Why I am Not an Audio Engineer

Earlier today articles about this job posting started making the rounds on Twitter and App.net.

I am an entry-level programmer. I have spent a lot of time navigating my way through a lot of postings like this.

I like to call any entertainment fields (movies, music, games…) “prestige” industries. 99% of the people working in these industries make very little money. There is a lot of turn over because people tend to get used up and burned out by these kinds of jobs. If you survive the first few years you can sometimes work your way slightly higher up the food chain.

If you are up against 50 other qualified people for a job, there is absolutely no negotiating power there whatsoever. If you quit or get hit by a truck there are 49 people ready to replace you.

I first encountered this in journalism.

I was out on a story talking about an adult apprenticeship program to help lower-income people learn how to budget and finish their GED. Their keynote speaker was an alderman who was talking about the importance of education. He told this group that if they dropped out of high school their average salary would be only twenty thousand dollars a year! Just twenty thousand dollars a year.

The photojournalist, who had a bachelor’s degree in business and three years of experience, leaned over and whispered into my ear, “Shit, I only make nineteen grand a year.”

At that point in time I was attending school for audio engineering as well as video production. My favorite teacher at the school discovered a metal band whose first album he engineered and managed to get them signed to a major label.

I came up to him one day and asked him why he gave that up to teach. The dream of everyone in the audio engineering school was to do what this guy did and he gave it up. Why??

He looked me in the eye and said, “I got tired of coming to work and having people lay their guns on my recording console. I also got tired of watching my paycheck go up the studio owner’s nose.”

Another day a student asked him what it was like traveling with this metal band he worked with. He told us a story that haunts me to this day.

He said one night after a concert the band had a bunch of groupies and roadies hanging out drinking. Each member of the band had a roadie to haul their stuff around. The band members started playing a game I like to call, “My roadie is the most extreme.”

One of the girls threw up on the floor and a band member said, “My roadie is the most extreme. My roadie will eat that girl’s puke.” The roadie went over and ate the puke.

The drummer, not to be outdone, said, “Well, my roadie is the most extreme. He will eat my shit.” He dropped his pants and I do not feel the need to finish the rest of the story.

These guys were probably making ten bucks an hour for the privilege of being physically hazed and abused by this band. Their friends were probably envious of this glamorous life these guys were leading.

It is very difficult to describe what it is like being in a situation where things get out of hand. When people complain that a woman who was raped could have just walked away they do not understand the weird alternate reality you get into where you feel like you can’t walk away from an abusive situation. This does not just happen with women. It happens in situations where there is an extreme power imbalance, such as this incident.

The thought of being trapped in a job like this scares the living crap out of me. I am sure there are good places to work with audio engineering, but I prefer to try my luck somewhere that I have a better chance at having a modicum of value as a human being. I want to know how to do something that would be difficult and expensive to find a replacement for.

I will not work for a bully. Giving into bullying never gets you anywhere. It just lets the bully know that they haven’t reached the line they can’t cross yet.

I love audio, but I love my health, happiness, and physical well being more. People should not be treated this way.