It’s been a while since I’ve answered a reader question. I hope to do more of that in the coming weeks and months, either via blog posts or the podcast. If you have a question you’d like me to cover, click here.

Today’s question comes from Angela. She writes:

Hey Joe,

My mom can’t find a reason to sign my school loans for IPR. I want to get my Pro Tools Certification and my 2-year degree. How much on average does a person with those qualifications make?

This is a GREAT question. In fact, Fathomless Regression (a guest writer here on HSC) wrote about this in his article Do I Have to Go to College to Learn to Be a Recording Engineer? I’d recommend giving that a read. He makes some great points.

For a lot of aspiring engineers, going to college for engineering might not be a viable option. Some might opt for a Pro Tools Certification course. These can still cost quite a bit of money. I did some Googling, and it looks like it could potentially be a couple thousand dollars, depending on the school.

So, is it worth it? Well, I’m not a Pro Tools-Certified engineer, but I have some thoughts on the matter. (Also, see this interesting article I found: Pro Tools Certification – Is it Worth the Money?)

Here are a few questions to ask yourself:

What are your goals?

This may seem obvious, but if you don’t know specifically what you’re wanting to do as an engineer, it’s hard to answer the question, “Should I get a Pro Tools Certification?”

Is this a hobby or a career?

Another fairly obvious question, but are you wanting to make a living at this, or are you simply wanting to have the coolest hobby in the world. 🙂

Do you want to work for yourself or someone else?

If you’re wanting to work for a major recording studio, TV station, movie studio, etc., then having a Pro Tools Certification might give you a certain edge over the 800 other engineers who are applying for that same job.

I would ask around. Call a few studios (or a place you want to work), and simply ask them, “Do you require/prefer that applicants have a Pro Tools Certification?” If they say yes, then there’s your answer.

Let’s pretend I’m hiring an assistant engineer. I’ve narrowed it down to two applicants. One has his PT certification. The other has a high school diploma and a portfolio of 20 different album projects he’s worked on independently. Who do you think I’m going to hire? The guy who takes initiative and gets things done.

It’s just like any other industry. If you’re an accounting firm, do you hire the CPA with a 4.0 GPA fresh out of college with no work experience? Or do you hire the one with a 2.4 GPA who took 6 years to graduate college because he was working full-time as an assistant at a local accounting firm?

It’s all about what you bring to the table. Whether or not you get a certificate is really irrelevant. That’s just ONE piece of the puzzle.

Let’s say you want to work for yourself as a freelance engineer. Well, in that case a PT certification may not make as much sense, but only if you are committed to learning Pro Tools on your own or through other means (such as tutorial videos like my Understanding Pro Tools series). You can’t just have a passing knowledge of Pro Tools and hope to impress clients.

Conversely, knowing every Pro Tools shortcut in the entire system won’t help you make better recordings or get more clients. As with most things, it’s a balancing act.

Be an Entrepreneur

Whether you want to work for someone or work for yourself, you need to have an entrepreneurial spirit. Read business books, make yourself a valuable commodity. Don’t just do the bare minimum. Get out there and start recording someone this weekend.

The best way I know to find the job you love is to already be doing the things you love (recording, mixing, etc.) on your own initiative.

Can I guarantee you’ll get a job? Nope. But the worst case scenario is that you become an awesome engineer while you’re looking for that dream job. Mission: accomplished.

To answer your question, Angela, “How much does the average engineer make?” It really depends on the engineer. Some never get a job as an engineer. Some make millions. In a lot of ways, it’s up to you.

[Photo by anyjazz65]

  • Julio Franco

    jejejejejeje this is ttrue i been trying to learn to be an recording and mixing engineer for 1 1/2 year and men no money for college school but in my own i have learn a lot of things and i been doing few projects and the last one now sound more what i expect to be doing. if you can go to school go but don’t wait to get of school of music to start been and engineer.

  • SA23

    PT certification? Seriously, figure it out yourself. I started out in the recording business with a Cubase project studio 10 years ago, and slowly made my way onto the pro scene. My first “professional” session happened in a strange way. A band had rented nice PT HD equipped studio and something happened to their producer/recording engineer at the last minute, and a friend gave them my number. I took the gig and told them I knew Pro Tools (I didn’t). So a week before the session, I bought Pro Tools LE and figured it out. The session was a huge success. Nobody even knew I had only been tinkering with the program for a week. PTs ain’t hard, especially if you know recording basics. I wouldn’t do the certification thing unless you are IT challenged or something.

