What basic equipment do you need to make professional recordings?
New vs. old guitar strings: Part 1 - The case for new guitar strings
What should you fix before you mix?
The Waves CLA-76 compressor plug-in on snare drum, with video
The importance of monitoring in the recording studio
The difference between minimum-phase and linear-phase EQ on transient signals such as snare drum
What level of background noise is acceptable in a recording?
A simple mixing tip that will improve (nearly) all of your mixes
How to double track easily and efficiently
7 important microphone types that you should know and the benefits of each
Subscribe to access our latest, up-to-the-minute articles with hints, tips and adventures in audio in the weekly Audio Masterclass Newsletter.
If your chosen course offers work experience as well as college based training then you are in luck! This has to be the best way to learn your future trade. Not only that, but if you impress the people at your work placement then they may be willing to give you a reference when the time comes for job hunting for real.
But work placements are not all fun and games. When I worked as a theatre sound engineer we used to take trainees one day a week, and what a useless bunch we got, on the whole. I remember one chap who would bring in his copy of the Daily Mirror and spend all day reading it! Maybe we werent doing as much as we might have to encourage the students, but we all had jobs to do, and anyway those who were really keen didnt need any encouragement, they found themselves a little niche in the task in hand and got on with it. These exceptional people were rewarded by paid freelance work at evenings, weekends and holidays and some have gone on to significant achievements.
Unfortunately, work experience in recording studios is difficult to manage so it is not often offered. The problem is that novices are very conspicuous to the acts and producers using the studio, and studio managers are scared to death of a trainee saying the wrong thing, or putting too many sugars in the coffee, and it is only the most enlightened studio owners and managers who realise the importance of developing keen young talent. If you want to work in a studio, definitely go for a course that can get you into one, preferably a good one. You may have to do menial tasks until you have proved yourself, but how can you prove yourself unless youre on the inside?
When I was a student I was a pain in the neck for the department and I regret it now. I had the attitude that I knew what I wanted to learn and apart from that I would learn the bare minimum. Such resources gone to waste, for which I apologise without reservation. Still, you always know when its too late, but maybe I can make amends by offering my advice, with 20/20 hindsight, on how to get the best out of a course.
The first and most important point I can make is that when you are at college with other students you are, like it or not, a member of a team. The better the team performs, the more you will achieve personally. Put it the other way - if one member of the team slows down, the others will have to slow down too. I find, as a lecturer, that if I feel the group is involved and interested in what I am doing or saying then the whole learning experience is faster and more effective. But if one person decides to take it easy, then another one will, then another, and so on until a sizable group of people are working well below capacity and wasting time and money.
The second point is that you will probably have a very clear idea of what you want to achieve from the course and youll find that your lecturers are asking you to do things or become involved with things that dont fit in with your plans. My advice is to give everything your best shot, even if you never think youll have a need for that knowledge in the future. Remember that the world changes faster than you think, and that different disciplines are being brought together in unexpected ways. Another aspect of this is that you may have your own strong ideas or feelings on a particular subject. Ideally, your lecturers should use your views as another input to the group, but sometimes they may be so locked into their own way of doing things that they dont understand and are disinclined to listen to what you would like to say. In this situation, put your viewpoint to one side for the moment and try to take in what your lecturer is saying. He may be wrong, but at least you will have gained the advantage of another persons experience.