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by Paul Moverman [Audio Engineering Society, Inc., by-laws, revised June, 8, 1973. Journal of the AES Vol. 21, p. 425.]
MONTH AFTER MONTH people write to the editors of various trade magazines such as AUDIO, and ask, "How do I become an audio engineer?" Before attempting to answer that question, I feel that a common misconception should be cleared up. The common image of the audio engineer is that of someone who sits behind a 16-track console and helps make hit records. Actually, the audio engineering field includes more than just the recording of gold records.
It is certainly true that the recording engineer or mixer whose name appears on the cover of an album is a bona fide audio engineer, but let's take a few moments to explore other areas where an audio engineer may be employed.
Many of the major record labels, such as Columbia and RCA, maintain staff engineers in such major recording centers as New York, Los Angeles, and Nashville. These engineers are usually members of a union (such as I.B.E.W. or N.A.B.E.T.) and normally will be employed solely by one label.
However, the majority of recording engineers are employed by independent studios such as A&R in New York or Sound 80 in Minneapolis. These engineers work mainly out of their own individual studio, but many do free-lance work for either record companies, producers, or other studios. Also to be included in this "free lance" category is the tape mixer, the person who will mix the 24- or 16-track tape down to either stereo, four-channel, or mono.
The second type of audio engineer that we will discuss is the mastering engineer or disc cutter. The mastering engineer is the man who will conduct the tape to disc transfer of the music that has already been mixed down. The disc cutter has to make certain that the disc will sound exactly like the tape that was mixed in the studio. Although many lathe manufacturers are now marketing automated disc cutting systems, an engineer must be present to ensure quality control and proper equalization. Many times, a disc mastering engineer has to be more creative than the mixer in ensuring that the song is cut the way the producer heard it, without sacrificing any highs or lows to enable it to be cut.
Another category of audio engineer is the motion picture sound man. Many film production houses maintain a staff of audio engineers to supervise the recording of film tracks, sound effects, etc., and then to mix them down into a single audio soundtrack. The soundtrack will then be transferred to either a magnetic or optical track that will be heard in movie theaters around the world.
Closely related to the motion picture sound engineer is the audio engineer employed by many radio and television stations and networks across the country.
These television audio engineers are responsible not only for the sound on such programs as "In Concert," but also for the live audio that is heard daily on such programs as "The Edge of Night" and all the major network news broadcasts. Also, do not forget to include the engineers that have re corded the New York Philharmonic Young People's series for so many years. It should also be noted that engineers such as Richard L. Kaye of Boston have been responsible for instituting stereo and quadraphonic broadcasts of the Boston Symphony Orchestra for several years now. On the other end of the musical spectrum are the well known rock broadcasts (and quadracasts) of the King Biscuit Flower Hour, a syndicated concert series.
When discussing audio engineering, one must be sure to include the acoustic architects, noise control engineers, and sound reinforcement engineers.
Many people fail to realize that each and every one of these people is required in order to produce a concert where someone in the rear of the hall will be able to hear the performance as well as the person sitting in the front row. Television stations, concert halls, and even airports would be totally lost without the services of these audio engineers. Just imagine an evening news broadcast where you couldn't understand what the newscaster was saying due to the amount of echo in the studio! All of the above mentioned people are audio engineers, although they may have specialized in a particular area of the field. Let's take a look now at how you can become an audio engineer! The first step you can take towards becoming an audio engineer is to try to decide the particular area you want to "major" in. You may find that you will want to go into several areas rather than just one. One good way to get a feel for which area(s) you might be interested in is to go to a local meeting of the Audio Engineering Society. The A.E.S. is a corporation whose purpose is that of ". . . uniting persons performing professional services in the audio engineering field and its allied arts, of collecting, collating and disseminating knowledge in the field of audio engineering . . ." and as such offers the best source of information in the audio engineering field. The society has sections located in Boston, New York City, Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Washington, D.C., and also in Canada, Great Britain, Japan, and Central Europe. Most of these sections offer monthly meetings that are open to anyone interested in audio. The Society also publishes a journal which in itself is a great source of knowledge. By attending these meetings you can get a chance to meet and talk with many of the persons who have made audio what it is today. By listening to these people talk on a wide range of subjects you might discover a certain area that is of special interest to you.
