The music industry has evolved considerably over the past few years. Previously, the only way to get your record recorded and mixed properly was to go to a producer and work with them in an actual studio. Today? That’s just one of many ways music is created.

With the rise of home studios, indie musicians teaching themselves how to produce, and digital technology revolutionizing everything, the industry is changing day by day. The simple fact is that very few clients are going to have thousands of dollars to spend on recording their work.

They’re going to find a way to produce it on a budget. They’re going to either do it themselves or work with an audio engineer and producer who sees things the same way they do. Obviously, this raises the question: how does an audio engineer make a good living today if people are recording everything in their own home studios?

It’s important to understand that these changes don’t make the job of an audio engineer irrelevant or obsolete. Far from it. In fact, the stiff competition from many bands and artists who are putting recordings out means there’s a higher demand than ever. The industry has just shifted from a high-priced quality business model to a quantity model.

These artists, both self-produced and label artists, aren’t all going to produce themselves. They need your skills. You as the audio engineer are needed now more than ever. There’s only so much that a self-produced artist can do in their home music studio, especially with no serious training. Yes, the gear and software are great, but they just don’t run themselves.

Five tips on how to Stay in Demand as an Audio Engineer

The following are five tips on how you can stay in demand as an Audio Engineer:

  1. Specialize in a form of audio engineering (Mastering engineer, voice-over, post-production audio, etc.)
  2. Be willing to take “small jobs” when you are just getting started
  3. Be very, very good at what you do
  4. Be collaborative with artists and industry pros
  5. Seek out clients to build your audio engineering portfolio

Just because you’re someone who’s skilled enough to make a demo, doesn’t mean you’re skilled enough to mix an entire broadcast-quality record. When these artists come to the end of their abilities, they’re still going to need help. That’s when they come to you. Let’s discuss the fives tips shared above in more depth.

1) Specialize

The idea here is to create a niche for yourself—specialize in a form of audio engineering that few people do. Find your stylistic cul de sac. Find where you can bring something unique to the table that no one else is doing.  For example, you can become a mastering engineer, or specialize in voice-over or post-production audio for film and TV you’re going to have a skill set that very few people have.

You might think creating a specialty service would reduce your number of clients, but if not many people do what you do, the people who need it will HAVE to come to you. This approach will also help you make solid and long-lasting connections. You’re going to be someone who helps a specific client base on a repeat nature. This is going to form long-lasting relationships. This is going to help you sustain yourself over the course of a career.

2) Be Willing to Take “Small Jobs”

These days, many artists do a lot of pre-production and tracking in their home studios, then bring their work into a project or professional studio for fine-tuning or acoustic environments they can’t get at home. This is obviously the opposite of how things used to be done.

Most people are opting for this workflow over taking on only full-blown recording projects that use your studio for the entire process, and are willing to take on more of the “tweak” projects from some of these artists. In past eras, many engineers would turn down jobs they felt weren’t big enough for them.

That didn’t provide enough money to truly justify the effort. However, these days, those are exactly the jobs that keep an engineer afloat. It’s important to recognize these jobs for exactly what they are, the current life-blood of the industry. Additionally, if you charge by the hour, you’ll basically make the same amount of money from more clients who need less from you as you would with fewer clients who need the full treatment.

3) Be Very, Very Good at What You do

Time for some straight talk: if word gets around that you’re the best audio engineer in town, people will call you first.  It’s that simple. Practice your skills until you master them. The better you are, the more gigs you’ll get. Even with the changes that have taken place in the recording business over the past few years, the best audio engineers will always be in high demand.

This might require you to take on some “connections-building” jobs when you’re first starting out, but these jobs are how you get into any creative ecosystem. It’s frustrating to hear the idea that you would work for “exposure” when you’re just starting out, but it is a part of most people’s career paths.

4) Be Collaborative

Being a good engineer means you have to be good at collaborating. You have to be good at improvising, taking direction, and building on other people’s ideas. Being collaborative is essential if you’re really planning on being a music industry professional. If you don’t want to work with people to achieve their vision, maybe find another profession. There are plenty that will allow you to work by yourself. An audio engineer isn’t one of them.

5) Seek Out Clients

Many audio engineers sit back and wait for the clients to come to them. This is a cardinal sin. The way you keep a business going is you go out looking for leads. Engineers with longevity are on social media DM’ing people, asking to collaborate, seeing who needs their skills. Sitting back and waiting for the opportunities to roll in doesn’t do anyone any good. You need to be a hustler. You need to be someone who’s always looking for an edge.

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