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Careers in acoustics...

Discussion in 'Amps and Cabs [BG]' started by Helaskold, Dec 17, 2012.

  1. Helaskold

    Helaskold 100% Mediocre

    Jul 22, 2012
    Austin, TX
    After joining this forum and spending day after day learning (attempting to...) about how cabs work and about different kinds of cabs, I realized that the "logistics" of sounds and tone might be my passion. I mean, I like playing bass, but not as much as I like studying the mechanics of it.

    The question is, is this any less of a saturated field than actually playing music? And what kind of careers could I even look at in this kind of thing? Doesn't necessarily have to be building/designing gear... just acoustics in general. Something that I can ACTUALLY FIND a job in, not just some crazy dream job like becoming a rock star. I want to be able to support a family as opposed to making $9 working temp jobs behind mixers at a bar...

    I don't know if this topic has been covered yet, but I searched "careers" and found nothing. Also, sorry if "Amps" is the wrong area for this. Please move if it's not!
  2. As someone who holds a bachelor's in acoustics I'll give you a basic rundown of my own experiences and hopefully give you some good information if acoustics is something you're interested in but don't know much about. Sorry if it becomes longwinded - but it's a rare opportunity to actually talk about it as most people ask me if I work in a recording studio when I tell them that I graduated from an acoustics program :rollno:.

    Acoustics is a very strange field because it covers a wide variety of topics and applications, most of which people don't even know exist. In my program I took classes in architectural, environmental and engineered acoustics. My work was supplemented with psychoacoustics (how we perceive and make sense of what we're hearing), anatomy and physiology of our hearing system, calculus and an independent research project (I chose to design a filter that can be applied to an iPod that eliminates sound you cannot hear through ear buds to reduce listening volumes on airplanes ).

    Professionals who deal with acoustics are known as acousticians. There are many types of acousticians. Architectural acousticians are involved in the design and planning of spaces that keep acoustics in mind. This can be theaters, concert halls, classrooms, industrial buildings , etc. This also incorporates the physical design of the space as well as building materials so that sound reacts appropriately according to the purpose of the space. Keeping things quiet is just as important as making things sound a certain way.

    Environmental acousticians deal with noise primarily in the outside environment. Every time there is a new construction, especially for roads and highways that go through residential areas, there are noise ordinances and noise standards that must be held within certain ranges, legally speaking. The environmental acoustician will model these projects (often using software to simulate noise conditions due to traffic patterns) to ensure that the project is feasible, and if it is not feasible then they will design acoustical barriers (hills, walls, etc.) to keep it within limits. Airport noise management is also a huge topic in environmental acoustics.

    Engineered acousticians deal with a lot of industrial topics and retrofits of existing structures. Noise mitigation and abatement is a big deal. Everything from retrofitting a building's HVAC system that is producing too much noise through vents to testing industrial equipment for odd structural harmonic vibration that may indicate it breaking down in the relative near future. I understand a fraction of all the different topics in engineered acoustics.

    Then there is occupational acoustics (OSHA type stuff), underwater acoustics (SONAR, radar, animal communication),bioacoustics, musical acoustics, psychoacoustics. A lot of audio gear itself (I tried to get an internship with Shure as an acoustical engineer) is actually done by electrical engineers. The audio gear design and production itself is dominated by electrical engineer geniuses and the only job for one of those companies would be to sit in a room and make measurements for technical spec sheets that most people don't care about. Most companies will also not bother to hire an acoustics guy for this as it is all done according to ANSI and anyone from within the company can be trained to do that.

    If you want any of these types of jobs in acoustics it is generally accepted that unless you are some kind of genius, you will need to hold some kind of a degree in a related field. The program I attended (Columbia College in Chicago) is the only undergraduate institution I know of that offers a pure acoustics program with a background in audio theory (I originally went there for a degree in production but figured out real quick I did not aspire to be a studio guy). Most acousticians I've spoken to come from a physics or engineering (mostly structural) background and just happened to stumble into it. It really pissed me off to discover that the jobs I was starry eyed about while being a student were actually being done by people who just kind of fell into the position.

