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Michael Oster
"I'm that one person who when they hear a skipping, stuttering CD playing is shouting, 'Keep it going, I can do something with that!" more


recording music, sound effects, broadcast, CDs.

How to Become a Rich Audio Engineer


You're probably shocked that I used the words "Rich" and "Audio Engineer" in the same sentence. Especially after you've read what I had to say in the "So You Want to be an Audio Engineer?" page (if you haven't I suggest you spend a few minutes reading it then come back here).

Look, I'll be the first to jump right in there with the rest of the world and tell you that 'audio engineer' is not a career choice you make because you want to be rich. Yes, there are a few elite engineers who make huge bucks, but most of them don't and there are some very good reasons why.

First, I want you to know that the following is only my opinion, but I have been a professional audio engineer since 1992 so I do have some concrete basis for what I have to say. Second, I want you to know that what I'm going to be outlining to you is exactly the same advice and philosophy that I'd lay out for my own kid (if I had one - and who knows what the future will hold), or family member that wanted to become an audio engineer. Got it? Remember, I'm not a doctor or financial advisor and I don't play one on TV. I'm an audio engineer and a business man. That's clue #1.

OK, so you really want to become an audio engineer and the reasons that drive you are probably diverse, but let me guess here…you want to record music. Cool. That's just one of the things that audio engineers do. Maybe you want to do other things with audio in your professional career like radio, television production, work in movies or produce audio for video games. Great!

Do you want to be successful? Of course. Well, here's my first bit of advice and it applies to any field of work whether it's audio engineering or truck driving, or selling cars or whatever: you better work harder, longer, and provide a higher quality product than everyone else - and you better like it! There I said it. And that one little bit of advice will be worth millions or billions to anyone who consistently applies it.

You're probably thinking that the above little nugget of wisdom wasn't so pretty and really didn't taste that good. OK, I agree with you and I didn't say that this would be easy. See, here's the painful truth: things have never been more competitive. There are more people out there looking for work (yes in audio engineering) than ever. Schools are cranking out hoards of graduates all the time, most of whom owe huge sums of cash in student loans to lenders eager to start getting their return in the form of monthly payments. Feel the pressure?

So like I said, I'm going to give you some of my own special advice on how to become a rich audio engineer. On paper, this formula works, but you'll have to constantly apply it in the real world to get the results you want. Remember I didn't say that this would be easy. And also, ask yourself this, 'Do wealthy people make their money by simply sitting on their asses?' You're probably thinking 'yes, that rich novelist who just wrote that best-seller did'. Really? I guess you're right if you mean that cranking out material for 18 hours a day for six months straight is just sitting on his ass. Let's move on….


Step 1: Learn Audio Engineering


Like I said in my "So You Want to be an Audio Engineer" article, it's going to be next to, if not, impossible to just walk into a studio and get an internship (or a job for that matter) if you have no background whatsoever in audio engineering. So that leaves you with one obvious option: learn something about audio engineering. Fortunately, there are just about an endless number of institutions that offer programs and degrees of various flavors in audio engineering. I'm warning you: it won't be cheap. You'll have to be the one to make the final decision about whether you want to take on that kind of financial burden (in the form of a student loan) to get a degree in recording engineering. Consider it an investment in your future.

Consider for a second that you wanted to be a doctor. You'd have to go to college and then medical school and I estimate that it would cost you over $300,000 in tuition to do it. How's that for adding some perspective? Maybe audio engineering school doesn't sound so bad in comparison to medical school after all.

So, let's assume that you decide to enroll in Audio Engineering school and you've taken on the responsibility of a student loan. Great, now the fun begins. From DAY 1, I want you to decide that you are now a professional. You may not have any experience yet, but you are a professional and you'll act like one until the day you die. Your classmates may be screwing around and partying (yes, I saw some of that 20+ years ago when I was in Recording school), but you won't be. OK, a little fun is acceptable. But really, you have to work harder, work longer, and produce a higher-quality product than your competition. This begins in school and goes on till the day you die.



Step 2: You've Graduated (or: What's Missing Here?)


From here on, it's going to get a little unorthodox (or a lot, but, if you're going to jump in with the sharks, make sure that they're big ones). Stay with me and this could be very valuable to you. When I graduated in 1992, I had both a Recording Degree and an Undergraduate Degree in Criminology, so I had a lot of education under my belt. But I was missing something, and more than likely, you are too. See what I've learned over the years is that schools don't teach you a thing about real world business. They don't teach you skills like how to sell and negotiate and that's a shame.

Wait…. What does audio engineering have to do with sales? Um, everything…. Actually, everything has to do with sales. Think about this: you've graduated from a recording school. You have a diploma and an invoice from the holder of your student loan. Plus, you have rent, utilities, oh, and you have to eat. You need a job. So do millions of other people (remember that 'competition' part from above). You're selling a prospective employer a product - YOU! It's a little more complex than that, but I'm going to help you solve this by offering you the most creative advice I have ever offered to date (but you're in a creative industry - or you want to be - so brace yourself).



Step 3: Learn How to Sell (or: What You Didn't Learn in School)


"What?" you ask, "You want me to go back to school?" Remember what I said above: schools don't teach this. So, here's what I want you to do: get a job selling cars. "Holy shit!!!" you're probably saying. Yes, I want you to learn how to sell by going out in the real world and swimming with the sharks. It's the same advice that I'd give to myself if I could go back in time 20+ years and it's the same advice I'd give my kid or other family member. I've never been a car salesman, but I have purchased many cars over the years and I've done business with auto dealerships.

But…selling cars? Yes, get over whatever stigma you have about being a car salesperson. Personally, I can't think of a better place to learn how to sell than working at an auto dealership. And the best part is that you get paid to do it. Still with me? Great because if you do this, and do it well (remember: work harder, work longer and produce a better product) you will learn how to sell ANYTHING!!!! But you want to be in the music business, right? Think about record sales, music downloads, movie deals….SALES!!!!

Here's what I should have done…. When I graduated from Recording school in 1992, I was driving a 1989 Acura Integra. I loved that car. I was familiar with the vehicle and to some degree with the whole Acura product line. I believed in the product (which is very important). So, I should have dressed up and marched my butt down to the local dealership and applied for a sales job. If I had the attitude that I loved the product and would learn to do whatever it took to sell the product, then I'd soon be working at the dealership. Whatever it took. But, I'm sure I'd get some sales training and then be released to the sharks.

But what about audio engineering? Well, that's what 'days off' and 'nights' are for. I was very young at the time as you might be now, and young people can easily handle 18 hour work days. Besides, my plan is to not have you selling cars forever, unless you make so much money selling cars that you forget about audio engineering. But that's another story.

Here's what you'll learn when you sell cars: First, you'll be out of your comfort zone. You'll be meeting every kind of person from every walk of life (because just about everyone wants a car) so you'll develop better 'people skills'. You'll be faced with rejection because you won't sell a car to every customer (though that should be your goal). You'll be involved with customer service (people skills - making their experience with you a good one - and it better be) and negotiation. You'll get a commission for every car you sell (and you'll enjoy getting paid)!!!

All of the experience you'll get selling cars you can easily apply to your career in Recording Engineering. Customer service, sales, and negotiations are all essential to a successful business and career and you can learn them faster selling cars than just about anywhere I can think of. Imagine how fast you'll have to think when a $30,000 deal is on the line. And what if you're faced with that several times a day?

Putting sales back into the "audio engineer" perspective, here's another potential career angle for you. You could sell gear, you know, audio equipment. Companies like Sweetwater and Sam Ash sell huge volumes of recording equipment to lots of professional and hobbyist engineers around the world. Imagine how well a very skilled salesperson could do in one of those jobs. Or, you could work for a manufacturer as a sales rep. Think of your favorite equipment…somebody has to help bring it to the masses.


The Million Dollar Attitude


Whatever your profession, your attitude is everything. It's even more important than your skills. Think about it, do you like buying something from someone who is a snobby asshole? I mean, you might do it once, but are you going to recommend to your friends or family to purchase from that person or business? So you need to conduct yourself in a professional manner at all times, even when you're 'off the clock'.

