How To Become An Audio Engineer (without a degree)

how to become an audio engineer
You're hear because you want to learn how to become an audio engineer.
First off, I can tell you right now, I have never asked any of the grammy nominated audio engineers I have worked with on my older albums where they got their audio engineering degree from.
In fact, I don't even know if they have one.
Adam Odor, who works at Yellow Dog Studios outside of Austin, Tx, got my business because he had worked on albums of artists that I loved.
Another friend of mine, Pat Manske, who is a professional audio engineer at The Zone outside of Wimberly, TX, didn't get my business because he graduated from a prestigious audio school.
Pat got my bands business because of the albums I had heard that he worked on, and his reputation.
I'm not saying these guys didn't attend  audio school, but from the conversations I've had with them, that's not the reason they got the job.
Attending audio school may get your foot in the door of a studio you want to work at, but a lot of the time (maybe most of the time these days) it doesn't matter.
I believe you can learn some valuable lessons if you decide to go to college for an audio engineering degree, but when you get out you still are at ground zero in real world studio experience.
For example, Joey Sturgis, who is a huge Metalcore producer and engineer, as well as a plugin developer says this in a SOS article about going to school for audio. 
"I didn't go to a school for music, but I think you learn a lot more by solving problems in your own way.” 
Joey learned on the job. He started in a "borrowed" garage studio with minimal gear and training. He just jumped right in because he needed to learn out of necessity for his own band.
I feel like the majority of young, or old, aspiring engineers just want to learn, and they don't want to go into massive dept to do so.
You may be a band member who just want's to learn how to make good quality music for you band, and then maybe start building a resume and work with other small bands.
Maybe your dream is to work with the biggest bands in the industry or genre you love.
So what's the path you take when you want to learn how to become an audio engineer and not attend audio school?
Here is one path, and a damn respectable one in my opinion. It's not overnight, and it's not easy at times, but if you love music it should be fun and rewarding!

The Minimal Gear Mindset

Learn this early and always remember it.
You don't need the best, most expensive gear to create good recordings and mixes.
I have a free ebook that will walk you through EXACTLY what you need if you're just starting out. It's called the Home Studio Blueprint and you can get that by clicking here.
Basically you can get started with about $300-500 of recording and mixing tools.
All you really need is
  1. Small space : Bedroom, garage, living room etc...
  2. Basic computer/laptop (most are powerful enough out of the box)
  3. Audio interface (small 1-2 channels)
  4. Headphones/Monitors (you can start with just headphones)
  5. Mic stand, mic(s), mic cable
  6. Whatever instruments you are recording.
  7. DAW - Digital Audio workstation (free or paid)
  8. Minimal Acoustic treatment (bought or hand made)
Here are some home recording bundles/packages that are super affordable.
I've used the focusrite and presonus audio interfaces and can assure you they are very good!
I've also used some of these $100 mics and gotten results that have landed my songs on the radio in multiple countries and on all streaming platforms.
If you want to start using Protools as your DAW, they now offer a free intro version as well. The DAW is just your recording software where you actually capture and mix your audio in.
The DAW really doesn't matter. Studio One which comes with some of the bundles above is fantastic.
Again, you can download my free ebook where I go in depth on all the gear you need here. 
If you are passed this stage, you have the gear, but you don't know what to do next, then read on!
how to become an audio engineer

Skill UP!

There is no way around this part. You must learn skills that will get you noticed.
You don't have to be the best, but you do have to learn and practice basic recording and mixing skills in order to grab the attention of future clients and fans.
You will need to learn...

Basic recording techniques

For example, how to set up mics correctly. what to listen for, adjust, and repeat.
How to get the best performances out of the players.
How to set up your DAW and Interface correctly so you don't clip.
How to avoid phase issues where sound waves interact negatively with each other.
I have put together a complete course on recording a band from start to finish inside a modest home studio. <======= Click here to check it out.
Below are a few of my Youtube videos on recording vocals and electric guitars.

Basic Mixing Skills

You will need to learn how to set up a session correctly in your DAW
How to properly gain stage so that you're not clipping inside the mix.
Clipping is when the audio is too loud and you get unwanted distortion affects.
You will need to learn how properly EQ so that you can hear each instrument clearly.
Here is a FREE eq chart I've put together. It's a starting reference for a lot of common instruments.
If you want to dive deep, I've put together a course that you can check out here. Click Here <======
You will need to learn how to use a compressor properly to add life and energy to your mixes.
I'll link to some youtube videos below that can help you out. One is very important and talks about mixing in mono.

Build a portfolio

This doesn't have to be an extensive portfolio.
1-3 songs that you can record, mix, and get sounding pretty decent will do the trick.
Well... how do you do that? What if you don't have anyone that will pay you to work on their music yet?

Work for FREE.

You may have to go out on the town and find bands you like and ask them if you can help them record a demo free of charge.
That's exactly how Joey Sturgis who I mentioned above got started.
He didn't even have his own studio yet! He used a friends garage and recorded a band that would eventually get signed.
He did this for free or for less than $100 I think.
My point is... to gain experience and to get people to trust you with their art you have to make it a risk free option for them.
Worse case scenario they hate your work and they didn't pay a dime. They shelve it. You gained some hard earned experience and keep working to get better for the next time.
Best case scenario they get a bad ass demo cut and you get experience, and something to add to your portfolio. They spread the word and you get new opportunities.
Next time you work with them you can charge for your services, and if you did a good job they will be happy to pay.
If you have your own band, use them!

