Sound Engineer Job Description
Sound engineers enhance and manipulate sounds to achieve the desired result. For instance, they may set up and test out audio equipment before a concert and then work an audio console during the performance to ensure the music is being projected clearly and at a sufficient volume. If the show is being recorded, the sound engineer may later work on touching up the sound quality or adding special effects.
Sound engineers often work in a studio where they record musicians and other performers or spend time perfecting previously created sounds. Their job also can involve work at specific venues, such as at a theater or a sporting arena. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that the employment of sound engineers will increase 8 percent between 2014 and 2024.
Sound Engineer Duties and Responsibilities
Wherever there is a need to produce better audio, a sound engineer might be found. To accomplish their objectives, sound engineers are often called upon to perform these core tasks:
Sound engineers set up and take down audio equipment. They experiment with placement and test everything out to achieve the best results. They also must be mindful of safety concerns so that performers and audience members do not trip over cords or knock over equipment.
Contribute to Performances
During live events, sound engineers produce and alter sound to enhance what is going on. For instance, they might employ sound effects in a certain scene or adjust microphones so a speaker can be better heard. If a sound-related problem arises, sound engineers must think on their feet to quickly resolve the situation, such as by fixing equipment or getting someone a different microphone.
Sound engineers sometimes work as part of an audiovisual team to capture events such as graduation ceremonies, recitals, and weddings. They determine the best places in which to position microphones and other sound equipment to capture voices and reduce background noise. Sound engineers also record music or voices directly in a studio for products such as audiobooks, films, and CDs.
Mixing and Editing
Sound engineers enhance a final product, often in conjunction with others. For example, a sound engineer may work with a singer to layer music to achieve a certain effect.
Because of their expertise, employers often ask their sound engineers to research new audio products and make suggestions as to which might be worthwhile for the company to purchase. Some sound engineers may act as independent consultants who examine the needs of clients, such as a dance club or a conference facility, and upgrade their sound systems accordingly.
Sound Engineer Skills
While sound engineers must possess technical knowledge, they also should be creative individuals with an exceptional ear for what sounds work well together. Other skills frequently exhibited by successful sound engineers include:
- Solving problems when equipment fails or things aren’t going as planned
- Communicating effectively to express artistic vision and to provide clear directions
- Listening carefully both to the sounds being created and to other people’s suggestions for changes and improvements
- Working well with others since productions require teamwork
Sound Engineer Tools of the trade
Sound engineers use a variety of items when doing their job. Some of the most common include:
- Computer software (such as Avid Technology Pro Tools and MIDI) – used to record, edit and mix music, voices, and sounds
- Audio mixing console or board – electronic device used to combine sounds, control volume, and create effects
- Microphones – device used to make sounds louder or during recording sessions
- Equalizers – used to adjust the loudness of specific frequencies
Sound Engineer Education and Training
Virtually all sound engineers hold at least a high school diploma. Most do post-secondary coursework to earn a vocational certificate or an associate’s degree. Common courses include math, physics, electronics, and computers as well as classes that provide hands-on experience with sound equipment. Employers also look favorably on active membership in one’s high school or college audiovisual club. Because technology changes quickly, sound engineers should expect to continue learning throughout their career in order for their skills to be relevant.
Sound Engineer Salary
The median annual salary for sound engineers, categorized by the BLS as “sound engineering technicians,” is $53,680. Sound engineers in the 10th percentile earn about $24,400 a year, and the highest paid make in excess of $121,600 a year. Sound engineers in Washington, New York, and Nevada make the highest median salaries in the U.S. – $73,740, $71,550, and $70,760, respectively.
Sound Engineer Resources
Career decisions aren’t easy to make, so gain as much information as you can before embarking on a given path. Here are some groups and books that can help you learn more about becoming a sound engineer:
Audio Engineering Society – A go-to source for all things sound-related, this professional society has been devoted to audio technology since 1948. From the latest advances in the industry to networking opportunities, aspiring sound engineers are bound to find useful information on its website.
The Society of Broadcast Engineers – Another well-established organization, this group has a particular interest in education and training to keep members at the top of their game.
AVIXA – Also known as the Audiovisual and Integrated Experience Association, this international trade association promotes itself as “a hub for professional collaboration, information, and community, and the leading resource for AV standards, certification, training, market intelligence and thought leadership.”
Audio Made Easy: Or How to Be a Sound Engineer without Really Trying – One reviewer calls this book “perfect for beginners, with a touch of humor.” Take a look at it for a basic introduction on what sound engineering is about.
Sound Design Live: Build Your Career as a Sound Engineer – “It’s like sitting down and having coffee with 20 AV professionals at the same time,” raves one reader of the eBook. If you’re interested in gaining insight into the profession from many different angles, this is your source.
Handbook for Sound Engineers – A serious, comprehensive reference for those truly interested in the field, this book often gets touted as a “must read” for all who work in audio.
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