    Acoustics is not at all a glamorous field. You spend a lot of time going through repetitive testing according to ANSI standards, a lot of time sitting in front of a computer modeling different environments to predict how sound SHOULD respond, and all in all it is not a very appreciated field. I remember my professors telling me how frustrating it is to be present at a planning meeting only to have people brush off your input because they didn't see it as being important. You may be viewed as a "sound snob" who is trying to eat into the budget if you are working on a large construction project. However, there is truly something spectacular about being in a well designed space during a dynamic musical performance (still gives me chills to see a truly talented group in a beautiful acoustic space).

    You are basically a specialized engineer of a very "under the radar" branch of applied physics. If you are a math/science nerd who has fallen in love with the wonderful world of sound, acoustics may be a great field for you. However, if it is something that you would truly like to become professional with, you will need to put in the time, effort and dedication. It's an all or nothing field and you will need to prepare for no one understanding what you are talking about. A few of my classmates got jobs with acoustical firms in Chicago and elsewhere. One of them got to work on a renovation of the Sydney Operahouse (he made software models of the blueprints to project the acoustical properties of the new space). It presents itself with fantastic opportunities and the end result can be very gratifying.

    The only job interview I had the opportunity to get was to work for a company that determined Sound Criteria Specifications for building materials. At the end of the day I couldn't see myself blasting fiberglass with sound and putting the frequency responses into an excel graph to sell to a company for 40 hours a week.

    I have since begun coursework to become an audiologist. Sound is still my passion, but I have become obsessed with our own hearing as opposed to the sound itself. I have discovered that our hearing system is much, much greater than any microphone, speaker cabinet or computer that has or will ever be built. I get excited about the thought of being able to help different people with our most important sensory system.

    Anyways, that's just my 0.02. I am a member of the Acoustical Society of America and would be happy to forward some newsletter e-mails I've gotten recently if you would like to check out some current topics and see what people are up to. Message me with any questions, and if you actually got to the end of this entire post with some level of enthusiasm, that's a good start and you should continue to research it!
  3. JimmyM


    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Ampeg Amps, EMG Pickups
    Who would think a dude with the SN freeslicefattyj would be an acoustics genius? ;) Nice!
  4. father of fires

    father of fires Commercial User

    Nov 29, 2006
    Chief of Medicine at Damnation Audio
    I can't hope to help you anymore than the previous post but I can tell you my buddy worked for a major high end speaker manufacturer and he was a mechanical engineer with a passion for audio. I would guess the physics don't change much between the specialties but a good engineering background (aerospace, military, cars, etc.) and a passion for audio and experience with designing audio systems helped him get the gig.
  5. Helaskold

    Helaskold 100% Mediocre

    Jul 22, 2012
    Austin, TX
    Wow! That was quite the response! I DEFINITELY appreciate you typing all that out for me. I very easily could have spent years and a fortune going to college for a career that I really wouldn't like. I can't thank you enough for taking the time to explain everything to me.

    So, you guys would say that the electrical engineers get more "hands-on" with the design and structure of the acoustics in general? Cabinet manufacturing, set-up, etc. Because that is definitely a path I would be interested in taking. I work a RadioShack, and find myself pretty intrigued with all the crap we sell as is, without knowing I could be taking all that and making music with it.

    Also, if you want to forward some of that stuff to me next time you are perusing your email, that would be AWESOME! moarwade@gmail.com
  6. 1958Bassman


    Oct 20, 2007
    You'll need mechanical engineering, too and, while any engineering program will include a lot of physics, it won't be as much as what a full-blown mechanical or electro-mechanical engineering degree will include.

    You might consider calling a speaker manufacturer to talk with one of their engineers- maybe they can add some tips.
  7. James Judson

    James Judson

    Jul 16, 2009
    Thx to freeslicefattyj. I didn't think there was any such thing as an acoustic engineer. I recently got into some heated discussions with some acoustic engineers that told me I didn't know what I was talking about (been there done that). So I asked what makes an acoustic engineer and got silence back (didn't think anyone here was one).

    A question for freeslicefattyj? In your training did you get anything on transducer arrays, like they use in diagnostic ultrasound? You know like, steering the beam, or focusing the beam (transmit or receive) or multiple frequencies for depth penetration and resolution?

    Diagnostic Ultrasound is very interesting. I worked in it for 25 yrs as a field engineer. Electronics background here but I could see mechanics, physics, and of course acoustic engineering in a battle for superiority in a lab/manufacturing setting.