Once you have decided what aspect of audio engineering you want to become involved in, there are two possible routes that you may take to achieve your goal. One is to try to find a job through the political method. In other words, without much knowledge, you could conceivably get a job in a studio, etc., just by knowing somebody that knows someone. The only difficulty with this method is that after a short time, if you're not extremely alert, you'll find yourself in a jam and will have to go looking for help. Also, you could find yourself waiting for a job using this method for months. An example of this is a close friend of mine who has been waiting since last April for a relative who knows somebody to get a job for him.
The other route most likely will prove to be more fruitful in the long run. Although neither route could be said to be any faster, this second method is certainly the smarter of the two. Let's take a look at the traditional way of becoming an audio engineer.
The first step is to select some sort of technical school and enroll, following their supervised program. Upon completion of this program (the length of which could vary from 8 weeks to four years) you will want to get down to work and find a job. Before discussing job hunting through the audio engineering field, let's take a look at what type of educational programs are now available and take a look at some of the problems facing audio engineering instructors.
One major problem facing the audio engineering educators is the problem of the ever-growing number of "quickie" courses that may or may not promise employment upon graduation. You might remember the disc jockey craze of the late sixties when dozens of schools sprang up, all selling you on the fact that there were more jobs available than there were applicants. Before going any further, it's a good idea to note that whatever school you may graduate from, it is going to be very difficult to get that first job.
The schools that offer courses in audio engineering generally fall into two categories, the private institutes, and the universities and colleges. Schools such as Albert B. Grundy's Institute of Audio Research and Don Davis' Syn-Aud-Con are excellent examples of private institutes that offer courses in different aspects of audio engineering. Many students that have taken courses at these institutes have continued their education at some of the nation's leading universities, receiving credit for courses taken. While the majority of these private institutes offer only one course, several such as the Institute of Audio Research are now offering courses in areas such as Studio Technology, Disc Mastering, and Systems Design. These programs normally run for two to three months, unlike the university level programs that run for a minimum of one college semester.
During the past several years, more and more colleges and universities have added courses in audio engineering to their curricula. The list of schools ranges from Brown University to the University of Surrey in Great Britain. A moderate list of colleges and universities offering courses in audio engineering is appended to this article.
While many schools of higher education now offer programs in audio, there are many schools which have not made such courses available even in view of the fact that they own sophisticated audio equipment. Examples of this situation may be noted at the Evergreen State College in Washington and the University of Illinois at Urbana. At Evergreen there is an array of professional audio equipment ranging from a Quad-Eight console to an Ampex MM-1000 (16-track) tape recorder, and to top it off, an intense student interest in a formalized audio program has been continual. However, the "powers that be" at this school have not seen fit to hire an instructor and institute an audio engineering program. If this isn't enough, take a look at the University of Illinois, where in addition to sophisticated audio gear, the University has on the campus, the beautiful Krannert Center for the Performing Arts. This complex of four magnificent theaters would be ideal for a program in audio engineering as world reknowned artists perform there almost on a daily basis. Perhaps in the near future people will become less "afraid" of audio as it develops into a more popular area of study.
Most of the schools that offer courses in audio engineering have a very detailed theoretical curriculum with little emphasis on the actual operation of the hardware. As I have found out, the operation of a tape machine is far easier than the understanding of what is happening when you align the machine. However, as I shall proceed to point out, the actual operation of equipment in a real studio operation is a vital part of your education.
The Ideal Education
Several months ago, I undertook a survey of several leading audio engineers both in the United States and abroad. Each engineer was asked what the "ideal" education would be for a young person who wanted to get into the audio engineering field, and also, what particular area of study should be stressed the most in an audio engineering education.
