Amy Guy

Raw Blog

Friday, October 08, 2010

Professional Practice, guest speaker number one

[This post is written as an informal part of a university module]

Speaker: Ken Blair of BMP Recording
Area: Sound recording/engineer

Although Ken’s area of expertise is not directly relevant to my degree, I have frequently worked alongside media students both informally and more recently as part of a start-up company in Sparkhouse. Thus I am able to relate to many of the things he discussed about sound engineering, as I have had second-hand experience of creating soundscapes for animations, or musical tracks for short films, for example. I wrote lots of notes about the details of the things he does on a regular basis, and the differences between on-location and studio recording; between recording pop music and recording classical. But it seems fruitless to transcribe them all here, when his day-to-day experience, while interesting, is of little consequence to me personally. 

However what did catch my interest was that Ken started his own company straight out of university, similar to what I am involved with in Sparkhouse. He discussed the ‘catch twenty-two’ of needing industry experience to find work for your company, but people being unwilling to hire because of a perceived lack of experience. He also affirmed that the decreasing cost of technology has made it easier for people to create their own recording studio setups, enabling freelancers to charge the absolute minimum for the work they do, causing a very competitive price market. 

I (and the others I am working with in Sparkhouse) have fortunately been able to take advantage of the latter issue to solve the former. Several years as informal student freelancers meant we could afford to charge the minimum, or work for free, with the focus being on gaining experience and reputation rather than worrying about earning money. Now we have started our own company, we can start charging ‘real world’ prices to bigger companies, and are able to do so supported by a significant portfolio of existing work. 

Knowing that this method has so far worked for myself and others, I feel Ken could have offered his hindsight to those in the audience who may not have had the same experience. That is, he could have advised to take advantage of the years of having a student loan and lots of free time to build up a portfolio of work and experience relevant to an individuals particular career aims, without needing to worry about taxes and bankruptcy. This would help to avoid the problems that his own company had right at the beginning. 

Having said that, level three is probably too late for students to be hearing that kind of advice; it might be more useful, and inspirational, during level one. 

Ken did offer advice about writing CVs, for those who do have little industry experience - to focus on one’s skills, rather than one’s past jobs - but commented that employers of new graduates are sympathetic to the lack-of-experience problem, understanding that their job applicants have just come out of university. I’m not convinced that this is a good message to be sending... Perhaps employees of sound engineers and audio technicians think differently, but my experience so far in the computing industry (mainly software and web development areas) has taught me that the new grad job market is so saturated with graduates with high calibre degrees that having something on your CV that you have done, rather than can do is vital. 

Anyone can list the modules they’ve done, and the programming languages they have dabbled in over the course of three years. You stand out if you write about the open source project you contributed to in a specific language, or the academic poster you presented at a technology conference about your chosen field. Listing skills has a lot more impact if you can prove that they really are your skills.