Those who can, (should) teach

The fact our industry is rapidly changing is news to no-one – we are all navigating a professional path through predominately uncharted waters towards something that feels like success. However, it is not only us as individuals that are on this journey – our industry is too.

I come from the studio side of things, and the career path for an engineer / producer has looked pretty similar for decades: studio tea-maker, studio assistant, in-house engineer, freelance engineer, freelance producer. Everyone’s route up that ladder was slightly different, but we pretty much all climbed the same rungs. Now things are different though, as the first three rungs are all but missing. Of course, I’m not saying it was easy to get a job in a studio back then – it certainly wasn’t – but at least there were plenty more studios in which jobs could be found. To illustrate, I trained at Metropolis having got a job there in 1999. The main competition at that time for us (in terms of the number and size of rooms) was The Townhouse, Olympic and Whitfield Street. Of these, only Metropolis has escaped the developers and continues to be a recording studio.

I’m not going to be a Luddite here and say that the way things have been is the way they should remain, but the point to consider is how the future will be shaped. With the more traditional structure, we all knew that the vast majority of the engineers and producers of the future had trained with access to the experience of the engineers and producers of the past: almost all records were made in recording studios, and so assistants learnt from great engineers and producers on their paths to in-house engineer and freelancer; knowledge was disseminated and passed down. Times are different now though, and I’d venture that the majority of records are now mostly made outside of the traditional commercial studio environment – lots of time in producers’ private studios, mix engineers’ converted barns and so on. While this all means it’s affordable to make quality recordings in these financially straightened times, the problem that I think we are making for ourselves as an industry is that we are failing to really pass our skills and experience on to the next generation of the Young and Keen. The result of this? Increasingly poor-sounding records and further industry decline.

So where are these Young and Keen learning their craft now? Well it’s probably not escaped most people’s attention that the number of courses available to study sound engineering and/or music production has rocketed in the past couple of decades. The time was when you had a choice of Tonmeister, Alchemy, SAE and perhaps a couple more, whereas now there is an abundance of courses and options for those who want to learn our craft. Everything from four days to four years of study! And here is a good place to start. Obviously it’s a shame (and yet another financial burden on millennials) that today’s main route into the industry involves a cost rather than a wage, but if these education institutions are the first rungs on the ladder in our industry for most, should more of us not be involved? If you’ve read this far then you’ve probably guessed that my opinion is that we should. If we can all find a way to pass on a little bit of what we have learnt to the next generation – in the same way that we learnt on the job from the people that we assisted – then we can be confident that we will continue to produce the best engineers and producers in the world.

So, I’m going to merrily assume that by now you’re completely convinced and excitedly considering what your options could be! Well there are a few that I know of, and probably many that I haven’t come across. The obvious one is just to contact an education establishment near to you that runs a relevant course and see if they would be interested in a guest speaker like yourself. Most providers embrace this as a way to present diverse opinions and professional experiences to their students, so think about what you could offer that would best arm the students with a little more knowledge of the craft or the workplace. It could be a lecture about an aspect of your professional experience (if you’re the type of person who likes talking for an hour or two), or giving a workshop on certain techniques, or maybe getting involved in a panel discussion if it’s relevant to you. The JAMES organisation would be another good place to turn. To quote their website, they are “… a consortium of music, entertainment and media industry organisations collaborating in the support of education and promotion of excellence.” Or, for the more committed, perhaps a part-time job as a lecturer or tutor.

Having said all that about education institutions, they are obviously not the only place where people are learning their craft. I would bet that the majority are in bedrooms and basements, trying to get gigs and push themselves forwards. These people are harder to find and help out, but if you do come across a someone who is looking for a leg-up then consider interning, trainees etc (and dare I say it, occasionally drop a bit of actual knowledge into an online forum – God knows they are all lacking on that front).

I guess what I’m really advocating is that we all become a little more aware of our individual responsibilities in disseminating knowledge and sharing experience. It isn’t happening as it was, it will be best for everyone if we all do just a little bit, and you will be surprised what you get out of the experience too. I can bang on about a sense of satisfaction you get from helping other people, but I have also found a lot of truth in the old saying ‘If you really want to learn how to do something, try teaching someone else to do it’.

With the more traditional structure, we all knew that the vast majority of the engineers and producers of the future had trained with access to the experience of the engineers and producers of the past.