Careers in the audio space

Hey All, wanted to post an open question to those who work professionally in the audio, engineering, or music space.

What do you do? how long have you been doing it? Do you like it? How did you land in that field? Do you have/did it require specific education (college, university, etc)? What do you think separates hobbiests from professionals from a skillset perspective?

Eventually, I’d like to bridge the gap between my software engineering and audio by landing in a place where I can put these skills to use professionally somewhere, so I’m curious to know what people’s experiences have been like.

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I work in likely the most unglamorous sector of the audio industry there is, but I’ll tell you, since you asked haha.

I’ve been in the audio-visual industry for 20 years. I got into it straight out of high school cause I had an aptitude for electronics. I built and installed peoples home theatres during the time it started to become popular (2004-2006 era) It didn’t require any education, just your head screwed on. (Believe me I have come across a shitload of people in this business with their head laying down beside them, and it’s becoming more and more common these days.) I moved on to commercial AV after that (in Sydney) for a few years before moving to Vancouver for a holiday, but quickly went back to work in AV. My knowledge set in Canada grew a lot faster as I was thrust into the deep end a bit more frequently building some quite complicated systems for that time. I always had a vested interest in the Audio side of AV as I grew up as a touring musician (trumpet). So, I kept on my employers’ toes for more and more training in that subject area, but most of it was on the job training and experience.

When I came back to Sydney (to my old company), I worked as a service technician. I would go around to our previously installed projects and found constant issues with the audio deployment. Poor gain structure, no EQ on microphones, noise not handled appropriately, distortion in signal paths, phase on speakers incorrectly wired, etc-etc. So, once again I went to my employers and said look, you guys need someone here (me) that specializes in audio engineering, that can deploy these systems correctly the first time, but I also want a proper education in audio and acoustics and a bigger a salary. So, for the last 5 years I have focused solely on that, been to university to expand my knowledge. I have always loved my job, until more recently I find some of the technology to be half-baked and a pain in the ass to commission, but I still enjoy it.

I have never considered myself a systems programmer, but that is in my job description. I know vaguely how to read code (that’s relevant to my field) and I can program logically and make AV systems work. The thing about pro audio DSP’s is that they can do anything now, not just process audio. So, as the DSP guy, I have been thrust into also being the programmer guy.

Your last question is an interesting one, as for me my hobby (stereos and hi-fi) became my profession. Another hobby, music and electronic music production was a calling card for me. It gave me a head start in knowing how to tune audio systems and use my ear, and in all this, my ears have been the most valuable asset.

There are definately lots of avenues you could take. As a software develper that’s also into making music, you could get into making VST’s or writing a program for a piece of hardware. My brother is helping develop two pieces of hardware currently and he has zero coding knowledge. He’s kind of like a beta tester on steroids that has a hand in the honey pot. He basically tells the developer what he wants them to do and they do it.

Flux Eurorack module: (280) FLUX: Eurorack Temporal Modulation Rhythm Sequencer - YouTube

and

Speak and Glitch GND-1: Speak & Glitch GND-1 | Circuit Bent Speak Chip Synthesizer (youtube.com)

Hope you find some of this valuable info!

Cheers

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Great subject @makeuswhole and great first Reply @Manton

I don’t have a “job” in audio or engineering and most people would not consider me a “professional” musician, even though I compose, perform, mix and produce music and get paid for streams. I refer to myself as a “serious amateur.”

Two avenues I’ve been researching are Studio Engineer (Recording, Mixing, Producing for other Musicians) and Composer for Sync for TV and Film. Lot’s of resources out there on these subjects that I’ve been researching for the past few years. (let me know if you’d like some links.)

I’m about to commit to a Sync Mentor/Team that seems like a good fit. It costs some money but I’m ready to invest.

Manton’s story speaks to me! I’m a Design Build Consultant (I manage High-End Residences for Billionaires) and I remember when AV (Audio Video) first split off from LV (Low Voltage.)

LV scope was running wire for things like Telephone (land line!) Intercom, Doorbell and Speakers for the Owner’s equipment. Later, the TV and Stereo equipment evolved into “Home Entertainment Systems” which was a fancy name for putting the Owner’s stuff in a built-in custom cabinet with doors so you could hide the stuff when not in use.

Eventually these “Entertainment Systems” became know as AV, especially once Home Theaters and things like “Server Rooms” for computer equipment that ran “Whole House Systems.”

Fast forward to 2010 and I’ve got Steven Spielberg standing in a hole on a mountainside that will be Michael Bay’s Home Theater. Spielberg spreads his arms and says “yeah… this is about the right size.”

If you are wondering what it’s like to build a house for Michael Bay… watch one of his movies. Lots of Drama and constant Explosions. It started rough but we became friends by the end. Turns out he’s a really good guy with a short fuse.

