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4 Lessons I Learned About Audio from Exercising

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I am firm believer that audio engineers should live well-balanced lives. Don’t get me wrong; every engineer should specialize in his or her craft by spending years improving at their job. Along the way, I think it is helpful to pursue other hobbies to keep your mind, body, and heart energized. Additionally, these hobbies can give you a different context or outside perspective to think about audio.

To encourage this idea, I’m putting together a series of articles about lessons I learned from things other than audio.

Audio engineering is a sedentary activity. Sitting in front of a computer for hours on end is unhealthy. Sorry to break the bad news to you.

I know there are tons of other jobs that involve manual labor outside of the comfort of air conditioning. So I am not trying to complain about the luxury of the typical audio engineering job.

Nonetheless, if you don’t spend most of your time doing something physically exhausting, then you should consider some form of exercise to stay healthy.

I am in the routine of starting each day with a workout. I believe it makes a difference in the rest of my day, especially while I’m working.

Besides increasing my physical energy and mental focus, exercising has taught me a lot about perseverance and discipline. These lessons are also very applicable to working in audio.

Here is a list of several things I’ve learned:

1. Growth Comes Through Challenge

I lift weights regularly. Most people probably have no idea when they look at me. I’m fine with that. I was born with a very average physique. I don’t want to look like Arnold Schwarzenegger. That is not why I lift. I want to be healthy and increase my strength.

When weightlifting, it is painfully obvious that improvement comes through challenge. Literal growth comes from pushing yourself each and every workout.

When it comes to audio, it is easy to rest on my laurels. I get comfortable with my skillset, knowledge, and techniques. It takes a lot of effort to challenge myself to progress. It means learning new things, and exploring new ideas.

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During the process, it is easily to feel discouraged. But in the end, I am always glad when I embrace the challenge and see real growth.

2. Effort and Preparation Are Both Important

Several years ago, I had the desire to run a marathon. Like many people, I wanted to be able to say that I completed the 26 mile race.

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Truth be told, I did follow through on my desire and completed a marathon.

But, I definitely don’t have the desire anymore.

As part of running the race, I learned about effort and preparation. Unfortunately, I learned it the hard way.

Around the time of the race, I was playing a lot of soccer. Relatively speaking, soccer is a decent way to build up endurance. I thought it would be a fun way to train for a marathon and avoid spending hours simply running.

In reality, I learned playing soccer is a terrible substitute for proper marathon training.

During the race, my body really wanted to quit. It really all came down to mental effort to just keep going.

After the race, I could barely walk for a week. Several toenails fell off. I had put my body through something it was not prepared for.

In hindsight, I regret my decision to “cut corners” on preparation while trusting in shear effort. There were consequences to pay. Sure I finished the race, but at a cost.

Sometimes in audio, we can all get overconfident. Do you properly prepare for a mix by finding some good reference tracks? Or, do you mix without context, based on whatever you feel?

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Do you properly prepare documentation and track sheets for your sessions? Or, do you fly by the seat of your pants and hope it works out?

Trusting your instincts is fine as long as you aren’t sacrificing necessary preparation.

3. Garbage In, Garbage Out

I’m not an expert on exercise and I’m not an expert on dieting. But I understand that what you eat influences the results you get from exercising.

Even if you exercise daily, eating sugar donuts and drinking a 6-pack of beer afterwards won’t maximize your results.

I’ve even heard some personal trainers say that achieving results is 80% diet and 20% exercise.

There is a similar analogy in audio. Many experienced engineers argue that the key to achieving great results is primarily about starting with a good source. All the processing gear in the world can’t change that if you recorded garbage at the beginning.

Take care of what goes in, if you care about what comes out.

4. We All Have Limits: Know Them, Push Them

Exercising is successful when you stay within your capacity. If I put 500 pounds on the bench press, I’m not going to get any stronger because I am going to crush my ribs. Rather, I have to use a weight that I can handle and push my repetitions to fatigue.

Whether you like to run, bike, rock climb, swim, lift weights, or any other form of exercise, the limits of your abilities are put to the test.

Even if you give it your all, there is always room for improvement.

All audio engineers have limits. Whether it is physical limits of working, or mental limits of knowledge, we are all constrained by our capacity.

We can grow our abilities, but it takes perseverance and discipline. Do what you do best, and always strive to improve.

Eric Tarr

Eric Tarr is a musician, audio engineer, and producer based in Nashville, TN. Currently, he is a Professor of Audio Engineering Technology at Belmont University.