Network

I can teach you how to become and audio engineer and the skills you will need, but what kind of engineer do you want to be?
Do you just want to make your own music. Thats fine... if that's all you want to do.
But, if you want to learn how to become an audio engineer because you want to do this for a living then you need to network.
Don't just hide in your bedroom or garage.
Go out in your local music scene and meet people.
Hang out where musicians hang out. Don't be too pushy, but slowly let them know you know how to record and mix and would love to work with them.
A lot of opportunities come from people you know and connections you make.
The truth is, sometimes people who are not the most qualified get the job because they are connected.
They built friendships and met people who knew other people who would recommend them.
As long as you can get the job done and make a product that's decent you can go a long way with some networking and building relationships.

Find an Internship

These are harder to come by these days, but find a local recording studio and ask if you can help out. For free of course.
I got experience by doing this at the Zone in Wimberly, TX.
I had a connection to Pat (who I mentioned earlier) because I had recorded a record there with my band years earlier.
I asked if I could come sit in and help out.
I made coffee, helped set up mics, got lunches for the band, and anything they asked of me.
I also watched Pat, a grammy nominated engineer, work with a major band and I gained invaluable experience.
So get out there!

Start a Website

You need a place to showcase your work right?
How else are people going to find you?
Don't go out and hire an expensive website designer for this.
There are a ton of great drag and drop website platforms out there for you to choose from.
Here are a few.

1. www.wordpress.org is free,

and is what I use to run this website.
You first need to find a website name that is not taken, get hosting, and install wordpress.
Sounds hard, but it's not.
You can get all that done easily in one spot at www.dreamhost.com <=== Click here 
At dreamhost you can search for a domain name, then get hosting for it, and then install wordpress with one click!
You can use free themes, but I suggest paying a one time fee for a drag and drop theme that you have full control over.
Drag and drop means you don't have to have any coding skills.
I use Xtheme. You can grab a copy of the theme by clicking here. <==Here
You can watch a ton of free youtube videos on how to set up a website on  wordpress.org, how to get hosting for your site, and how to navigate wordpress.
There is a slight learning curve, but once you get the hang of it you're all set.

2. Wix.com

I've never used it, but it's massively popular and is also a drag and drop page building website.
I think I will dive in to how to start a website for audio engineers in some other posts soon.
This is very important so I think I'll cover it in more detail soon, and come back and link to it here.

Learn How To Market Yourself

You can have the most bad ass portfolio and website, but if you don't know how to get eyes on your work then no one will know it exists.
Just because you built it doesn't mean the internet is going to start sending people your way.
You need to dive into starting a blog/vlog.
Learn how to do some social media marketing. paid and organic (free)
Do some influencer marketing on social media. This means try to find some people in your music genre (artist, engineers, producers, etc..) that have a decent following and are popular in your circle.
You can DM them and  offer services for free just like how you can gain clients.
Utilize hashtags on Instagram and post clips of your work. Use relevant hashtags to get in front of potential clients offering a free mix.
Once someone takes you up on the free mix and you kill it... you can then charge them for future mixes.
Or negotiate up front to do free mixes to build your portfolio.

Gather Emails

Most successful business owners start building an email list so that they can stay in contact with customers or future customers.
If you want to make this a business then I suggest you do the same.
On your website you can have a sign up form to "receive special discounts", or ""20% off your first recording session/mix" if you sign up kind of deal.
Or if you're just starting out you can offer a "free mix" for anyone who signs up in a certain period of time.
You can get creative on what you can offer here.
The goal is to build your list, so that even after the project is done you can market your future deals to them and get repeat business.
For example "Holiday Sales", buy one mix get one half off, or FREE!
I've worked with a mastering service out of Austin, TX in the past, and every few months or so they have deals on their mastering services. They run holiday deals also.
They send out monthly emails letting their old clients of new deals for when we are ready to master again.
It's a great way to get and keep business.
You would want to use what they call an email autoresponder.
It allows you to insert sign up forms on your website (for free stuff, or discounts, newsletters etc.. etc...)  and the auto responder will then automatically send your new subscriber to a thank you page and deliver them their free stuff!
Then the email auto responder can send pre-written emails telling people who you are, your story, showcasing your talent, and eventually offering products or services you offer for a fee.
The automated function is key so you don't have to baby sit every single new subscriber that signs up. It works 24/7 ....7 days a week.
Can you imagine having to write the same emails over and over each time someone signed up?
Aint nobody got time for that!
I have used many, but I prefer www.aweber.com. <===Click here to start a 30 day free trial. 

Final thoughts on how to become an audio engineer (without an audio degree)

Just Start...
Don't worry about what you don't know.
Invest some time and a little money in your self with some training, work hard at it, and it will pay off later on.
Don't worry about how good your favorite engineers are.
They had to start somewhere.
I go into even more depth than this post in my FREE ebook on how to get started. <=== Click here to pick it up
Even if you are already past the very beginning phase, sign up anyways because I deliver a lot of recording and mixing tips, advice, and other things to my email subscribers.
I'd love to help you and be a part of your journey.
I hoped I answered a lot of your questions on how to become an audio engineer, and I wish you luck! - Scott

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *