Audio engineers are professionals who work in the production and/or recording of sound. To grasp just how vast the duties for audio engineering are, imagine any form of media which includes recording and working with sound. From podcasts to audiobooks, to the audio tours at museums, to the video games you play, to the sound from movies, television shows, and radio shows, all of these require the expertise of an audio engineer.
What jobs can I get with a degree in audio production?
The job titles for someone interested in audio engineering can be both varied and confusing. The term can be used interchangeably with a number of other job titles including “recording engineer,” “mixing engineer,” “sound engineer,” “studio engineer” “live music engineer” and many more. Your audio production skills will qualify you for a range of jobs and career positions, and you can narrow the search based on your interests and passions.
Here are just a few examples of jobs and careers you might look for:
- Audio engineer/audio engineering assistant. You can either try to land a job in a recording studio or if you’re the entrepreneurial type, start a studio of your own.
- Live audio engineer. You can look for an audio production job in one of many live music venues, or if you like to travel, try to get hired with a touring act.
- Music producer. You may want to dive into the creative and/or administrative side of recording, and start producing recordings for musical artists you believe in.
- Video production-audio department. Films, videos, TV commercials, and web series almost always need audio production help.
- Post-production expert. Post-production houses handle a lot of interesting projects, including voiceover, audio FX, Foley and ADR for film/TV.
- Mastering engineer. You might choose to specialize in mastering, which is the all-important final step in preparing recorded audio for CD and vinyl duplication, as well as making music and other audio “broadcast-ready.”
In the world of music production or “making music,” audio engineers are often described as being on the “technical side” of the work while music producers, artists, and musicians are on the “creative side.” While creatives originate ideas about what’s to be recorded, the audio engineer is a conduit for the capture and management of sounds. The musician, vocalist, or producer decides what quality the sound should be while the audio engineer uses his tools and technologies to achieve that sound. Key to an audio engineer’s success is an ability to understand what the creative talent wants and then knowing how to deliver that result. Since music is by definition a subjective art form, the terminology used to represent particular sounds and sound qualities can oftentimes be less than precise. Terms including “grainy,” “booming,” “textured,” “layered,” and “rich,” are just a few. Audio engineers need the right balance of technical skills and a degree of creative sense. Another component is that audio engineers need to understand the elements of music theory; so they know the difference between dissonance and consonance. Basic song structures and terms should also be included in their wheelhouse. Artists and producers will often refer to a piece of music as the “bridge” “intro” “chorus” “outro” “drop” and while working in session.
Many music producers also serve as their own audio engineers when working with artists. Many future music producers started out their careers as audio engineers in order to build their knowledge base, experience, and industry connections before marketing themselves as music producers.
When an audio engineer is at work, they will responsible for perfecting, balancing, and adjusting sound through the use of equalization, audio technologies, and studio effects. They will also often be mixing, reinforcing, or reproducing sound and altering the quality of specific sounds through the usage of either analog (hardware) technologies or digital (software) technologies such as plug-ins and effects. Understanding signal flow, microphones, acoustics, signal processors, tape machines, digital audio workstations, sequencing software, and speaker systems are all basic requirements for those who choose this career.
Those interested in being an audio engineer must first get a certain cross-section of experience and exposure to various jobs and aspects of the industry to then know which path or paths they want to pursue. It is not uncommon for one audio engineer to have numerous specializations or niches. Before he became famous from working with The Beatles, Sir George Martin’s career as an audio engineer included producing both classical music and comedy records.
With a variety of audio engineering careers available, you may want to start thinking about what part of the process excites you: audio, sound, or music. Do your research in advance. Read articles and interviews with professionals who actively work in one of the subfields, niches, or specializations. Conduct informational interviews with those who work in your region. Most professionals are willing to pass on hard-learned wisdom to those who aspire to follow in their footsteps.
Two signature character traits of a successful audio engineer are an openness to learn combined with a sense of discovery. Careers in audio can change quickly in response to the development of new technologies, new forms of media, and changes in market demand. It benefits professionals in the field to stay current with the latest technologies and keep aware of trends in music, broadcasting, live sound, and various other fields. This agility and responsiveness are characteristics of audio engineers who can endure and even thrive when times change.
If you’re currently studying audio engineering and music production, don’t wait until after graduation. Start networking and researching now—and the sooner the better. The paradox here is that while your education and training in audio production will qualify you for a wide range of positions, the reality is that the industry is competitive and quite relationship-driven. Making cold-calls and emailed resumes rarely work, no matter how qualified you seem. Make the industry connections now that you’ll need in order to get hired later.