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A Sound Education

Push the Right Buttons BOOK RELEASE

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Well I've done it. I said that someday I would write a book, and I have. I now know how rocky the road is for authors. Writing this book has to be the single most difficult thing I've done in my professional life. Producing a documentary comes a close second. At least in that, other people were saying the words. When writing a book, one must come up with all the words by yourself.

No artificial intelligence could write a book like this, because my profession is one of the most misunderstood. It's often thought we perform sleight of hand or use smoke and mirrors. I did my due diligence in trying to scare off anyone thinking seriously about a career in this grueling yet mesmerizing industry:

It’s a plea for you to look inside yourself and honestly assess your reasons for taking a path into this world of twiddling knobs and pushing buttons. Of course, it’s more than that, but a lot of people will view you as just that – a “button pusher.” You may also be regarded as an “audio nerd,” “gear head,” “DJ,” “audio dude,” “audio gal,” “one of the girls,” “one of the boys,” “You can’t stand there, I need to put a light there,” “You can’t stand there either,” or just “Hey you.” And if you command a little respect, you may be called “Ears,” or “sound guy/girl,” or “You can’t stand there,” or “Hey you.”

I do however, qualify our industry with some dignity:

Still want to be an audio engineer? Most of what an audio engineer does every day is solve problems, be creative, make clients happy, and go home at night with a sense of accomplishment. There are no awards for that, only rewards. How many people do you know that are truly happy in their job? I mean truly happy? Do they absolutely love what they do? Do they think about it when they’re not at work? Do they want to grow and be better? Do they put pride and accomplishment before money? Are they proud to say, “I did this”? If not, then they may just be button pushers, if you know what I mean. Happiness in your job does not come from where you work, or whom you work for. It comes from how you value yourself and your work.

But I knew from an early age what I wanted to do. I just didn't know how to get my foot in the door. When I was in high school (one of the target ages for this book), there were very few options to learn this craft. So I headed off into a different direction, eventually finding my way back onto the road I wanted to be on all along. I detail my circuitious route and lay out all the development opportunites available, with the hope of shortening the path for someone else:

Truthfully, most of my previous non-engineer experiences have guided me along the path to becoming an audio engineer, as farfetched as some of those may seem. Other experiences have helped me become a better engineer and producer. As you will find out, your path will probably be easier than mine because these days institutes of higher learning take this profession more seriously. Learning just the technical stuff will only get you so far in your job. You may not realize it now, but many of your life experiences and interests will be drawn upon as you create soundtracks, interact with artists, and build a career.

Once someone is working in this field, they need guidance on how to succeed, improve their skills, and advance professionally. I don't pull any punches on what is involved in my job:

To succeed in your new job, I don’t think I have to mention the obvious things about showing up on time, putting in your hours, etc. But in audio production, broadcast, theater, and other types of jobs where you, the audio engineer will work, the hours can be long and unpredictable. This just comes with the territory. So, if you’re a clock watcher, this profession isn’t for you.

I also give very detailed real-world examples of several large, time-intensive projects that I've worked on, breaking down the production crew, equipment, and timeline down to the minute. For example, I sum up what a day running live sound at a major college football game is like:

A typical football gameday engineering job is eight to nine hours. That’s pretty doable, and assuming there were no major problems, a fairly stress-free day. It’s still tiring because you’re around A LOT of people, are bombarded with A LOT of sound, and have to be on your toes 100% of the time. But it’s also very rewarding for several reasons. You get to apply your craft and see immediate results; you get to take part in something newsworthy; you get paid to watch a game; and you are usually around top notch professionals that are enjoying the day as much as you are. Once you get past the initial learning curve of doing a gig like this, you can have a lot of fun doing live sports.

I also talk about film set and recording session etiquette, working with clients, producers, talent, and working for yourself. I discuss creativity, what it is, how to identify its elements and apply them, and how to get out of a creative rut:

But when I hit a creative wall, I try to turn my world around and upside down 180-degrees. Go take a walk, run, or bike ride. Listen to music you wouldn’t normally have in your collection. Go to a museum or art gallery. Go watch a game, or even play a sport. Go on a photography hike and try to take pictures of just one subject, like merging lines or scenes with red. Meditate, practice yoga, or exercise. Go see a play or stand-up comedian. Play with the studio dog or cat if you’re fortunate to have one. The whole idea is to hit RESET and get completely away from your project and your working environment.

I try not to get too technical in my book, there are plenty of books on how to push buttons out there. But I do cover some basic engineering and recording concepts that I feel will make a young engineer a little less green behind the ears. I also have a section on audio engineering tricks I've learned over my four decades in the business. I tried to put myself back in my size 11 shoes I wore in my early 20s (good thing they don't use pants in this metaphor), and address some of the basic questions I had, like:

Starting a recording session
Managing the space in your soundscape
Building a better mix
Creating layers in your mix
Divide and conquer: time and project management

I close out the book with 34 of my all-things-sound articles featured here in "A Sound Education" over the years, including:

"The Birth of Recording"
"When Recording Writes the Music"
"The Lasting Legacy of Bell Labs"
"Analog Rules!"
"Audio Letters to Home"
"Requiem of the Bells"

If you know of someone that is looking to get into the audio industry, or is just curious about the magic that goes on behind the curtain, this book will push the right button. The eBook version is available now at the online retailers below.

•Paperback version, 585 pages
•eBook version

More on our web site here.