5 Skills Every Audio Intern Should Have

February 19, 2020

Whether you are doing an official internship for college credit or just trying to get your foot in the door at a local sound company or recording studio, there are some skills that can really help you now and throughout your audio production career.

In this article, you’ll learn skills that will help you to make a positive impression and hopefully land a job after your audio internship.

1. Understanding Troubleshooting & Signal Flow

The world of audio production is vast. Throughout your career, you’ll consistently be confronted with unpredictable problems to solve. Trying to learn the specific actions to take for every situation will be futile. If you are going to focus on one skill to make yourself a better audio engineer, focus on the basics that apply to every situation.

The most basic and powerful skill you can possess in the audio industry is the ability to troubleshoot problems. The underlying foundation to understanding how to troubleshoot is an intimate understanding of signal flow. 

If you learn to think in terms of signal flow, you will be able to find solutions to problems much more quickly. When things inevitably go wrong with an audio system, it’s important to take a systematic approach to finding the issue and fixing it.

It’s great to learn everything about a specific piece of gear. But the truth is, working in the real world will require you to adapt to unfamiliar equipment. If you understand the core elements of audio, you will be able to walk into any situation with the tools to understand even the most complex systems.

If you are going to focus on one skill to make yourself a better audio engineer, focus on the basics that apply to every situation. 

2. Staying Calm Under Pressure

You can read all of the books and spend hours in your home studio practicing, but only experience will prepare you for the high-pressure situations you’re bound to face. Even the most knowledgeable audio engineers can crumble under intense circumstances.

These high-pressure situations come in many forms: 10-minute stage changeovers between bands, clients breathing down your neck, or troubleshooting a buzz 5 minutes before showtime. In any case, it is of paramount importance that you stay calm and composed. 

Some of the best advice I have ever received was given to me during my live sound internship. I was new and trying to make a good impression. Things were intense at my first show, and I accidentally let the MC go on stage without his microphone. After realizing my mistake, I ran on stage to hand the announcer the microphone as quickly as I could. After the show my mentor, “Chim-Chim”, gave me this advice which I have carried throughout my career. He said, “Never let a client see you run”. 

When you run, you make it very clear that something is wrong. Clients see running and automatically panic.

Even when something needs to happen as soon as possible, it’s best to do it calmly. This goes for any professional situation.

Breathe, stay calm, and think. If you panic, your thinking will be clouded, you will make mistakes, and you will become a liability to the team.

Breathe, stay calm, and think. If you panic, your thinking will be clouded, you will make mistakes, and you will become a liability to the team.

3. Paying Attention to Details

There is a fine line you must walk in the audio industry. That line lies between the need to move quickly when working within time restraints and the need to maintain a high quality of work to prevent mistakes.

Whether in the studio, on the stage, or in corporate environments, you will often be working under a deadline. This can really increase the pressure of a situation. As stated above, staying calm is an essential skill. Equally important is the ability to stay disciplined and focused. 

Given that you are going to be racing the clock to meet deadlines, there is an increased chance of making mistakes.

If you make mistakes in the present because you are rushing, you might spend ten times longer finding and fixing those mistakes in the future. 

It’s very important to be diligent when running cables, patching, and labeling. If you take a little bit of time up front to stay organized and pay attention to the details, you will save yourself time later. Mistakes will be less likely to occur or at least easier to find if they should occur.

There is a fine line you must walk in the audio industry. That line lies between the need to move quickly when working within time restraints and the need to maintain a high quality of work to prevent mistakes.

4. Learning from Mistakes

You will make mistakes. When I was first starting out, I thought I could keep a perfect record from day one. Boy, was I delusional! Throughout my audio career, I’ve made mistakes of all sizes – tiny mistakes that only I noticed, mistakes that everyone noticed, and mistakes so big I’ll carry them to my grave.

Just as in any area of life, you need to push the boundaries of your comfort zone if you want to improve your skills. Mistakes and learning go hand in hand.

Ideally, you will only be put into situations that your superiors believe you are ready to face. However, sometimes they will want to throw you into the deep end to see if you can swim.

In any case, it’s important to see every situation as an opportunity to improve, rather than seeing every situation as a final judgement on your potential. In the beginning, it’s easy to get tied up thinking that every show or project will be your crowning achievement in life.

It’s better to remember that you are on a long journey to become the best you can be. An unfortunate, and significant, part of that journey will be the small failures along the way. It’s cliche, but true: In life, you either win or you learn.

In any case, it’s important to see every situation as an opportunity to improve, rather than seeing every situation as a final judgement on your potential.

5. Being Humble & Open Minded

As you make mistakes, your understanding of audio systems will become more refined. One moment you’ll think you have everything figured out, and in the next you’ll learn something new.

There is nothing more off putting than someone who acts like they already know everything. This is especially true for those who are green and just starting out.

No one believes you know everything, and as long as you don’t pretend to know everything, no one will hold that against you. 

You can choose to focus on learning during your internship or to focus on showing off how much you already know. My advice would be to have confidence in what you know, but open to learning every chance you get. 

You may have been taught to do something in one particular way at your previous job or in school. That is probably a great method. However, everything in audio can be done a hundred different ways.

If someone tries showing you a different way, try it with an open mind. It may turn out to be better than your previous method. 

If you approach learning from others with an open mind, you don’t necessarily have to use that method forever. Being a stubborn know-it-all will likely discourage people from teaching you things in the future. Stay humble and always seek to learn.

No one believes you know everything, and as long as you don’t pretend to know everything, no one will hold that against you. 

Learn How to Learn

You’ll notice that I didn’t include microphone placement, mixing, system tuning, or any other specific technical skills on this list. That’s because you will learn those things during your internship. You may know how to do a lot of technical things already, and that’s great! What most employers are actually looking for, however, is someone who is coachable. 

Spend time learning the basics, practicing, and fostering a good mindset. These things will take you further than any technical skill could. If you know how to learn, the technical skills will come effortlessly. You will increase your potential and worth to the company giving you this opportunity.

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