally I'm fortunate enough to be paid for it, so... does that qualify me enough to make this point?
Please share any comments, thoughts, and stories you may have on the matter...and next time you're in a recording session, tip your PA; they work incredibly hard for very little.