But I digress!

These “Whole House Systems” attempt to automate everything and give the owner endless choices on how to program to their lifestyle. It gets ridiculous! Eventually, most Owners realize that when they enter a room they just want “a damn switch on the wall!” to turn on the light. It’s not necessary to have a programmed “scene” with a “path” just to take a piss at night. But alas… that conclusion only comes after many months of meetings with expensive AV consultants, Architects and Interior Designers, all arguing over “what you really need is…” (fill in the blanks.) Part of my job is herding those cats into listening to what the Owner wants and “move on.”

But I digress… again. :sunglasses:

I retire from construction in the next few months. Onward to the world of Composing and Producing Music for Sync Placement! :star_struck:

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I tried very briefly but i didnt conduct myself properly personally and wasnt able to network my way into that area…also i wasnt that good and i dont have the drive nor the musical ear to make it…

If anything just be respectful and check your ego…
Not saying be a pushover but dont be entitled and arrogant.

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@makeuswhole have you had any further thoughts about your endeavours?

Honestly, I haven’t put much more thought into it recently, mostly because of timing.

I’ve been trying to work on and finish several music projects, do some work on the house, work my day job, make sure the day-to-day tasks get done, all while the boys are about a month away from arriving.

I will say that i think it would be cool to design instruments and electronics related to music making. My interest in fabrication and electrical engineering keeps cropping up, so when things settle down, I make look into getting educated in some related fields, and maybe do some prototypes.

This is all just theoretical, but my mind always seems to wander back that direction, which is usually a sign to me that I’m on to something. We’ll see what the future brings. Maybe if anything i can explore it as a hobby for a while and make a decision from there.

I could also start with virtual instruments. This falls directly in line with my current skillset, so thats probably a good place to start.

I think in the end i want to be making tools to use for music. I’ll start with things that i wish I had or think would be cool to have. That’s about as far as i’ve really got.

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What are those things?

I bet this part matters the least, weirdly! I feel like a good business person could sell a bad mix better than a shitty one with an even better mix. It’s kind of funny how that works, because it tends to go against what you’d expect.

I have a pretty spotty employment history due to some of my issues, but sometimes just being able to bullshit my way through things and sell them well worked out better than doing genuine, hard work and not being able to really emphasize that I saved the day to the client. Although that part is kind of a mystery to me anyway :smiley:

As I was reading your post, I was going to specifically suggest this! You can do quite a lot with development boards (I’m sure you’ve seen my thread, lol), prototyping plugins and things of that nature (not to mention, modern modular VSTs are also turing complete and fully stocked, so they allow you to automate processes you wouldn’t even normally think of otherwise, which is kind of insane).

Obviously this isn’t a means to an end, but if you play around a bit when you have time and find yourself really honing in on an area, that might be of some use when figuring out what you want to do next. Maybe build a crazy prototype of an instrument on the hardware / software end and then actually develop a product? I could see that being really damn cool, especially with your background.

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I can think of two right off the bat.

  1. I want a more robust way of randomizing incoming midi data in my daw. I want to be able to play one note or send a single midi note and have it play a quantized sequence of notes at random with various timings for as long as the input is held. I also want it to produce chords in key as well as automatic key changing over time, so that I can have a one-note midi input that becomes a generative sequencer. I am going to prototype this in the scripter in logic, since essentially what I’m looking for is just a midi modulation effect. There is probably a thing that already exists like this, but I dont know what it is and I dont have it. There are lots of things that come close, but none are a complete package. I could probably fairly easily write a script for this.

  2. I want Tactic (my go-to drum sequencer) but with more features. I want to be able to run it with a midi-note trigger instead of just a running clock. I also want to have multiple patterns instead of just one single pattern, so that with different midi inputs I can trigger different patterns, sort of like how breaktweaker works. I also want to have the option to start from the beginning of the pattern, instead of just having the plugin pick up from wherever the clock currently is. I also want to mix and match timings like triplets and dotted, instead of having to set that for the entire sequence. Some of this can be done with automation, but it would be cool to have something with that built-in.

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Here’s an ambitious one that I’ve been mulling over in my head.

I want to make an ultrasound-driven audio engine.

The image produced by the ultrasound could be used as a spectral sound source. This could be similar to how a lot of granular engines work, where you can move up and down a sample at different speeds, the “sample” in this case would be the image produced by the ultrasound.

You could increase or decrease the capture band to make the image “thinner”, which would give it almost a freeze effect the smaller it goes (assuming a stationary capture subject).

The image produced would be captured and processed into audio in real-time, so the sound would change based on the image produced (for instance, if babies were moving around in the image).

