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How to Get a Job in a Recording Studio
Where to find studios
As technology has improved in the last couple decades, a lot of recording work has moved to independent (private) studios and home studios. However, recording studios do still exist. The three primary locations (in the US) for commercial recording studios are New York, Los Angeles, and Nashville, although recording studios can be found just about anywhere. This means there could be opportunities to learn more about recording (and possibly find employment) no matter where you live.
It's best to start near where you live. Search online and make a list of any studios in your area. Look at their websites to find out what kind of work they do and who the people are who work there.
How to Apply
Studios typically don't advertise when they have a job opening, and a lot of hiring happens by word of mouth. Major studios are often inundated with resumes. Here are some things to do (or not do) when looking for studio work.
- Send a resume and wait for them to call
- Cold-call asking about employment opportunities
- Send resumes outside your local area (if you're moving, wait til you are physically there)
- Embellish your experience on your resume
- Send your music, demo, or beats to a producer or studio unsolicited
- Ask for an interview or job
- Try to prove that you know what you're doing
- Have a polished resume ready for when it's needed
- Find someone who can give you a recommendation to a studio, and have them pass along your resume for you
- Search your network on LinkedIn for people who work at the studios you're interested in. If you have a second or third connection, ask the people you know for an introduction
- Try other social media like Facebook to make connections
- When contacting people you don't know, mention who recommended you. Ask if they will meet you or talk to you on the phone
- Be honest - say that you're interested in where they work and would like to know more. If you're exploring audio as a career (but don't know a lot about it), ask to talk to them for advice.
- At the meeting (or call), show interest by asking questions. Find out how that person got into the industry. Ask if they have any suggestions how to find work in your area. Ask if they can recommend anyone else in your area that you could talk to or meet, as well.
- Thank them for their time and help.
You may find that after a meeting (or call), someone may offer to help you out by passing along your resume, or connecting you with another friend or colleague. It can take some effort, but one of those relationships will eventually lead to an interview.
Entry level jobs
Typically, the first job you will have at a studio is intern, PA (client services), or runner. These jobs typically do not require prior experience (or formal education), but each studio has their own preferences.
Internships are unpaid but may allow for more access. You may be able to sit in on sessions (in addition your regular duties). A runner is expected to have a car to do errands (like getting lunch or special requests for an artist or client). A PA will likely be on-site most of the time handling client services. It's sort of like concierge at a hotel (answering phones, helping with requests).
The way to move up is to show a willingness to do whatever you are asked, to take initiative to learn new things (especially the technical side of the studio), work well with others, and have a great attitude.
The next step up is assisting. Your job duties may include setting up mics, patch bays, consoles, and operating computer software (such as Pro Tools, the industry standard). You will be working with an engineer who will be in charge and give direction about what they need. During the session, you are expected to help that engineer - particularly if they are required to be in the control room but need something taken care of elsewhere.
As an assistant, you are expected to have a level of technical knowledge of the facility, as well as etiquette with clients. This is why a lot of studios will bring you on as an intern or hire you as a runner/PA first. Not only are you learning the studio's technical needs, but managers and engineers can see how you interact with people. In sessions, the assistant is helping the artist with any needs they may have, which is why it's good to have prior client services experience. Assisting is a very important job in the studio, and one that takes on-the-job training to prepare for.
There are audio degrees at a lot of colleges (as well as short-term audio programs) designed to teach you how to work in a studio. While these programs can help learn the fundamentals of audio (and sound recording), having a degree does not guarantee employment (or priority over people without a degree). However, there are advantages to having a degree: the skills learned in a degree can open up opportunities beyond studio work. This is important because not all studio jobs are full-time.
When evaluating an audio program, it's important to look a number of factors (not just the coursework, facilities, and professors). It's crucial to ask how much studio time you will get. Some programs will only be hours a week, which is very little when trying to learn a hands-on craft. Ask what the majority of alumni are doing for work - especially recent graduates. Some schools present a handful of successful alumni while the majority of graduates aren't in the field, or are struggling to find work.
It's also important to weigh the cost of the degree (and student loans) to the wages earned in the field. Studio pay is generally low the first few years out of school (especially if you have to intern for 6 months to a year). Some graduates are forced out of the field merely because of the cost of living (and loans) while trying to learn on the job.
Not all studios work under a hierarchy. Small studios may just have one engineer, an assistant, and a manager/booking person. Some recording engineers run the entire business themselves. There might be more hands-on opportunities and experience when you aren't with a large studio.
There's also other areas of audio that are just as prestigious and offer long-term career paths. While studio work is fun (and not like any other job), the lifestyle is not for everyone. It can be extremely rigorous work and hours. It takes time and patience to work up to engineer, but there is a lot to learn in the meantime.