This interview has been transcribed from audio.
Hi, my name’s Alex and I am an Audio engineer. I do mixing and mastering work.
From a young age, I was always exposed to music. My mother always jokes about having no musical talent whatsoever, except for a good shower voice I guess. But she would always play records to me. My father was an audio engineer, some of his most notable works were doing the Pink Floyd tour back in England. Strangely enough he never really shared his talent or knowledge with me so much, and later on in life, he would give me 5 seconds and listen to my song and be like “…sounds ok”. And that was it. It wasn’t a direct relationship to my job but obviously, you can’t deny the connection there.
As I just turned 16 my parents moved my family to Australia. Funny now, I was pretty upset at the time, I had a girlfriend, just making some friends. My father felt really bad about it, and he bought me some turntables. And then I spent the first 2 months in Australia by myself because term had not started yet in Highschool, and I taught myself how to DJ, and then from there I got into DJing, and then I got into music production, and then I found myself part of the music industry, and from there I got heavily involved in audio engineering.
So there’s a little misconception in the world that as the artist, you know, that you’re recording it yourself, that you’re making the music all yourself, that you’re writing all the lyrics, cleaning up and mastering it, and in reality, there are lots of little industries within that process. You have obviously labels pushing out, doing lots of A and R work for you. I am the person who cleans up the audio and has a perspective on the music which the artist is too close to hear. So they might have their bass too loud for example, I’ll turn the bass down. Pretty simply put. And often when you are creating music yourself it’s softer. I push it up through a comfortable level of volume, which is why when you hear music on the radio it sounds homogenised, it’s got the same volume. That’s because it’s been mixed and mastered.
An interesting part about my job is that there’s no industry definition, there are no set rules, so sometimes I can be creative with what I’ve been given. I can take some work and say “these drums aren’t quite cutting it for me, I’m gonna produce my own drums.” Sometimes I might want to add some excitement in a build-up. I specialise in the dance music side of things. So I can add more rises, add little tricks of the trade I do myself as opposed to it, And sometimes everything the artist is giving me is spot on, I just need to present it in the best way possible.
As far as I’m aware within my industry everyone who is an audio engineer is generally a freelancer, so you work for yourself. I would say 99% of your work is generated through word of mouth. At the time of my starting I had a manager, and he put me in contact with a label, and I did a good job on my first one, and then I kind of… the ball starts rolling from there. I’ve actually been very lucky and have had some of my clients just “hey this guy’s a really good engineer, you should check him out.” and you get one good client who ends up being successful, and they obviously have many more connections, it all just snowballs, it really does. It takes a while but it snowballs.
Within my industry, you go job to job, word of mouth, your representation is your last job, if you mess up a track that’s going to been known in the industry. It is very competitive, but it’s not cutthroat and it’s not unpleasant, everyone… it seems like that on the outside but it’s actually a very nice community because everyone’s an artist and everyone’s doing something creative. So every time you’re doing a job you’re putting yourself on the line, and everyone appreciates that and if you’re an honest and good person then people treat you as such.
Do not expect to get your next job, it comes when it comes, that is something I would definitely make very apparent for you guys. You have months with nothing, and then in one week, every single label in the world can hit you up for a job. It’s the trade-off for having a safe office job. I love not having to sit in an office and do that type of work. I love using that part of my brain that I detach from myself when I’m into music. I don’t need to fall in love with any song that I work with, but for the few hours or the week that I work on it, I become part of something that’s different, maybe a bit artistically cliched but it’s nice, you just fall into a song and get feelings that I don’t think I would get from another job. I love that I do, it’s stressful and it’s scary and my girlfriend hates the insecurity, but I love it and I would never do anything different.
Currently, I’m involved at Abbey Road, it’s fantastic and it’s a game changer for me. I have such a better appreciation for the music industry now. For the 10 to 7 years before enrolling here I was kind of a lone wolf in the industry. Very under the impression that if I just kept slugging at it I would just make it, and I’d be by myself. And being here and being surrounded by other people, having extremely experienced professionals come into the school and talk candidly to you has been so eye-opening, and it’s really made me feel more a part of the industry than I ever have before, and it’s changed mind. I wouldn’t say I’m less naive, but I’m definitely much savvier in the industry. And having an education and people supporting you is paramount.
The lecturers here are fantastic, and we have professionals come through do masterclasses, and anytime someone like that, anybody who’s worked with Michael Jackson comes in your class, you listen to what they have to say.
I would suggest if you are looking at furthering your education in the audio industry definitely look at Abbey Road. I genuinely think it’s going to give you the best shot at the music industry. The people here genuinely care about you, I’ve had lots of talks with my lecturers and tutors and showed them my own personal work, and they do care, and it’s nice. I would say if you don’t come here and you look at anywhere else just have a look at what they’re selling you, be wise about your choice, a university is something you’re paying for. Consider it, see what you’re paying for and see what they’re giving you in return. I think the return here is far, far, far beyond what you pay for.
From DJing for the past 10 years I am now 27, I got into the audio engineering and mix and mastering and it was kind of like a nice side project. And I was like “Yes, that’s actually a clear path I could bring up as well as the DJing.” I wish to position myself as ‘Australia’s go-to STEM mastering engineer.’ Ideally, for all genres, I’m getting involved in more since being at Abbey Road, but I specialise in dance music. People specifically come to me because of what I can do in the realms of dance music. I’ve had quite a few successful tracks now, kind of in that Trap genre, and that’s doing very well at the moment, like, globally, and so that’s doing quite well for me, so that’s where I see myself audio engineering wise; ‘Australia’s go-to guy.’ From there, the world. DJing, it’s always the end goal to be the biggest and the best. My music isn’t mainstream, so don’t expect to be a Tiesto type character, but someone like, you know, getting on a label like Owsla, touring America a lot. World success, you know, bring it on.
The skill set you need for this job will be you have to hear things that an average person might not hear in a track, you know, you need to be able to detect frequencies that are throwing the mix off. That comes with time, don’t expect… don’t finish school today and listen to a song and say “oh no I can’t hear these things, I can’t do this job.” You develop that skill over time, it’s like going to the gym. Your ears develop a lot over time, like in a big way. There are little tricks you can do to do that. Other skill sets, you gotta be a people person, be very open, friendly. You’re dealing with people’s art, ok? You can’t be rude, you have to be honest, so if you don’t like it say why, and give an alternative route. You have to be dedicated to staying up a lot at night, spend a lot of time on computers. You also have to be quite tech-savvy, I mean I’m not very nerdy with computers, I mean I play games a lot, I’m a bit of a nerd in that regard. But you have to very into the programs you’re using, digital workstations, you have to understand the software you’re using. ‘DAWs’ which are ‘Digital Audio Workstations’ which is what you’ll be getting into if you start this career, and you’ll have to understand that and there’s a lot of things involved in that which seem daunting, you need to have skills and that as well.
To anyone who is interested in becoming an Audio Engineer, a mixing engineer or even just involved in the audio industry, you have to be like “I love music.” Make sure you’re serious about it and enjoy it and just take a jump, you know, take a leap. Don’t have a Plan B is not what your parents want to hear me say, but yeah you can’t sit there and go “oh yeah I’ll try it for a few years then I’m going to go back to my banking job.” You have to be like “I’m going to be in the music industry, and I’m just gonna give it my all.” And it might mean that you don’t have instant success, and if you did I almost don’t want that for you because you’ll end up strange. You need to put in the hard yards. Be passionate about it.