I’m thinking you could also attenuate the ultrasound frequency used to capture the image in the first place and then use that as a source of FM on the sound produced by processing the image.

This, of course, is not a practical instrument the way I’m describing it, as ultrasound is kinda messy due to the gel needed to provide the soundwaves with something to pass through.

You can build a small, mediocre ultrasound machine using Arduino. So this isn’t totally outside the realm of possibility. I’d probably start small and just see if I can translate the captured image to sound. I know this can be done, as it’s possible to capture heartbeats and things using this tech.

This is just a crazy idea I’ve had at the hospital several times. haha

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I will respond more later, but have you looked into Max MSP? This could do the midi features that you are looking for quite easily.

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Just remember ultrasound will require higher sample rates. You could potentially get away with 48 kHz if your carrier signal is lower than 23 kHz.

In cisco video conference hardware, a 22 kHz broadcast over the speaker system is used to pair laptops for wireless content sharing.

I have actually. I’ve wanted to get it for a while, but i’m just not ready to full send it yet, since it would require more time and dedication to learn the system.

I figure the scripter will work for a prototype for now for the midi thing i mentioned. The Tactic replacement will take more time and a different foundation like max, but i can always use reaktor if i want to as well (not that i want to).

There are lots of things about this idea that i know i don’t have the first clue about. I’m sure if i ever start working on this i’ll be asking for a lot of help here. haha

Regarding Max(/MSP), it’s really easy to get started and incredibly well documented. It’s a visual environment so there really isn’t a focus on anything ‘low-level’ (ie you’re not writing functions), it’s more like building blocks modular - just hooking small pieces into each other to make bigger systems, though it is extensible through an API if you’re familiar with C. Reaktor is a similar environment that has a lot more bells and whistles on top, and Pure Data is a similar (and completely FOSS) system by the guy who originally wrote Max. All are pretty simple to get going in and don’t have a huge upfront learning curve.

I think Max is a great entry into the space, especially if you have a programming background. It lets you focus on the audio and DSP elements without having to fiddle with setting up a framework first. If you’re familiar with programming it’s pretty easy to envision what’s going on behind the scenes and most of what you learn and develop in Max/Reaktor/PD would translate into a standalone program or VST. Though on balance, nowadays you can probably bootstrap an environment to learn DSP in something like Sonic Pi, Supercollider or Python if you just want to get to making noises with code.

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Sonic Pi and Tidal Cycles won’t do DSP, unfortunately. They’re technically both frontends for Supercollider but they kind of exist within their own specific spaces, which usually just means either spitting out MIDI to hijack a DAW or simply using their own prebuilt instruments, FX and modulators.

The Pyo library will, though. And apparently even GNU Octave even though I haven’t really delved into it much. Looks a lot like a FOSS matlab without all of the crazy libraries.

My biggest complaint about doing literally anything involving audio or video in Python is that it’s incredibly slow, and usually gets overloaded or runs out of memory relatively quickly (depending on the library, framework, etc). I bet learning Pyo or something like that would probably work in the beginning, though, until you move onto bigger projects. Processing has some cool audio libraries, too, but I’m not sure exactly how far down the rabbit hole they actually go.

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Ah, I didn’t realize that Sonic Pi was so limited! My only real exposure was when my wife used it for a teaching thing several years ago, and a brief looksee on wikipedia. Thanks for the info. I retract my previous suggestion, don’t bother with anything so limited.

Yeah, I think Python is trash at performance. Just don’t expect it to do anything complicated in a reasonable timeframe and you won’t be disappointed. That said, whatever’s clever for getting started in the space and if Python stands you up quick then do it.

My personal take is that DSP and programming are different skillsets with a bit of overlap. DSP is math-heavy, it’s complex (both with regards to intricacies and literal complex numbers) with a bunch of gotchas, and it’s been around about as long as computers so there’s a mountain of good, bad and ugly literature to sift through. Because of all this, there aren’t “Write your first DSP code!” tutorials out there the same way there are for, say, building a website in JS. If you get into the subject, you eventually will be slogging through stuffy white papers trying to piece together professor-speak (often translated from another language) and looking for equations you can implement.

Point is, DSP is a different hill to climb than general programming, and you can pursue them individually or in tandem, but being good at one doesn’t necessarily mean you can slot into the other without some work. It’s a bit like a cabinetmaker walking into an empty field thinking they can build a house - both skills have copious hammer-use, but they’re really two different things in practice.

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Currently learning this at Uni. All programming done in Matlab. I’ve been using and deploying hardware DSP’s in the field for years, but learning how to make DSP is a whole other kettle. But knowing what they do inside out and how digital audio works already makes it much easier to understand what you’re doing in Matlab.

