World Class Recording in the Highlands
A Career in Audio


About Us
Equipment List
Pictures of the Studio
A typical recording session
How to get to The Byre
Contact Us
Funny Pages: People
Funny Pages: Animals
Tricks of the Trade
Digital v. Analogue
A Career in Audio
Home Recording
Getting Great Sounds
P.A. Systems for Dummies
The Music Industry
Success in Music
Download Goodies

The Byre Recording Studio

It comes as a surprise to most that there are hundreds of different career paths in audio and many of them are quite easy to get into - given the right qualifications. The right qualification usually means a university degree or it's equivalent in one of the four main fields (acoustics, electronics, use of equipment and music) with lesser qualifications or work experience in the other three.

Most candidates think in terms of sitting behind a mixing desk in one situation or another. The BBC gets 80,000 job applications a year and about a quarter of those ask for jobs as audio engineers. The chances of getting one of the handful of jobs that come available are slim indeed - even with the highest qualifications.

But there are thousands of jobs available in sales, maintenance, R&D, software development, equipment design and basic acoustic research for building and auto design. The engineer who commissioned our Amek desk, has travelled the World and visited every continent, installing equipment.

Some of those who have designed successful plug-ins for ProTools have become millionaires. Those who developed the mixing desk such as Neve (Neve and Amek) and Langley (Amek) have become legends. Film sound designers have received Oscars and location sound recordists travel the World from Antarctica to the jungles of South America.

By specialising in one of the four subjects, you naturally 'tilt' towards different careers. If music is your thing, you can become a producer. If the use and application of equipment interests you most, you could go into sales. Electronics leads to design and maintenance and acoustics could see you ending up helping to design the next Ford or Mercedes.

It is, however, very difficult to become a recording engineer and there are very few jobs available. You must also have a good working knowledge of four fields: acoustics, studio hardware, music and electronics. All four are required and all four are equally important. In today's multimedia world, you will notice that the audio engineer has not escaped the requirement of multitasking and he or she will also have to know how to work with video.

Colleges all over the World provide courses in every one of these fields, but very few put all four into a single study programme. In the UK, it is possible to gain HNC and HND certificates in the three technical subjects and there is no shortage of courses in music. Here are the main aspects of all four:

I want to sit here!

The nature of sound, the decibel and all its variants (dBA, dBm, dB-Phone, dBV, etc.), the mathematics of sound (logarithms, speed of sound, coefficients of refraction and reflection of materials, etc.), theory of public address (line arrays, temperature inversion, delay towers, monitoring) microphone types, types of stereo (M/S, Kunstkopf, X'ed pairs) theory of delay effects (flanging, phasing, pitch correction and harmonizing, reverberation).
Basic analogue circuitry, theory of filters, phase correction theory, Ohm's law, power law, theory of routing and zero-Ohm bussing, use of analogue ICs, theory of VCA circuitry, conduction and induction theory, electro-magnetics and motors, theory of analogue radio and television and its transmission.. Digital theory including quantification, sampling speeds, storage media, loss and lossless compression and error correction (Reed-Solomon codes), digital radio and television transmission (COFDM etc.) and digital networking of audio and video material. Simple fault-finding, servicing of equipment, quality control and testing of equipment. Soldering techniques.
Use of Equipment
Types and makes of microphones, use of large-frame analogue mixing desks, use of digital mixing, desk automation types and applications, use of popular multipurpose effects, use of dynamic processors, programming of synthesizers, MIDI file usage, use of hard-disc recording and editing packages (ProTools, Radar), use of ProTools plug-ins. Installation of Mac and PC computer systems with networking. Use of video editing (Avid, Speed-Razor, Premier) layering of video, SMPTE and World Clock time code, camera technique including use of dollies and jibs. Theory and practice of studio and stage lighting. CD and DVD mastering.
Basic harmony theory, following a simple score, arrangement and composition theory, types of music, types of rhythms, history of classical and popular music, construction principles of musical instruments including traditional, orchestral, electronic and electric instruments. The German Tonmeister course requires the candidate to be able to play two musical instruments with proficiency and an ability to play music is usually seen as a major advantage.

