Katie Tavini: ‘Let’s discuss the ultimate taboo in audio engineering’

In her latest AMI column, mastering engineer Katie Tavini puts what she considers to be the ultimate taboo in audio engineering under the microscope…

Hey friends. Today I thought I’d discuss the ultimate taboo in audio engineering; no, not sending a mono signal as a stereo file, but having another job.

I’ve been doing this audio engineering thing for a while now, it’s been around 11 years. And for the majority of those 11 years I’ve had some sort of job other than audio engineering. In fact, it wasn’t until September of this year (two months ago) when I finally made the move to full-time freelancer with my work as a mastering engineer. I try and be as open as possible about this, but have often been met with absolute horror. But why? In audio communities, there’s a huge cloud of ‘if you have a job outside of the thing you want to do, you’re not good enough’, and that sucks! Like, big time, is such a toxic vibe! So can we talk about this a little more, and hopefully put this vibe in the bin?

Over the past decade, I’ve worked in bar jobs, marketing, events, as a violin teacher, and as a transfer engineer on the British Library’s wonderful Unlocking Our Sound Heritage project. And each of these jobs has taught me so much. Skills that I use every day in my work as a mastering engineer. Through each of these jobs I’ve met people who’ve inspired me to aim higher and do more, people who have challenged my ways of thinking and people who I still see today as colleagues and friends. I would be a lot worse off had I not met these people and learned from them. So why, if I’ve gained so much from working in jobs outside of audio, skills which I would never have learned had I only worked in the one industry, is it still so taboo? 

Let’s start with why I’ve had to work these jobs. An obvious reason being that I wanted to –  they were cool jobs and I enjoy being busy. But there’s the other reason. I had to. 

After graduating, I could have moved to London to try and find work as a runner at a studio, but realistically speaking I would have never been able to afford to. I’d have either been broke within a couple of months and back on a train to Stockport, or forced into finding full time worked outside of the audio industry that either paid more than minimum wage, or had flexible hours so I’d be able to work overtime. Which I’m sure would have made me extremely unappealing to any studios – ‘sorry, I can only work after 6pm’ – not to mention would have taken a massive toll on my mental and physical health. So instead, I stayed in Manchester, where rent is cheaper and opportunities in music were fewer. 

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Now, this isn’t a sob story. I’ve absolutely loved every minute of my journey into the audio engineering world. But I feel like I need to write this article and be very frank about the fact that in order to survive, some people need extra work that they can rely on. In my experience, it has allowed me to build up my knowledge of mastering at my own pace, and has allowed me to build up my own studio. And this is the reason why having a job outside of audio shouldn’t be taboo – if you work a day job and come home and practice mixing or reading up on recording techniques, or updating your website, learning a new instrument or doing anything to further your audio career after you’ve just done an eight hour day in the office, hats off. The music industry needs your passion. Keep doing your amazing thing, keep progressing, and don’t ever let anyone make you feel as though you shouldn’t be doing this.

The most common topic when it comes to diversity in the music industry is gender balance, but really there are so many other factors that really don’t get spoken about enough. Would a music industry full of privilege be an inspiring, creative place to work? No, it’d probably be really beige. So the next time someone tells you about their job outside of audio, be nice and show an interest. And if you’re someone who hires interns and runners, for fuck sake please try and be flexible with hours and pay. One thing I’ve learnt; the best production teams are diverse.