Sound Engineer Career Facts

A sound engineer manages and delivers prerecorded and live audio by electronic means through various formats. A sound engineer has a wide variety of career options. Some examples include audio engineer for a video game company, mastering engineer for a CD-manufacturing plant, front-of-house sound engineer for a theater, broadcast engineer for a radio station, and monitor mix engineer for a touring rock show.

While they are different, all the possible positions require these same basic skills:

  • Exceptional understanding of audiology and the physics of sound

  • An ability to measure and control acoustics
  • A mastery of audio processing hardware and software
  • Basic to intermediate electronics proficiency
  • A well-trained, detailed ear for many types of music
  • An ability to translate recording and live artist needs into a matching audio mix
  • High level of organization
  • Strong interpersonal skills for handling multiple revisions and/or changes in real time.

Work Environment

The work environment for a sound engineer can generally be divided into two categories: live and studio. Live sound engineers work in clubs, arenas, theaters, houses of worship and outdoor venues. Studio sound engineers work in recording, broadcast, mixing and mastering studios.

Live Engineering

In the live arena, a sound engineer will typically perform the following duties:

  • Collect and manage data necessary for each performance, including stage plots, number and type of inputs and outputs from the console, performance itinerary, changeover information, and output format for the program

  • Set up the performance environment with appropriate microphones; direct input boxes; and tidy, unobtrusive cable flow
  • Test and tweak the sound system
  • Troubleshoot any signal chain problems prior to performance and ensure seamless backup protocols are in place
  • Coordinate cues with lighting and stage engineers
  • Attenuate and/or enhance frequency levels and dynamics during the performance
  • Effectively mix instruments or signals and apply effects as needed
  • Prepare program audio for recording output, if needed.

In some settings, such as small- to medium-sized rock clubs, sound engineers also function as de-facto stage managers, which means they will manage timing and logistics of the movement of bands on and off the stage.

Studio Engineering

In the studio arena, a sound engineer will typically conduct the following tasks:

  • Collect and manage data necessary for the studio session, including detailed track listings, number and type of inputs and outputs from the console, revisions history, signal chain map, and output format for the program audio

  • Interact closely with the content developers and artists to determine the needs and functional purpose of the final audio material
  • Set up the audio signal chain, both hardware and software, to ensure highest resolution and eliminate unintended coloration
  • Effectively mix, edit and apply effects to tracks to reach a cohesive, clear mix with the intended functional purpose
  • Closely monitor headroom and program audio for unintended transients
  • Ensure output audio meets specific standards
  • Coordinate audio markers with video/animation teams if needed

Wages of a Sound Engineer

A professional sound engineer who works full-time earns approximately $30,000 to $70,000 per year.

Working Hours

In general, sound engineers work non-traditional hours, although studio engineers at video game, animation and movie houses work normal business hours.

Employers

The majority of live sound engineers are self-employed, although there are large professional audio companies that employ engineers and generally pay a salary (but also may require a travel commitment). Studio engineers usually work as part of an organization, so they are employed by either a creative services firm or directly by a client company.