State of the Industry: The Case of the MisEducation of a Sound Engineer

 I found this essay in my writing file so I thought I would post it. Information Interviews are extremely helpful when considering career changes.

The State of the Industry Address

Prepared by Yvonne Battle-Felton

March 14, 2005

Table of Contents

Introduction                                                                                      3

                        The Case: The Miseducation of the Audio Engineer                                                                         


                        When I was in high school, I wanted to be a psychologist.  Some of my classmates wanted to be lawyers, singers and dancers.  None of us said, “I want to be a receptionist”; “I want to be a housewife” or “I want to be an exotic dancer”.  Yet almost twenty years later, most of us have regular jobs, not careers; and we know the difference.  A job is something you do whether you like it or not.  Some jobs require you to have specific knowledge, skills and abilities and some don’t. You can perform your job well, but anyone with the same training can perform it just as well; you are replaceable. A career is something you do because you love it.  It may require you have specific knowledge, skills and abilities but you are known by the way you do what you do: your reputation.  Your personality and experience can make you irreplaceable on a project.  In a career, it’s not only what you know, but how you are known. Schools teach knowledge, skills and abilities: a reputation is earned.



The Case: The Miseducation of the Audio Engineer

On paper, anyone can become an audio engineer.  In the two dimensional world of career guides, with the right blend of knowledge, skills and abilities, you too can edit for sound.  Unfortunately, many career guides are not considering an individual’s reputation as a part of knowledge, skill or ability; therefore they are guiding people into audio engineer jobs, not careers.
            America’s Career Info Net, ACI, is a website which offers occupational profiles of various jobs and careers.  These profiles outline the education and training recommended for the position’s specific knowledge, skills and abilities.  They detail some tasks; give salary information and show the percentage of people in that field and their level of education. According to its occupational profile, audio engineers must:  (1) have knowledge in communications media, telecommunications, administration and management; (2) have the active listening skills and skills to operate, maintain and select the correct equipment; and (3) have the ability to focus, listen and be able to create desired sounds.  The knowledge, skills and abilities mainly apply to information that can be taught, yet according to ACI over 42 percent of audio engineers age 25-44 have a high school degree or less. 


The Evidence: Exhibits A-C

There are many broadcasting schools and communication programs to teach the long list of recommended knowledge, skills and abilities of the audio engineer. 

(1)                          The Career Connections “on the job training program” claims to team students with an “industry professional to train them in all areas of the recording industry”(Connections).
(2)                          Maryland’s Peabody Institute and John’s Hopkins University have partnered to provide students with the opportunity to obtain degrees in the music industry (Peabody). 
(3)                          For around $18,000 the Audio Recording Technology Institute provides students with the tools they need to gain “entry-level employment in the industry”(Audio).

These programs may help people get in to the music business but the person’s reputation is what moves him or her from an entry-level job into a career. Reputations take time to build.

The Crime Scene

While much of the audio engineer’s job is technical, the career is very people oriented. The engineer must use resources to recreate the vision of the producer. A client may go to an agency to advertise a new product.  With concept in mind, the agency will go to a studio that will select the producer.  The producer will employ the production company to create the commercial.  The production company’s audio engineer works with writers, musicians and voice talent to make a product that reaches the target audience of the producer’s vision.  There are many people involved in this creative process, which means many personalities and ideas.  The skills necessary to successfully deal with writers, talent and producers are cannot be taught in a textbook. 

The Accomplice  Profile

There are people who always seem to be in control of a situation. These are the people we trust in a crisis and turn to for advice.  They are the quiet heroes, the ones that save a project, smooth over an irritated client or negotiate with an irrational vendor.  They seldom ask for praise or acknowledgement but are quick to offer kind, constructive words to another. They are the people behind the scenes, the backbone to any organization and creative project.  In the production studio, they are the audio engineers.  The good ones get awards, the great ones don’t need them.

