Audio engineers must know operate all of the equipment in a traditional studio.
Audio engineers work in a wide range of industries, from theater to music production. While most audio engineers are employed by studios, radio stations and similar types of employers, some prefer to go freelance. Generally, successful freelance audio engineers are individuals with a strong local reputation and an established background in the field. It is not advisable to attempt a freelance audio engineering career without at least five years of regular employment in the industry.
1. Train as an audio engineer, either by getting an entry-level position in a studio or by applying to a dedicated college or university program. Generally, neither approach has a significant advantage over the other — skilled use of the equipment is the highest consideration, regardless of educational background. Audio engineering is essentially a technical field — you will be working with highly sophisticated equipment and software. Learn use a mixer, recording equipment and one or more of the industry-standard digital audio workstation applications, such as Pro Tools or Logic Pro.
2. Obtain as much hands-on experience with the equipment as possible. It is generally not advisable to attempt freelancing as an audio engineer without a minimum of 4,000 hours of studio time. Engineers with minimal experience usually lack the credibility to get consistent work, and theoretical knowledge will not get you far on its own. Professionals in the industry — musicians, studio managers and broadcast engineers, for example — will expect you to know what you’re doing. You will generally not be at leisure to learn the equipment and procedures on the fly.
3. Network as much as possible. You will not get freelance audio engineering contracts if nobody in your local industry knows who you are and what you can do. Generally, the most effective way to network is to begin working for a studio as early as possible. Many studios keep studio assistants and other general help on staff to assist in setup, organization and similar tasks. Quite a few established audio engineers started out in positions like these. Many studios also offer internships and similar opportunities to become involved in studio work.
4. Make an effort to meet local musicians as well as audio professionals. Although freelance audio engineers work in everything from broadcast radio to the video game industry, musicians wanting to record a demo or album represent your most likely source of contracts when starting out.
5. Create a small, home-based studio, if feasible. With today’s technology, as of 2011, it is possible to set up a comprehensive home studio for as little as $5,000. Many such studios produce results comparable to those of traditional recording studios.