  • Ben Brewer

    Im currently in this situation; I attend NEIA and I am going for a BS in Audio & Media Tech. (spec. as Audio Engineer). At the end of the day, tuition is enough to make you scream and have your eyeballs simultaneously combust, but audio is what I love. I have been recording for years now as a hobby and have only recently started learning what I am really doing by being at this school, as free time in the studio ( a real studio not just 4 mics and a 003 rack) is offered (once you take your first few courses). School hooks you up by giving you every oppurtunity to attend AES meetings and learn from and meet important people in addition to helpful professors who share the same passion you do. I am not advocating that school or cert’s are the way to go but ultimatly you do need a resource and experience and no matter what path you go by the time employment actually comes in the field you like you cant be a meathead. If you have a love for what your doing and a true desire to learn then you should end up in a similar situation no matter what road you take.

  • Pingback: Berklee Music: Student Spotlight | SilverLake Recording Studio()

  • Interesting takes. I wholly agree with the general view that certs proove nothing. Some of you experienced folks run from cert’ed dreamers with little experience, entirely normal.
    In another industry, in another time, I was a beginner once: IT. I was a dork prodigy who coded and got a taste for a steady paycheck in this fabled era called the “Dot Com Boom” back in ’94.
    There was more money & stability in Network Architecture/Engineering. And in that den there were guys who told me I would never do their jobs without experience or projects I could tie my name to. They told me certs were usesless, none of them had them, and experience is the only way to do their job without mediocrity. BTW no hire without experience, kid.
    Chicken, meet egg.
    So I achieved the Novell CNE, later two Cisco certs, and by the mid-90s the fabled Microsoft MCSE. I took ZERO classes, home-studying with cobbled-up test servers, switches, and routers. I could Compsurf, RIP and BGP in my sleep. I got my first job on the certs, second on experience and 16 yrs later I design networks for go-to lawfirm conglomerate in North Texas.
    I realize audio is different: for every IT guru in the 90s, there were employers begging to hire them. Not so in audio. Ever. Harder nut to crack, tougher chicken & egg.
    Still, I tell younger versions of me in the IT game that the certs are just fine if the have the HEART and pursue it at all costs, pursue it w/ passion…and don’t expect the cert to get you ANY $$ but to MAYBE…MAYBE get your foot in the door for experience.
    We old farts: we respect the guy who sets up gear at home and LEARNS it, no matter what industry we’re talking about.
    You want certs? Go get certs, just DO what you’re studying or you get nowhere…

  • Jamboni

    I enjoyed Travis response that you need to put out a Certificate. I think you addressed the most important issue here: What are your goals and ambitions. A certificate may give someone the edge to get in the door. However, of critical issue is the drive they have to learn and implement what they have learned. So take the time to go beyond school (book smart) and get life experience, save school projects, and join HSC.

    Great article…

  • Great post, Joe! In fact, I’ve been debating taking the Berklee online courses for my own knowledge and enjoyment. A bit pricey, yes. However, the plus sides of signing up for these courses are: 1. Meeting other like minded individuals and 2. Keeps you focused on a deadline and gives you something to strive for. Maybe you should start sending readers a print out certificate for reading your blog! Ha!

  • First, we are talking about certification, not recording schools. Certification is a fraction of the price of most audio schools these days.

    Second, I believe that schools do NOT take your money away. People throw it away. If you are a kid and you take mommy’s and daddy’s money to go to an expensive recording school…but you do NOTHING else except your assigned projects and homework, you will more than likely fail. If you use it as a catalyst for learning in your extra hours, talking to pros, recording in your free time, taking on free projects, etc, then you are still on the right track. This is all assuming that you still have a decent ear for this type of work.

    I know a lot of people who are where they are today because they did exactly what your interns did. I also know people who interned for years and it never went anywhere. On the flip side I know people who went to school, developed their portfolio, and are now making a living doing what they love. The failure rate is probably pretty high across all methods of learning the trade. I am pretty against the idea that only one method is the right method.

    If the question is: will pro tools certification a shortcut to getting a job, the easy (and correct) answer is: no.

    If the question is: will pro tools certification help get me on the right track towards developing my ear and talent, the answer is…maybe 🙂

    • I said I know a lot of people who interned, etc, but I should correct and say I know 2-3 🙂

  • Fact of the matter is that the recording industry is a shrinking industry. There are less and less jobs and sources of income every day. I hear about very established and very talented professionals finding another line of work weekly.

