I’ve had the good fortune to teach recording classes in a college environment for 12 years, and I’m always thrilled when one of my students lands a pro-level gig. But it’s rarely a surprise which of the students gets it: Engineers bound for success know how to follow through and pay attention to detail, and they have a deep curiosity about sound and technology.
But those three qualities will only get your foot in the door. When students ask me what it takes to make it in this biz, my answer is simple: The ability to problem-solve.
I’m not talking about being able to test and repair cables: If that was all it required, engineering work would already be fully automated. You need to be thinking ahead and ready to address any issue that arises calmly. When the producer in a high-pressure session wants something, but he can’t put it into words, you need to figure it out. When your band is sound checking in a venue and no one can hear themselves, you take the reins. Talk to any recording, mixing, or mastering engineer, and each one will have stories about how he or she dealt with some unusual or potentially catastrophic issue.
Moreover, developing and honing problem-solving skills is an ongoing process, especially if you plan on having a long career. Because once you think you’ve gotten a handle on things, up pops some new technology that requires ingenuity to put it into practice successfully through the transition period.
To some, these scenarios will seem intimidating. For the rest of us, it’s what makes playing and recording music such a joy, for there is no end of things to learn and explore when you know you can deal with whatever comes your way.