What Is Audio Engineering? Your Career Guide

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Discover what audio engineers do, where they work, what they earn, and how they use audio engineering programs to do their job. You'll also uncover more about the skills involved in this career and learn how to get started.

[Featured image] A female audio engineer, wearing a blue denim shirt is working with her laptop and desktop computers that are situated on a brown desk.

Audio engineers are sometimes called sound technicians. While there are many different types of audio engineers, such as live venue sound engineers, video game sound designers, and studio recording engineers, they all have one thing in common: They’re accustomed to using audio engineering programs. Whether you’re working on a live event, a movie soundtrack, or an artist's latest album, you’ll use your technical skills to ensure that everything sounds as good as possible.  

Audio engineering may be a good career for you if you love working with technology and working on creative projects. It requires you to be detail-oriented and able to work well under pressure, while also being innovative and adventurous. 

What is audio engineering?

Audio engineering is a profession that involves the scientific, aesthetic, and technological aspects of manipulating, recording, and reproducing audio. It’s the process of applying electronic, digital, acoustic, and electrical principles to the recording and production of music, voices, and sounds.

Popular audio engineering techniques

As a music producer, making something sound fantastic often means using audio engineering techniques. Here are some popular techniques you'll learn in audio engineering that you can use in your productions:

  • Mastering: The process of getting the final mix (or master) ready for distribution.

  • Ducking: A technique used to reduce the volume of one sound in response to the presence of another sound, often used for background music and voice-overs.

  • EQ Matching: The process of matching the tonal characteristics of one sound source with another sound source

  • Mix Bus Compression: Using compression on the mix bus (the main fader) in order to glue together the various elements of your mix

  • Sidechaining: Lowering the level of one signal in response to another signal

  • Compression: An audio processing technique designed to reduce the dynamic range of a signal by lowering its loudest parts while bringing up its quietest parts

  • Reverb: A type of audio effect that simulates an acoustic environment, producing reflections and reverberations to create the illusion of space within a track or recording

What do audio engineers do?

Audio engineers are responsible for capturing, mixing, or reproducing sound using electronic audio equipment. The field is broad, since it’s applied to music, television, film, and other media channels. 

Audio engineers could work in many different settings and with several types of artists or clients. While most audio engineers work in music recording studios, you can also find work in other areas such as:

  • Film production (sound effects and tracks)

  • Movie theaters (sound designers)

  • Broadcasting (audio production)

  • Colleges and universities (teaching audio engineering

  • Live theater (audio playback and live sound management).

As an audio engineer, you may have the following duties:

  • Recording: Recording sound or capturing audio data is the first step in creating a finished piece of music or other audio.

  • Editing: You’ll use computer software to edit and manipulate recorded sounds. You’ll combine these sounds with effects like reverb, delay, or distortion to make them fit for the intended purpose, such as movie soundtracks or commercial jingles.

  • Mixing: You’ll use mixing techniques, such as equalization (EQ) and compression to alter the timbre of an instrument, voice, or track. You also may use dynamics processing, such as gating or limiting, to control volume levels within an audio track.

  • Mastering: Mastering is a process used by many musicians and audio engineers to ensure tracks are compatible in various media formats for commercial distribution. Mastering also encompasses other technical aspects, such as creating tracks that will sound good on various playback systems, such as car stereos, home stereos, laptops, and portable devices.

Audio engineers can specialize in certain types of media productions, like music, film, TV, or radio broadcasting. You may want to gain proficiency  with specific types of equipment and software to succeed as an audio engineer. For example, if you're an audio engineer working in radio broadcasting, you'll need to learn to use computer hardware and software for editing and broadcast automation. 

As an audio engineer working in live sound systems, you’ll know how to manipulate sound using equalizers and other control devices to create quality sound output from loudspeakers to reach throughout the venue.

Typical tasks

Audio engineers use many audio engineering software programs, techniques, tools, and equipment to fit each project. As an audio engineer, you may perform some of the following tasks:

  • Operate equipment that records, copies, synchronizes, or mixes voices, music, or sounds

  • Work with producers to determine to organize music and sounds

  • Place microphones around a set and work with boom operators so that actors can be recorded clearly during filming

  • Edit audio by removing unwanted sounds or adding extra effects

  • Investigate new technologies by reading trade journals or attending meetings and seminars

  • Record, edit, mix, and master music

  • Create sound effects for films, radio, television, and video games

  • Develop and set up sound systems for live concerts

  • Design and install audio equipment in theaters

  • Choose and set up microphones to record instruments or vocals in studios

Key skills

Audio engineers are technical specialists who are responsible for the recording, mixing, and mastering of music. You may be a facilitator, collaborating with everyone on a project to draw out information and deliver sounds that make the final output exceptional.

Different roles require different specialist skills. Some of the key skills of an audio engineer include:

Recording skills: As an audio engineer, you may need to be able to record multiple tracks and blend them seamlessly.

Mixing skills: Audio engineers mix music and soundtracks so they can be played back on different devices and systems without losing quality.

Mastering skills: Audio engineers master music albums and sound audio tracks by adjusting the volume levels and adding artistic touches like equalization, compression, and other adjustments to give it a final polished sound before it’s released.

Understanding sound waves and acoustics: In this field, engineers know how sound behaves in different types of instruments and environments.

Knowledge of music: Knowing musical scores, musical theory, chord progressions, and scales is essential to being a good audio engineer.

Understanding of technical aspects of audio production: Audio engineers have competency in the practical aspects of production,such as microphones, preamplifiers, compressors, and equalizers (EQs).

An ear for music: Audio engineers can recognize good sounds from bad ones. They have advanced listening skills when working with sound, either naturally or through training and experience.

