I get this question a lot from aspiring engineers, and tonight on Reddit saw a similar post about how to make a living as an audio engineer. So here’s my 30 second breakdown.
The key, if you want to actually make a good living, is one of 2 ways.
1) Follow the 5/95 rule. i.e. be in the top 5% of the competition in a given area. Want to be a mix engineer in nashville? LA? etc. You’ll have to put in 95% of the time to get to that top 5% level. They say an expert has typically 10,000 hours of experience. Plan on 9,500 to even start saying “I’m making my living doing this specific thing.”
2) Follow the 80/20 rule. 20 percent of the inputs create 80% of the outputs. This was my path. I’m not niche enough to spend 10,000 hours on one thing, so I found everything around what I loved and divied up 2,000 apiece getting 80% of the knowledge and experience needed to be considered an “expert”. 2,000+ hours on music and audio, sure….but also 2,000 learning entrepreneurship. 2,000 learning some basic web and graphics. 2,000 learning video shooting & editing, 2,000 learning people skills, meeting people, buying them lunch or coffee (#1 secret to networking), etc. And in those 2,000, you’ll be indistinguishable from the expert to 80% of the people looking to get a particular job done.
As a result, some years I’ve been in the studio full time, tracking, tuning, editing, etc. Others I was post supervisor on indie films. I’ve built websites, written books, and produced dozens of instructional videos with some of those top producers who allowed me to buy them a meal and listen to their story. I used 2,000 hours of business plan writing (and re-writing, and re-writing) to buy a large studio, and learned how to make it profitable even in a ferociously competitive market. I post produce a weekly tv show.
There’s absolutely nothing special about me. I’m convinced anyone who approaches a field like this with wide open eyes can do the exact same thing (and I’ve seen it happen repeatedly with people I’ve trained).
I just acknowledged that I’m not a 5%er and looked for the alternatives. Those 5/95 guys know who they are. They’re awesome, but I’m glad I’m not one of them. Most of them struggle to make a living at all in competitive markets, or have to rely on a lot more luck.
I don’t know if you’re a 5/95 or and 80/20, but plan on 10,000 hours of smart decision making and you’ll build a career.
Beyond that, I’m happy to answer any specific questions you might have.