Learn to Love It

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I got my studio internship in college through a band I was friends with and helped out as a guitar tech when they were in town. I got to know an engineer while hanging out with them at a studio they were tracking at one day and was able to leverage that time into an internship. My first week was spent assisting on a mix session for a local band’s live album. We’d start at about 11am and work until 1-2am. It was a blast. But my continued expectations for what my time there would be like were quickly shattered the following week when I got my first taste of rap and R&B sessions.

Of course, I was a band guy. I played in a band, and I wanted to work with bands. Rap just wasn’t my thing. In fact, I distinctly remember my first session on a rap mix because it consisted largely of just muting things. I remember three or four of us perched over the console, fingers poised over mute buttons to punch in mutes for the automation computer. How is that even mixing? We didn’t even push the faders. Then at some point they needed a new bass part so one of the guy’s friends played a bass line on a keyboard with one finger. It really happened. Did I mention I wanted to work with bands?

I’m guessing my feelings about the sessions weren’t so subtle because at one point the engineer I worked for took me aside and kindly gave me some of the best advice I’ve ever gotten. He explained that if I wanted to make a go in the audio world, I needed to get over my musical genre preferences. He said if I was going to do audio, I needed to do it for the love of audio.

His words stuck with me through the rest of my internship working on mostly local rap and R&B projects and then into my professional audio career as I tackled projects ranging from industrial voiceovers to audiobooks to medical association recordings to cable TV to radio promos and on and on and on. The truth is I’ve spent much of my professional career working on the types of projects most aspiring engineers probably never dream about, and a lot of them were things most don’t even realize exist. At one point I was recording and editing voiceovers for tutorial software for copiers and printers, and I won’t even go into the medical stuff. I’m sure you can imagine just how exciting this stuff is. But I did it because I loved working with audio.

As my career expanded, I found myself involved in more projects that I really looked forward to being involved in, and I noticed something about these projects that was different. I was also getting better results without as much effort. I could attribute that to the fact that I was more experienced, but it was more than that.

You see, that advice to do it for the love of audio–well, it’s great, but I just don’t think it’s enough. To really get somewhere with audio, I think you’ve got to learn to love it. And by it I mean the actual material you’re working with. Somewhere, somehow you’ve got to find something redeeming about it that you can grab on to and care about. When I started to get this, ALL my work started to improve and a funny thing happened–I actually started enjoying the not-so-glamourous stuff more and more.

These days I’m pretty blessed to work with people and material that I love, but the fact is if you do this audio thing long enough, at some point you’re bound to come across stuff that you probably weren’t dreaming about the day before. When you do, learn to love it.

David Stagl

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