Over the years, we’ve interviewed a lot of amazing engineers, producers and creators. One thing we always like to ask is, “What advice would you give to an up-and-coming engineer?” In this blog, we’ve compiled a few of our favorite responses to help you make your mark in the studio. Read on to pick up some key advice on how to land your first job, what type of gear you should focus on when first starting out and how to grow your skills as an engineer.

Marcella Araica

My advice would be to make sure that you love what you do. Don’t just do it for cool points, because at the end of the day, if you’re not really in this, it will reflect in your work. I get a lot of people that come in here wanting a job as an assistant, but their real goal is to be an artist or a producer—and that’s cool, but this is not the door you should be walking through. Make sure your decisions are in line with your passion. 

This is a very cutthroat business. I've been through the fire, but I'm still here, 20 years later. Don’t let one bad session deter you. If this is truly what you want to do, you just do it. You deal with the obstacles that are in front of you by going through them. Don't worry about figuring out how to get over them, just get through it.

Gena Johnson

Don’t have an ego – that would be a big one. I know that seems impossible, everyone has one, but check it at the door. Be patient with yourself. If you are looking to be an engineer and come up as an assistant, get good at anticipating needs and troubleshooting. There are a lot of things to learn and soak in while on the job so be open to learning and be patient with yourself.

Another good piece of advice; we are in a customer service job, remember that. It’s not about you, it’s about the artist. It’s about their investment, and they are trusting you with their investment. You have to treat it with huge respect and professionalism. Be kind and just be a good person. It’s about their art at the end of the day.

Erin Tonkon

Find your scene. Having a group of artists and creatives to collaborate with from the start will really help you hone your craft and weather any storms.

Kim Rosen

There are no shortcuts. The time it takes to gain experience cannot be rushed. Technical knowledge is important, but it’s not a replacement for the most important skills, listening, and feeling. Intuition is a powerful thing when used intentionally. Sometimes what is technically “correct” can get in the way of a magical sounding album or song.

Gloria Kaba

This is easy — never stop studying. There’s always something new to learn. Over time, music evolves. Techniques and sounds change. Even now we are witnessing song structure veer away from what it’s been traditionally. You have to continue to study and learn from other people. Stay curious and be persistent. That’s my advice.

Justin Meldal-Johnsen

Honesty is the thing that trumps everything else that you can learn or do. And when I say "honesty," I mean not only in terms of your relationship to the artist that you’re with, but honesty as it concerns what we’re here for. Like, what the goal with this project, and how does that relate to what everyone’s capabilities are. That’s very, very important. It sets the tone for success in a project.

I think that we need to try to be crystal-clear about the parameters of the game that we’re playing. As in: here’s our budget, here’s our time, and these are our goals...and not ever mincing words about that stuff. This also includes how much understanding and clarity you have with the people on the outside, like a record company that might be involved. Having all that stuff pinned down, nor not pinned down is, in my opinion, the difference between the overall success or failure of a project. It’s all part of the preparation.

I think it’s also important to never take gigs just for the sake of taking gigs. It’s very important that you’re honest enough about your relevance to a project and your capabilities. There’s nothing wrong with getting in over your head a little bit—everyone has to do that. But not being clear about what we’re all doing in this room together or what the goal is and how we’re going to achieve it? That’s a pretty shaky foundation for making records.

Don’t take gigs just to take gigs, is the thing. There’s a big caveat to that which is that this may not apply when you’re starting out, because the stakes are different, and you’re trying to learn things, establish relationships, and hopefully start making some money. I’m just saying to avoid that as a strategy for your career. It needs to not be a job...more like a dream or an ambition that you’re constantly chasing, in conjunction with other creative folks that you connect with when you find your lane and your people. I’d like to think that if you look at your career that way, then we’re all potentially getting the benefit of more lasting art.

