Spotlight: Joe Totino, SAE Institute Audio Instructor

Joe Totino

“Why get up in the morning unless you’re going to have an adventure?” (Hans Zimmer)

We met with Joe Totino, Audio instructor at our New York campus, to find out how he developed his passion for audio, why his classes are structured around student and instructor conversations, and why teaching audio is his dream job. 

Tell me a bit about your background.

I grew up in Queens, New York, and discovered my love for music and sound when I was about 12 years old. I fell in love with playing the guitar, and especially the drums. My parents, who have been incredibly supportive throughout my career, got me a portable recording device for a gift, and that was it for me, I became obsessed with recording sound. It wasn’t long until I discovered that the audio world was its own little industry, and had my sights set on that being my future. When it came time for college, I attended the University of New Haven for a B.A. in Music and Sound Recording; during my time at UNH I interned at various studios in the tri-state area, many of which became freelancing jobs for me down the line. 

Why did you decide to start teaching at SAE Institute? 

I’ve always had a strong attraction to teaching. Growing up, my dad was a photographer, and my mom a teacher, so I’ve always had both the creative and educational influences in me. 

Having worked with a ton of audio engineers who graduated from SAE in my freelance work, it was a no-brainer to join SAE New York when I found the opportunity to apply to become a teacher. Teaching audio was, and still is, a dream job for me. Being able to introduce my students to the incredibly vast and creative world of sound is what motivates me everyday.

What do you like most about teaching at SAE Institute?

What I like most about teaching at SAE is working with passionate, motivated students. There’s nothing more rewarding than listening to a final project by a student who has just spent months of hard work to get the work done. Getting to watch students celebrate their efforts and have the confidence to go out into our industry and do great work are some of my favorite moments.

Aside from that, and more selfishly, I love talking about sound all day long. This industry is vast, and ever-changing, so there’s never a shortage of conversations to have, and technology to nerd-out about! I find the most informative classes are the ones where students are able to get into a conversation with their instructor, so I try to structure my lessons in this way.

What’s your favorite part of the audio technology curriculum at SAE Institute New York?

That’s tough, but I’d have to say our Sound for Picture unit in Module 4. When I was hired at SAE, I knew very little about this, but in an effort to further my education, I decided to dive into this world and see if it was something I could see myself teaching in the future. This led me to discovering a whole new world of sound, and I ultimately found myself going back to grad school to learn more about Audio Post. 

Having now finished that program, and finding a love for this facet of our industry, I find being able to teach this content to my students incredible. Sound is such an important storytelling device in a film (or any type of visual media!), so it’s immensely fun to show students new ways to think about, and use, sound. Sound Design, Foley Recording, Sound Effects Editing, etc. are some of my favorite lessons to teach these days!

What is the most important thing you took from the classroom to the real world when you graduated?

My biggest tip to students is never stop learning. When I was in school, my goal was to learn as much as I could, both in and outside the classroom. Now working in the industry, that learning can’t stop. Keep educating yourself like you would do as a student — it keeps you humble, and it keeps you informed!

Do you have any regrets in your career?

It’s hard to call any career decisions a ‘regret’, I think ultimately every choice you make is a learning opportunity. One thing I wish I did more of, is value my time. I’ve worked internships where I felt undervalued, and wasn’t getting any learning out of the gig; I stayed at those businesses, mainly for resume experience. Value your time, it’s the most important thing you have as a creative! Find a company willing to invest in you, and you’ll be more than happy to invest your time in them. 

5 tips for an aspiring audio student

  1. Have an open mind —if you want to produce music that’s fine, but the audio industry is diverse and vast! Keep an open mind to trying new things.
  2. Be ready to work hard—this industry is competitive, we need people willing to give their full efforts.
  3. Always be listening —the more you listen to, the better you’ll be in this biz. Immerse yourself in the art, it’ll all help your learning in the long run
  4. Never stop learning— I mentioned this earlier, but it deserves to be restated! Even when your class is over, keep learning. Watch videos, read articles, subscribe to blogs… The more you know, the better.
  5. Do it!◊I find too many students put off their passion because it doesn’t seem like the ‘safe route’. It’s never too soon, or too late, to pursue what you’re dedicated to. As someone who is doing what he loves, there is no better feeling than waking up and loving your job.

Which musical piece would you have wanted to be involved in making?

Another tough one! Musically, I’m a massive Pink Floyd fan, so to be in those sessions would be a dream come true. But, mainly working in the film/TV world these days, to be able to work with Hans Zimmer would be incredible. His score to The Dark Knight was a huge influence on my wanting to further pursue the world of sound/music for media, so I would have loved to have seen his process on that film.

Who is on “Team Totino”?

I most definitely have my parents, and an entire support system of family and friends, to thank for supporting my career choices. My parents have always supported me following my passion, and they continue to inspire me to be the best I can be. A tip I have for all aspiring audio professionals: find a support system, it’s so much easier, and more rewarding, to reach your goals when you have people on your team. Finding employers and collaborators who you have a common goal with as well is immensely helpful.

What’s the most important takeaway from our chat?

I’ll say it a third time, never stop learning! This industry is always shifting, and it’s important for long term success that you’re keeping yourself up to date on what’s going on in the business. Join social media groups, get out there and meet people, and learn from them. Education is the most important tool you have. Aim high, keep your head down, do great work, and know when to ask questions. This industry is tough to break into, but once you do, it’s some of the most rewarding work out there. Good luck!

Learn more about Joe’s work outside of SAE Institute on his website:

Connect with him on LinkedIn here: