I’ve just started my second year at collage, and as such am looking through the various uni courses on offer, and trying to decide what to do in the future. I’d like to do something in the realm of electronic design, probably audio, and possibly self employed. To try and help with this, I was thinking of dropping some E-mails to a few companies to see if they’ve got any advice on what they’d look for when employing. One problem I’m having, though, is thinking of UK based Synth/Audio companies (or companies with UK design offices etc.) that I can E-mail. I realise that larger companies are unlikely to reply, but I plan on trying anyway on the off-chance.
So, basically what I’m asking for is; Any UK synth/audio companies that might be worth a shot
Any other advice from anyone who knows anything about working in this sector, self employed or otherwise.
Any advice/info from people doing a degree in electronics or some sort of applied electronics (mechatronics etc.)
Any help would be really useful, so thanks in advance.
College is not about learning stuff to prepare you to your future career - because 80% of what you’ll need in your day to day job is not suitable for the college “format” anyway… So these are 3/4 years outside of strong financial pressure and real-world constraints to learn the “deep” stuff that you wouldn’t be able to teach yourself later in your spare time or while changing diapers. Example of things worth doing in college: maths. Counter-example: java programming, microcontrollers. Other way too look at things: if it’s going to be made obsolete in 5 years it’s not worth wasting college years on it.
There are maybe like 10 or 20 people working as “synth-designers” in the UK. This means very few open positions - be prepared to have something to show. If I had to hire someone, whether for hardware of software, their own personal projects would be the first thing I look at. Only very big companies can afford the risk of hiring based on the college degree alone (and then it’s an investment, they assume you’ll stay with them for 4-5 years and they can waste 6 months or a year re-training you to fit their needs).
All the people I know who make a living of designing synths started on their own. Those working at larger companies were “acquired” more than “hired”. I’ve heard only twice of synth companies “hiring” over the past years - DSI and Arturia.
There are lousy engineering practice going on in the audio/synth world - part of it being that many people in the field are, just like me for electronics, self-taught - part of it being that synths are not particularly high-tech products. So you might be unlucky and work with people who don’t have much to teach you. That sucks. I would recommend you to first work 3-5 years on signal-processing related projects in a more “serious” environment (test equipment, medical, imaging, military…) at a large company, so that you can learn the more formal way of doing things. In my opinion, you’d better be the guy who knows how things should be done ideally and who consciously compromises/cut corners; rather than the guy who does approximative things without even knowing that it’s not the right way.
Another option to live your passion for audio is to find a well-paid and not-too-demanding job in another field of engineering, and then enjoy long DIY week-ends If you’re arguing that you’d better keep your week-end for other stuff, you might reconsider your choice of being self-employed, because self employed = work whenever you want and do whatever you want as long as it’s 80 hours a week
Some things that you need to have a good grip on like analog electronics and developing real-world electronics/computing devices using microcontrollers, or gasp - doing it the old fashioned way with buses and address decoding is something that is less and less taught.
Some of it will exist in the form of some overlap in digital electronics (you never get to any cool use cases that may inspire you) and these days even “harder” specializations like computer engineering is full of crap like Java, mobile app development etc - it’s just the way the world works. The theory behind most of this - maths, statistics and numerical analysis will then lead to DSP, EE and some CE-related subjects. Plus form the basis of any advanced engineering, be it mechanical, fluid dynamics, airfoils, vibration, structures, simulation…
Looking at the synthesizer companies here in Sweden they are full of DSP wizards that are ex Ericsson for instance (Clavia, Elektron), old guys who still know analog (Clavia, Elektron) plus of course computer/electrical engineers used to working with hardware design, or programming gurus at places like Propellerhead. Plus the occasional music pro doing marketing and demos.
Your own work and projects will be important, plus having worked in a larger organization doing real engineering and development is a must.
To second Olivier, the best thing you can do is get a proper education in engineering, that means to learn how something is done the right way; what is actually quite neglectible as the state of art in most fields ages faster than a MiniMoog Envelope whereas the principles of engineering and especially maths, chemistry, physics stay the same. Hopefully.
If synth and audio electronics is your thing you will have to teach the in deep analog audio electronics yourselves, as this isn’t anymore part of any curriculum, at least not here in Germany. So be prepared to study something thats subject is only to practice your skills and might not fit 100% your interest ( i wish someone had told me that clear when i studied…) and learn the interesting things by yourselves wether it will be in your spare time or as part of a job.
About being self employed, in german its “selbstständig” where “selbst” means “by yourselves” and “ständig” means “permanently”, although the both put together isnt the original meaning
it also means kleinetaschengeldstandig (pardon my German its been a few years since I spoke it regularly). Which means “not very much money, permanently”
Interestingly, I just met a fellow last night who went to school for physics originally interested in audio electronics but he said that basically anything applicable to building circuits he learned better as a hobbyist in high school.
Also, I’m not sure where in the world you are, but it’s worth looking for any local relevant electronics companies. I happen to be near a boutique guitar pedal manufacturer that a couple folks I know work at, I used to live near Make Noise (though before they were really up and running) which is also Moog-town.
Don’t bother working night shift in an LCD manufacturing line for the electronics experience. Tried that already
As someone who quit college halfway through, definitely try to take theoretical, “deep” classes as pichenettes mentioned while you have the opportunity and lack of demand of a full-time job or whatever. I was in a really demanding graphic design program and when I realized that I didn’t want to do that full-time as a career I just quit altogether as I wasn’t getting anything else out of my classes…hopefully your university schedule is a little bit more flexible and you can fit in some things for “fun” to see if you want to focus more on that for further education or a vocation.
Thanks for the advice. I don’t really know anything much about the availiability of careers etc. in audio electronics. Most of the engineering-type careers advice kicking around at collage seems focused on aerospace, automotive technology, nuclear or defense, none of which I’m particularly attracted to as a future career.
Just as a bit of background on me;
Up to now (regarding course choices etc.) I’ve gone with what I’ve find interesting rather than what I’ll get the best grades in. I took electronics, maths, music tech & history at AS level (came out with AAAC at AS), and at A2 I’ve dropped history (due to grades and general collage policy) and ended up picking up AS further maths (due to persuasion by my maths teacher). In the courses. The main uni courses I’ve been looking at are Electronics, Mechatronics, and music, multimedia & electronics.
Outside of collage, I spend quite a lot of time working on other projects, such as RC vehicles, electronic things, audio stuff, etc. (to give a taste, my projects outside of collage currently include a hovercraft, ekranoplan, stirling engine, RC transmitter, and an analogue theremin, with quite a few more planned).
Two areas that I definitely don’t want to work in are defence and nuclear (due to personal belief). I’m interested in audio electronics (I woulden’t be on this forum otherwise), so was looking at that sort of area as a career possibility, but I’m still thinking things over.
I’ve got a pretty wide understanding of electronics; my dad got me started with the basics (resistors, capacitors, diodes, transistors etc.) pretty early on, and worked my way up from there. I know some of the basics of valves etc, but I’m also used to more modern digital and analogue circuits, and using microcontrollers. I’ve got a decent amout of mechanical knowledge, too, although this is less usefull in audio.
This is a bit of a summary of my background so far as electronics goes, to show the sort of stuff I’ve done up to now, and the sort of stuff I’m looking to do in the future.
Also, as for where I am, I’m in the north west of England.
Thanks again for all the advice.
Go to a university with first-year research opportunities. You don’t want to be sitting around for 4 years doing nothing but crunching arbitrary and repetitive calculations, do you?
You probably don’t want to hear this but I studied electronics and then could never get a job… Luckily I ended up having several great jobs which I’ve really enjoyed… now freelancing as a studio sound tech. The most interesting people I know still don’t know what they want to do for a living at 40+.
The point is … I would just study something that really fires you up and not worry about whether it will lead to a job. That way you’ll do the best you can. - good luck
There’s very few music tech companies in the UK. Novation is the best known and produce mostly DSP based synths.
Most synths now are more about computer programming than circuit design.
audiohoarder; That's part of why I was looking at some of the applied electronics type stuff, as I was thinking that pure electronics might be a bit too dry for my liking. I don't know what anyone else reckons.tribo; I tend to go with the thing of learning for learning’s sake, but I figured that getting a bit of info on careers/self employment is worth having, so that I don’t end up to stuck for work. How did you find electronics? and how long ago?
