Assistant Mastering Engineer
The assistant mastering engineer serves much like an apprentice—whether formally or informally—to the mastering engineer. He or she is expected to observe more than actually participate in the process. However, the assistant does have a vital role to perform. To ensure that the primary engineer is able to work as efficiently as possible, the assistant is responsible for prepping and organizing sessions.
After an album has been recorded, edited, and mixed, the tracks are sent to a mastering engineer for final processing of the master, the source from which all released albums will be pressed or duplicated. The mastering process will vary depending on the intended release medium, such as CD or digital download, but generally includes four steps: transferring tracks to the digital audio workstation, sequencing songs as they will appear on the finished album (the order), optimizing sound quality (sweetening), and transferring the tracks to the master storage format.
It is the assistant mastering engineer’s role to help as requested, where typical tasks include loading or recalling tracks to the digital audio workstation and taking notes of changes made during each session. If necessary, the assistant should be capable of performing technical maintenance and repair, both on hardware and software. Depending on the assistant’s level of experience and working relationship with the primary engineer, he or she may be given latitude to perform some mastering under supervision.
Skills & Education
A college degree or other formal training in audio post-production or recording arts is necessary for a career in audio mastering. Success in the field is dependent on two areas of competency: technical ability and musical inclination. Learning the best practices of audio mastering and then combining that with an understanding of how to use the tools are not enough. An assistant that aspires to become a mastering engineer must have a trained ear for creating an attractive auditory experience. A degree program in recording arts or music production will give you the hands-on experience in the use of software and digital audio workstations, but the study of music theory, music appreciation, and musicianship are also useful in developing a discerning and highly tuned ear.
What to Expect
The level of experience necessary for employment as an assistant mastering engineer will vary greatly depending on the employer, but entry-level opportunities do exist for those who can demonstrate a musical talent and technical skill, if lacking professional experience. As with any area of the entertainment industry, those attempting to get their eager feet in the door and move up the ranks should take care to be patient and humble. When brought on as an assistant, your goal is to make the mastering engineer’s life easier; it is not the studio’s first concern to progress your career as quickly as possible. Observe, listen carefully, and absorb as much knowledge as possible while you’re able. Studying under an industry veteran is an invaluable learning opportunity. Those that can prove themselves reliable and committed will develop a good reputation among their coworkers, which will eventually lead to career advancement.
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