What Is Audio Engineering? Your Career Guide

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

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 use audio engineering programs and equipment. 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 everything sounds as good as possible.  

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

What is audio engineering?

Audio engineering involves the scientific, esthetic, 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 producing 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.

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

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

  • 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 capture, mix, or reproduce sound using electronic audio equipment. The field is broad because 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 theatres (sound designers)

  • Broadcasting (audio production)

  • Colleges and universities (teaching audio engineering

  • Live theatre (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 may also use dynamics processing, such as gating or limiting, to control volume levels within an audio track.

  • Mastering: Many musicians and audio engineers use mastering to ensure tracks are compatible with various media formats for commercial distribution. Mastering also encompasses other technical aspects, such as creating tracks that sound good on various playback systems, like car or home stereos, laptops, and portable devices.

Audio engineers can specialize in specific media productions, like music, film, TV, or radio. You may want to gain proficiency with specific 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 the computer hardware and software for editing and broadcast automation. 

As an audio engineer working on 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 organize music and sounds

  • Place microphones around a set and work with boom operators to record actors 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 film, radio, television, and video games.

  • Develop and set up sound systems for live concerts

  • Design and install audio equipment in theatres

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

Key skills

Audio engineers are technical specialists 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 to be played back on different devices and systems without losing quality.

Mastering skills: Audio engineers master music albums and 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 are competent 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 naturally or through training and experience.

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

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

Good communication skills: Audio engineers must communicate effectively with producers, artists, and other project stakeholders.

Job outlook and salary 

The increasing presence of audio-based devices and the popularity of music streaming services, such as Spotify and Apple Music, have contributed to the industry's growth. The average annual salary for an audio engineer in Canada is $52,533 [1]. Salaries vary based on experience level, education, employer, and project.  

Roles in audio engineering

Audio engineering is a diverse field that involves a wide range of skills. Many different types of 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 called 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 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 of 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 prepares audio files for physical or digital media releases. This includes ensuring that all files are at their optimum quality, adjusting volume levels across an album so each song flows nicely into the next one, adjusting EQ settings if necessary, and adding metadata, such as ISRC codes.

Live sound engineer

A live sound engineer ensures 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 technician 

Multimedia sound technicians create soundtracks for games, films, and other multimedia projects. In this role, you must 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 practising, 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, diploma, or certificate.

Degrees or diplomas can be a good way to learn about audio engineering. You'll find that some schools offer audio engineering programs for learners without experience in audio engineering. Some universities and colleges also offer post-secondary and post-graduate degrees in audio engineering.

If you already have a bachelor's degree or a diploma, 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. 

Most employers require at least a certificate in audio engineering, while others may prefer a degree or diploma in audio engineering, music production and engineering, and sound design and engineering.

These programs combine technical and creative coursework with hands-on experience. Courses may include music production, music theory, sound design, acoustics, lighting design, modern recording techniques, 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 audio production equipment and the industry's business side. It can also provide connections that could lead to future employment opportunities in the industry.

Create a portfolio. 

In addition to your degree and resume, having a portfolio showcasing your skills and abilities can increase your chances of landing a job in audio engineering. Some university programs request that you provide a portfolio for them to review. The samples of your work in the portfolio will be used to determine if you are an ideal candidate and suitable for their program. 

Consider certification.

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

Certifications are available through organizations such as Keystone Academic Courses. They offer several certifications, including sound design, live sound, and a graduate-level certification in post-production audio. 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 determine if audio engineering is a good fit is to take a foundation-level course. Consider Fundamentals of Audio and Music Engineering: Part 1 Musical Sound & Electronics, offered by Rochester University, covers basic principles of acoustics, signal processing, electronics, and much more. 

Article sources

  1. Glassdoor. “Audio Engineer Salaries in Canada, https://www.glassdoor.ca/Salaries/canada-audio-engineer-salary-SRCH_IL.0,6_IN3_KO7,21.htm?clickSource=searchBtn.” Accessed June 10, 2024. 

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