Miles Walker

Get close to the people that inspire you. Figure out how to work with them, under them, adjacent to them, anything you can do to learn from them. I love internet resources. I hope somebody gets something from this interview, but it’s not the same. Somebody like Pensado is amazing, putting resources online on another level. Most people online haven’t done it like he has. So there’s a lot of info out there that’s not as reliable as learning from the pros themselves.

If you have a guy or girl who inspires you, get close to them and learn from them directly. Because even if they do interviews and YouTube tutorial videos, you’ll only learn the real ins and outs if you’re close to them. Spend time with the people who inspire you and you’ll be inspired.

Nick Breton

Never forget that we make music for a living. We’re the most fortunate people in the whole world. We get to make magic.

Elton "L10MixedIt" Chueng

Learn as much as you can. Never stop learning. Even some of the top engineers and producers are still learning different ways to do things. And surround yourself with people who are just as driven as you are to keep learning. 

The amount of inspiration that I get from being around my team here at the studio is huge. We’re always sharing and learning things from each other because we all want to be better. When we work together as a team, we want the best product to come out. 

We really want to impact the music industry, and in order to do that, you need to learn. You need to have knowledge of how to do a lot of things. We study different kinds of music, everything from jazz to Latin music to early 2000s hip-hop. We’re just nerds about music. Sound is always evolving and we want to be ten steps ahead of the game. 

So surround yourself with super-driven people, stay inspired, and never stop learning. That’s my advice.

Lenise Bent

My advice is to learn what good audio songs like. Understand what things sound like and what dynamics are. Learn why you use that plug-in you’re using—don’t just settle for the preset. Find out why you like it, and why you want to use it. Have integrity when it comes to sound quality. Watching a few YouTube videos doesn’t make you an engineer any more than taking an art class makes you Picasso.

There’s an excitement to completing something for the first time. Just because you learned a few of the tricks, that isn’t good enough, it’s an acquired skill. You have to understand the process. Learn the basics of recording techniques and your gear but, just as importantly, how to work with people. You can be the best Pro Tools operator in the world but if no one wants to be in the same room with you it won’t matter.

The topic of my presentation at Sound Check Xpo is that audio engineers are recording artists too. We are artists who record, artists of creativity. Yes, our job is to interpret what the producer is saying emotionally and technically. The gear in the studio and our acquired recording techniques are the pallet that we paint with and the instruments that we play.

My advice is to embrace the creativity and the artistry from a technical point of view. It’s one of the few areas where art and science are at play together, where we use both sides of our brain. You have to learn to think outside the box.

Jennifer Decilveo

You’ve got to put in your 10,000 hours. And never stop learning, never stop being a student. From real tangible analog gear to the plug-ins, knowledge is power.

Chris Tabron

Make sure this is what you want to do because you’re embarking on a path to try and be the master of something that nobody has mastered yet. There are masters of this craft, but no one has mastered it.

If you do it right, you’ll try to get better every day for the rest of your career, and that’s a tall order. It consumes your life. It’s a great gig; I’m still surprised it’s a job sometimes. But that also means that I have to give it my all and make a lot of sacrifices. I have to study and practice. I have to listen to all sorts of music and be conversant in a lot of different styles. The price you have to pay to be able to work doing something you love, is that you work all the time, and that will take a toll on your relationships, your friends and family.

It’s an all-encompassing thing, so make sure it’s what you want to do. There are easier ways to make more money and have less stress.

But if this is what you want to do, then do that. Don’t wait for someone’s permission to be a producer. Don’t wait to graduate from audio school. Just be a producer. Start producing. Find artists. Help them. You’ll probably have to work for free, but go produce.

All you’re doing is helping someone actualize their idea and maximize their potential. You don’t need anyone’s permission to do that. There’s no real school or degree for that. It’s not like you’re signing up to be an architect and you have to have six or seven years of formal training. You can just start producing.

Same thing with engineering. Try to find a way to get in the room. Find a mentor that will take you under their wing. And if not, buy a copy of Pro Tools and start engineering at home. Offer to record friends for free and just learn. Go to shows and meet artists your age who are down to learn together and record them. Embark upon that craft and take it seriously, because it is a craft and it’s something you have to practice every day.