All that, just to push a fader or two!

The ideal career path in the UK would be to specialize in one of the above to as high a level as your abilities will take you - and gain as good an education as possible in the rest. In Germany there is the Tonmeister qualification and in the US there are several universities that specialize in careers in pro audio.

If you are in the UK, you can take one of the four fields to diploma level (e.g. HND or BSc) and the others to a lower level (e.g. HNC or similar). In this way the electronics engineer could become an audio equipment designer, the music major can become a producer and so on.

If you want to sit behind the desk, be it for live events or in the studio, you will need some proper education in the use of standard professional equipment. This means in the UK that you will have to find a college or university that has a professional studio set-up, as well as all the other facilities needed for video, PA, electronics, multi-media, etc.

Trends in Education

Many, many, many years ago, when the Earth was young and dinosaurs ruled the World, you could not get an education in audio engineering. Once you had some kind of education (technical or musical) young hopefuls tried to get jobs as tape-ops. This was short for tape operators and meant that you had to do all the menial tasks around the studio. In London, these creatures are often called runners - particularly in the video and film industries - because they have to run with tape/film/video cassette from one facility to the next. In the US they are called gophers because they have to go for the coffee, go for the papers, go for pizzas - well, you get the idea.

Sadly, those days are gone for ever. Many thought that this was the very best start one could get in the business. Firstly, you got to see every part of the business and you were able to work on real (and reel) equipment right from the beginning. Secondly, if you were able to get in at a larger studio, you got to meet all the good and great of the industry. This meant that you might be on nodding acquaintance with giant rock-stars, World famous producers and (most important) record company executives. You could 'network' brilliantly!

The disadvantage was that (unless you went to night-school) you did not receive a fundamental education. Many old-timers today still are not too sure what the difference is between dBv and dBV or what is meant by dBm. But then today too many pro-audio graduates know even less! So what's going on?

It's kewl!

Pro-audio is a really kewl subject to study. It's so kewl that nearly every college and university seems to offer some sort of course in 'music technology.'

But the main criticism is that whereas a few years ago it required a large investment for 24-track reel-to-reel machines and massive mixing desks to just teach the basics, today ProTools on a PC (that can be used to teach other courses) costs nothing or very little. So some colleges have been accused to jumping on the band-waggon, just to earn a quick Buck.

Unlike the old 'chalk-and-talk' subjects, pro-audio is both fashionable and popular, but many colleges are said to be cashing in by catering to the illusions of the students, without really preparing them for life at the rockface.

Learn to do what?

If all you want to do is learn how to use the equipment for your own enjoyment or to use your own equipment in your home or project studio, then a simple introduction into the software-hardware package of your choice is all you need. (See our Home Recording page.)

But learning for the rockface of getting a job in pro-audio will require a qualification that is full accredited by a university accreditation board or a body such as The Institute of Incorporated Engineers. It also requires access to the kind of technology that many colleges just do not have.

There are two philosophies to pro-audio education:

1. Learning to record and use the equipment. This requires the college to use the latest in studio and/or P.A. equipment and have the latest in digital audio workstations (DAW).

2. Learning how to research and find answers to technical questions. This might involve developing new pug-ins for Cakewalk or ProTools or new methods of compressing audio or creating new sounds.

Both types of education are valid and both should provide the student with a fair chance of gaining employment. Both have moved to involving video and film into traditional audio education. The student must decide before beginning his higher education, which part of the industry he wishes to enter.

Where the Jobs are

Surprisingly, there is - for the moment at least - a shortage of skilled postproduction engineers that really know their way around ProTools and all its plug-ins. In particular, there is a shortage of skilled personnel for video and film who are able to cope with such problem areas as sychronization and automation. One area that is expected to grow rapidly is the creation of DVDs in 5.1 surround sound. This means training in surround sound and mastering.