1 Dec 2022
Listen Here: Find My Direction Magnetically
Subscribe to CX E-News
Eddie Vedder wrote that line in a song once – ‘Find my direction magnetically’ – and it’s stuck with me ever since. It seems to me that a career in the audio industry is perhaps best found this way. It’s an obscure concept but if we talk our way through it together, maybe it’ll make more sense.
There’s a lot of facets to the audio industry. It’s a disconnected mish-mash of parts that produces countless varieties of, and for want of a better term, sound production. The collective rabble of sonic outcomes it creates demands a substantial mountain of equipment, endlessly evolving technology and a vast array of specific (and often non-specific) skills required by the human beings peddling within.
So when someone comes up to you and says: “How do I get into the audio industry?” the answer is often beyond the scope of any short (or even lengthy) conversation, mainly because the term audio industry itself means very little. So I’ve taken to using the term: “Find your direction magnetically!”
Okay, so this concept might seem like bollocks at this point, and in some ways it’s designed to be slightly obscure and a tad annoying (though I don’t expect this was Eddie Vedder’s original intention). A few people I’ve said it to have looked at me like I was under the influence of some sort of drug, but I assure you I am not.
The point here is simple. The industry is not bound together neatly like a ball of string. It’s a messy, often unregulated, non-compliant hodgepodge of jobs and skills that most people find themselves doing without necessarily having chosen. “I was going to be an architect… somehow I wound up here!” (A. Stewart).
And what’s worse, it chews people up, remunerates them very poorly and then regularly spits them out onto the scrap heap. Nice huh?
So if you’re imagining a job in the ‘audio industry’, or you know someone who’s (dare I say it) making noises about getting involved, you (or they) need to ask yourself why. If you can answer that honestly, then great… you’re ahead of the game already.
But once you’re in it, be warned! A few things tend to happen, especially to wide-eyed young people trying their best to make their way in the world.
They get lost, and for a variety of reasons almost as diverse as the industry itself, they end up doing something they really never intended.
How’s The View!
From the inside looking out, the industry is nothing whatsoever like the view from outside it looking in, something the ‘industry establishment’ tends to forget. Most young people, if they were to reduce it down to a single word, would say that it looked ‘cool’. They’re thinking music, they imagine crowds, fun, mayhem… maybe even performance… we all know this picture.
Countless numbers among us have thought this way, and I dare say, started out thinking: “To hell with working some crap job for the rest of my life… I’m gonna have fun and do this!” For me, I think I got hooked early on by going to some live gigs at the age of eight or nine… it certainly wasn’t because I’d been forced to play scratchy violin in my bedroom as a kid (although now I think I would have loved playing in an orchestra).
But let’s get something straight here… the audio industry is full to bursting with crap jobs. And not only are many of them of the excremental variety, they are poorly paid, insecure jobs to boot! Ironically, the only ones that are reasonably well paid are things like sales and marketing jobs etc, but of course, you could do that in the Renewable Energy sector or The Bureau of Meteorology… (I suspect there will be at least one vacancy there by now).
So, again, the trick to getting into the ‘audio industry’ and thriving in it long-term, is to keep your mind on the thing that attracted you to it in the first place, no matter how naïve the thought might have been, and always focus your efforts in that direction.
Because if you don’t, if you’re somewhat rudderless and easily influenced by others, you may end up doing one of the jobs mentioned earlier… the whiffy ones.
There are countless jobs, as I’ve mentioned, but let’s consider three basic ideas that might encapsulate why someone ‘wants in’, and then touch on ways to help them stick with their vision.
You might want to perform (be a musician or producer etc), or you might want to engineer (run the desk, the gear, the show!), or maybe you want to design stuff (build new technology, instruments, software etc).
The Musician Producer
So if your plan is to perform, what then? Where do you start, and where do you imagine ending up in 35 years? If you’re a musician planning on a career on the stage or the studio (or both), then make that your focus. It’s easy for me to say, but I’d urge you to resist letting that ambition go to seed over time and be replaced by a job lifting heavy boxes out of a truck for a living. (Some people like doing that too, of course, and it’s better paid work, frankly; I’ve done it myself in the past).
Practice your instrument, play on as many stages and recordings as you can, and over time you’ll develop the skills that will make you hot property for everyone else’s albums, as well as your own.
If you want to make records for a living, think of it this way: you’re at a global farmers’ market and the reality is that you’ve got to buy a stall there, setup your tent and put your stuff out there for sale. Except in a few rare cases, you ARE the industry already, insofar as expecting it to employ you. You have to create your own job, be your own boss, do your own accounts, as well as do the vacuuming, wiring, mixing and budgets (actually the last one of those should be avoided, or you’ll quit for sure.)
Technician, Engineer, Production
This is a vast area within the industry, where people can get very waylaid if they’re not careful. On the flipside, some of the more technical sides of this part of industry can offer some of the most rewarding, well-paid jobs available.
The trick here, if you have a vision of yourself manning a console at the ABC, or designing a PA for a large touring rock ‘n’ roll act, is to focus on that vision, and keep it squarely in mind. Don’t get side-tracked or swallowed up as part of someone else’s ambition. If you want to design a new stage setup for Taylor Swift, you’ll have to be single-minded and incredibly determined. And there will be nay-sayers all around you. Don’t listen to them, ever.
You might even want to setup your own studio if you’re of the technical persuasion. Again, set it up at the Farmers’ Market, and get to work! Work hard and never stop learning.
One sidenote here, this part of the industry can be the worst paid of any job in the country, frankly. To illustrate my point, I spoke to a close friend last night who has been making records for over three decades, knows the caper inside out, both technically and musically, and been involved with huge acts, the album sales of which run into the tens of millions. He recently got asked by a well-known record company to work on an album for FREE! Why? Because it would be “Good for him, because it would raise his profile and potentially get him more work.”
What a load of arse!
Get more work? What, where he volunteers to use all his experience and gear to develop an act for a record company so they can make literally all the money?!
If ever there was a perfect illustration of what the audio industry can be like, it’s this. You’re incredibly experienced, have all the gear, and you’re considered valueless.
It’s just plain criminal.
Designer, Technologist, Electronics Wizz
This is where I have basically no expertise, although I’ve known many of the world’s great designers personally. So I guess my ‘expertise’ here is that I’ve heard lots of their stories.
Someone I knew well who was heavily involved in this side of the game was Bruce Jackson. Of course, Bruce was also arguably the most famous live engineer in Australian history, had roles as head of audio at several Olympic Games, mixed all the biggest acts in the world, including Elvis, designed gear, started Jands (he was the ‘J’ bit), developed digital technology, and ran several big companies that sold audio equipment to the world.
He basically did everything. If there was a single individual who had a foot in more audio camps than anyone else ever has, it was Bruce. He was living proof that while the audio industry is massively diverse, one person’s interests can potentially span the lot. And he was a kid from Sydney. He did it all, and was the best in several fields of expertise. Did he listen to anyone who told him that his ambition was a pipe dream?
Andy Stewart owns and operates The Mill studio in Victoria, a world-class production, mixing and mastering facility. He’s happy to respond to any pleas for pro audio help… contact him at: email@example.com or visit: www.themillstudio.com.au
Published monthly since 1991, our famous AV industry magazine is free for download or pay for print. Subscribers also receive CX News, our free weekly email with the latest industry news and jobs.