And if you’re doing your job right, you’ll keep that fire inside you to want to get better every day. You’re going to have that amazing idea that you have to rush to the studio to execute. You’re going to feel honored that an artist trusts you with something that’s so important to them.

I don’t know if everyone gets their shot, but I know when you get your shot it’s not going to be when you’ve had a good night’s sleep and a great breakfast. It’s not going to be when you’re completely ready. Oftentimes, at least in my life, all the shots I’ve had have been quite the opposite: I wasn’t ready at all. The best you can hope for is to be prepared.

Chris Coady

Don’t get too caught up in the process. Capture the most compelling thing you can and frame it in the best way possible.

Explore music constantly. Listen to music you like and listen to music you don’t like. Learn what you don’t like about it

When you’re putting resources into building your studio, just make sure that you don’t get into a situation where you have such high overhead that it forces you to make non-experimental music to pay the bills. It’s happened to me before, and it’s happened to friends of mine. You’ve got this great studio but you end up recording the worst music in the world just to pay for it.

So make that studio, and make it really inspiring, but try to keep the costs as low as possible so you have the freedom to say no or to spend more time experimenting.

Reid Shippen

That’s funny, I just had this conversation with a friend whose 17-year-old kid wants to get into recording.

I told him you’ve got to bleed for it. You’ve got to be so dedicated to do this for a living — if you’re not, someone else will be. They’re going to work 16 hours a day in the studio, and work weekends. Your competition is going to crush it, so you’ve got to look at it like you’ve got no other options. Think like Cortez — burn the ships. Make this your only goal and don’t let anybody stop you. If you limp into this career like “Hey, that could be fun!” — forget it. You’re going to get murdered.

I made a post on my Instagram the other day that says: “Pro Mix Tip: Don’t take any tips from anyone who isn’t a pro mixer.”

There are so many people out there who are putting information out there, which is great, everyone is entitled to their opinion, but these people are presenting themselves as if they know what they’re doing. Just look at their body of work, it’s always 23 indie artists that no one’s ever heard of, with no critical or commercial success. That doesn't make it bad work, necessarily, but it also doesn't make someone an expert — experts have paid their dues.

I want to learn from Andy Wallace. I want to learn from Spike Stent and CLA and Tony Maserati. That’s who I want to learn from. I don’t want to learn from Joe Blow who converted his mom's basement into a studio

My two cents — avoid Gearspace. There’s good stuff on Gearspace but there’s even more garbage from people who don’t know what they’re doing.

Just the other day someone asked a question about recording on social media and I left my opinion on the matter. Then somebody else jumped in and said:

“You don’t know what you’re talking about. You should go get some education on audio recording before you shoot your mouth off about something that you don’t know anything about.”

I just responded, “Google me.”

That attitude is out there. Buying a couple of pieces from Sweetwater and a laptop doesn’t make you an audio engineer. I’m not trying to rip on anybody here — I’m just saying be careful where you get your information from.

I suppose that applies to our society in general right now. Busters talking about recording on the internet is fake news!

Piper Payne

Don’t go chasin’ waterfalls.

Ryan Freeland

Don’t delay decisions. Make commitments to the sound you are going for. All of this technology that allows you to defer decisions to a later date is detrimental to the making of a good record. Too many options can be the death of creativity. Willem de Kooning said, “In art, one idea is as good as another.”  You just need to choose.

Tucker Martine

Always let your love for the music guide your decision-making, If you make decisions for money, you’ll wake up very unhappy one day.

Catherine Vericolli

Don’t be an asshole. That’s it! Just don’t be a dick! At the end of the day, people just want to work for people who are kind, patient, understanding and down to earth.

Also, be kind to yourself. Don’t put yourself in a position where you’re mistreated. I think that’s really hard for engineers to do too. You’ve got to let go of the boys' club bullshit that's such a part of the industry and not come at things with that mentality.

