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5 Ways to Grow as an Audio Engineer in 2017

It’s that time again. The annual time for reflection and resolution. The time when we assess ourselves on a scale of years.

Where were you at as an audio engineering at the beginning of 2016? Where do you want to be at the start of 2018?

Rather than simply thinking of the new year as a fresh start to break a bad habit, now is a good time to make a plan to learn something or start a project that might take an entire year to accomplish.

There are plenty of things as audio engineers we can’t just develop overnight. Audio is the intersection of several different fields that we could spend an entire career working on. Learning more about these fields is a great way to grow as an engineer.

Here is a list of five ways to broaden your skill set and knowledge base in 2017.

1. Improve as a Musician

Music is the essence of everything we do as audio engineers. Most people get into audio coming from a musical background. However, there are also plenty of talented engineers who aren’t musicians.

Regardless of your musical experience, there is always more to learn.

This can help you truly ‘serve’ the song you are working on. It can also help you communicate with musicians and producers.

Can you read music? Do you know the chord numbering system? Can you arrange/sequence music on a keyboard? Could you fill in on the bass if necessary for a session? Can you tune vocals to the correct notes in a musical scale?

2. Learn to Code

The computer is at the center of almost everything we do in audio. It is used in the studio and even used regularly now in live sound.

Learning how to code will help communicate with the computer you use. It will help you understand how a computer “thinks.” It will help you understand how to use a computer more efficiently. It will help you better understand exactly what happens to a signal when it’s processed by your computer.

I’ve put together a lot of free content about computer programming at hackaudio.com for people interested in getting started or wanting to see how audio and computer programming go together.

3. Acquire Practical Knowledge About Acoustics

Many of us in the community are working out of home studios or rooms that were not originally designed for recording and mixing. Needless to say, our rooms are less-than-ideal acoustic environments.

However, there is a lot we can do to improve our situation using acoustic treatment. Learning some practical knowledge about acoustics can help treat your individual space.

Does your room have isolation problems? Does your room have weird resonances and flutter echoes? What type of balance does your room have between reflection, absorption and diffusion? What materials could be used to deal with these issues?

4. Learn About the Human Auditory System

Any time you’re making music, you should think about the person who will eventually listen to it. All the music we make has to go through a human’s auditory system at some point.

Therefore, it is a good idea to understand many things about this part of the signal path.

Did you know the ear is more sensitive to some frequencies than others? Did you know that lower frequencies mask higher frequencies? Did you know that the ear has a built-in limiter for sounds greater than 90 dBSPL? Did you know the perception of pitch gets worse as the amplitude of a signal increases?

There are so many unique things about the way the ear performs that are worth considering when you’re working with sound.

5. Study Common Audio Circuits

No matter how much the digital computer takes over in the process of making music, acoustic sound will still be captured by a microphone to produce an electric signal. Additionally, acoustic sound will still be created by a loudspeaker receiving an electric signal.

Therefore, analog circuits are unavoidable in audio. Not to mention, they are also really cool and can process signals in fascinating ways.

Circuits are not always the most intuitive thing to understand. However, every audio engineer should at least know a few things so they don’t injure themselves or damage their gear.

This year could be the year to take on a project like building your own mic pre-amp or guitar pedal.

There are a lot of great resources out there. Here are two things worth checking out if you are into this kind of thing: diyaudiocircuits.com and audioxpress.com.

Happy New Year to all the audio engineers out there. May it be the best year yet!

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Eric Tarr

Eric Tarr

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

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  • Hard to imagine anyone being an audio engineer without a music background but I know they’re out there!

  • Andrew Porter

    All very good ideas. I was happy to see coding on the list then I saw the author and it made even more sense. Thanks for the tips!

  • Nathan Lively

    “Did you know the perception of pitch gets worse as the amplitude of a signal increases?”

    I’ve heard that loud stage monitors can lead to vocalists singing flat, but I haven’t found anything written about it. Have you?

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