The Role of an Audio Engineer

Audio engineers are some of the most important team members working in the film production, television and music industries today. Audio engineers are responsible for the sound design and construction that enhances voices, sound effects, and music to create a rich experience that compliments the visuals on screen. An audio engineer (also referred to as a sound engineer) is responsible for setting up and operating equipment used to capture sound. They must be tech-savvy, and have a deep understanding of how to best capture the recorded experience. They must also take concepts (like emotion) that only exist in words and translate them into sound. Improperly recorded sound can completely change the audience experience when they watch a movie, television show or musical performance.

Pursuing a career as an audio engineer gives you two major avenues to explore: you can choose to work in music production or film and television. In the music field, an audio engineer is responsible for setting up and operating audio equipment used to capture and shape an album. Working very closely with a record producer, the audio engineer provides valuable input into how sound is captured, which directly affects what people hear when a final product is released.

Though film and television are inherently visual mediums, audio engineers are valuable members of these production teams as well. There's a reason why the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences gives out not one but two Oscars for sound each year- Best Sound Mixing and Best Sound Design. How sound is recorded, mixed, and ultimately put together can drastically shape the overall film experience, affecting everything from how scary a moment is to how heartfelt it can possibly become.

  • What role does an audio enginner play in the music recording process?
  • How are audio engineers different in music versus television and film?
  • How important is sound in an inherently visual medium like film?
  • What effect does sound have on what we see?
  • What is the role of an audio engineer in the context of a larger creative team?
  • What direct relationship do audio engineers have with other creative professions?


Learn Formal Concepts and Methods


The most important formal concept that sound engineers use throughout their work day is one of relationship. They must not only understand how sound relates to and complements other senses like sight (in terms of visual mediums like film and television), but also how the different types of sound all work together to accomplish a much larger whole.

Take film, for example. On a movie set, sound engineers are essentially working with three different concepts: human voices (which takes the form of dialog), sound effects (an explosion or roaring ocean waves), and music. These three different types of sound need to be recorded and mixed in a way where they're balanced with one another, making sure they can all be properly experienced, often at the same time. However, how those types of sounds are balanced will also change the meaning behind the sound in the first place. How sound is recorded can change the way a long speech by an actor feels, adding as much weight as possible and allowing the original intention behind the scene to be more easily conveyed. 

The same is true in the music production arena. How each individual instrument is recorded can affect how well they are all mixed together, which can ultimately help shape an album in a very precise and insightful way. 

The daily life of a sound engineer is powered both by hardware and software. On the hardware end, everything from recorders to microphones to different types of microphones, like a lavalier versus a boom mic, all play an important role in how audio is captured. In a way, it's a bit like the idea behind golf. You don't have one golf club; you have many – a different type and shape for each unique task in front of you. The variety of microphones and other recording devices available to sound engineers essentially sets the same precedent. Afterward, sound is fed into computer software like Ableton Live or Logic Pro, where it is manipulated even further.

  • What relationship does sound have with emotion?
  • What are the different types of sound that engineers work within film?
  • Why is sound important to a visual medium?
  • What are the different types of sound that engineers work with on a record?
  • How can sound compliment the experience of other senses?
  • How can sound take away from the experience of other senses?


Build a Strong Portfolio


As with many other creative professions, the question of whether or not to pursue a formal education as an audio engineer or to attempt to build a career without a degree is one that can be hotly debated. In the end, gainful employment is all about the connections that you make and the portfolio that you build to show off your skills. It is possible to build that portfolio on your own by teaming with like-minded individuals in your area and using consumer-level products to show off the skills you've learned. Non-linear sound editing software comes as a standard inclusion on computers running the Microsoft Windows and Mac OS X operating systems. Likewise, with the Internet, it is easier than ever to reach out to professionals for everything from advice to connections, though it will obviously take a certain amount of time to do so.

However, education cannot be overlooked as a valuable experience. It may give you access to the type of equipment that you otherwise can't afford on your own, or put you within reach of other creative types if none exist in your local area. As stated, little else matters beyond your portfolio, which is something you will develop as a requirement to complete most college and university programs. Other classes typically offered through a college program include lighting and sound technology, scenic design, film music, and modern theater history. You will gain hands-on experience developing your portfolio and work with your advisor to connect with clubs and opportunities in college theater, as well as mixing, producing dialog and sound effects for music and film, theater and campus radio productions, as well as mastering CDs. An education helps you create, build and hone a portfolio, as well as master skills sometimes difficult to hone on your own. It opens opportunities for employment as a studio engineer, musical mixer, live sound engineer, foley engineer, and film sound effects editor.

In terms of employment, sound engineering is a profession that is ripe with possibilities. In addition to film, television, and album production environments, sound engineers can also find work in places like sporting arenas, theater productions, television stations, and more. United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, (BLS) reports that between 2014 – 2024 the job outlook for audio engineers is expected to grow 7-percent, which is as fast as average for all career fields. There were roughly 13,840 audio engineers in the United States in 2015, which is an increase of about 4.4-percent from the year prior. The median pay a audio engineer can expect with a few years of experience is $41,780. Of course, individuals just starting out will make less, and those with a great deal of experience and a great reputation in the industry will make much more. Location, education, and chosen career field (motion pictures vs. radio) also affect overall salary and opportunities for work.

  • In sound engineering, what are some ways to build a portfolio on your own?
  • How can education help give you the opportunity to hone your portfolio and make industry connections?
  • What are some jobs you can get as a sound engineer BEYOND working in film and music?
  • What is more important – your education or your portfolio?
  • What is the career outlook for sound engineers?
  • How many sound engineers are employed in the United States each year?

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