Continuing to Grow
When you think back to how it all started, which might not have been that long ago, it's really quite amazing what you know now. If you've read and studied carefully, nothing in the studio should be unfamiliar to you. However, knowing what a compressor does, for example, and being able to use one effectively are two very different things. One thing is for sure — knowledge of gear and how it functions is the first step. The second step is using it and getting good results.
What the Pro Studios Use
In your own studio, you're the boss. You make every decision. When a vocalist comes in to record, you know just what microphone and preamp to use. You know because you own the gear — which is usually limited by your budget. But what would you do if you walked into a fully decked-out pro studio that owned every piece of gear and offered a virtually unlimited array of choices? If price were no object, what microphone would you choose? It's not uncommon for pro studios to own a few Neumann microphones, which typically go for $2,500 and more. You may never have heard these microphones, so how will you know when to use them? What you need to do is get some valuable in-studio experience. There are a number of ways you can go about this. The first is to connect with other studios in your area.
Renting gear is a great way to get to know better equipment and add professional sounds to your recordings without making a considerable investment. You can rent microphones, preamps, and outboard gear on a per-day basis.
Networking and Apprenticeship
You might already have strong connections with other home studio owners, but to gain experience in the professional world, you should be aware of the professional facilities around you. No matter where you live, there's bound to be a major studio somewhere nearby. Get on the phone and call the studio owner and see if he or she will meet with you. Explain what you are doing and that you would like to expand your skill set. Be sure to talk to the professional engineers there, too, to find out how they got their start. You'll find that most have a similar story — another experienced engineer took them under his or her wing and taught them the ropes. Maybe one day they can take you under their wing! It might also help your cause to bring some of your recorded materials along with you. These days, when it's so easy to own a home studio, in order to be taken seriously, you need to have some product to show for yourself. Perhaps, if you make a good impression, you will have opened a door for future use. If you can refer some work to the studio, either before or after the meeting, all the better for you. But don't stop with just one studio; make the rounds to others in your area. Networking is how you will branch out and succeed. It's really about who you know, as much as what you know.
Many people, in many fields, started off their career as an intern. Internships are the ground-floor entrance into many careers. An internship is basically a throwback to the apprenticeships of old. You donate your services for no, or virtually no, pay. In the recording industry, you do the “gofer jobs” like running cables, setting microphones and microphone stands, and grabbing coffee — basically anything they need you for. In return, you get free job training in a specialized area. You gain the all-important “experience.” Many students take part in internships during their college years to boost their resumes. As an intern, you donate your time and services, and in turn you get to be around and learn how to use equipment that you probably would never have access to otherwise. Most important, you will be able to watch a master engineer at work. Nothing is more valuable than that!
As time rolls on, you will be able to do more. Studio control rooms are generally not that large, so it will be easy for you to observe everything going on. In time, as you prove yourself and gain a good relationship with the staff, you may even be offered a job there. If nothing else, you can walk away from the experience knowing that you have gained experience on professional-level equipment. That is worth the price of admission — your free time.
Becoming a member of a professional group is another way to get yourself plugged into the professional world. One of the most prominent groups for audio recording is the Audio Engineers Society (AES). Membership benefits include journals, publications, and access to a wealth of information and technical documents on the art and science of recording. Every year AES holds an annual trade show, usually in New York City, and as a member you're entitled to attend. The AES show is one of the largest recording and sound technology trade shows in the world. Major manufacturers display new products and conduct hands-on product learning and information workshops. The floor is teaming with professionals in the audio world. From authors to engineers, producers to postproduction, you can meet a cross section of the recording world. Conventions like these are a great way to learn about new technology and equipment.