Katie Tavini on supporting other members of the pro audio community

Engineer Katie Tavini has been a regular speaker at Red Bull Studios’ #NormalNotNovelty sessions since its launch earlier this year. Here, she shares her views on the importance of supporting other members of the pro audio community…

When Audio Media International asked me to write an opinion piece, I laughed. You see, although I have many opinions, from my favourite colour of cat and how to make the best cup of tea, to current social and political affairs, the length I’m used to expressing any of these opinions is usually around 140 characters.
My most popular tweet in the past year came out of frustration of the industry that all of us work in – pro audio. Specifically, engineers.

If you’re an engineer too, you might well have noticed this: say you’re at a networking event; things are going well, and you’ve made some potentially useful contacts. Then, you get introduced to another engineer. You can see the other engineer sizing you up, hoping that they got to speak to more bands, artists and label reps rather than any of the other engineers in the room. You both smile politely, and the conversation immediately leads on to an uncomfortable discussion about gear; who has the best, oldest, most expensive equipment. No talk of the reason we’re all doing this – passion for music.

My tweet: “Engineers need to stick together and stop seeing other engineers as competition. Be happy when others do something amazing!”, got retweeted 13 times and liked 60 times. This is a lot more interaction than my (fairly bland) tweets usually get, and the replies were all in agreement. So if people agree, why do we still feel threatened by other engineers?

Musicians go and watch other musician’s gigs. It’s the foundation of any local music scene. Athletes cheer each other on from the sidelines, and the runner who came third gives the first place winner a hug. They use competition positively to progress. Yet, other engineers have treated me with suspicion when I’ve cheered them on or complimented their work. The reluctance for workers in the pro audio industry to recognise their peers successes and achievements is making the industry feel incredibly stagnant. It can also feel pretty isolating as the majority of us are ‘gasp’ freelance.

There is also a culture of engineers trying to ‘out engineer’ each other on forums when someone asks for help or advice, and so there are many people who feel they simply cannot ask. I know I’ve been there! No one wants to read through 20 replies from people claiming to have the biggest d*** and shooting everyone else down. No one wants to be made to feel ashamed for asking a question, no matter how simple the answer may seem to another. But how are we supposed to learn if we feel we cannot ask?

We all want to be the best at what we do, of course. But this will only come with being challenged and learning from others. We are passionate about the audio we work on, and so we should continuously be developing our skills to get each job sounding better than the last. Instead of treating other engineers as competition, we should be treating them as the skilled individuals they are, and be interested in what they have to say. Without this, we will fail to pick up the new skills, techniques and drive that continue to further our professional development.

If you’ve continued reading this far, I’d like to make a suggestion: try and help one other person working in this industry each month, regardless of where they’re at with their career, and ask someone new for advice each month.

Sounds easy? Sounds like very little effort? Good! It shouldn’t feel like a lot of work, but help in the form of small gestures such as offering advice, a hook-up with a contact, teaching someone a technique that will benefit their work, or simply listening to work they post on social media and letting them know if you thought they did a great job will start to create a much more communal and vibrant industry where everyone feels supported and able to ask questions to further their career growth. Being open minded and listening to advice from anyone will surely quicken your progression, even if you feel you’re at the top of your game. Our jobs will be so much more rewarding if we are progressing, learning, helping and developing, and that in turn, will surely create a much nicer industry to work in.

Katie Tavini is a professional mastering engineer who started her career in 2009. She has been a regular participant at Red Bull Studios’ #NormalNotNovelty sessions.

Pic credit: Rianna Tamara