Pro Audio Files

5 Mistakes New Audio Engineers Make

Here’s my perspective on a few mistakes I see new audio engineers commonly make, and some tips for improving on each.

1. Trying to Do Everything

It’s tempting to think we can do it all: write, perform, produce, record, mix, master, etc.

The cost of technology is decreasing, making it possible to use the same gear that many top professionals use. However, there’s a big difference between owning a piece of gear and mastering how to use it.

Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s a good idea to learn about the entire process of creating music, but you can only make “pretty good” music if you are “pretty good” at part of the process. The weakest link in the chain can ruin an entire project.

The fix: Specialize and focus on what you want to do and make friends with other people who can complement your skill set. Offer your specialty to others and send work their way too.

2. Blaming Your Gear

It’s easy to say our work could be improved by gear we don’t have.

Rather than admitting we need to improve our skills, we convince ourselves we need more gear to put our skills to work properly. In reality, this can be nothing more than an excuse. Sometimes it’s best to invest in yourself, not just your gear.

There will always be something else someone wants to sell us to solve a problem they suggest we have. Just because something is new doesn’t make it better than what you have. Just because something is expensive also doesn’t make it better than what you have.

The fix: Learn everything there is to know about your gear, and then try to come up with a new way to use what you’ve got. Buy gear that complements what you have. Don’t buy gear that is a newer replica of what you already have. Make a deal with yourself to get rid of two pieces of gear for every one piece of gear you buy. Keep something outdated until it be becomes “vintage.”

3. Never Getting Meaningful Feedback

Seeking out constructive feedback means being vulnerable, and opening yourself up to failure and rejection. These feelings are especially true in the creation of artistic, personal work. But if you never get feedback, you’ll miss out on helpful criticism to improve your work.

It’s easy to ask for feedback from your mom/girlfriend/buddy, but the question is, how meaningful is their feedback if they love you and everything you do? Ask for objective feedback from someone who knows their stuff and will judge your work on the merits of the work alone (not whether they like you).

Another related mistake is never finishing any work. It’s related because it’s impossible to get feedback if you never have anything to demonstrate. It’s good to have high standards for yourself, but you can’t leave everything on the cutting room floor. Even if you aren’t satisfied with your work, seek out the opinion of others. Use it as an opportunity for growth rather than another scrapped project.

The fix: Take whatever feedback you can get. Take everything in stride. In the process of getting feedback, there will be people that are there to help you and people that aren’t. Focus on the constructive feedback and forget about the rest.

4. Talking Too Much

If you love music, there’s a good chance you love talking about music, debating about music, discussing gear, and salivating over the latest and greatest technology.

This can be healthy and productive, as long as it doesn’t get in the way of actually making music. If you want to become a serious and successful audio engineer, you have to love making music, not just the idea of making music.

The fix: Set limitations. Don’t spend all day looking at gear. Don’t comment on every single forum thread. Consume resources (articles, videos, etc.) that will help you, not distract you.

5. Giving Up Too Soon

Everyone that spends time in the music industry gets discouraged at one point or another. New engineers will encounter setbacks and difficulties — that’s a given. It’s all about how you respond to it that counts. Do you give up? Or, do you step up your game?

It’s been said that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become an expert in any field. When it comes to becoming an expert in audio, I would guess that we need close to 100 sessions under our belt to be proficient. Throughout this process, there should be constant refinement by trial and error.

The fix: A good quote to remember is, “Anything worth doing is worth doing badly.” (G. K. Chesterton). The idea is if you think something is worth doing, then it is worth the time, effort, and failure to really learn how to do it well.

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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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  • Koury Clark

    Tom Petty wrote this

  • Great read. So ,true. Spoken as if you lived it yourself, which I am sure you did. As I read it, I am checking off the stuff that I do wrong…..

  • steve@philotone.com

    Good info here, thanks for sharing!

    Regards,
    Steve, author of The Philosopher’s Tone, philotone.com

  • Thanks for sharing!

  • Great info hear. I’ve been guilty of some of those in the past. I’ve learned.

    DIY Home Recording Studio Tips and Resources

  • Great stuff Thanks!

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