Music Engineering 101

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Music engineering, or music production, which the profession is more commonly known as, is a multi-faceted process that requires a comprehensive skill set and extensive knowledge about audio engineering, music theory, familiarity with digital audio workstations (i.e. ‘DAWs’ for short), various forms of synthesis, and familiarity with different types of instruments.

Though, as audio engineering technology has advanced to the point where entry-level consumers and hobbyists can purchase all the necessary equipment (including microphones, computer equipment, acoustic treatment, and all the necessary software for recording, mixing, and mastering), the traditional audio engineering job that consists of tracking bands at a recording studio has largely vanished, as many traditional recording studios that were once highly profitable have been forced to close their doors.

How to Get Started In Music Engineering

engineering 101Of course, industry veterans and audio engineers with impeccable credentials or an inside contact who can give them a way in through the proverbial “back door” are likely to get the best-paying jobs that everyone’s vying for, but in order to be competitive in today’s market, you will be far better off if you know a thing or two about programming, electric engineering, business management, or entertainment law if you’re looking for a high-paying job right off the bat.

However, with the advent of the Internet and the ability to set up websites or blogs for next to nothing in terms of cost, not to mention creating free profiles on numerous forums and music-oriented websites such as Soundcloud, ReverbNation, Myspace, etc., you can attract a decent following and perhaps even offer your services to other musicians or producers provided that you have a reliable track record and have established yourself as a credible and trustworthy authority in your particular field (in other words, make sure you know what you’re talking about before you hit the “Publish” button).

So, aside from the career-oriented aspect of music production and audio engineering, how does one go about getting involved in it in the first place?

Do You Need Money to Start?

Well, to be put quite simply, being an an audio engineer or music producer (or both) is bar none one of the most expensive professions (or hobbies, if we’re willing to be a little more honest with ourselves) you could ever hope to get involved in, as a decent setup of any kind is going to run up a bill of at least $1500-$3000 depending on the kind of equipment you may or may not already have.

If you’re getting into it for the very first time, be prepared to face an exceptionally steep learning curve, as you’ll have to (or should) learn about what sound is and how it works, and how to install and properly set up an audio interface as well as learn proper miking techniques, production techniques, mixing, mastering, and troubleshooting techniques.

Setting Up Your Recording Space

If that seems like a mouthful, there’s way more.

You also have to learn how to properly treat your room so you can hear your music clearly through your monitors without the sound being muffled by second-hand reflections that result from sound waves bouncing around the room and phase-cancelling each other (phase cancellation is basically an effect that occurs when two identical sounds within similar frequency ranges are combined and ‘cancel’ each other out as the negative and positive cycles of each sound interfere with one another, which causes certain frequencies in both sounds to be muffled or exaggerated intermittently), and that involves proper placement of your monitors in conjunction with installing acoustic treatment in your room so as to dampen or reduce the reflections.

Which may come in the form of standing waves or room nodes, comb filtering, or excessive reverberation or echoing depending on the size of the room and the material that the walls, floor, and ceiling are made out of.

The Importance of Setting Goals

Additionally, you have to define what it is you’re trying to accomplish. If you’re looking to mix and master other people’s music without producing music of your own, then your equipment needs may be significantly less than those of someone who is looking to produce, mix, and master their own music. If you’re looking to record bands or other artists, then your equipment needs will definitely exceed those of producers or engineers that may only need two or three microphones with a simple interface and a decent preamp.

What Instruments Should You Start With?

For optimal results, you’ll need a sufficient recording setup that will accommodate a drum kit (which is typically comprised of a kick, snare, a floor tom, additional toms, and a couple of cymbals), a bass guitar, a lead guitar, and a rhythm guitar at minimum.

This may include purchasing anywhere between 10-15 microphones and mic stands as well as a slough of mic cables and a low-latency, high-quality interface with a corresponding number of inputs.

How Bad Do You Want It?

Needless to say, this is the type of pursuit that you really have to be passionate about if you expect to go far and experience any reasonable measure of success.

Nonetheless, as long as you’re patient, persistent, and ready to approach your projects, collaborators, and potential clients with an open mind and a willingness to learn, chances are you will come across a lot of exciting opportunities that only a few very hardworking and determined individuals ever get to experience.