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February 16, 2017

Ask The Pros: First Internship Lessons

You can’t just walk into a pro studio, drop off your resume, and expect to get a job. Working in big studios requires building a relationship of trust between you and the studio and an internship is where 99% of engineers start that relationship.

We asked seven A-list engineers “What was the most memorable lesson you learned during your first internship?”

Keep mouth shut pleaseThe very first lesson I learned when I started, was to pay attention and keep my mouth shut.

It was too tempting to talk and offer your opinion, which would get you in trouble right away.

Well, that was a tough lesson! 

Coil your cord properly My first internship lasted 20 minutes. The first thing my boss asked me to do was to coil cables and I did not do it the way he liked. He had not taken the time to teach me his (apparently exceptional) way of doing the job but he still declared me incompetent and fired me on the spot. 

I got pissed, borrowed money from grandma, bought a console, and started competing with him out of my bedroom. I'm still making music, he's long long gone. 

That was my first and last internship but here's what I learned from it:

It's better to ask questions and learn than to fake your way through it. I still do. 

It also taught me to keep music-making a positive and collaborative experience and to treat people properly in all circumstances. Fancy that.

Never be the slowest person in the roomI’ve got two:

1) Never be the slowest person in the room, and

2) Anticipate the needs of everyone on the session

My internship, was at Track Record in North Hollywood. I was new, young, completely green, and was eager to learn. I wanted to learn the rooms fast so I realized the best way to get in the rooms was to ask all the assistants if they needed any help.

I quickly made friends with Mike Ainsworth, the chief engineer. Mike started showing me set ups for tracking sessions, the best drum placement in the room, which mic stands to use for certain mics, tie line panels, options for cable runs, running power to all the various musician stations, and I would help him scratch and troubleshoot mics.

Alesis ADAT MachineSessions back then were always a different recording format each day. Two-inch analogue, sometimes one machine, sometimes two machines (always different alignments), the next day ADAT, the next day DA-88, and the following day Sony 3348.

Learning how to set up, align, and calibrate various machines was an incredible learning experience. A lot of these building blocks all happened within a month of me interning at Track. Happy to say I was hired as a runner after my 30 days of internship. Thanks to Mikey for teaching me.

You know nothingYou don’t know nearly as much as you think you do. Whether it's how to place a microphone or how to address clients; learning to be a professional recording engineer is a lifelong process.

Not ReadyOn my very first gig, I went in knowing very little. I had this attitude that I was going to jump straight into the frying pan and learn as I go, trial by fire, so to speak. It was a low-pressure gig so I had room to make mistakes and learn from them. I leapt ahead quickly, so naturally I thought, "this is how it's done." That confidence carried over into my next opportunity where my impatience got the best of me.

After convincing my client that I was ready to mix, they gave me a shot. I failed of course. The producer pulled me aside to say... "You've jumped into mixing too soon. You're not ready". I was devastated, but he was right, of course. The lesson was that confidence and hard work can go a long way, but in this field, nothing can substitute for experience.

Interpretation Listening to the sounds coming out of the speakers that the experienced engineers at the studio had going was a great reference point for me, and I don’t mean sitting in front of the speakers, I mean out in the hallway or being in the back of the control room for a minute while on some task.

Learning that all these different places to listen could work to my advantage in understanding what sounded right in the actual listening position. Then flipping that experience into a way to learn a new space by taking something I worked on, or something that I was familiar with, and then not only listening between the speakers but in other locations, in and out of a room, to find an understanding of what was a good balance in that control room or whatever room I was setup to work in.

There are no perfect speakers or listening environments. It’s all a learned interpretation and applied experience.

What was your most memorable lesson as an intern or beginning engineer?


Producer/Engineer at EMW Music Group, freelance audio expert with focus on building strong foundations for young talent.  Pop, alternatve, dance, house, rock, and hip hop.