What's the most valuable insight you've been given as an audio engineer?
This is the question that I posed to several audio engineers one day on Instagram stories. The response box is limited in characters, so the advice had to be pretty succinct and to the point; a short and sweet answer. Throughout my own career, I've found that advice in your field given by your peers is invaluable, and has helped to navigate difficult situations within the freelance and audio world. As I was reading through the answers, I was interested to see that many of them were very similar to each other, while others had unique parallels between them. Whether you're just starting out or have decades of experience in your career, there's some seriously great insight to be had below. So, without further ado, here are some of the responses:
"Don't freak out or look freaked out. Keep calm."- @mickey6427
"Just show up. You'll never feel 100% prepared so just show up and put in the work." - @chipstermunk
"Over preparation = over performance. Always bring a snack! RTFM!"- @dakingadam
"Hold boundaries. Focus on solutions rather than problems." - @lyrelyrebird
"Work closest with other people in your profession. No tally charts or competition." - @vincenzokeez
"Gain stage GDI!" - @seanrollinsaudio
"It's not always what you know, it's who you know and how personable you are." - @jake.urquhart
"Prioritizing tasks is really important, and understanding what impacts others the most." - @gillymakessound
"There is no wrong way. If it sounds good, it is good." - @instantgrayham
"Take a break, and then listen to your work." - @leonardoguimaray
"What sets you apart from other engineers is taste- not necessarily speed or knowledge." - @porteraudio
"Make mistakes and keep making mistakes. It's okay to mess up and you will learn from those experiences and become a better engineer. Basically never stop learning!" - @irismarcelina
"Focus on sections individually, don't worry about the final mix (until the end) because you will drive yourself insane." - @anitayung.productions
"Charge clients however much you need to make a living that month. Or to purchase new equipment." - @davidhallman966
"Use your ears." - @stevebabu_official
"Perfection is the slowest way to perfection." - @adamtcroft
"The most important tool of all are your ears." - @delipskiblanco
"Trust your ears, not your eyes." - @kylemorrisonrocks
"Less is more! You don't need sixteen plug ins in a chain to make it sound good." - @iz.wav
"Even though you may not be working on a big name project right now, you're still working those fundamentals. So when the time comes to prove yourself on a high profile project, you can perform 110%." - @_henron_
I then posed the same question to twitter as well. Here is what they had to say:
"It’s best when the sound ISN’T noticed!" - @TheMasonsMusic
"Keep things simple. Too much processing can ruin a mix." - @huellasonora
"Don't worry what it LOOKS like if it SOUNDS good." - @barryjneely
"Always take a DI feed and take time to re-amp." - @jon_warburton
"There’s no rules, only guidelines." - @SDevil666
"Two things come to mind. Wiser people than me said these... No1 If it sounds good it is good. No2 We aren’t engineers." - @RomankoSteve
"The best advice I was given: Find time to exercise or this job will kill you." - @TJ_Calloway
"These are 2 that have saved me many times. Always double check your final mixes before delivery and back up as often as possible." -@chik_cj
"Trust your ears! Meters are only worth so much. And don’t give the audience what they “should” hear, give them what they *think* they should hear." - @ProximitySound
"Stock plugins are actually really good and you shouldn't ignore them." - @petersrin
"Shite in, Shite out!" - @Tommythecatz
"From me to me: work out the tangible linear step by step application of what the nebulous “trust your ears” actually implies. Or just learn to manipulate your tools (hardware/software) until the sound matches your ideal sensory experience. We’re assuming the song is ⭐️" - @riesinclair
"Record like there’s no mixing. Mix like there’s no mastering."- @NBNStudios
"Immediately change the preferences to auto backup every minute. Always make a duplicate of your session before tackling revisions. Client will ask you to change so much stuff and ultimately end up on 'never mind, revert it back to how it was'." - @vannyaudio
"Avoid buying new gear. (Unless it's unfixable) Let your instruments and tools become so familiar that they become a part of you. Challenge and inspire your creativity by using the gear you already have instead." - @mandyistired
"Take breaks to not get ear fatigue, it will help you make better decisions about your mix." - @RD_Audio
"Always have record enabled and always be ready to hit record (quickpunch!). No such thing as a "practice" take. Hard drive space is plentiful, magical takes are rare." - @blackwatchsound
Some of the key takeaways I noticed were that no one every truly feels 100% confident to take on every aspect of their job. It's about showing up and working hard to overcome any obstacles you may face- that's how you gain merit and that's how you succeed. Another similarity was the idea of competition within the audio field. Many people discussed how arrogance or attitude was unacceptable, and that people notice when this becomes a part of your behavior. The sound industry is hard enough on it's own; supporting one another and helping whenever you can while remaining grounded was common advice. Most audio engineers agreed that your ears are your most important tool, and that the quality of sound was more important than any fancy equipment or software. Ultimately; if it sounds good, it is good.
For me, I'd like to add that in most cases you are providing work to a client, and it's important to remember that. It's not your vision; your service is to enhance their project. At the same time, it took me a while to realize that if you are a freelancer, you do have the ability to fire a bad client. So just like @lyrelyrebird said, hold some boundaries, and make time for yourself. Otherwise the line between work and life becomes hard to juggle.
I'll end this blog post with the funniest piece of advice that was sent over. Perhaps you can pull some great audio wisdom from this as well:
"Save your time and go work on a fishing boat. It was valuable because I didn't listen."
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