Katie Tavini: Things I wish I’d known when I started out

In her latest Audio Media International column, mastering engineer and 2% Rising co-founder Katie Tavini looks back on her formative years as an audio professional and imparts some of the knowledge she possesses now that she wishes she had then…

Hey gang! This year will be the three-year anniversary of when I first thought ‘yeah okay, I’ll give being a real mastering person a proper go’. There’s loads and loads of stuff which I wish I’d known then, so I thought I’d put some of them down for any newer engineers/producers/sound people.

Bit of back story. I’d actually been engineering for a long time before 2018. Since 2009 actually, so I wasn’t totally new to the sound world. I’d worked at plenty of studios as a recording engineer, realised I was shit at mixing, and done quite a few mastering jobs already. But by 2018 I was so ready to knock it on the head for multiple reasons, the main being I didn’t feel as though I had a place in the sound world. 

So this is the first thing I wish I’d known – your network is EVERYTHING. Like, for real. And not some fake network where you’ve bought some followers on Instagram from a dodgy site and joined a few Facebook communities to hassle anyone who’ll listen into hiring you. I’m talking about an actual network of colleagues who you actually put time into talking to and learning from. Think of them as your work BFFs, regardless of whether you work in the same bit of sound or not. When you have mutual support from people who are doing a similar thing, you will never feel as though you don’t belong. Social media makes this way easy too – go and make some sound nerd buddies! 

The next biggie, which I really wish I’d known, is that tax is really grim if you don’t have your shit together. No one’s got time to start going through scraps of paper the day before the tax deadline, it’s way too stressful. Learn from my mistakes, and sign up to Quickbooks or Xero or any other accounting software (or get really good at making spreadsheets – I’m not that organised). These software packages are great because you can send and chase up invoices through them, link them to your bank account and store any receipts, so if you do that as you go along, it makes the tax deadline way less stressful. They also estimate how much tax you’ll need to pay too, so there’s less likely to be a nasty surprise on January 31. Fun fact, the legend that is Charlie Deakin Davies gave me a swift lesson on Quickbooks in the middle of Abbey Road in 2019 and it was pretty life changing. Thanks Charlie!

While we’re on the subject of tax, let’s talk about buying all of the pretty gear because you can. I’m gonna be the party pooper here, but chances are you don’t really need all of those things. There’s definitely been a couple of times in my life where I’ve been very sad about buying a new piece of gear and then being skint for ages. Obviously there are things which would be classed as essentials in all different audio jobs. Mine are my monitors, I couldn’t do my work without them. And a computer and interface. But then everything else just becomes stuff unless you’re using it all the time. 

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My advice here would be to invest in really decent essential pieces, make sure your working environment is well treated and learn whatever tools you already have. Something I’ve noticed along the way, is that it’s really easy as a newer engineer to feel as though you’d be taken more seriously or end up with more work or be cooler if you have loads of fancy gear, but it just isn’t true. I’ve seen a few newer engineers get into debt fuelled by this insecurity. No one is ever going to hire you for a piece of equipment you’ve got (unless you’re doing something super niche, in which case this article probably isn’t for you). Gear is fun, but it’s not everything, you and your skills are enough.

If you’ve made it this far through my possibly terrifying list of things I wish I’d known, congratulations! My last thought isn’t any cheerier, but it’s super important – never agree to a project that you’re not 100 per cent certain that you’re going to love. Here’s a fun story for you; one time I got asked to do some mastering for a band who’ve gone on to have several No.1 hits, toured the world and became a bit of a big deal. At the time, I sort of already knew that they’d do well and I was really buzzing that they wanted to work with me. But I turned down what would go on to be a No.1 gold record. Was I an idiot? Am I still an idiot? Maybe. But honestly, even though their music was amazing, I just didn’t feel as though I was the right person for the job, and I’m glad I turned it down. As incredible as they are, it just felt as though something wasn’t right. I’m not talking about imposter syndrome, I just didn’t feel as though I could be as in love with their music as they were. And I really feel like I made the right decision there. Agreeing to a project for the wrong reasons feels so weird. Trust your intuition on these things.

Hopefully this little ramble will be useful to some. I’m going to end with one more thing; back up your hard drives.


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