Saturday, 25 June 2016

Swimming Against The Current: Audio Engineering At Its Finest

The Perpetual State of Subordination and How to Break Away

Today, I want us to take a look at something other than music production.

Pose a simple question to yourself: why are you pursuing a career in audio engineering? What is your final aim, goal, or ambition? This is an internal question and should be treated in such a way that will produce an outcome that ultimately pleases you. There is no arrogance, judgment, or miscommunication–you are talking to yourself, honestly asking, in which direction do I want my life to go? Once the question is posed, the answers are most often abundant–they may be lofty, but valid all the same.

When a final decision is made, the next step is getting started. I can only speak to my own perspective (and off-the-wall obstinate personality), but life does exist outside the so-called “music industry”–contrary to popular belief. 

Personally, when I think ‘outside the music industry,’ I envision a run-down, negative-capacity bar with wasted years as audio Engineers burn-outs reliving their youth in the studios for a few Thousands of Naira per session. But, to keep things in a grander perspective, I then realize that the reason I see that picture in my head is not because it is the truth, it is only my perception of the truth. The same way that I have been programmed to perceive the “music industry” as a necessity, I have been programmed to view the anti-industry as a means of eventual destruction or conformity.

How Does This Apply to You?

Thinking outside-the-box is important in every aspect of life, but especially in one’s career path. Nobody wants a “career” for any other reason than to make money; whether or not that career doubles as a passion, hobby, or fantasy, it is still obtained with the primary aim of making enough money to sustain and provide oneself with a fulfilling life. 

If anyone can produce any amount of money, or any amount of any item of worth, then all currency and items will become financially valueless. So, if there were no system of currency or drive to do anything other than what a person wants to do, there would be no “music industry.”

Now, think about what you would aspire to if there were no music industry. What would you do with your time if your ultimate aim was not monetary gain? That’s the start of thinking outside-the-box. “Outside-the-box” is not a concept to be pulled out of the back drawer of your mind when you need it. It should be present all the time, inspiring constant dissonance and creation against the stale state of those who simply pursue monetary gain.

Where Can This Mindset Take You?

Honestly, the opportunities are limitless, no matter how much it may sound like something a washed-up career adviser would say. I want it to be recognized that this is not a call to action, merely a focused perspective on innovation, its value, and how it can be more consistently inspired. I encourage engineers that are in the audio profession strictly for its money and status to keep pursuing what will make them happy. But those who thrive on innovation and creativity (like I do) should try to consider the point I’m trying to make.

The “music industry” is not entitled to our subscription. It is a system just as subordinate and arbitrary as any other, and many people that pursue jobs in studios, production companies, agencies, or other industry-related employment end up working corporate paper-pushing positions just as they would if they had gotten a corporate job out of high school. As you can probably tell, I take personal offense to anyone that tries to tell me I “have to” do something. I control my life, just as anyone else does; I would like to encourage others in this same vain.

My favorite form of creativity is emotional free-flow (as a musician); as an engineer I simply take control of the mix, and then make it my bitch.

(Perception is key–if you are confident, your work will reflect that. It’s as simple in audio engineering as it is in life; it may take some time to develop, but a bit of nihilism can help. Perceive the spectrum of human accomplishment as a field upon which every human and the art they produce is of equal value. Perspective is a powerful human psychological force that can make or break any project with which you are involved.)

Why Audio Engineers Might Want To Focus On Other Skills Than Music Production 

Expanding our horizons and at least think about other ways to use our skills...

I have nothing against music, obviously, but as audio engineers, it would behoove us to expand our horizons and at least think about other ways to use our skills.

At a recent radio interview I was asked few questions concerning how we can focus more on other aspects of Audio related skills other than music.

Check out my answers to the questions below. 

What options does audio engineers have aside from recording music?

Music recording is just the tip of a very large iceberg when it comes to utilizing this skillset. Sound design for music, film and video games, Acoustic design, sound effects editing, audio programming, Boom operators, music editors, location sound engineering for films/Videos, broadcast audio engineering, and sound library creation, are just a few examples of disciplines which heavily overlap with the skills involved in recording.

In fact, recording experience is an advantage when transitioning into the world of sound design because an understanding of microphone types and placement is important when you’re capturing the source material that will eventually be manipulated in the studio.

Define sound design…

The phrase “sound design” has evolved to encompass a lot of the different disciplines that I mentioned in my answer to the first question. I’ll spare you the long historical discussion of how is came to be.

I would define sound design as the art and science of telling a story through non-compositional audio elements. I borrowed that last phrase from Wikipedia, by the way, because I think it fits really well. If you listen to a movie or game’s sound, there’s a score and then there’s all the other sound. Sound designers are generally responsible for “all the other sound.” Creating the growl of a monster, the sound of a spaceship, or performing footsteps in a Foley room are all good examples.

Same thing with musical sound design, where the act of composing or songwriting is a separate issue from what sounds are used to voice all the rhythms, melodies, and harmonies of the composition. The advantage is that the composer can focus on the important task of telling a musical story without getting caught in an endless cycle of making sounds.

What draws my attention to sound design over music?

Music is one of the most important parts of my life, and I do spend time making tunes for my own pleasure as well as for testing out new sounds. However, in a “professional” context I prefer to spend my time with designing sounds as well as teaching other people how to do so.

I suppose this is because it’s equal parts science and art, and I can freely move between the left and right sides of my brain when I get tired of what I’m doing. For instance, I’ll conjure up a sound in my mind which is purely a creative act. The next phase is to make that sound a reality to the extent that my current skillset will allow, moving toward technical problem-solving.

Breaking down a creative entity into its component parts in order to determine an efficient process for building it is a very exciting process for me. When this technical process is complete, I start back toward the more creative end of things and add bits here and there to make the patch really shine beyond the original idea. In short, the creative and technical parts of the process inform one another.

What practical steps can people take to expand their audio horizons?

The practical options for expanding your audio skillset are more varied and easily available than ever before. I developed my skills over almost 20 year period through Courses in audio engineering and with the help of affordable audio production software, knowledgeable people on forums, books, seminars, workshops, video tutorials, etc.

Do you offer any training courses?

Yes! At Starlight Media Institute, School of Audio Engineering 
Our Audio and Sound Engineering courses provide in-depth theoretical and practical knowledge into the operational and technical aspects of the audio production industry, with particular emphasis on production, editing, recording and mixing. During the course, students will undertake studies in analogue and digital recording, studio operation, live PA, post production for television and video, acoustic design, electronics, music editing for picture, and midi sequencing.

The Audio Engineering industry in Nigeria consists of:

Music Recording
Live Sound
Theatre Sound
Sound for Multimedia

The basic goal of our school is to provide the guidance I wish many would have had access to when they started learning the ins and outs of sound engineering. The tutorials move from basic to advanced material pretty fluidly, so I’m proud of how comprehensive they are, so I encourage you to enroll in order to kick start your sound engineering career in a more academic and professional way.

- Steve Aluko

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