Giving Back

Do you have a personal studio and use it for pro-level, for-hire projects? Can you use an assistant engineer on some of your sessions? Got room in your
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Do you have a personal studio and use it for pro-level, for-hire projects? Can you use an assistant engineer on some of your sessions? Got room in your schedule to be a mentor? All around the country, the engineers of tomorrow are graduating from recording programs today. With the number of large-scale studios — once the proving ground for people interested in pro audio — on the decline, where are these graduates going to cut their teeth in high-level, real-world situations once they've mastered the fundamentals in school?

Sure, anyone with a few hundred bucks can assemble enough gear to build a simple studio. But there is more to the recording arts than having the latest DAW or a collection of Class A mics and preamps. And spending a few years of trial and error doesn't guarantee a solid skill set or golden ears.

Besides the major-league schools, such as Ex'pression College for Digital Arts, Full Sail University, Conservatory of the Recording Arts and Sciences, and the SAE Institute, there is a remarkable number of music-production programs in city, state, and community colleges, and nonprofit groups such as the Women's Audio Mission in San Francisco, not to mention public and private high schools. Once they finish their courses, the students from these institutions will be looking for ways to hone their skills and pay their dues.

As a part-time instructor at Diablo Valley College, in Concord, California, I have first-hand experience with some of these budding recordists. The course I teach, Introduction to Pro Tools, is part of the school's Music Industry Studies program. But it is just as much a Recording 101 class, where I cover basic recording tools, miking techniques, and effects processing. Agewise, my students range from teenagers, some of whom are still in high school, to retirees.

The more motivated of my students are chomping at the bit to get out there and gain experience, and on occasion I've been able to foster contacts for them with local studios. They want to learn how to solder cables; they want to learn how to organize a patch bay; they want to learn mixing and mastering techniques. In fact, they usually want to know it all. Is that where you come in?

We all have projects where, at some point, having an assistant would be handy. Why not look to your local schools? I'm not suggesting you offer a full-on internship program — it could be as simple as inviting a student to help set up the mics and Dis for a series of recording dates, and then help tear them down and put them away. If you're doing live sound for a band, it might be as simple as letting a student assist you on a sound-reinforcement gig. It might even be as easy as inviting an interested student to a mixing session and letting them observe the process as well as ask appropriate questions. Although the latter scenario doesn't let you exploit their muscle, you do get the satisfaction of knowing that you helped someone who's just starting out.

Obviously, one of the things the student will constantly be reminded of is that it takes a lot of work to get things to sound their best. But knowing how things should sound is the key, and this is where your experience will be the most helpful. For example, anyone can figure out how to use a compressor. Knowing exactly how much to use it during a mix — perhaps that's where you come in.

So even though you may have the humblest studio in your area, if you're doing pro work, consider sharing your time and wisdom with someone just getting into the game. Chances are you'll also learn something valuable in the process.