The subject area that seems to lead the pack is Music Theory and practical music experience. It should be noted that the group of engineers responding was not made up strictly of recording studio personnel, but included representatives of such areas as acoustics, noise control, education, and transducer design. Most of the engineers responding felt that the primary area of importance was that of understanding and having a "feel" for music. In second place was electroacoustics, followed closely by disc cutting and psychoacoustics. It would seem only natural that an engineer would have to have a thorough understanding of not only the equipment, but also the medium with which he is working. A study of disc cutting would certainly help the mix down engineer understand the limitations of the art and enable him to guide his final mix appropriately. The three final areas of study that appeared were, in order of importance, Music Law, Electrical Engineering, and Analog/Digital Computer Techniques.
Although the a/d computer techniques appeared to be of the least importance in relation to the other subject areas, one might note that the importance of this field will increase sharply over the next several years as more and more digital audio equipment appears on the market. During the last few years alone, we have seen the introduction of digital audio delay lines and automated mixdown systems, both spawned by the computer age.
Indications of the advent of a new, highly specialized, recording operation are' becoming evident throughout the world. Dr. Ray Dolby of Dolby Laboratories noted during a recent telephone conversation, "... due to the growing need for efficiency in the handling of the complex and varied booking schedules of studios today ... there seems to have been a division of responsibility in major recording projects. You may now have a recording engineer, producer, musical director, maintenance engineer and tape machine operator all working together on a single project. Because of the tremendous growth of the recorded music industry, the making of records is now a team effort, not a solo performance by a versatile and highly trained engineer/musician. The need now is for more specialization." Perhaps due to the new need for specialization the old "Tonmeister" concept is becoming outdated.
As noted earlier, almost 95% of those engineers responding to the survey felt that, in addition to the classroom training, a valuable part of the educational program would be spent in a workshop situation, or on the job training under the direct supervision of a qualified engineer. However, at the present time, this is almost impossible to accomplish. Dave Kent Watson, Director of Indigo Sound Studios, Ltd., notes: "Basic theory should be dealt with, after which practical experience is the only way to a complete education. (However) as studios are reticent about taking on inexperienced staff, I feel that the professional organizations should sponsor entry to a studio for training." The first school to sponsor entry into the professional recording field was the University of Surrey ( England). The School of Music at Surrey set up a program that led to a B. Mus. (Tonmeister) degree. The tonmeister concept is a rather old theory instituted by the Germans many years ago in order to educate audio engineers.
The basic idea is that the student be thoroughly educated in both physics and music. At Surrey, during the third year of studies, the student works at a commercial recording studio as a regular paid employee. The student is required to file both oral and written reports on his training upon his return to the University. Quite contrary to the general employment situation, there were more vacancies last year than there were students.
Here in the United States meanwhile, several schools now offer audio courses that include regular visits to major recording studios but do not offer the student the opportunity to work in the industry for several months as part of his education.
How to Get a Job
After completing a program of study in audio engineering, you will be faced with the problem of how to get a job. There are several employment agencies claiming to specialize in the audio engineering field. But as you will discover, they aren't really interested in the newcomer who will go to work for somewhere around $5500 per year as a trainee, but rather in the professional engineer whose salary will pay off with a big commission. Don't let a put down at the employment agency stop you! The best way to find a job in this business is to get dressed at 8:00 am and go knocking door to door until you meet the right person at the right place at the right time. You might preface your pavement pounding by mailing a résumé to the studios that you will be visiting. New York City is definitely the wrong place to try to break into the audio engineering business.
Granted, there are dozens of studios on the island of Manhattan, but the last time I checked, there was one studio that had a waiting list of some 125 people just waiting to work without pay as messengers or janitors, just to be able to get inside a recording studio.
The most important thing about your first job is that you should try to get into a studio where there is someone who is qualified to take you under his wing and teach you the studio business. Working in a studio without proper supervision will lead nowhere fast.
After seeing how hard it is to get into the audio engineering field, you might ask, what is being done to better the situation? Several years ago, the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences formed the NARAS Institute in Nashville. The Institute, under the direction of Mr. Henry Romersa, has been responsible for the coordination of commercial music educational programs throughout the country. The Institute has also instigated the formation of several new courses in this area.