    Turning 5 megahertz sound waves into images of babys was the easy part. Dealing with egos from Doctors, Administrators, Engineers, Upper Management etc not so much. GE is the only major player left on this side of the pond. Philips and Siemens has soaked up the rest.
  8. BbbyBld


    Oct 13, 2005
    Meridian, MS
    If cabs and speakers is your thing, study Physics. If amplifiers/preamps/effects is what you like, study electronics engineering which is a specialty within electrical engineering.

    If you actually want a job doing something cool, the degree is not enough. You will need to spend pretty much all your free time researching, studying, and experimenting so you can apply what you learn from professors to your passion for audio. Get a job that relates to your field of interest while you're in school. For example, they need people to set up and run PA systems all the time in larger schools--be that guy.

    Audio is not exactly a wide open field as far as jobs go. The pay sucks compared to other jobs in engineering/physics, but it's great to do what you love.
  9. father of fires

    father of fires Commercial User

    Nov 29, 2006
    Chief of Medicine at Damnation Audio
    I did meet a guy once who had a masters in acoustics from Peabody. He said he worked for a theater design company. He also said the more he learned about sound the less he realized he knew.
  10. Helaskold

    Helaskold 100% Mediocre

    Jul 22, 2012
    Austin, TX
    Man, physics... that is a GREAT idea... I never really thought about that. I guess I like doing math. I'm not exactly a genius but I scored a 1220 on the SAT so I could probably get into a decent college... how long after graduation is your SAT still relevant, anyway? :confused:

    And father of fires, I totally believe it. Any kind of science seems to be a can of worms. You never know what paradigm shift waits behind your next discovery or piece of research.
  11. chadds


    Mar 18, 2000
    Playing Bass is truly an experience in acoustics.
  12. Passinwind

    Passinwind I Know Nothing Supporting Member Commercial User

    Dec 3, 2003
    Columbia River Gorge, WA.
    Owner/Designer &Toaster Tech Passinwind Electronics
    I worked with some of that stuff in my hydroacoustics gig, doing fisheries research. Here's a link to something I recorded in the earliest days of using our then-recently declassified SONAR video widget. This'll look pretty familiar to you, James, no? This one shows the reaction of American shad to ultrasonic stimulus, which likely mimics dolphin predation avoidance behavior. This had never been documented before, so it was pretty cool doing the work even if someone else got most of the credit. I paid off half a sweet new bass with my bonus though, so no complaints!

    Most of the senior guys were biologists, mechanical engineers, or statisticians (Masters or PhDs, and mostly brilliant), all of whom became well versed in acoustics by necessity. I had plenty of audio equipment repair experience, corporate sound system install experience, and a decent working knowledge of computers, but much of this was completely new to me, especially working with delicate electronics in an underwater environment. I was the first and only electronics tech in our outfit -- they had to scramble to invent a job description so they could bill more than a generic tech/intern was worth to their clients. We just made up my job on the fly, essentially, and I ended up working for many different agencies as a subcontractor. I made it five years off an initial 7 month temp contract, got published as a co-author enough to go private if the work ever comes back (this is where the money is if you can swing it), and had a pretty great time doing similar work to what I've always done in the music business, but for an actual living wage. ;)

    Vishuddha, all I can really offer is that who you know very often trumps what you know, but it never hurts to be well prepared for that one time you encounter the right person who can set you up. My fisheries gig was supposed to mostly be stringing and retrieving miles of cable, but after the first two weeks I very rarely did that anymore. The guy who made that happen wasn't even involved in my initial project, you just never know.
  13. KramerBassFan


    Jan 3, 2009

    Wow, thanks for the great post!

    I was mildy interested at the thread title, but just thought i'd say thanks for such a good, well thought out post. :hyper:
  14. You could do sound design, Foley recording, sound effects, that sort of thing
  15. I'm an Acoustic Enginner with a Msc in Acoustics too.
    I work in a Danish company developing Communications sytems for military applications. I'm in charge of Headphones design and electro-acoustics measurements.
  16. Woodstockz


    Sep 23, 2011
    San Diego, Ca
    Physics - go for it. Many people are afraid of physics, but physics is just a explanation of our physical world/universe. The better you understand the world/universe, the better off you are. Most engineering disciplines are specialized branches of physics. As you get into higher and higher engineering math, it looks more alike due to the common physics foundation. Higher electrical and mechanical mathematics gets similar, but their frequencies are different. A speaker or building vibrates at low frequencies, but electrical circuits vibrate at high frequencies.

