If you love music, are fascinated by technology and are lucky enough to have very precise hearing, you may have what it takes to become an audio engineer. Producing or engineering an album for one of the world's top artists is certainly a desirable goal for many, but competition for jobs in the recording industry is fierce. If you want to rise to the top of the heap, you'll need more than just training or technical expertise. Being a successful audio engineer also requires determination, persistence, patience, industry connections, people skills, and of course, talent.
First and foremost, it is important to familiarize yourself with as many musical instruments as possible. This doesn't necessarily mean that you must be a musician, but taking some music lessons on various instruments can help you learn the basics of each. You'll probably need training in music theory as well. A good engineer needs to be able to communicate with musicians effectively in terms the players can understand. For example, an engineer can't ask a guitarist to play an open position E7 chord if he or she doesn't know what that is — without knowing the correct terms, the engineer may not even be able to verbalize what he or she wants to hear.
While a college degree is not always required to become an audio engineer, it can help an aspiring engineer's job prospects. Many community colleges and universities offer courses in audio production, and affordable informal night classes are often available. There are also numerous accredited recording schools all over the world that offer bachelor's and master's degrees in audio engineering. Many of these schools have financial aid, job placement and one-on-one mentor programs with professional engineers in real studio environments.
You can learn a lot by listening. Many of the recording industry's top producers never went to recording school or studied audio production in a formal environment to become an audio engineer. More often than not, they learned the craft through listening to albums, finding out how particular sounds were achieved, and working as apprentices under more experienced engineers.
Getting your foot in the door at a recording studio can be very difficult, but there are some common points of entry. Whether as a college intern, a volunteer, or just a part-time "gopher" who brings coffee and sandwiches, you can make important connections that may lead to a better opportunity down the road. You may also get your big break one night when the main engineer calls in sick, giving you the chance to prove yourself behind the board.
Famous record producers often agree on one thing when they give career advice to aspiring engineers: The best way to become an audio engineer is to get inside a recording studio and train with a pro. Not only is this the least expensive way to learn the trade (saving you the burden of tuition fees) — it might also be the fastest way to a real paying job, twisting knobs for a living.