Last fall at the Audio Engineering Society's 46th Convention in New York City a session was devoted to audio education. Those attending, in excess of 150, were not only audio engineering students, but educators, and well known representatives of major recording studios and product manufacturers.
It is happening slowly, but there is a growing interest in the future of audio engineering education.
Following is a partial list of the schools that are currently offering courses in audio engineering. Additional information may be obtained by contacting either the NARAS Institute in Nashville, the Audio Engineering Society in New York, or the author in care of this publication.
The Brown Institute 3123 East Lake Street Minneapolis, MN 55406
Brown University Engineering Department Providence, RI 02903
Cincinnati, University of Cincinnati, OH 45221
Eastman School of Music 26 Gibbs Street Rochester, NY 14604
Fanshawe College 1460 Oxford Street East London, Ontario N5W 5H1, Canada
Georgia Institute of Technology Atlanta, GA 30332
Gilfoy Sound Studios 300 Gilbert Avenue Bloomington, IN 47401
Illinois Central College Box 2400 East Peoria, Il 61611
Institute of Audio Research 64 University Place New York, NY 10003
Minnesota, University of 105 Morrill Hall Minneapolis, MN 55455
Missouri, University of Columbia, MO 65201
NARAS Institute Box 12469 Nashville, TN 37212
New York University School of Continuing Education New York, NY
Recording Institute of America 15 Columbus Circle New York, NY 10023
Seattle West Recording Corp. 319 North 85th Street Seattle, WA 98103
Southern California, University of University Park Los Angeles, CA 90007
Surrey, University of Guildford, Surrey, England
Tennessee State Technical Institute Memphis, TN
Brigham Young University Provo, UT 84601
The following schools offer courses in acoustics and/or noise control:
Bolt Beranek and Newman Inc. 50 Moulton Street Cambridge, MA 02138
Bruel & Kjaer Instruments, Inc. 5111 West 164th Street Cleveland, OH 44142
Synergetic Audio Concepts Box 1134 Tustin, CA 92680
Recommended texts for audio engineering students:
Bernstein, Julian L., Audio Systems, John Wiley & Sons, 1966, 409 pages.
Brown, Robert M. with Paul Lawrence, How to Read Electronic Circuit Diagrams, Tab Books, 1970, 189 pages.
Crowhurst, Norman, Audio Systems Handbook, Tab Books, 1970, 189 pages.
Dillow, Arthur P., Alternating Current Fundamentals, Howard W. Sams & Co., 1966, 416 pages.
Lowman, Charles E., Magnetic Recording, McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1972, 288 pages.
Lowery, H., A Guide to Musical Acoustics, Dover Publications, 1966, 94 pages.
Navy, Department of U.S., Basic Electricity, Dover Publications, 1970, 490 pages.
Navy, Department of U.S., Basic Electronics, Dover Publications, 1969, 538 pages.
Olson, Dr. Harry F., Music, Physics, & Engineering, Dover Publications, 1967, 460 pages.
Olson, Dr. Harry F., Modern Sound Reproduction, Van Nostrand Rheinhold Co., 1972, 335 pages.
Taylor, Rupert, Noise, Penguin Books, Inc.. 1970, 268 pages.
Villchur, Edgar, Reproduction of Sound, Dover Publications, 1965, 92 pages.
Publishers' Addresses Dover Publications, Inc. 180 Varick Street New York, New York 10014
McGraw-Hill Book Company 1221 Avenue of the Americas New York, New York 10020
Penguin Books, Inc. 7110 Ambassador Road Baltimore, Maryland 21207
Howard W. Sams & Co., Inc. 4300 West 62nd Street Indianapolis, Indiana 46268
Tab Books, Inc. Monterey & Pinola Avenues Blue Ridge Summit, Penn. 17214
Van Nostrand Rheinhold Company 450 West 33rd Street New York, New York 10001
John Wiley & Sons, Inc. 605 Third Avenue New York, New York 10016
(adapted from Audio magazine, Jul. 1974)
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