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Tips for Being an Audio Engineer for the Long Haul

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If you found this blog post, there’s a good chance that you’re not just dabbling in audio engineering. There’s probably a good chance you’re serious about it and you might even be obsessed with it like many of us in the community.

Music and audio can be very consuming. If you’re like me, then it’s your passion. It’s what you think about all the time and what you spend more energy doing than anything else. It’s your life.

Or at the very least, it’s what you want to be your life. The challenge for all of us (no matter how long we’ve been at it) is how to legitimately make it our life – now and for the foreseeable future.

If you want audio to be your profession, then I hope you also want it to be your career. If that’s the case, then you’re in it for the long haul.

Here are some tips that I came up with to be an audio engineer and stay an audio engineer.

1) Prepare to change

Nothing stays the same, including audio. Musical styles regularly change. Quincy Jones made it a long way from Frank Sinatra to Michael Jackson. Whether you’re a fan of today’s musical styles or not, you can be certain of one thing: they soon shall pass. They’ll be gone or evolve before you know it. Just make sure you don’t get left behind with them.

Technology changes. Even the relatively brief ~140 year history of recording sound has seen complete paradigm shifts in technology. We’re probably due for another one soon. Don’t sacrifice your career because you feel nostalgic for a certain era of technology.

Consider how your knowledge, skills and experience will transfer to the future. Have you simply learned routines for technology that will soon be obsolete? Or, have you developed expertise that can adapt to whatever comes next?

2) Resist short-term temptations

If you want to sustain a long career, there are some short-term temptations worth sacrificing.


Don’t let gear lust get out of control. It can consume all your money, as well as money you don’t have. Gear lust can also take up a lot of time you could be actually working. All of this adds up to an unsustainable habit worth breaking.

Be careful not to get burned out. Working a lot can seem like a good thing, but there’s a tipping point when working too much becomes a bad thing. Each person has his or her own limits. Don’t work beyond your limits for too long, or you might get burned out and want to quit.

Develop a reputation of integrity. Cutting corners, taking advantage of clients, and dishonest business practices might seem like a quick way to get ahead. However, if that becomes your reputation, then there’s no going back. Your career can end just as quickly as it started.

Remember this to keep yourself in check: a satisfied, returning customer is infinitely better than a disgruntled, ex-client.

3) Preserve your health

Take care of your ears. One of your most important assets as an audio engineer is your listening ability. Unfortunately hearing loss will occur for all of us when we get older. It’s something you should be aware of throughout your career.

There are steps you can take to prolong your hearing. Don’t mix and record at loud volumes. It might take a little time to get used to, but it can add years to your hearing (i.e. add years to your career). Take breaks throughout the day.

When you attend concerts, always bring your earplugs. Even if you think it doesn’t look cool, it looks professional and like you care about your hearing.

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Take care of your mind. You can go crazy if you sit in a small room in front of a computer all day. One way to prevent studio insanity is to get a hobby that has nothing to do with music.

If audio is your career, you should spend most of your time working on audio. But it can be healthy to give your mind a break. Don’t work 24 hours a day. Don’t work 7 days a week. Take one day off every week. Don’t work 52 weeks per year. Take a week off for vacation.

Take care of your body. Your can ruin your physical health if you sit on your butt all day. Audio engineering can be a very unhealthy career choice.

Exercise. Do something that gets your heart rate up each day. Lift some weights, go for a walk/jog. Put down the Doritos and Mountain Dew.

One way to improve the miserable ergonomics of audio engineering is to work at a stand-up desk. There has been a lot of research on the negative effects of sitting all day. A stand-up desk might be the smartest investment you can make in your career.

4) Find good people to work with

Find a partner who will hold you accountable, who will challenge you, who will complement you, who will benefit when you benefit and vice versa. Working by yourself can be rewarding, but it can also be a way to become lazy or complacent over time if you aren’t disciplined.

Find a mentor who will guide you through the ups and downs of a career, make connections for you, offer constructive criticism, and provide perspective from experience. No matter where you’re at in your career, there are other engineers that have gone before you and have lessons that you can learn from.

Find a way to give back. Share your experiences with other engineers. Help build up the community of audio engineers by supporting your peers and the next generation following in your footsteps.

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.