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Careers in Audio Engineering – Find out more!

So, you have a deep interest in music. You read books and watched videos on how music is produced. Or maybe you and your band have recorded that awesome demo the other day, and thought to yourself, “I think I should be looking into careers in audio engineering!”.

Before you take the next step of enrolling into that audio engineering school you have always
dreamed of, take some time to ask yourself these questions:

  • What is audio engineering?
  • What are the career opportunities available?
  • Is this what I had imagined myself doing?Mixer

To put it simply, an audio engineer is responsible for the manipulation, recording, mixing, reproduction and reinforcement of sound. There are various technologies and equipment that audio engineers constantly use in their daily work, to produce sound for radio, television, music, electronic products and also in computer games.

The sound reinforcement systems that are largely seen in concerts and outdoor sporting events, also require the skills and expertise of a sound engineer; or some may refer to them as sound technicians as well.

An audio engineer may also be known as someone who has a deep, academic background in science or engineering, and is involved in the design and development of new audio technologies. These engineers are often working within the field of acoustical engineering.

Careers in Audio Engineering

Hurray! After all the hard work you put in, the much awaited graduation ceremony is finally here. You could now call yourself an Audio Engineer! But wait, what jobs are available out there? Where do I start? Am I qualified for them?

In a broad sense, it is quite safe to put audio engineers into two distinct categories:

  • Research and Development
  • Practitioner
Acoustics

Photo by Trevor Cox / CC BY-SA 3.0

Research and Development

Inventing new technologies, equipment and techniques in the world of audio, are the things that audio engineers working in this field care about the most. Designing acoustical simulations of rooms, shaping algorithms for audio signal processing, tweaking of public address systems, carrying out research on audible sound for video game console manufacturers, are just some of the tasks that such audio engineers are involved in.

Audio Engineers wanting to work in this industry, are generally required to have at least a bachelor’s degree or higher qualification in acoustics, physics, computer science or other relevant engineering disciplines. There are courses in university or college that provides training in the use of audio creatively as a sound engineer, and that usually includes music recording and mixing, or live sound.

However, these courses do not provide enough mathematical and scientific content to allow you to pursue a career in research and development in the audio and acoustic industry.

If you do decide to go down this career path, you could expect to work in acoustic consultancy (specializing in architectural acoustics), other audio companies (eg. speaker manufacturer), industries that require audio expertise (eg. automobile manufacturer) or even as a researcher in a university.

Practitioner

I would say that from my experience, this is what most people are thinking of when we talk about live sound engineers. The people who are always standing behind large consoles, constantly fiddling with knobs, faders and are usually seen in music festivals or concerts.

Live Sound

Photo by Ville Hyvönen / CC BY-SA 2.0

An audio engineer in this field could be described as someone who is heavily involved in the technical aspect of recording such as microphone techniques, gain structural adjustment or even setting up and operating relevant professional audio equipment. As a layman would put it, “the nuts and bolts” of recording. You will hear terms like “sound engineer”, “recording engineer”, “sound mixer” and “sound technician” being thrown around a lot.

These names can be interchangeable, and depending on the context, they may be synonymous. For example, you would see “sound engineer” or “recording engineer” listed in the credits of music albums or DVDs, however the same titles can also be used for people who work as technicians and maintains professional audio equipment.

Possible jobs out there for audio engineers in this category would include post-production for video and film, live sound reinforcement, advertising, multimedia and broadcasting. You could also look forward to working in a recording studio environment, and being involved in editing, mixing, recording and mastering tracks to meet the creative needs of artists or music producers.

So before you choose a career path that you are going to dedicate the rest of your life to, be sure you know what you are getting yourself into first. Thanks for reading and do feel free to leave comments below!

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Farhan

When I'm not rocking out to great music, I'd prefer to be sleeping on a field on a windy day =)

11 Comments

  1. Hi Farhan, this is a great post, I like the way you have clearly set out the route to becoming a sound engineer and the different types of industries that sound engineers can work in. From your post it is easy to see that there is plenty of work still available even though the live music scene has shrunk so much over the last couple of decades.

