My Story: How I Became An Audio Engineer and 2 Things I Learned From It

Do you know know what your single greatest passion is? Many of us think that finding our passion is a direct-route. A one-way street. Quite the contrary.

When I think about 2016, I feel pretty good about the way it turned out. I somehow managed to graduate in 4 years with a double major and a music technology minor. And somewhere in between the chaotic rush of turning in papers and finding a way to get more than 4 hours of sleep, I helped my acapella group produce its first-ever studio album.

The album was released just days before graduation, and on May 7, 2016, I left Principia College with a diploma in one hand and the album (my sole discography) in the other and set out to build a career in the music business.

Fast forward 3 months, and I’ve produced another album. An album I am twice as proud of, because it was twice as complex and completed in half the time. And we completed everything as a duo. Vernon wrote, I recorded. Vernon played, I mixed. Vernon drew the album art, I mastered the tracks. When I say we did everything, we really did everything. (The song posted here is relevant to this particular article.)

But at the same time, I’ve only been doing this for a few years at most. I learn something new about music production every day, and while I’m far from calling myself an expert, one thing’s certain. I am going to love producing music until the day I die.

But why music production? How did I find and develop such a unique passion? When I look back at my childhood, it’s not difficult to see why I would come to love so deeply the unusually creative technical skill required to be a music producer.

My Story

It all started 10 years ago when my parents bought a digital piano. I was 12 years old and barely knew how to play piano, but that didn’t stop me from making covers of my favorite songs, which at the time were inevitably Chris Brown’s “Forever” and Lil Wayne’s “Lollipop.” Nonetheless, making music like that helped me develop piano and arrangement skills, plus it started to give me valuable ear training, which would become invaluable later as a music producer.

I then joined choir in high school. I had a knack for hearing the different parts (probably from all the piano) which allowed me to learn sight-reading quickly. I kept singing and by senior year, I made it into the Missouri All-State Choir, where the best students from across the state come together and put on a single concert.

Performing at All-State led me to audition as a freshman in college for Plus One, the school’s mixed A Cappella group. I got on as a bass, and immediately fell in love. It was a great time to be singing A Capella. Everyone loved it because Pitch Perfect was just released and Pentatonix was becoming famous!

I first stepped into a recording studio because of Plus One. Our club director went abroad that semester and asked me to take over while she was gone. I had a few ideas about how to improve the group, and one was to record a music video. I had two friends who were special majoring in music production and agreed to help me run the session.

After that session, I was hooked. I decided to try and mix the song myself, but had no idea where to start. The session was on Pro Tools, and the interface looked like I was coordinating a rocket launch! After much help from both mentors and YouTube videos, I was able to finish the record. Needless to say, there was a long way to go, and I quickly found many flaws with my work. But it didn’t matter. I had found my passion and with each new project I would work hard to improve my skills.

Each semester brought a new opportunity, a new recording project, new things to learn, and new ways to grow. I kept practicing mixing, and by the time I graduated, I was ready to release Plus One’s album, Atrium.

2 Things I Learned

1: The opportunity to learn music production presented itself only when I was prepared.

My old boss, a music producer connected to Motown Records, once told me, “Most artists never make it because either an opportunity arises and they’re not prepared, or they’re always prepared but an opportunity never comes. The famous ones are the ones who are prepared when the opportunity hits.”

If I hadn’t been prepared, the passion wouldn’t have stuck. I would’ve thought to myself, “Man, this is hard! I don’t think I want to do this,” instead of, “Man, this is hard! I can’t wait to learn more and get better at it!”

It can become easy to think that I was just a “natural” and caught on quickly, but the truth is that I had been preparing myself for it the whole time. I spent hundreds of hours honing my skills without even knowing it. All that time spent on the piano, in choir, doing musicals, and making covers, I was exposing my ears to music and learning how it was constructed. Which leads me to the other thing I learned.

2: Say “Yes!” to everything.

Whether it works out or not, you’re gonna learn from it and you may even build certain skills that will prepare you for a stronger passion. And if you say “No,” you may never reach what you were looking for in the first place.

It’s like that christian joke about a holy man who relies on God to save him from a disastrous flood. First, a car stops by and a woman asks if he’d like to evacuate with her. He decided to put all his faith in God instead. Now the flood is chest-height. A man in a canoe sees him waiting and offers to help, but the man said, “I’m waiting for God to save me.” Now the water is so high the man has to go up to the roof. He prays again for God to save him, when all of a sudden a helicopter appears and the pilot calls down, “Let me lift you out to safety!” But again, the man refused, choosing to put his faith into God.

Well, the man didn’t survive. Upon his arrival in heaven, he met God and asked, “Why didn’t you save me? I put all my trust and faith in you!” God’s response? “I sent you a car. I sent you a canoe. I sent you a helicopter. What more were you looking for?”

You don’t have to be sacrilegious, but the next time you see an opportunity and you’re not sure whether it will pay off or not, take an extra second to think about it, because it might lead you to something else, which might lead you to something you actually are passionate about.

It might even lead you straight to your passion. Or, in Benjamin Gates’ case, the National Treasure! So what’s stopping you? Your treasure awaits.

Have you found your passion yet? Or are you still looking? Let me know in the comments!

 

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