    Nobel prize winner Richard Feynman even noted and argued that Chemistry is a branch of physics.

    Calculus is a gate keeper that keeps many people out of physics. If you have a poor teacher, don't be afraid to get supplemental help like a tutor or books like Calculus Made Simple or Calculus for Dummies. At its core, calculus is two main ideas: Slope [derivatives] and area [Integrals].

    Get a thorough understanding of resonance. Study standing waves and Helmholtz Resonance - tuning ports, the resonator on your car - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Helmholtz_resonance

    After you have studied physics for a while, you can decide to specialize. Acoustically, you can start right here. Search on Billfitzmaurice and read all of his articles. Also read Greenboy and DukeLeJune's articles. Go for it. Don't be afraid of becoming a geek. Remember - Nerds get paid.
  17. Woodstockz


    Sep 23, 2011
    San Diego, Ca
    This is true.
  18. Jim C

    Jim C Spector#496:More curves than Sophia + better sound Supporting Member

    Nov 29, 2008
    I worked on the US Embassy in Moscowproject in the 80's and needless to say acoustic attenuation was an important spec.
    The guy in charge of acoustic design held a masters degree in physics and taught at the University of Tulsa.
    Crazy smart guy who's designs actually worked in the field!
    IMO, it's all about the math.
  19. BbbyBld


    Oct 13, 2005
    Meridian, MS
    I've always been pretty terrible at pure math, but I had no problem making A's in my physics classes. To me, general physics was really just common sense because I've always tinkered around with stuff...and I watched Mr. Wizard a lot when I was a kid! It's great for hands-on people.

    Simple Harmonic Oscillation.
  20. Razman


    Feb 10, 2005
    Orange Park, FL
    OP, another approach would be to research a career that gives you the means to support a family and allows you to tinker with cabs, physics, etc. on the side - as a hobby, not full time employment. Also, consider what it is that will give you job satisfaction - is it really working on cabs, design, etc? Or, something more general, like troubleshooting issues, overcoming problems, designing systems, etc? You can achieve fulfillment in those other areas without specifically going into something that might not be what you expect or hard to stay employed with.

    When I was in 8th grade my mother asked me what I wanted to do. Not having a clue about any job at all (and most likely you'll be doing something that doesn't exist today, if it doesn't get outsourced to India) I mentioned some aspects of my future "job" that I would like: work in an office but not be stuck totally indoors, some travel, meet new people - I think that was it.

    I wound up in the Navy, as a medic with a squadron - and had exactly what I wanted! Since that time (and especially most recently) I have had enough experience to know that it isn't so much what I'm doing (I'm in IT now, at an insurance company) but it's these overall, general aspects of my job that I appreciate (like figuring out how to fix broken systems, design, creation, implementation, etc.)

    Also, I like working with my hands - on a keyboard - so that I'm not stuck having to go to a physical location to do my work. If you are a doctor or a mechanic and get a call at 2 am for an emergency, you have to get up, get dressed, and go to work - at your office, whether that be a garage or a hospital. Me? I just turn on my computer - in my BVD's. I like that aspect of my job a lot - especially if I have a sick spouse or child, I can work from home that day.

    Staying marketable is also important, as my company's recent outsourcing arrangement with another company has shown. I kept my position, but a different company name is on my paycheck now. Many of my counterparts here are gone, replaced by cheaper labor from overseas. Specializing in something can make you valuable - if there is a market for that skill.

    As such I've done some recent job-shopping and have gotten some leads to go back into PC and networking hardware support (which is in my background). Like I mentioned, I want to stay away from hardware (which would force an office visit if there was an issue) and stay focused on software and system administration, which I can do from home. My goal now is to specialize, and I think I have picked a field I can transition to at my current company and maintain employment for the future i.e. not get outsourced.

    I'm sure over time as you research your future and what it would take to achieve your goals you will settle into a path of some sort; I wish I had someone who could have explained some of this to me back then but I think I turned out alright.

    BTW, you quite possibly will be trying to figure out what you want to be when you grow up for the rest of your life - like me.

    Best wishes on your endeavors...