Interning at a recording studio is something that so many professional engineers have done at one point or another.
Today, it’s often seen as an engineer’s right of passage—it’s how we pay our dues, it’s how we get our feet wet and gain the experience needed to succeed in an industry that’s ready to chew up and spit out anyone that it deems too weak or uncommitted.
First impressions are everything and you want to make sure you are seen as useful, well-liked and enjoyable to be around, especially by those who are giving you the opportunity to learn.
Along the way, there will be people who will try to take advantage of you, and tasks you have to get through that you aren’t excited about doing. At times, you may even feel like you’re just not appreciated. But you have to remember that even if it feels like what you’re doing isn’t important, it’s all a part of a larger learning experience, and each mundane task you do now is just a building block to help you grow into a great engineer.
Succeeding as an intern and seeing new doors open up for you isn’t just about what you do right. One of the biggest keys to success is to make sure you avoid doing crucial things wrong. Some of the major “don’ts” below might seem obvious, but you’d be surprised how often I see interns breaking every single one of these cardinal rules
1. Asking questions at the wrong time
There is a right time and wrong time to ask questions. Don’t ask what an engineer is doing while they’re doing it. When I’m running a session, I expect my interns to help assist me and make my job easier, not to ask questions while I’m trying to think and make decisions.
That might sound harsh, because interns are there to learn and gain experience and questions are an essential part of that process. But there is a right time and wrong time to ask them.
I’m glad to explain anything and answer any questions for an intern, as long as it is done in the right way. I always tell interns to pull me aside after the session, to write down their questions on a piece paper and give it to me later, but don’t ask me why I’m using an 1176 to compress the bass when I’m in the middle trying to compress the bass with an 1176.
2. Showing off
I actually enjoy teaching interns, because I like talking about audio and audio engineering. But to learn new things, interns need to be humble. Listen to what the engineer is saying rather than try to prove to him or her that you know what you’re doing.
I’m often guilty of this one myself. I always want to try and show people how much I know or how good I am at one task or another. But if you really know what you’re doing, it will show with time.
Frequently, I find that new, would-be engineers will come in to intern with a little experience already under their belt—maybe they’ve recorded their friends or their own music—and they are trying to show the engineer how much they know and how good they already are.
Trust me, despite how many audio forums you’ve read, you’re not that good yet and you the whole point of interning is that you don’t know that much right now. If you did, you’d be the one landing the clients. So be respectful and make sure you listen more than you talk.
If you have some skills already, let them emerge organically. The more humble you are about them, the more impressed your colleagues will be. Also be aware that even when you are convinced that you already know the “right” way to do something, it may end up being very different from the way the engineer you are working with prefers to approach things.
3. Bringing up your latest mix tape
I know you’re a musician, I know you like to talk about yourself and your music… A lot. I know you’re dropping the next new great mix tape or your band is going to be the next LCD Soundsystem, but I really don’t care, and neither do my clients.
Don’t be that annoying and delusional artist trying to use every moment to aggressively network and self-promote. You’re there to learn, you’re not there to sell your music, and you’re not there to get signed.
Making connections and networking will happen organically. If you’re friendly, helpful and people want you around, there is no need to force it. No client wants to pay to use a studio and have an intern press them for answers or ask them for favors. So don’t do it!
4. Being unprofessional
You’re in a place of business, so act like it. Be cordial, arrive on time, stay late, dress appropriately, be nice and helpful to the clients by offering them drinks, water, paper towels, and snacks.
Be an asset to the session. Make it so you’re not just taking up space. If people feel your presence is actually adding value to their work, they will want you around. (And you never know what can happen when the right person wants you around.)
5. Using your phone
Put your phone away! Candy Crush can wait. Even if you have nothing to do and you’re sitting around, I strongly suggest trying your best to refrain from using your phone.
I know it’s become a habit, but it really comes across badly to everyone in the room. The studio where you are interning has given you an opportunity. Don’t throw that away by being useless and constantly texting.
You’re there to learn, and most of that learning is going to come from watching more experienced people work. Pay attention, watch closely, be engaged. Mundane exchanges that might seem boring at first are all going to help build a foundation for the rest of your career.
Study everything that goes on in a session, and not just the audio parts. There’s so much to learn from how more successful engineers carry themselves, talk to clients and manage their time. So keep your head in the game and off of Facebook.
6. Being lazy
The thing that I am always most impressed with in an intern is when they can anticipate what I want or what I need based on past experience.
For instance, if I asked you to try wrapping some cables at the end of the last session, then chances are I’m going to ask you to start wrapping them again at the end of this one. The next time a session ends, just start wrapping the cables, don’t wait for me to suggest it.
There is nothing more frustrating than an intern that has to be told to do everything each time and has to be reminded how to do it. If you are being instructed on something then make sure you pay attention because the engineer’s and studio owner’s time is valuable, and if they have to explain things more than once, you’re just wasting it.
Be proactive: If there is nothing to do, then find something to do. Ask the owner or engineer if there is anything you can help with. Think of things that can improve the studio and then offer to help do it. Make a job for yourself if there isn’t one. You’re not there to hang out, and if you don’t want to work then you shouldn’t be there.
Although it’s definitely not a requirement, to me, interning is an essential part the process of becoming a great engineer. You can certainly learn a lot today with the large amount of free resources available, but these cannot replace the benefits of working directly with someone who has real life experience.