    • Hey Paul, thanks for reading. Yeah, I definitely agree with you that the Live music scene has shrunk to some extend. Most live sound engineers that I know of today (including myself) are doing more “corporate” gigs than music gigs. Furthermore, it is an even bigger struggle for engineers who are doing this freelance.

  2. Hmm.. interesting website. Never even knew audio engineering existed before this! But you have some pretty useful content here for anyone who is looking for a career in this.

    I liked how you categorized it in 2 ways research development and practitioner so people know where they want to ideally be.

    Overall great website and very informative content

  3. Hey, what a nice post ! Full of great informations ! It The design of your site is good too, i love it ! The only critic that I can do is that the text is slightly too small in my opinion, and that it could have been better with use of bold and/or underline words in my opinion, but hey, that’s great ! 🙂 Sorry for my english, i am French, i hope you understood what i meant !

    • Hey Palan, thanks for dropping by. I’m glad you enjoyed my website. I’ll be sure to take note of your advices!

  4. Hi Farhan

    I spent 3 years at an audio Engineering school and used to work at various venues shadowing front of house guys on the monitors. I loved being in this environment and it’s where I felt I belonged.

    For me it didn’t matter if I was recording bands in the studio or twiddling knobs on a soundboard at a club.

    However, I do understand finding work as one is the hardest part. It’s fierce competition out there and nobodies going to simply wave you up to the desk until you have proved yourself. I started out ‘shadowing’ Engineers and running for them while building up some connections the old fashion way.

    I don’t do that anymore, but if I could I would. Going out on the road or being holed up in a studio is not for everyone, but if you’re passionate about getting into this business, then I say go for it.

    It’s always a great experience being around musicians & being a part of their creativity.

    All the very best

    Pete.

    • Hey Pete, first of all, thank you for reading this article.

      I can totally relate to you and see where you are coming from. Sometimes I lose faith too and I guess it is the same for everybody.

      I have always seen mixing as an art form and nothing more. Hence, I eventually developed a passion for it. However, when I was starting out, people sometimes still treat me like trash even after I’ve “dirtied my hands and face” to put a live production together.

      It is even harder for people who do freelance work, and at the same time, have families to take care of. The stakes are raised even higher. However I do agree with you that it is a great experience, especially when people appreciate your work.

      Cheers, and thanks for the encouragement =)

      • Yeah, I’ve been treated like trash from some crew boss simply because of being a lowly hired hand.

  5. Thanks for this post, it clarified some stuff for me. But I was wondering, which career is more in demand? If I decide to study audio engineering and graduate, should I go into Research and Development or should I be a Practitioner? Which career pays more?

    Also, how big is the competition between Audio Engineering graduates and “self-learned” professionals?

    • Hey there!

      When it comes to salaries, it is very difficult to determine. In my experience, as a beginner practitioner (with hardly any industry experience, but with relevant qualifications) working for any AV company, you can expect to earn anywhere from $1200 – $1800 (starting salary).

      If you choose to go into R&D, then you’ll usually at least need a Bachelor’s Degree or higher. With this level of qualification, you can expect a salary starting from $2500 and above. However, this is really just a rough estimate. Companies can choose to pay lower or higher, depending on various factors. Keep in mind that your country may have a different standard of salary range for this job scope.

      On a side note, audio practitioners may also earn way more than the average audio researcher. Very experienced freelance audio practitioners with an excellent reputation, can earn in the thousands just for one live show.

      If you have the chance to earn an academic certification in audio engineering, I would strongly advise you to do so. More and more companies nowadays are looking for fresh graduates with relevant academic qualifications. That being said, some of the most well paid engineers that I know of are “self-learned” professionals (at least when they started out).

      Hope that helps, and thanks for your thoughts!

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