Becoming a mastering engineer has no set career path as such and engineers will have come from various engineering backgrounds. If you have an interest in becoming a mastering engineer this article will suggest some pointers for getting a good grounding. Ok, Rome was not built in a day and as such it is common that most mastering engineers worked as audio engineers in different fields before they specialized in the art of mastering. Some of the kinds of audio engineering fields they may have worked in could have been as a recording engineer, a mixing engineer, a live sound engineer, post production engineer (sound to picture), broadcasting engineer (radio). So my advice is if you are serious about becoming a mastering engineer it is a good idea to take any audio engineering jobs you are offered. Why? Mastering engineers are usually quite well rounded in their experience and have usually been trained through a number of disciplines in order to be as accomplished as they are when they are ready to start mastering peoples music.
The mastering engineer has considerable responsibility as he is the last person to work with audio before it is released. This means he needs to be very confident that he has done everything possible to enhance and quality check the music before it is committed to it’s final release medium, such as vinyl, CD or digital files. People are not born being engineers, if you have just left college you have to understand that to get the knowledge a mastering engineer should have you will need to work and importantly be able to listen. Not just to music but to the engineers who are training you in whatever engineering role you may find yourself in when learning about professional audio. There is a certain attitude expected, confident, yet open to learning and suggestion at the same time. I suggest taking a job in any field of audio engineering as the skills developed here will filter down into what you will do as a mastering engineer.
An incredibly important bit of advice is to protect your hearing faculty at all times. If you do end up working in live sound try and minimize exposure to high level sounds as much as possible and always wear earplugs when micing up drum kits. Drums can produce massive SPL’s (sound pressure levels) and it literally can take one blast of air to destroy and eardrum, and you only get one set) preserve your hearing like the it’s the most expensive piece of equipment you own, cause you only get one set of ears. Practice listening to wide ranges of music (and any audio programme) and listen with care and try and learn what you like and dislike and discern the details in sound so when you do make the leap (and it is a leap) into mastering you will be well prepared and have a basic training to hear deep into music.
Mastering audio can be very rewarding and challenging, as well as having good hearing, auditory discrimination, sensitivity and judgement there are practical skills to be learnt too. Being able to deal with large amounts of admin and keeping track of large numbers of audio files, revisions and making notes of what tweaks have been made. Communication with clients and diplomacy in dealing with difficult situations will all help to stand you in good stead in this interesting and responsible profession.
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