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Audio Engineering: Essential Tools for Beginners

For those looking to begin a career in audio engineering, gear is the name of the game. Big, expensive equipment, pricey plugins, quality reference tracks, and a large time commitment can appear to place a barrier to entry into the audio engineering. However, by focusing on mastering a few skills and pieces of equipment, future audio engineers can establish themselves as skilled mixers without buying pricier kits.

A music software platform, reference tracks, plugins, and ear training are great resources available to any audio engineer. A student that masters these skills creates a solid foundation for audio engineering. Music software platforms provide a virtual studio to listen to tracks, use plug-ins and practice ear training. Reference tracks enable audio engineers to use existing work as a launch pad for their own work. Plugins give engineers the ability to modify and process audio. Refined listening skills guarantee that the resulting audio track is in line with what the engineer wants.

Music Software Platform

Most equipment you will need will come with a music software. A music software program like Apple Logic Pro will allow you to record and edit audio, use virtual instruments, audio effects, loops and patches. Logic Pro also offers mixing and mastering for your songs. The software costs less than $200. Using this software with a mid-range computer will give you the tools for recording and editing software you need to create a song.

Logic Pro X Certification courses are offered at IPR. The Institute of Production and Recording (IPR) is an Apple Authorized Training Center for Education (AATCE), intensive certification training in Logic Pro X. Logic Pro X instructors are Apple Certified Trainers, chosen to lead these courses because of their industry expertise.

The certification courses at IPR introduce students to the primary features and user interface of Logic Pro X. Students learn how to create audio and MIDI arrangements that will become their own production projects. Students also create songs using Logic Pro’s array of virtual instruments, including Apple Loops and DSP effects. In-depth lessons cover MIDI and audio recording and streamlined editing and arrangement techniques. Advanced lessons include user defined key commands, automation, using external MIDI controllers, mixing, and creating final output.

Reference Tracks

Reference tracks are professional mixed, edited, and remastered songs and audio files used for comparison. They give audio engineers a baseline of sound that can be matched and personalized. These tracks can be found almost anywhere and cover an almost infinite range of different genres of music.

Reference tracks are a vital part of an effective mixing workflow. Referencing professional work allows audio engineers to emulate other work, as well as establishing a baseline for tonal balance. This allows the entire mix to come together.

When using reference tracks, it is key to listen critically. Comparing the audio engineer’s track and the reference track allows them to understand balance and ensures that the engineer is on track to achieve the desired sound. Also, listen to the reference track from a macro and micro perspective. Sit back and listen to the reference track as a whole and then hone-in a specific track that you are looking to influence your work.

There are many software programs that will compare your songs to your reference tracks. Further, some music software will allow you to break a song into individual tracks, giving you a better ability to isolate sounds and instruments in your tracks.

It is also important to listen to reference tracks in multiple locations to determine audio quality. This is how many consumers of these songs will listen to tracks, so  it is important to get their perspective by listening to them through different locations.

Plugins

Plugins are another vital tool in any audio engineer’s kit. Digital Audio Workstations (DAW) use plugins that process audio in unique ways. Plugins are powerful tools that include many subcategories. Examples of plugin categories include dynamic plugins that control volume, delay, and reverb. Equalizers enable modification of  part of the sound file, while compressors bring together the extreme highs and lows of an audio track. Lastly, autotune offers pitch correction.

Purchasing plugins can be beneficial, but it is important to master the initial tools that come with the software.  A understanding of the basic plugins available for a DAW beats a library of hundreds of scarcely-used tools.

Ear Training

Listening is the most fundamental skill of an audio engineer and unfortunately, the most overlooked. Dedicated listening is a vital part of creating music: audio engineering is about making tracks sound good to the ear. It is nearly impossible to know if something sounds good without truly listening to it. Ear training and listening skills take time and is something an audio engineer will do over their entire career.

Mixing can become overly-focused on meters, equalizers, modulators, and dozens of other tools that try to make the sound better to the human ear. An engineer that mixes and produces with their ears instead of what is on the screen in front of him will produce far better material than someone who isn’t actively comprehending what his ears are telling him.

Training one’s ears to work well in the studio requires a mix of theory and practice. Experienced audio engineers can improve their ear training skill through exposure, but training is invaluable: arranging music as often as possible is a time-proven method for musicians to improve their listening skills.

Finally, trusting one’s ears is the best way to train listening skills. Mastery of music software platforms, reference tracks, plugins, and ear training are all great ways to improve an audio engineer’s professional capabilities without breaking the bank.

Did learning about audio engineering tools interest you? The audio production and engineering program  at the Institute of Production and Recording is an occupational degree program designed to train producer engineers who are entrepreneurs, musically and technically creative, and proficient in modern recording technology and technique. Throughout the program, students are involved in hands-on exercises and real-world studio projects that enable them to apply their knowledge and refine their skills.

IPR is an Apple Authorized Training Center for Education (AATCE) in Minnesota, which is intensive certification training in Logic Pro X. Logic Pro X instructors are Apple Certified Trainers, chosen to lead these courses because of their industry expertise.

At the end of the audio production and engineering program, each student presents a portfolio — a selection of his or her best work to date. This serves as a demo reel for potential employers and clients — an audio resume with professional content that highlights the graduate’s talent and skill.

Contact us today to learn more about the audio production and engineering program and starting a rewarding career in the music industry.