For our first edition of How To for 2016 we caught up with the very experienced and passionate Tim Dalton, a senior lecture in audio at SAE Melbourne’s campus and a partner at Dalton Koss HQ.
Tim has over 36 years of international experience as an audio engineer and record producer. Originally from the UK, he’s worked internationally with David Bowie, Sir Paul McCartney, Simple Minds, Elvis Costello, Faith No More, The Beastie Boys, Run DMC, Transvision Vamp, Primus, De La Soul, and Atomic Kitten.
Tim will be hosting a question and answer session at SAE’s open day on Saturday 30th January 10:00am to 2:00pm.
As a partner at Dalton Koss HQ (DKHQ) and in my role as a senior lecture in audio at SAE Institute Melbourne I regularly visit various educational institutions around the world where I give master classes and lectures on careers in the audio, music and creative industries.
Over the last 36 years I’ve earned my living as a live sound engineer, tour manager, studio engineer, record producer, artist manager, A&R consultant, rehearsal studio owner, record label executive and more recently educator.
Discussions with early career professionals nearly always focus on how I got started on my 36-year career in the music industry. What was my personal journey? The second question that I am normally asked is, “how do I become an audio engineer?” It’s an interesting question as there is no standard route into the profession and its highly unlikely that you’ll ever see a mainstream advertisement in the jobs pages of a newspaper for an audio engineer.
I maintain that a working in the audio production/music industry is not a job or even a career but it’s actually a lifestyle, which requires a huge amount of personal commitment. If you are looking for high pay, hedonism and fame then a career in music and audio production definitely won’t be for you.
The music industry does an incredibly clever smoke and mirrors trick where it tries to make its self appear all revolutionary and anti-establishment. In reality the music industry is probably the worlds most compliant, conservative and least revolutionary art form on the planet. If you want to be creatively cutting edge and revolutionary then try fine art, fashion or architecture as an art form.
[include_post id=”468847″]To help re-align perceptions of both employers and students in my role as a partner at DKHQ I have organised a number of speed dating with industry events in the UK, USA and Australia. At these very popular events students get to meet music industry managers and owners and speak to them one-to-one. Results are always positive from both sides of the table.
Students start to realize that the product may be music, but ultimately, they will experience a very similar working life to everyone else. The job description may include activities that might seem like social occasions e.g. going to shows, visits to the studio, riding on a tour bus, but being involved in these activities from a work perspective is very different from hanging out with your mates.
The music industry is first and foremost a business and a very serious financially focused one at that. Whether you end up working in the independent music world or for a major international music label, you will be expected to work very long hours in a highly competitive work environment to achieve measurable successes often under difficult circumstances.
You may get to wear skinny black jeans and Converse to work, but this doesn’t mean that you are working any less then your friends who have to wear a suit and tie to work in their office. They’ll have long hours, with the potential for advancement if they perform well, the potential for dismissal if you don’t, good bosses, bad bosses, troublesome clients, all the standard workplace related experiences.
There will definitely be some cool perks, but trust my 36 years of experience, they’ll few and far between and they’ll definitely be earned. Anyone who is hard working, creative, passionate and motivated will fair very well in a music industry career.
Here is my eight-step guide to become an audio engineer:
Start working with sound equipment
Audio equipment has never been so cheap and much of it these days is software based. Get your hands on as much equipment as possible and practice your skills. If you believe Malcolm Gladwell’s theory (I do) then 10,000 hours is the magic number. Start clocking up those hours now.
Audition microphones, recorders, effects, plug-ins work out what they do and how they can be used. Spend all day mucking about with audio equipment, discuss audio equipment with like-minded folk when you’re not mucking about with audio equipment and then when you go to sleep dream about audio equipment – it’s a lifestyle remember?
Enrol on an appropriate audio degree
There are lots of different degree options out there so find the one that suits you. The role of audio engineer is a diverse one e.g. live audio, post-production, programming, maintenance, design installation, broadcast, mastering, music production, etc.
Go and visit the different institutions, that’s what open days are for, and see what they have to offer in terms of degrees/diplomas structure, equipment, exit qualification and consider how experienced are their teaching staff.
Ideally the educationally institution that you choose will have lots and lots of project work (remember that 10,00 hour rule?) so you’ll get lots and lots of hands on time. A degree in audio production on its own will not be enough to secure you some work so in addition go to a recording studio, music venue or local theatre and try to make friends with the sound crew. Tell them you’re interested in what they do, and ask if you can hang out and watch them work. Find out about the job and then work out what you want to do and start doing it.
Read some books
[include_post id=”434000″]There are lots of books (I’m currently writing my third one), magazines and web sites out there. Read as much as possible about audio engineering, music production, mastering, equipment and everything connected to audio and music production.
Audio engineering is a very complex industry but the information is out there but it will require you to actively research the industry. By reading you’ll understand the history and context of the industry and that will make you a better engineer.
Become familiar with different kinds of sound equipment; do lots of research on the Internet, check out the websites of sound companies, studios, record companies, producers, etc.
Learn to use different audio software
You probably already have a favourite piece of software, which you love to use. As a professional you need to be confident in using all of the tools available so find out about the other software packages available that you don’t use including ProTools, Cubase, Reason, Cakewalk, Sibelius, Digital Performer, Live, Ableton or Logic.Most of the manufacturers of these products have free demos available on the Internet. Go on the different forums and speak to the audio gurus about issues that you are having. Watch lots of Youtube videos that show you the shortcuts and hacks.
Get familiar with lots of different types of music
As a music industry professional you’ll be working with music that may not be of you own liking so it’s vital you critically listen to as many different types of music as possible.
No one is asking you to like this music but you do need to understand how if operates and what makes it what it is. Spend lots of time critically analysing different musical genres that you wouldn’t normally listen too.
This is the most important thing you should know about and a good educational institution will have critical listening as part of their program. When learning how to mix and edit music you should also know about the wide variety of music available in the world.
- Listen to different types of songs.
- Analyse different types of sounds.
- Try to catch each and every beat.
- Think “how did they do that?”
- Learn to create your favourite music and music that you don’t like
Be honest with your weaknesses and commit to improve yourself
After you have completed a project look back and reflect upon what went well and what didn’t. Critically discuss with your peers, employers, and teachers about what you have created and work out how you can make it better.
Commit to being better next time by adjusting your workflow or being better prepared. Where necessary, make amends with the parties at the receiving end of your mistake (e.g. a missed cue on stage or in the mix).
Expose yourself to the ever-changing audio technologies
Chances are, there’s a better way or better tools to get your job done today than there were six months ago. However, whatever technology you are considering to use needs to be thought through in the context of what your project actually needs.
[include_post id=”356945″]Technology should always serve what you are trying to achieve in the project, not the other way around. Think of technology as the tools of the trade but do not become technology obsessed because it should be about the music and not the tech.
If you apply a piece of tech to a project ask yourself is it helping the artists express whatever it is they are trying to express? If the answer is NO then you probably don’t need that side chained, frequency sensitive plug-in gate ducking the room microphone in the mix.
Be entrepreneurial and become the CEO of you own brand
Just like Bonds sells upmarket underwear and JB HiFi sells electronics, you sell something that is unique — YOU. This includes your identity, personality, work ethic, goals, aspirations, fears and more.
Think of yourself as a brand, as your own public relations, sales and marketing department all in one, and you need to be the CEO of that brand. In the creative industries self employment working on short term contracts is the norm so know how to sell the best version of yourself and position your image that will be favourable to all.
Your digital footprint (Facebook, Instagram, etc.) may be a huge factor in you getting that vital paying gig so actively manage your brand.