The Witness: Under Oath

The first thing you notice about Davis Grei of Greibo K Media is his charm.  It is reflected in his conversation, his mannerisms and his tone.  And it’s no accident.  His charm is not something he turns on and off; at this point in his life it is genuine. He cares about people and wants to inspire them to do their best. Grei has spent years learning about people and what makes them productive. According to Grei, people do their best when they feel free to be creative. The knowledge, skills, and abilities Davis Grei brings to the music industry were not taught to him in a textbook or in the classroom, he learned to inspire people through his personal experiences.  And he is appreciated for it.   
As Creative Director and managing partner of Greibo K Media, Davis Grei serves as the staff audio engineer, producer, writer and editor. Greibo K Media is a production company in Baltimore, Maryland; they produced The Ultimate Business Makeover, with the University of Maryland, University College.  According to his bio, Grei has worked with companies such as Columbia Pictures, Warner Chappel Music, Lorel/PR & Partners and Bel Sante International.   He takes pride in his accomplishments, not in the names he has worked with, but in the way he has inspired people to be creative.
I interviewed Grei in his studio, although I could still vividly remember the last time I was there. That day, I was doing voice-overs for the Ultimate Business Makeover and I am embarrassed to say we had passed my patience level.  With barely hidden frustration I delivered line after line of what sounded like the same thing to me, only to hear him say, “that was great Sweetie, now this time try stressing the “the.”  I have very little patience as it is, but I eventually, with coaxing, was able to deliver the line the way he wanted.  Without his verbal encouragement and smiles, I would have been able to walk away from the $75.00 an hour Greibo pays me. Instead, I felt myself wanting to please him.
The studio was silent for the interview. I had his complete attention and as he anticipated, I liked it. Grei has no formal music training.  He credits his successful career to the way he treats people and his work ethic.  He has a willingness to learn and to share his knowledge with others.  According to Grei, many of the instructors who teach audio editing, have never worked in a studio. They teach students the textbook approach to the equipment and to people, but leave out the most important aspect: the people.
A producer chooses Grei because of Grei’s reputation.  Grei is known for the quality of his pieces and the way he inspires creativity in others.  According to Grei, it is much easier to work with someone who respects your work.  They hand him the project, tell them their target audience and let him create.  It actually is not that simple, depending on the time frame, Davis says he works with the producer to figure out who the producer’s vision and to find out the target audience. His job is to make the producer’s vision work, no matter what.  He creates alternatives but if the producer is set on a particular vision, Grei must create it. Often, Grei said, the producer will see that their vision is not working, but it’s not Grei’s job to point it out to him, he lets him see why it does not work. Grei gets satisfaction out of creating a work that fits, not out of proving himself to be right. 
Grei takes editing very seriously.  At his production company he must edit scripts, music, sounds and voice performances for clarity, consistency and time. When working with writers he likes to take the time to help them develop a piece so it is suitable for production. He finds constructive criticism and positive reinforcement work best for people to feel creative. If he is unable to use a writer’s contribution, he still tries to make them feel valued by explaining why it did not work.  According to Grei, every one is an equal and deserves respect for their contribution. 
With experience, Grei has learned some key points about editing that he stresses to his students at George Washington University:
(1)                          Continuity is one of the most important parts of any type of editing: the best editing is invisible.
(2)                          Never forget the target audience; once you lose sight of them, the project is lost.
(3)                          Treat everyone with respect and acknowledge everyone’s contributions: never talk down to anyone.
(4)                          Your job is to make the director’s vision work, no matter what.
(5)                          Only offer constructive criticism, never make personal attacks.
(6)                          Editing is complete when the piece reaches the target audience: not before.

The textbooks don’t always stress these points, but Grei says he owes his career to them. At the end of the interview my last impression is still how very charming he truly is.


            In order to make my career as an editor a reality I must pursue some educational and personal goals: 
(1)        I must continue my formal education not only to learn the technical aspects but to network.
            (2)        I must be open to constructive criticism.
            (3)        I must explore unconventional areas to gain editorial experience.
            (4)        I must learn to edit in the writer’s voice.

Closing Arguments
I look forward to a career in freelance editing.  I learned a lot of information from my interview with a sound engineer.  I thanked him for sharing the valuable lessons that could have taken me years to figure out: people appreciate the way you treat them.  It seems like a small note, easily taken fore granted.   But as an editor, I will do my best to earn a reputation for being not only thorough but professional.  While I pursue publishing of my own work, editing will not be a job for me, it will be my career.

Verdict: Guilty
            Industries need to share the simple secret of turning jobs into careers: you are known by your deeds, as well as your words.


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