I might try e-mailing novation, just to see what they say. They do seem more along the DSP and controller line, but there’s no harm in trying. I have noticed there seems to be a resurgence in analogue gear at the moment, though. Don’t know how long it’ll last, but we can see.
@mushroomglue - I started Uni in 1984 - it was fairly broad based then - lots of analog - my final project was a hex pickup and processor for guitar - 6 channels of filters and fx with a nice 3 spring stereo reverb. That was the last time I designed anything till I got into modular last year!
Like I say though - no regrets - apart from ebaying my synths :-))
“In my opinion, you’d better be the guy who knows how things should be done ideally and who consciously compromises/cut corners; rather than the guy who does approximative things without even knowing that it’s not the right way.”
Well said pichenettes, this is soooo true not only for this case but can be applied to almost every aspect of live in general.
Well, there’s always this fallacy of “Ermahgerd, there’s a big deficit of engineers” that the big companies are always crying. Anybody who knows something will call BS on that one. If you or anybody else gets into engineering it should be based on passion, not employability. There’s a surplus of engineers everywhere save China.
Then the question of beliefs vs real life - no matter what you believe in or not the sectors you mentioned are shrinking in their demand for manpower. I think it’s commendable to follow your gut instinct, I wouldn’t like it if I developed things like offensive weaponry or dirty power like coal, oil etc, or else went against what I’d consider ethical. Haha, I could never be a quant working for the economic terrorists at Goldman Sucks.
On that note, I know a guy who makes a ton of money as a nuclear engineer but I wouldn’t trade his income and job for mine as a bicycle mechanic spending most of my spare income on DIY synth projects
You can always live in one of these for awhile to save some cash while you figure things out:
I’m not totally kidding, I lived in tents and a trailer for a year along with working on a farm in exchange for housing for another year. I was just as financially stable then as I am with a full-time job now, but I had more spare time then. Funny how that works out.
This is really a great topic. I have to read through it a little slower to get a better idea of each person’s take. I agree alot with not worrying too much about future proofing yourself with today’s frivolous courses and I have to admit it was the hardcore basics which always seemed to help work find me, but as I would like to work for either the local synth shop or the big box in town (aka livid) I’m still not so quick about dismissing the software side. Actually it’s what I like about MI stuff. It’s a nice marriage of hardware driven by software. 20+ years in the “electronics” industry; current project trying to earn the op to beta test MI stuff. Recent projects modular tester, paia 2700 rebuild, 2 voice, GM5x5,
Just to clarify: I was using Java as an example of something “market-driven”, the soup du jour if you will. Tomorrow it could be C#, Ruby or whatever.
As long as you get some basics like C/C++ and maybe some other flavor of object-oriented language or even a functional one the exact choices of language shouldn’t be something you get hung up on. Neither would doing mobile app development, maybe tomorrow some VR glass or smart watch apps are the in thing. Or smart objects control, or some other sci-fi thing…
Software is important, but as soon as it starts getting too specialized or just trendy, walk away! I hate those for hire ads where you need to be 25 with 15 years experience and a PhD, plus having worked 5 years with “Insert buzzword technology that got invented 6 months ago”. Run. Fast!
Thanks for all the advice. It’s given me a fair bit to think about. I did read somewhere that it was predicted that in many university courses, the info taught in the first year would be out of date by the last year. How true that is I don’t know, but I’d imagine it is the case with a lot of the “buzz word” related courses, so I’ll steer clear of ones too focused on that. The overall basics of electronics, programing, etc. don’t seem to change anywhere near as much, though, as far as I can see. while the programming language of choice may change, and the chip archetecture may change, the overall basics of programming, IE giving a rather stupid machine a set of instructions that it cannot possibly missinterperate, haven’t changed much since the early days. And on electronics, as my dad often says, “ohm’s law doesn’t change”.
Anyhow, thanks for all the help. I’ve still got a fair amount of thinking to do before I put down my five choices, but it’s helpful to get people’s thoughts on the matter.