December 08, 2010

8 Music Tech Careers

So you’ve decided you want to pursue a career in the tech side of the music industry, but you’re not sure precisely what you want to do. Music today permeates all forms of media, and in many different ways. As such, there is a growing amount of career paths that you can choose from. Here are 8 music tech jobs (in no particular order) that you should look into.
By Jason Meredith (Flickr: Enrolling Stones in the Studio) [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
1) Recording Engineer – The figurehead of the tech side of the industry
Artists write songs, artists perform songs. That’s all well and good, but when it comes time to put the song on a CD, or get an mp3, artists generally aren’t the people for the job. This is where the recording engineer comes in. These are the guys and gals who hold the know-how in terms of getting the songs on a tangible medium. “Set up and run the session smoothly, and get recognized for doing so” are words to live by for any recording engineer. The less technical stuff the artist has to worry about, the better. A good engineer will know which mic to put where, and which compressor and EQ to use. A great engineer will have his signal chain down to a science.

2) Mixing Engineer – The magic make-it-sound-better guy
Often, the recording and mixing engineers are one and the same. However, sometimes a fresh set of ears is needed to do the record justice. The mixing engineer’s job is to make everything sound as clean as possible. Leveling and EQing are of the utmost importance to the mixing engineer, but that doesn’t mean his job comes completely without artistry. You can work your creative magic during mixing by adding little tweaks here and there, using reverb to get a sweet and full sound, or adding a whole list of effects to get the feel you are looking for. Play around with the record a bit. Run a drum track through a guitar amp just to see what happens, double the vocal track at -12dB and reverse it just for funsies, do whatever it takes to make your client say “whoa”.

3) Mastering Engineer – The finishing touch
The record is recorded and mixed, and now it’s time for mastering. The great mastering engineers of the world have been at the game for years, and as such, have tons of experience in their craft. With the control of the music business leaving big production studios and entering small home studios, it goes without saying that mastering can now be done on your home computer. You have a good mix of the record, and now is the time to add your finishing touches to it. Tweak your stereo bounces by adding compression, EQ, slight reverb, etc. to put the sparkle in your highs, the crunch in your mids, and the boom in your lows.

4) Composer – The music “go-to” guy
Ever see a movie trailer and get blown away by the huge orchestral sound? Ever wonder where the music to commercials comes from? How about video game soundtracks? Composers are, by nature, versatile people. One minute, they’re writing an epic orchestral score for the upcoming blockbuster, while the next minute, they’re working on mickey mousing a children’s cartoon. No matter what the medium, chances are there’s music behind it, and someone needs to write that music. To start down this career path, learn everything you can about writing music. Classical music, jazz, electronica, house, techno, hip-hop; these are all genres that you might find yourself having to write, so it’s important to study up. Listen to what other composers are doing, practice constantly, and be proud of your work!

5) Sound Designer/Foley Artist – Making visual media sound real
Just like with the composer, ask yourself: when I’m playing a first person shooter, where do all the gun sounds come from? When Michael Bay blows stuff up, where does he get all of those awesome explosion sounds? The answer is the sound designer. Together with a Foley artist, the sound designer creates all the sound effects you hear in the visual media you watch. The sound designer uses every tool at his disposal to edit and create sounds. What does the engine on a spaceship sound like? Ask the sound designer. The Foley artist literally performs sounds while watching the visual media play through. For instance, lets say you’re watching your favorite Jean Claude Van Damme movie (and it better be Universal Soldier _), and it gets to the part where he kicks the bad guy through a glass window. Chances are, there was a Foley artist who, when he got to that part in the movie, threw a hammer through an actual window and recorded the sound. This career path is extremely fun, and if you get far into it, can be extremely rewarding. Don’t believe me? Well, then just ask the guys over at Lucasarts.

6) Audio Implementer – the computer guy
On the subject of video game sound effects, there is a little known, but extremely important audio position, and that is the audio implementer. In the world of video game programming, there is a unique problem when dealing with audio: when do the sounds trigger? In movies and TV, this problem is easy to answer. We need a gunshot sound at 00:30:24.21 because that’s when the main character fires his gun. It doesn’t work like that in the video game world. When does the gunshot trigger? When the main character fires his gun. When does he fire his gun? When the player presses the fire button. The way we fix this problem is through use of the code. We write the sound into the code (through use of audio middleware like FMOD and Wwise or otherwise), which allows the programmer to say “Play this sound whenever the player presses this button to make the character fire his gun”. Furthermore, it’s the implementer’s job to put each sound effect into the space of the game. This is accomplished by adding reverbs, crossfades between sounds, volume curves, and a slew of other techniques.

7) Live Venue Engineer – the gig guys
These are essential to the live performance industry. Without engineers running the sound system, there is no concert, no impromptu performance, no encore. Very similar to the mixing engineer, the venue engineer works on the fly to deliver the best possible sound in the shortest amount of time.
8) DJ/Mixmaster – The tech track performers
On the subject of live venues, another career choice is the DJ or Mixmaster. These are the guys who do on the fly remixes of popular songs, or even create their own music from scratch during a concert. Knowledge of in the box mixing is a must, as programs like Reason and Ableton Live are becoming more and more popular among the DJ crowd. Strong beats, smooth grooves, and the party life are what you’ll be dealing with, making sure to keep everybody on the dance floor.

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