A Plan to Launch Your Music Career

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Home, sweet home for an audio engineer in the music industry

Want to be an audio engineer?

Want to be a music producer?

Want to work in a recording studio, whether at the front desk or doing the REAL recording work?

The majority of those career paths travel through the intern or the “runner” position. It’s a veritable must in the music business from what I’ve seen, and I can’t say that my path has been any different.

I, like many of you reading this, started out as a musician first. I am a classically trained bassist who went to music school to learn audio engineering (among other things). After the first few years of core classes, symphony performances, and end of semester juries, it was time to get into the real “meat” of the audio engineering program, and that coincides with one incredible semester of a mandatory internship.

I made the rounds looking for internships in my city and settled on a small independent studio based in midtown Atlanta. A classmate and I took double duty at the studio as interns helping them out with their burgeoning roster of hip hop, contemporary r&b and pop artists.

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It was an incredibly taxing experience that began as a summer semester of fun and learning and led to an 8-year (so far) music career engineering demos, albums and eventually major label remixes. If you are looking for a plan to launch your music career, I’m going to illustrate how I was able to take a 3-4 month internship, and parlay that into being an indispensable member of a music making label, and hopefully this will be of some help to you in your journey.

Here are the keys that took me from intern to indispensable:

  • First to arrive, last to leave
  • Audio Autodidact
  • A musician’s engineer
  • Read to Succeed
  • Know-it-all

First to Arrive Last to Leave

This may be obvious to anyone who is looking for an internship, but in the world of studio recording it’s even more paramount as an audio engineer. The session engineer (what you are looking to be) and the intern, must be the backbone of the session.

As an intern you should be the first to arrive to setup the session, as well as the last to leave to break the session down. You are responsible for keeping the studio clean, and getting the session engineer the materials that he/she needs. You may be getting instruments one moment or patching outboard gear another, but you want to be on your toes at all times.

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Inside a rock music recording session
(Photo credit: JOHN MACDOUGALL/AFP/Getty Images)

I’ve always tried to make it a point to anticipate what artists need before they need it, and that’s the attitude you want to bring to every session. It’s an intern’s job to “move in silence” in most cases. Don’t forget, your opinion doesn’t really matter, and you should focus on not interfering with the “vibe” that keeps the session moving.

At the end of the session, it’s your job to coil cables correctly, clean the patch bay, and make sure the monitors are muted before the amps are turned off amongst other things.

Audio Autodidact

Be an “Audio Autodidact”.

I can’t take credit for this saying, it actually came from my audio engineering professor Dr. Robert S. Thompson. One of the key tenants to succeeding as a recording engineer he said was to “consistently be an autodidact”.

What’s that? That’s someone who is self-taught.

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As an intern, it’s your responsibility to ask questions (when appropriate, not during a session). If there is anything you’re curious about, ask.

  • Why did the engineer add the reverb on the recording?
  • Why did the engineer select this mic for this artist?

These are great questions to ask of your session engineer and it’s your responsibility to be inquisitive. In addition to being inquisitive you want to make sure you are never idol.

It’s important as an engineer to take it upon yourself to read the tape machine manual, or read the patch bay guide, or the console manual. You want to put yourself in the right position so that if and when the lead engineer can’t make the session, or is running late, you are there to make sure things run smoothly.

When it comes to the artists who are paying the studio for the session there is no excuse for the session not being ready when they walk in, even if they aren’t ready (and when you work with pop artists, often times that’s the case).

A Musician’s Engineer

I mentioned in the opening paragraph that I went to music school, and that’s not a prerequisite to get an internship as an engineer, but it definitely helped me be more than an intern, and to transition to being indispensable.

When the producer needed a song transposed, I was there.

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Pro Tools recording equipment is the industry standard, but you’ll see other set-ups so be prepared
(Photo Credit: H. Michael Miley)

When he needed a keyboard programmed, I was there.

Even when he needed a few bass lines worked out or compositions exported for session musicians, my classically trained skills came in handy and set me apart from your normal engineer intern.

Use your skills to set you apart from the pack.

Read to Succeed

Be a reader. This goes along with the autodidact section, but this example helps illustrate the point.

When I first started working as an intern I was fairly trained in Pro-Tools, which is the gold standard for most things studio recording these days. The studio that I interned with worked exclusively in Logic Pro.

Houston we have a problem!!!

I was honest about my limited Logic experience, but I took it upon myself to print out the Logic Pro manual and read it cover to cover to master the program.

In a few short weeks I was setting up my key commands and developing templates to make each session run faster and more organized. This is another example of how you can use your veracity and passion to show that you are dedicated to the job at hand. A suggestion to log analog settings for better recall was another area where I was able to show my dedication and help make the process as seamless as possible from session to session.


Last but most certainly not least, just be a “know-it-all”.

Wait, wait wait!!!

Please read on before you take that statement the wrong way. When I say, “Be a know-it-all”, I mean take every opportunity to do EVERY. SINGLE. JOB.

  • When they ask you to help fix the computer, be a “computer tech”
  • When someone asks you to go get dinner for the artists, be the best concierge they’ve ever seen
  • If you are a musician, and they ask you to get a guitar ready for the next session, make sure it’s tuned before the artist gets there

Take every opportunity to learn everything. Your internship is your opportunity to make it whatever you want it to be. It can be a 3 month “job” or it can be the beginning of a journey, and it’s only your hard work, dedication, and passion that will make the difference.

These 5 things most certainly made the difference for me.

music career ivan walkerIvan (ivan-the-engineer) Walker is the founder of the newest most incredible audio engineering contest website Mixrevu.com, and chief audio engineer with Jaded Records as well as a classically trained bassist.

Mixrevu.com offers audio contests, forums, articles, and merchandise for the audio engineering community, #yroftheengineer – check it out!


What’s your plan to launch your career in the music industry? Let us know in the comments below – we want to hear your story!

About Brian Clapp

Brian Clapp has worked in the broadcast media for over 14 years as a writer, editor, producer & news director. After beginning his career in Atlanta at CNN/Sports Illustrated, he switched coasts to Seattle to work at Fox Sports Northwest. In 2010, Brian began pursuing a new found passion on the digital media side, launching a successful website and then taking on the role of Director of Content for WorkinSports.com & WorkinEntertainment.com.

Recently Brian has become addicted to Google+ and LinkedIn so add him to your circles and make him a contact. No seriously, you should.


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