Practice: 5 Tips to Massively Improve Your Audio Skills
The biggest mistake I see beginners make is not practicing. They’ll easily take a class, watch a video, or read a set of instructions, but they’ll wait until an important job before they’ll ever open a DAW, touch a mixing console, or even review their notes. There’s something about working independently on your own that’s inexplicably difficult. Here are five tips to get started practicing audio.
This is one of my favorite tips for practicing anything, and I learned it from Jamie Andreas in her book about guitar practice. Set a timer, and practice completely uninterrupted for a five minute period. Make sure to stop when the timer rings, never allowing yourself to do anything extra. Practice can mean starting a Pro Tools session, developing a file-management protocol, practicing EQ or compression, wrapping a cable or anything else audio-related. By doing a little bit every day, you make the act of practice far less daunting, and you keep focused on making small, steady gains. I can’t prove it, but it seems that our brains learn better in small chunks, rather than cramming in massive amounts of information all at once. The trick is to take a minute or two of prep time to clear off the desk, find a quiet space, or anything else necessary to get a full five minutes focused uninterrupted practice time. Pretty soon, practice will feel like less of a chore, and the discipline you gained will show up in other parts of your life. Be sure to give yourself a break by taking weekends and holidays off from practicing.
Do Something Fun
If you’re incredibly reluctant to practice improving your skills in audio, start with something that really gets you excited. For those new to audio, build some positive association by keeping your time spent with it fun and engaging. I recommend limiting your time to less than thirty minutes or you may lose track of time, waste several hours, and eventually avoid this kind of practice. Eventually, you’ll have to begin practicing something a little more difficult, but practicing something is far better than nothing at all.
Make It a Game
For some reason, I struggled with wrapping cables early on. This is a critical part of working as an audio professional and I absolutely dreaded it! I changed my attitude by making cable-wrapping a challenge. I’d find a cable, take my time and try to wrap a cable as neatly as possible, only to undo it and start over again. Other times, I’d try to wrap a cable as quickly as possible while trying to keep it neat. Take something you dislike and turn it into a personal challenge that you try to improve upon little by little.
Setting this up can logistical challenge, but anytime you can practice with others you can benefit technically and socially at the same time. Practice with a partner or join a group. Even better, offer to help someone with an audio project. I’ve helped co-workers transfer audio files, helped local filmmakers mix audio, recorded performances at schools, and recorded lectures for non-profits. These are the kinds of things that help improve your craft and allow you to connect with the others in new ways. Keep yourself open to these opportunities, and bring your highest level of professionalism each time.
Show Your Work
There’s nothing to gets people more motivated than accountability. I recommend doing simple practice at first, but eventually, I recommend creating a project that you show to others. I have the feeling that most people in audio consistently exhibit their work, so try doing an experimental project that pushes the boundaries of your skills. Set a deadline, and ask some friends or family to listen to a long-form podcast, a sound-design project, a live stream, or anything else that you wouldn’t normally do. You can even show your work to the public on social media. Find something that interests you, tell others that you’ll be doing it, and practice getting ready for its exhibition. People are surprisingly supportive and forgiving of someone trying something new. You’ll grow your skills and improve your skills as a result.
Remember that anything you do will only come as a benefit, so start practicing. Start slow, stay consistent, and have fun. Hopefully, these tips get you moving in the right direction.