JAMES | Careers in Sound Recording


Work patterns in the sound recording industry have changed dramatically over the last 10 years. The development of digital technology has resulted in the move away from large recording studio complexes to smaller units. Although this has made quality recording more affordable, it has in fact, resulted in fewer “fully professional” recording facilities. In turn this has resulted in a change in working patterns, in that there are now very few large facilities that are able to employ full time recording and maintenance staff.

The shift has been to freelance working and therefore it is essential that all audio & sound production courses include units on basic business skills or entrepreneurial skills so that people entering the industry are prepared to work in a very competitive environment.
mixing console
No matter what job role is undertaken in sound recording, an understanding of organisational behaviour required and how to function in a studio or live recording environment is essential. It is also essential that new entrants to the industry know how to work as part of a team and have an awareness of communication skills. Studio managers often state that they are more impressed with how a person will behave in the creative, technical and commercial environment, than with their knowledge of the technology. Awareness of group dynamics and the psychology of a recording session are very useful tools. As well as dealing with the technology, the job of a recording engineer or producer is to support the creative process of the artists as well as contributing their own creativity.

Of course it is nowadays also essential that people know how to use the technology and are familiar with the “jargon” of the industry. There are many commercial pressures within the sound recording market and it will also be essential that learners become aware of these. For example the discrepancy between the demands for high quality, capital investment and what rates studios can charge.

There is a great misconception that working in recording studios, or indeed live recording, is a “glamorous” business. The reverse is often true. As well as being incredibly creative and stimulating, it is also very hard work that often involves long hours and a lot of patience. With a few exceptions, recording engineers and studio staff are not highly paid, therefore successful people need to be very dedicated to working with sound and music and this dedication must be the force behind them wanting to work in the industry, not any notions of fame and fortune although these may come.

It is also essential to understand the range of technology used in the industry. At the time of writing the range of equipment used in studios is very broad. Although analogue tape systems are still occasionally used, digital audio workstations of many types are employed, therefore it is necessary for studio staff to have a very good grounding in the “basics” of the recording process from an understanding of the acoustic space being used to the finished, mastered product. It is also essential that recording staff are aware of the work of other people in the record producing process, from artistic programme planning to the needs of the buying public.

Recording studios generally operate on a very tight budget, therefore it is vital that anyone working in the industry has a knowledge of studio financing and management, particularly in the areas of capital expenditure, where there are often pressures to re-equip with the guarantee of a sound return on investment. All new entrants to the industry need to understand that there is very little margin for error in the process as mistakes result in costly increases in overheads that can cause the financial failure of a studio.

When considering training courses a potential student needs to ask the staff whether they are aware of how the industry works and she or he should make sure that the course will give them an awareness in all the areas above as well as technical knowledge. There are some established courses accredited by JAMES that have been doing this for many years.

A good course will emphasis the cross curricular potential of the subjects studied, so that should a learner decide that studio work is not the right direction, he or she will have developed skills (such as IT, business and communication skills) that are easily used either in other parts of the sound and music industries or indeed in any other industry. There are many opportunities to work with sound outside of the recording studio. Film, radio and television, games, multi media, live and theatre sound. Although there may be differences in operation the same basic skills are needed and a good course will prepare students with these.

The JAMES team.

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