Ability to set up and monitor equipment: Audio engineers can set up microphones, cables, and amplifiers. This will involve technical skills with the equipment and the ability to set up the overall sound system for the particular project.

Fast-paced sound adjustments: In this profession, engineers have to be able to adjust the volume, pitch quickly, and other sound factors to deliver high-quality sound in live environments.

Good communications skills: Audio engineers have to work with producers, artists, and other stakeholders in a project, so it’s essential to communicate effectively.

Job outlook and salary 

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts that the number of jobs in audio engineering will grow by 21 percent from 2020 to 2030 [1]—which is much faster than the average across all other jobs. The average annual salary for an audio engineer is $49,050 per year. Salaries vary based on your experience level, education, employer, and project The BLS estimates that approximately 138,700 audio engineers are working in the US. 

Roles in audio engineering

Audio engineering is a diverse field that involves a wide range of skills. Many different equipment and techniques are used in this profession, and each job title has its own set of responsibilities. Some common jobs in audio engineering include:

Recording engineer

A recording engineer, also referred to as a sound technician, is responsible for capturing and documenting the sound of a live or recorded performance. As a recording engineer, you’ll typically work in a recording studio, though you may also work in live settings such as concerts, conferences, or television broadcasts.

As a recording engineer, you’re responsible for the technical aspects of sound recordings, such as microphone selection and placement, signal routing and processing, and studio equipment setup. You may also troubleshoot any technical issues and work with producers during the creative process.

Mixing engineer

As a mixing engineer, you’re responsible for taking all the individual recordings and blending them into a cohesive whole. This includes adjusting volumes and adding effects to each track to combine the sounds. Mixing engineers must possess an excellent ear for detail and an ability to listen to several things at once.

Your job is to balance the levels of each track so they fit together seamlessly, without overpowering or sounding too quiet in the mix. You may also add reverb, effects, or other processing to individual instruments or sections of songs.

Mastering engineer

As a mastering engineer, you take on the final role in producing an audio track after it has been mixed and assembled by the mixing engineer. You’ll take a final mix from the mixing engineer and adjust it to ensure it sounds as good as possible across different speakers, radios, laptops, and stereos.

The mastering engineer’s role is to prepare audio files for physical or digital media releases. This includes ensuring that all files are at their optimum level of quality, adjusting volume levels across an album so that each song flows well into the next one, adjusting EQ settings if necessary, and adding metadata, such as ISRC codes.

Live sound engineer

A live sound engineer is responsible for ensuring that the audience at a show can hear the music or speakers clearly. Your role involves managing microphones and other equipment, setting levels and equalizing them, and troubleshooting any technical issues that may arise during an event.

Multimedia sound engineer

Multimedia sound engineers are responsible for creating soundtracks for games, films, and other multimedia projects. In this role, you’ll need to be highly skilled in sound technology to create the appropriate sounds for each project.

Path to becoming an audio engineer

You can follow a variety of different paths to become an audio engineer. Some people learn by practicing, while others prefer to get a degree or certification. Whatever your learning style or preference, there are plenty of ways to get started in the industry.

Earn a music-related degree or certificate.

Degrees can be a good way to learn about audio engineering. You'll find that some schools offer audio engineering programs for learners who have no previous experience in audio engineering. Some universities also offer bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degrees in audio engineering.

If you already have an associate or bachelor's degree, earning a certificate or taking a specialization course may be an option to improve your employability. For example, you can use the Music Production Specialization offered by Berklee College of Music to help develop your creativity as a music producer. 

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Music Production

Develop Your Creativity as a Music Producer . Learn the art and technology of music production to create professional music compositions.

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Skills you'll build:

Audio Recording, Music, Music production, Sound Design, Audio Editing, Audio Production, Songwriting, Music recording, MIDI, Pro Tools, music editing, Music mixing

Most employers require at least a certificate in audio engineering, and many may prefer a degree. Degrees include associate and bachelor's degrees in audio engineering, music production and engineering, and sound design.

These programs combine technical and creative coursework with hands-on experience. Courses may include acoustics, digital recording technology, microphone technique, studio construction and maintenance, audio electronics, and more.

Gain experience and build connections. 

You can gain experience working as an entry-level assistant engineer or intern at a recording studio or radio station. This should help you gain hands-on knowledge of the audio production equipment and the industry's business side. It can also provide connections that could lead to future employment opportunities in the industry.

Establish an online presence. 

Building an online portfolio can be as simple as creating a social media account and posting regularly. If you want to be recognized, consider building your profile with a website, portfolio, and resume. Employers will likely review your online presence when considering you for contracts or full-time employment. 

Consider certification.

There are several levels of certification available for audio engineers—from basic technical skills like mixing and recording to more advanced topics like post-production and music theory. The type of certification you take will depend on where you want to work and what job you're looking for.

Certifications are available through organizations such as The Society of Broadcast Engineers [2]. They offer several certifications, including operator level certifications, broadcast networking certifications, engineering level certifications, and specialist certifications. Search for different certifications and note those most suitable to build your skill set and enhance your employability.

Next steps 

If you love music and want to be at the center of all the action, the field of audio engineering may be right for you. One way to find out if audio engineering is a good fit is to take a foundation-level course. Consider taking Fundamentals of Audio and Music Engineering: Part 1 Musical Sound & Electronics, offered by Rochester University, which covers basic principles of acoustics, signal processing, electronics, and much more. 

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Fundamentals of Audio and Music Engineering: Part 1 Musical Sound & Electronics

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Article sources

1. US Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Broadcast, Sound, and Video Technicians, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/media-and-communication/broadcast-and-sound-engineering-technicians.htm." Accessed May 9, 2022.

2. Society of Broadcast Engineers. “Certification Levels, https://sbe.org/certification/certification-levels/.” Accessed June 15, 2022. 

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