Finding your way within the music industry can be confusing, especially since it's notoriously littered with jargon. The audio engineering career path could encompass a wide variety of smaller jobs, which is largely why it's so challenging to define.
Fortunately, we'll outline exactly what an audio engineer does and how to become one below so that you can determine whether or not it's a fitting target for your future endeavors.
While every audio engineering job is different, we'll do our best to decode each aspect of an engineer's job to give you a broad overview of what audio engineering entails. Let's take a look!
What Is An Audio Engineer?
An audio engineer is any sound expert that handles the technical aspects of sound creation. Studio engineers are typically involved in the art of mixing and mastering recorded sound. They might also help set up equipment, test audio systems, and provide playback throughout a session.
A live sound engineer might set up equipment for live productions, create the final mix or a live event, and serve as the monitor engineer while onsite. It's not uncommon for live performances to host multiple audio engineers to handle a wide array of sound equipment.
While the title "audio engineer" is fairly ambiguous, we'll define some of the key duties of audio technology experts below.
What Are The Main Roles of An Audio Engineer?
The jobs of an audio engineer vary greatly from day to day. Even within the audio engineer bubble, they could be handling a number of positions like a mastering engineer, studio engineer, or part of a group of broadcast engineers or live sound engineers; each of which, varies greatly.
With that in mind, here are a couple of typical tasks most audio engineers will take on throughout their careers:
Engineers are recording experts. Audio engineers have a deep understanding of equipment, how to use it, and most importantly, how to use it within the particular context of a song. A recording engineer knows how to set up a microphone for anything from a multipiece choir to a challenging drum kit.
Mixing engineers are in charge of making sure a song's individual tracks are properly balanced. The mixing stage occurs directly after the music production or beat-making stage, with the mixing engineer in charge of leveling out the individual tracks to create a cohesive composition. Mixing engineers might also add effects and additional processing to help tracks sit better within a mix.
The mastering engineer is usually the final engineer in the music recording process. This engineer takes a completed mix and uses compression along with other tools to bring out the best final amplitude of a completed song. Mastering engineers have a deep understanding of preferred output levels for different audio mediums so that musicians can deliver properly to streaming platforms and beyond.
Audio engineers might help with any part of live sound recording from providing equipment recommendations, setting up equipment, live sound monitoring, and post production of the final audio.
Coordinating With Other Creators
Oftentimes, the audio engineer is not working in a vacuum. Their recording decisions will affect the production choices, as well as the mixing and mastering, so on and so forth. Audio engineers need to be patient and ready to collaborate with other creatives since each layer of audio production builds on top of the previous one.
Key Skills of Audio Engineers
Whether you're an audio design engineer, live sound engineer, recording engineer, or somewhere in between, you'll need to master the following essential skills to become one of the best audio engineers:
Equipment Knowledge and Set Up
Audio engineers need to have a wide breadth of equipment knowledge since every job will require its own customized set up. Each engineer needs to understand individual equipment pieces, and how to set up those pieces properly within a variety of spaces to capture optimum sound.
Time Management and Coaching
Any audio engineer, and especially a studio engineer, will need good time and project management skills to execute their projects successfully. Live sound is often recorded on a time crunch, and it's up to the engineer to efficiently capture sound while guiding talent towards the best recording possible.
The more experience you have with the technical and mechanical aspects of sound, the more opportunity you have as an engineer. The best audio engineer never stops learning. Creating sound is a continuous journey, so make sure you're constantly seeking out ways to build upon your skillset.
Marketing and Networking
The reason why you know Pharell over any other audio engineer or producer is because he made a conscious effort to elevate his brand. While many audio engineers prefer to stay behind the scenes, it's true that many engineers can reach more clients by networking and marketing their skillsets.
How Do I Become An Audio Engineer?
Unlike more typical professions, becoming an audio engineer doesn't have its own set of formal training. Some may go to accredited audio engineering schools, others will opt for a more DIY approach. In any case, here are the main steps to set you on your way to becoming a professional audio engineer:
Put Your Head Down And Start Making Music
This simple piece of advice seems obvious, but many budding engineers will get in their own way of success by neglecting to put what they've learned about the technical aspects of music production to good use.
Knowing how to mix a song is one thing. Actually going through with it is another. By far, the best way to become a better mastering, live sound, or mixing engineer is to spend more time making music. It doesn't matter if you're starting on an old laptop or mixing your buddy's first demo - if you're putting in practice, you're bound to teach yourself a few things through trial and error.
Shadow Other Audio Engineers In Your Circle
If you're lucky enough to be in an area with music studios, ask if you can shadow or intern at the recording studio or live sound venue. Many times, this is a surefire path to landing a placement as an assistant engineer if you're planning on working with clients within a particular studio.
Even if shadowing audio recording experts doesn't provide you with any immediate job prospects, it's sure to give you valuable experience you'll continue to use over the course of your career.
The Proof Is In The Pudding
One of the best parts about making music is that the process doesn't have to be one way or another - if you create an infectious song, it's bound to resonate with others. Make sure you have the chops you need to conduct a successful recording session, send out a clean mix and collaborate with other artists.
Remember that everything comes down to making a body of work that's polished and innovative enough to hold it's weight amongst other music. It doesn't matter how you get to making quality music, but every sound engineer is able to create quality recordings.
Like any other job, sound engineers need to network to further their learning and secure collaborators to take your audio production to new audiences and clients. There isn't a standard salary for sound engineering positions for a reason - a lot depends on your ability to make connections the people in and outside of your network.
Audio Engineer FAQ
Not sure if you're ready to become a professional audio engineer? Take these frequently asked questions and answers into consideration.
What does an audio engineer do?
As discussed above, an audio engineer can be responsible for any number of things. Audio engineers may work with live audio equipment, adjust sound systems, assist in all parts of the recording process, and provide education around the technical and mechanical aspects of music.
Are audio engineers paid well?
Audio engineers tend to make 57K a year on average , though like most creative careers, there's no upper or lower limit to your earning potential. Audio engineers who are willing to diversify their skillsets and commit to the process of networking are well positioned to be successful within the industry.
Is audio engineering a good career?
Audio engineering can be a good career if recording sound is your passion. However, working in the music industry is highly competitive, so you may have to work for free or at a much lower rate before you can carve a full career path out of audio engineering.
Do audio engineers need a degree?
You do not need a degree to become a professional audio engineer. When it comes to technical art, the proof is in the pudding - if you know your way around the recording studio or live sound venue, you can certainly place a job. A good audio engineer might get his or her start at a music school, but it's not a perquisite to success.
Every sound engineer has his or her own set of unique responsibilities. Hopefully, this guide makes it easier for you to pull back the curtain on what that looks like day in and day out so that you can determine if audio engineering is an ideal path for your needs. Have fun exploring all that goes into audio engineering!