Becoming a recording engineer in the music industry is not as easy as some people may hope. There are very few salary based jobs out there for a recording engineer. The only real way to break into the industry of recording music is to become a freelance audio engineer. The hardest part about being a freelance audio engineer is getting your first couple of clients and getting them to come back. It's not uncommon for someone to spend 1 to 5 years in search of a steady clientele that can bring in some source of steady income that can put food on the table, pay the bills, pay for health insurance and pay for any equipment you need to keep your business up and running.
The reason why the first couple of steady clients are so hard to find is because it is hard to get someone to shell out some hard-earned cash for your recording services when they have no idea what kind of work you will do for them. Even with an education in the recording arts field, you will find that it does not mean very much. It may relieve some worries of potential clients but not enough to make a big difference. In fact, most of the real successful recording engineers never even attended school. Of course this does not mean that someone should skip out on getting educated before trying to jump-start a career in the recording arts field. If you need the education and even if you don't, if you can afford it, it can't hurt.
Another reason why it is hard to find those first couple of good clients to start-up a steady clientele is that even a somewhat part-time established band or an artist probably already has a recording engineer and a studio that they use on a regular basis. Even if they are not completely satisfied with their current recording situation, it would still be hard to convince someone, who as a beginner, you could do a better job. If a potential client knows you're just starting out as a beginner, they would be taking a huge risk that your recording services could still be extremely amateur. If your recording services were not up to quality standards then (in theory) a band or an artist would still have to pay you, but they would also have to go back to their old recording services and then pay them to either fix what you've done or even have the whole project rerecorded, which is a waste of time, money and also a huge hassle.
Don't Forget the Contract
Here's a little hint! Make sure a contract is signed before work begins. If you were wondering, this is how you will guarantee that you get paid. Like with anything, even if your skills are not yet professional and you're still in the learning process, if you did your best and put the time into it, you will still want to get paid. And with a contract you will. It's up to the client to ask and understand about your credentials and up to you to do the same with your client. If both parties tell the truth, both parties will go into the project with the right expectation.Determination, Networking and Motivation
If you feel like you have the skills and determination to take on this career and make it work for you, then by all means you should follow what you know is best for yourself. Determination, networking and staying motivated when work is not coming in so steadily are the three tools you really need to get a career lunched and keep it going. The most important tool a person needs to utilize is networking. Network with people who have the same ambitions of making it in the music industry as you do. You can have a thousand friends, but if the only thing they know about the music industry is how to pop a in CD of their favorite band or artist and hit play, they will not help you very much when trying to achieve your goal. Anyone you can get to know who plays, records, produces or promotes music are good people to become friends with and stay friends with. You never know when an opportunity not directed to you or for you might come along and one of your friends is in the right place at the right time but can't do the job but can vouch for you and say, "Hey, I have a good friend that may be able to help you out," and sometimes that's all it takes.
Another option of networking you can utilize is advertising. I personally finished school at the Recording Institute of Detroit, and I bought some advertising to see what kind of potential clientele would come my way. Unfortunately, I don't have much good to say about this process. I advertised with networking websites, fliers and business cards, the little response I did get were usually from somewhat corky individuals with completely unrealistic expectations. In fact, I never picked up one of my clients from advertising. I'm not saying that someone else might not find success in this process, but this is just my personal experience. Depending on your location and how much effort you put into advertising, someone else might find different success than I did.
When I finished school for recording engineering in Michigan, I went on a search for an internship. I contacted over 100 studios about an internship and only received a couple of responses back. The responses I received all pretty much had the same answer. The answers were, they do not use interns at all or some responses were they did not use unsolicited interns. Solicited internships would mean you would have to know someone or pay someone or a company to get you one. Now, there is a possibility that other states have better intern opportunities. But for me I never even checked out-of-state because I did not have the money to relocate to another state for an unpaid internship. I was, however, given advice from two different studio owners/engineers that graciously took some time out of their day to talk to me. Both of their advice was pretty much the same and pretty simple, "In a state like this where almost all musical recording engineers are freelancers, forget the internships and just get out there and get started. An internship would just be wasting a lot of time."
Last Words of Wisdom
I should note that if you are looking for those salary jobs, you will increase your chances dramatically if you were willing to move to places where music is extremely huge, such as New York, California, Nashville Las Vegas etc.