Sunday, May 24, 2015

Real Engineering

In a Music and Audio Professionals group, in in a discussion about "audio engineering" vs. "real engineering" a character named Stephen Hart wrote, "Disagreeing completely, learning and having success in the recording arts is a whole different beast and is far more difficult than proficiency in circuit board layout, C+, CAD, etc. The 'engineering' skills can be learned by many people: millions have become programmers, designers, CAD users etc. It's not any more complex than capturing, guiding and presenting an emotionally charged musical performance. The number of upper echelon recordists and mixers are few, a handful globally. It's not an easy job to get, and it's extraordinarily difficult to have large scale success.

“Thomas, you're talking about finding work easily, having marketable skill sets, that's fine, if laying out circuit boards or repairing automation systems is your thing more power to you, you will have work.

“I'm in this for the music, and as far as I'm concerned if anyone wants a real career in the music creation arena it's probably best to take the process a little seriously.”

This was in response to my quote from George Massenburg recommending recording engineering students “learn how to do something real.” Like lots of marginally artistic folks, Hart overrates the demands of his hobby while demeaning the requirements of professionals. If there is a hobby-profession that has more practitioners than “recording engineering,” it would be musicians who consider themselves to be recording engineers. I’d be amazed if there are “millions” of professional programmers or engineers on a planet cluttered with 7 billion people, but I wouldn’t be surprised to learn there are a million self-proclaimed recording engineers in Minnesota.

There is no hard line of functionality in art, as opposed to real engineering. Products have to work as advertised or they are quickly recognized to be junk. A bridge has to tolerate the traffic and abuse it was specified to support. A computer program has to do what it claims to be able to do, reliably and consistently. A recording does not have to “work” or provide service to users. Evaluating a mix is a purely subjective act. There are thousands of examples of recordings that violate dozens of objective “rules” for music and are still considered to be musical (by someone). The difference between art and engineering is exactly this vast gap. A work that doesn’t have an identifiable line of function-over-form can be fine art, but it can not be compared to engineering.

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Wirebender Audio Rants

Over the dozen years I taught audio engineering at Musictech College and McNally Smith College of Music, I accumulated a lot of material that might be useful to all sorts of budding audio techs and musicians. This site will include comments and questions about professional audio standards, practices, and equipment. I will add occasional product reviews with as many objective and irrational opinions as possible.