Recording engineers need an appreciation for all sorts of music. In the studio, Danny Marroquin, recording engineer for Capitol Records, left, and David Sears, senior director of education programs for the Grammy Foundation, right, record a jazz session.

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Becoming a Recording Engineer

Becoming a recording engineer is a combination of natural talent, education, experience and good old-fashioned luck.

To be a successful recording engineer, you need to start with a deep appreciation for music, preferably a wide variety of music. Recording engineers are the kind of people who can spend hours listening to music, dissecting the beats, vocals and techniques that make one song a hit and another a flop. Many recording engineers are musicians themselves, either professionally or in their spare time. Experience -- both listening to and playing a lot of different styles of music -- is the best kind of training for your ear.

Next, you need to familiarize yourself with the basic studio equipment and computer programs used by all recording engineers. There are several different ways to do that. One way is to enroll in a college or university that offers a specialized degree program in recording arts or audio engineering. Most of these programs require a year of full-time classes resulting in an associate's degree. The advantage of a degree program is that you'll get lots of hands-on experience with the same tools you'll be using in the studio, plus you'll benefit from the expertise of your instructors and mentors.

Whether you get a degree in audio engineering or not, the most important thing is to get experience. In the past, recording and mixing equipment was way too expensive for the average person to buy for their home. A control console alone cost upwards of $700,000 [source: YouTube]. Now, with powerful digital systems like Pro Tools, you can set up a near-professional-quality studio in your home for a few thousand dollars. The key is to spend as much time as possible recording, editing and mixing every type of audio you can get your hands on.

The job market for recording engineers is very competitive. Few people can graduate from a program and go straight into a job as a full-time engineer. A common route is to work your way up as an intern or assistant engineer. Interns might be asked to handle some of the office administrative duties in addition to help setting up and taking down the equipment for a recording session. Assistant engineers spend all their time in the studio alongside the main recording engineer, available if the engineer needs last-minute adjustments in the studio or help working with the client.

Most of all, a successful recording engineer needs to be a lifelong learner. They must always stay abreast of the latest technical innovations and recording techniques. The sound of popular music changes quickly, and the best recording engineers know how to produce that signature sound across genres and musical styles.

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