5 Bullet-Proof Ways to Become a Better Audio Engineer
1. Find Yourself A Mentor Or Critic
Mixing, recording, sound design, and all the other complexities of audio engineering are all demanding tasks.
They require in-depth understanding of acoustic concepts and principles, intimate familiarity with the computers and software that have become industry standards, meticulous attention to detail, and an intrinsically embedded, constant yearning for high-quality results.
Achieving that all by yourself is definitely a tall order and not likely to happen without a little help along the way, so suck it up and go ask for help!
Find someone (preferably more experienced) who can give you a fresh perspective on a mix that you can’t seem to get right in spite of all the tweaks that you’ve tried.
Their advice might just be the thing you need to spark the proverbial light bulb in your head!
2. Listen To The Work Of Artists And Engineers You Respect
In order to get anywhere in this industry, you have to know what the quality standards are and how to meet or exceed them. One of the best ways to do this is by listening to the work of other artists, producers, and audio engineers that you like.
They don’t necessarily have to be the guys that hit the Billboard charts last week (not that it would hurt to figure out what those guys did to get there), but they should be someone who’s well-known and respected for the quality of their productions and mixes.
Once you understand what it is that makes their work so unique and special, make note of it and try to implement that aspect in your own work.
3. Don’t Mix At Levels Comparable To Those Of Concerts
If you happen to live at an apartment complex, this advice is rather self-explanatory unless you don’t mind waking up your neighbors at 2 o’clock in the morning, but the real reason is a bit more in-depth and crucial to the outcome of your mixes (as well as safeguarding your hearing).
According to the Fletcher-Munson curve, the human ear is most responsive to mid-range frequencies surrounding 1 kHz at 85 dB, and when you turn up our mixes to the point where the low or high frequencies are too loud, you may risk fatiguing or even damaging your ears and thereby under-compensating on the overall balance and frequency makeup of your mix.
The best way is to start off at a fairly low volume. Then bring it up slightly when you want to work on your bass, though if you mix at a level that’s too low, you could risk overcompensating on the low and high-end frequencies and bury your mids in the process. Moderation and balance are key!
4. Learn A Thing Or Two About Music Theory
If you’ve ever worked with an artist who’s said something along the lines of, “Yeah, I think I need to re-record that part because I want to sing it a fifth higher than the root,” or, “That melody sounds a little flat, I think it should be brought up by a half-step or maybe a third,” and had no idea what they were talking about, then you need to set some time aside to study basic music theory!
Why is it so important, you ask?
Simply put, it’ll help you communicate with your clients efficiently without them having to interpret all the music theory lingo that definitely should be a part of your vocabulary if you’re looking to be a true professional in this industry!
You don’t want to be the guy that gets the deer-in-the-headlights look on his face when an artist asks you to move a part back by a couple of bars and change the time signature to 6/8 instead of the 4/4. If you don’t know where to begin, then I would recommend visiting this excellent site for starters!
5. If You Mix At Home, Treat Your Room
Home project studios are a dime-a-dozen these days, though it’s no surprise that many individuals who start their projects at home end up finishing their work at a professional studio because they couldn’t get something to sound “just right”.
Granted, getting a mixdown done in a professional-sounding room is a great way to finish a project, but those few dedicated individuals who are truly dedicated to their craft and care about the quality of the work they do will cough up the dough to get some quality treatment for their work environments.
You may think it’s too expensive, or that it’s too hard to treat a room, but I promise that nothing could be further from the truth as long as you’re willing to put in the time to do a little research and some smart shopping to get the materials you need.
The best way to get started is by firing up Google and typing, “How to treat a room for mixing” or “How to treat a room acoustically”!
[Björgvin’s note: or you know, check out the acoustic treatment section of my home recording studio series.]
Image Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/merfam/5949092742/