    I have seen two phases of this in my short time in the industry. The first was old school pros who refused to learn new school techniques. They dropped like flies. Now I am starting to see new school pros with old school and new school techniques just getting sick and tired of scrounging to make a living. If ANYONE thinks that you can go to school and get a degree or certification and have a job waiting for you, you are sadly mistaken. A school might advertise 50% of their graduates find work in a studio… but not paid work… definitely not enough to make a living on. You need to be realistic… everyone wants to be a recording engineer because it is a dream job… same as being a baseball player.

    I have had two interns work under me that are now full time recording engineers. Both of them did it the same way. They came and made coffee, cleaned the bathrooms and all sorts of other stuff. They did it with such enthusiasm that I came to rely on them. They learned along the way. Both of them could not accurately tell the difference between a preamp and a compressor. It did not matter what they knew. First and foremost they were cool people who were fun to be around. The “hang factor” will get you farther in this business than ANY certification. They learned along the way and eventually started making money. It is a LONG, HARD process. It is not glamorous… it is grueling and sometimes disgusting work. But the reward is immense.

    I would be willing to bet that they success rate for people who graduate a recording program is closer to 1% than anything the school will tell you. If it was easy everybody would do it. Every time I see a commercial on tv that goes “you love music… why not make it your life?” I want to throw up in my life because that school knows that they are doing nothing other than taking peoples hard earned money.

    • horsehockey

      SonicValentine – I have been told I have a natural talent for editing video/audio and mixing/layer audio. I have been doing it on the side for the last 15 years. It was my major in college, but for all the reasons you mentioned, I steered clear of it upon graduation. Went the corporate route in healthcare, make a decent living, and am bored beyond my means. I keep wanting to get back into it, learning First Cut Pro, Avid and Pro Tools. I have been told this is my calling by industry professionals but lack the technical skills outside of iMovie or Garage Band (actually, you can do some incredible stuff in iMovie.

      What can your advise?

  • Honestly, engineers who have been in the business for a decade started in a MUCH different time than aspiring engineers who are trying to get their start today. Getting your foot in the door is much much different now.

    It makes me sad to think hear that PT Certification is an automatic Red Flag for some people. It makes me even more sad that you laugh at them.

    I know the local studio that offers certification here in San Diego ALSO allows you to chat the ear off of the local engineers. They also encourage you to come in BEYOND the class hours and will give you access to the pro studio resources for off-hours practice. That’s an awesome resource.

    Honestly, it all comes down to your ear and your portfolio. If you get your foot in the door with the fairy tail story of cleaning floors at a studio, being offered some late night gigs a year or two later and finally becoming a full time engineer…that’s great. If you spend all your money on gear and you become a home studio entrepreneur and you build up your talent and clientele…that’s also great. If you drop some cash on certification and you go on to be a very talented and successful engineer…good for you.

    To answer the question of is it worth it:

    Go to the studio offering it and have a long talk with the owners. If they look more like a factory that is focused on getting as many people through certification as possible…i might reconsider…if they are more like my local studio and they take in a few students and really dedicate time to helping them perfect their craft…well at least that seems like more bang for your buck (and certification is waaaayyyyyyy cheaper than most audio schools…and that’s a different subject for a different time).

    My 2cents.

    [dan]

  • christopher [chrisw92]

    the collage of Swedish massage?

    good experience overrules almost any qualification in my eyes, but being a student in a “musically dead” place its hard to find experience (the only experience I have is from collage and school) I have no equipment apart from my macbook pro [with logic pro], a nice little mixer and of course my keyboards. and the closest studio uses rubbish equipment (SM58’s and possibly a SM57) and cannot be hired without a recording/mixing/mastering/owner engineer.

  • Great post and a great question.

    Every time I have had someone hand me a resume and I see a PT Cert displayed boldly… I take it as a red flag. I too am not certified and being a recording engineer has been my only source of income for about 8 years now. My engineer buds and I joke all the time about how NOBODY we know that is successful is certified… though that doesn’t mean they aren’t out there.

    I kind of look at PT Certification as using your drivers license as a step up on becoming a nascar driver. I honestly would not waste my money. Instead spend your time and money working with pro tools and spending time around others who are as competent at pro tools as you would like to be. I learned PT back before LE and I would spend hours chopping up my favorite songs and rearranging them on any rig I could get my hands on. The only real way of learning is by doing… most programs teach you a curriculum… I have found you get more expertise from making mistakes and having to figure out how to get out of the hole you just dug.

    If getting certified is your only means of getting SOME experience then do it by all means… but honestly there has GOT to be a better way.

  • yeah – i’m always a bit skeptical of certification – I think people are more interested in hearing stuff you’ve recorded before – or hearing your opinion on stuff when asked what they should do – it’s hard to certify what it takes to be a good engineer.