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Ha yeah for sure. One of those situations where reality meets up with the theory and things start to snap into place.

To be fair, I think any discipline ends up down in academia if you dig far enough since it’s where ‘new’ stuff happens. How useful that new stuff is can be pretty dodgy - academics get to keep their jobs by publishing, and it’s amazing how much ridiculous stuff gets published where it’s a cool idea that works in this incredibly narrow environment that nobody in the real world is going to reasonably have. And yeah, sometimes those off the wall ideas have their day later on and it’s awesome that somebody looked at it, but in my experience as a non-academic layperson looking for actionable stuff, it feels there’s like 90% useless to 10% goldmine. On balance, if you check the references of those papers you end up with a paper trail back to the seminal works that tend to be more useful.

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Please take the following with 2 grains of sand, mix in a bit of salt, then chuck them all in the ocean, and get a microscopic lens to watch them quickly dissolve… Also, I do not intend to sound pretentious…

Worked next to Perry Ferrell, Goldie, Dj Craze, Dj Qbert, Steve Chu, Gary Dickerson, Dana Carvey, Elon Musk, Robert Campbell, and countless others… This is to say that I’ve worked as a Recording Engineer, Post-Production Engineer, Sound Designer, Artist, Intern, Senior Engineer, A/V Tech, Executive Technical Analyst, and Machine Room Tech.

You can know all sorts of stuff, and sometimes be next to some of the smartest people on the planet… Most often you’ll find (or at least I have) that none of us really know anything. It’s often important to realize what your aim is, and shoot for it so you can accomplish the goals you set. Then move on to another task, or create a solution to a problem. … If you don’t want to do any of those things, it’s best to just work as a tech.

You only need to know how to play an instrument if you plan to be a studio musician. You should know a decent amount of theory if you plan to actually get jobs as a music producer. It’s important to stay afoot on the latest technological developments as an engineer. Most importantly if you want to work in the world of A/V, it is important to know your role, so you don’t make it tough on the rest of the crew you work with.

The arrogant person in the room usually spoils the day’s work… or if you’re famous enough may get told “Hey, great job in here today! Why don’t you go to the hotel/home, and we will do some mixing and work here. We will call you in a few days if we need you to do a few more takes.” This usually means that the producer is going to call in a studio musician to record the parts that the “artist” is not nailing.

On a final note, some of the smartest people can be bored to death by other know-it-alls, as I’ve watched certain people dozing off in deep slumber while someone else was talking about Cold Atoms, quantum control, oscillatory-field methods, femtosecond coherence spectra, Fourier domain amplitude, and phase profiles at individual oscillation frequencies. …

Once again, don’t follow what others are passionate about, find what makes you get excited and work toward that. As it will help you be useful in a world were it is often about working as a team, and not whoever thinks their shit smells better than everyone else’s…

Also, don’t forget to disregard this if it doesn’t apply… best of always

Oopps forgot to answer some of the questions:
What do you do?
Currently self-employed, was in a near-fatal car accident, since have been fully diving into making things I’ve always wanted to take seriously for myself.

how long have you been doing it? Do you like it? How did you land in that field? Do you have/did it require specific education (college, university, etc)? What do you think separates hobbiests from professionals from a skillset perspective?
Answered this above, but didn’t state that I’ve been working in the “industry” since I was 15, and am now 49. Landed all the work from … well working hard? Some of the jobs I’ve landed were from seeking them out, some from people coming to me to see if I’d do a bit of work for them. What separates a who from a what?? A professional wakes up with a set of tasks they’re accomplishing for the day to earn a paycheck, or to complete tasks so they can be paid by someone who has sought them out to perform certain tasks. I have a hobby growing plants, it takes a lot to be able to actually sell them, and I never had enough time to make it a career or business… hope that answers that?

I didn’t go to college till much later in life, in fact, it was just to prove to another older senior engineer why we should update at least one room to a digital mixing room. He and the owner used to argue with me in the 90’s that digital would never be a thing people would actually be using, and that all of the analog gear we used would always be sought after for warmth (to this day I cant argue against that point). Going to school did allow me to branch out and begin working in a laboratory as a acoustical engineer, leverage my skillsets to gain work as a post-production engineer, and a few other things…

If you have experience working as a software engineer, then yes learning F-mod or Wwise could be of great importance to you. Being certified with these programs will often allow you to get your foot in the door with gaming companies. Becoming a certified Ableton Instructor, Pro Tools Op, CCIE Certs, Dante Certs, CPV, AVIXA Cert, ACE, Final Cut Pro, Aerial, BlackMagic Certs, and all the likes may be a waste of your time…

All of this goes back to my earlier point,… figure out what you wanna do so you can be the most help to a team, doing your specific role hahaha

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