They say that 'the customer is always right'. Well, most of the time, I think, that's true. However, sometimes, customers can be complete jerks. But without them, you'd have no business. Let me say that again so it really sinks in: Without customers, you have no business. So, no matter how you feel, you need to radiate a positive attitude. An attitude that you will do whatever it takes to make sure that the customer gets what they need (or want) and that you will go above and beyond what the next person will do.

How does this affect you, if you're looking for a job in a recording studio? Basically, it affects you if you're looking for any job. As a prospective employee, you need to make sure that you are providing MORE value to the employer than what the pay for the position is. Job pays $20 an hour? Provide $40 an hour worth of value. Does it sound like you're getting ripped off? If you have the wrong attitude it does. To me, it sounds like an opportunity for both the employer and employee.

Back in 1992 when I was fresh out of recording school, I had visited every production house I could find in my area. I dropped off my resumes and made my pitch to whomever would listen. By my last stop I had kind of gotten the hang of things. There, I offered to go on a shoot for free, just to watch and see how the crew worked, and if they needed any extra help, I'd do what I could. Now this was a video shoot and my main education was in audio, but I did know a little.

Well on the day of the shoot, I made sure to keep my mouth shut, asking only occasionally if there was anything I could do to help out. Before long, the director had me running power cables and moving lights. Then I started doing these things even before being asked. By the end of the day, I had worked hard on a shoot that I was supposed to be doing for free, but I was happy to get the exposure.

The next day I got a call from the owner of the business who said that she had spoken with the director. The director had said that I had worked extremely hard and he didn't know that I was supposed to be there just as an observer. Bottom line was that the owner offered to PAY me for the gig anyway! Why? Because I provided VALUE to the project. The bottom line is that no matter what you are getting paid, or being offered to be paid, make it your commitment that you'll provide at least DOUBLE the value for your payment. A person with a bad attitude won't like this idea. A person with a good attitude will see this is an immediate path to a quick raise.


Want to be Rich? Do What Rich People Do


You've heard the saying that 'the rich keep getting richer' haven't you? Just about everyone has. Most people use that as an excuse for not having money. They act like the rich people are stealing all the money and there's nothing left for everyone else. Sorry. Wrong answer. The truth is that wealthy people know how to make money and how to make money make more money. Huh? Go back and re-read that sentence one more time and it'll make a little more sense.

Most people don't get this at first, and some never get it. They think that if they want to be rich, they have to look like they're rich first. So they spend what money they have on stuff that sort of makes them look like they're rich. I'm sure you've seen this lots of times. People driving expensive cars, living in huge houses, and wearing flashy jewelry when they're making decent, but not great money. Basically, they're spending their money on crap. And, they're literally one paycheck away from a disaster. How? Well, what if they lose their job? Or, what if they're injured in an accident? They still have a car payment, mortgage, and student loans due with nothing in the bank.

Wealthy people don't do that. They buy stuff with their money, but it's stuff that makes money, also known as investments. In a basic sense, an investment is something that makes you money and/or something that you can sell for more than you paid for it.

So, while the other people are buying junk, rich people are buying things that actually have value. What you need to do is to do what the rich people do. Do you know anything about buying stocks and bonds. Or do you have an interest in owning any real estate (and I'm not talking about your house)? Well, rich people do and I suggest that you do to. It's all business anyway, so whatever you learn can only help you in your career. But, you don't make much money, right? Still, you have to set something aside regularly specifically for investments. Your assignment below will shed some more light on this.


Reading Assignment:

Here are a couple of books that I wish I would have read when I was still in college (they weren't out then). I strongly suggest that you read them and use the information in them to help you get farther in your careers whatever they may be.

"Rich Dad, Poor Dad" by Robert Kiyosaki

"Sell to Survive" by Grant Cardone



Disclaimer: I'm not a lawyer, doctor, or a financial advisor. I don't even play one of those on TV (and I can't guarantee that someone wont put me in one of those "cozy, padded cells down the road). So, before investing in specific funds or stocks, please consult with a real financial advisor. Oh, and don't attempt to circuit bend things that plug into the wall outlet either.

Comments? mike@f7sound.com

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