It's getting better now, but it's still really prevalent. We don’t treat ourselves well. We drink and smoke and we’re stressed out all the time because we're working on shit we don’t get paid enough for, or working with people who aren’t treating us well. So, be kind to others, and be kind to yourself.

Scott Hull

I got here through an internship and being an apprentice. It was nearly ten years as an apprentice before I had the skills to be competitive. That's a long time for people today. Most won't even stay with one career that long. Like so many other people I know, I just didn't quit. I could have and at times wondered if I should have, but I showed up every day, ready to be perfect and engaged and excited to make great things happen. My last four assistants are all pro mastering engineers. Well, there were a lot more than those four, but the four that showed up every day and worked at being perfect, didn't quit and are doing very well as mastering engineers. You have to be prepared for it to take a long time.  

Ian MacGregor

That’s a tricky one. I’d like to say just go do it. Don’t go to some stupid school that tells you they’ll teach you how to be a recording engineer because I feel like that's bullshit. You have to record 100 bands before you record the 101st that you record well.

But more general advice would be to trust your ears. I second-guessed myself for a good 10 years. I wasn’t able to hear what the room mics on the Rage Against the Machine record sounded like, so I wasn’t sure if I was getting good room mic sounds. You gotta ignore that stuff. If you’re starting out, you have to trust yourself. Even if you’re making a shitty recording, a shitty recording of a great band is still a great recording.

I've done a lot of shitty recordings of not great bands. It takes a long time to get to that point. I was at a studio, I didn’t trust the speakers they had and I had to wing it, and trust that I knew what was coming out of the speakers sounded good.

Kevin Ratterman

Record as much as you can. Do it as much as you possibly can. The more you can do it, the better. Try to balance your personal life too, but the only way to do it is to just do it over and over.

I never went to school, I just learned by doing it. I learned from my mistakes. Don’t be afraid. It's not so intimidating. I was worried about EQing and compressing, I was overthinking everything. Just think, "Does it sound good or not?"

Heba Kadry

I think sometimes people feel the need to strap certain plugins on their mix bus because “they have to” or it’s like a rule or something they watched someone else do. It's more productive to use your ears to identify whether the tracks really need 5 compressors strapped on the bus or not, what exactly are you trying to solve. Sometimes it just not necessary.

Sibilance is an issue I encounter more frequently now, I’m not sure why that is, probably a combination of bad mic choices, over-compression and monitoring that doesn’t translate high-end clarity very accurately. The S’s shouldn’t be louder than your actual voice. I recommend listening to the mix really quietly on headphones it helps expose issues like sibilance or clicks and pops. Label your files properly, be organized and listen to the final mixdowns before you send them out. You’ll be surprised how many times I’ve worked on something that had a track muted by mistake.

Michael James

Don't rush into the job. It may sound sexy to call yourself a mix specialist, but the reality is that it takes a very long time to develop not only the skills, but also the aesthetics and restraint necessary to make a record sound like a #1 radio hit. If you were a great producer or engineer, but still developing your mix chops, you might torpedo the project by mixing it yourself. If you have access to someone else whose work you like, who knows how to make hit records, work with that person to ensure you make the best possible record. Plus you will learn some new skills and philosophies during the process. 

Think of the cliché about a chain being only as strong as its weakest link. If you have an A+ artist, and you do A+ production and engineering, you still have the potential to complete an A+ record by working with an A+ mix engineer. If, however, you decide to mix it yourself, and at the moment you only have B- skills, you're going to end up with a B- record. My recommendation is to work with as many A+ mix engineers as you can, and learn from them! Then take that knowledge and develop your own unique way to apply it.

After you hone your chops and land your first gig, remember to make the artist feel good about his or her music. You most definitely do not know better than the artist, plus it's not your name that is on the album artwork! Do your best to manifest the artist's vision, even if you do not share that vision.

Josh FrostIf you are interested in any of the gear mentioned in this blog or have a suggestion of who we should talk to next, hit us up! You can contact a Vintage King Audio Consultant via email or by phone at 866.644.0160.