QUESTION: What qualifications does the assistant engineer on my session have?
You booked a session and you come to the studio. You might meet a complete stranger who is introduced to you as the assistant engineer assigned to your session. You wonder if that person knows what he or she is doing?
To answer this question, it might help to know a little bit about how that person got there.
The life of an assistant starts at our studio with an unpaid internship that lasts for three months. We typically accept candidates as interns who have gone through an audio recording curriculum so they already have some basic knowledge. We also like people who have some experience working at a recording studio. Referrals from our trusted clients, engineers and producers that we know counts for a lot. Many of our current and past assistants are from Berklee School of Music. We’ve also had graduates from the Clive Davis Department of Recorded Music at NYU, University of Massachusetts, Lowell, University of Miami, Peabody Institute of the John Hopkins University, Conservatory of Recording Arts & Sciences and other schools.
We rarely hire anyone who has not been through our internship, even if they are experienced. This is because we have a certain way of doing things and people need to become accustomed to our systems. The internship also serves as a trial period where we closely monitor and critically observe people's attitudes and character. Some of the most important attributes that we look for in a potential employee is someone who has great attention to detail, is responsible (e.g. does not forget what was asked and follows through on a task), loves to learn and can multi-task, yet be able to keep priorities straight.
Once we feel the interns are worth retaining and there is an open spot, they are hired as a production assistants (aka PA or runner). Knowing that an audio engineering career is a long and tough road, we only want the people who truly love what they do and would rather do nothing else.
On the average, people spend at least a couple of years working as production assistants. During this time, they are expected to learn the workings of all our rooms and are encouraged to practice on their off-hours when the rooms are open. From time to time, we may have them sit in sessions with a seasoned assistant engineer to observe and learn. When we feel comfortable that a PA has the knowledge and the right disposition, we may assign that person as a second assistant on a session with an experienced assistant engineer. If they continue to be dependable, then the wait to be promoted to the assistant engineer position begins, which only ends when there is turnover at the assistant engineering ranks.
The reason for this rigorous selection process is not only because we want to make sure we can entrust our clients to assistants, but assistant engineers are guaranteed at least a 40-hour work week. We want to make sure that an assistant is available to us when we have sessions and the assistant's priority is our clients. Typically, we will keep the same assistant on a session once it starts. For long term sessions, that assistant will stay with the client to maintain continuity and session efficiency by knowing how the client works.
Based on historical observation, less than a third of the people hired as PAs become assistant engineers at Avatar. Once they reach that position, people usually stay for several more years as they decide and prepare for their next steps in their careers. Many of our assistant engineers are capable of engineering sessions on their own and they do so successfully when given the opportunity.
Now that you know, we don't expect you to go easy on the assistant engineer. The assistant has earned that right.