What is a Sound Engineer? (Job, Salary, Degree)

This quick guide will answer what a Sound Engineer is, what they do, how much they make, and the skills needed to be one.

A Sound Engineer focuses on the technical aspects of sound, which is the process of recording, editing, mixing, and live audio. They are responsible for audio levels when working with session musicians and mixing audio at live events. They are taught to use a wide variety of audio equipment.

What is a Sound Engineer
What is a Sound Engineer

What Is A Sound Engineer?

Sound engineers are also known as audio engineers. They are responsible for the quality of sound. A sound engineer controls microphones, sound levels, and outputs by using their instinct and acoustic knowledge to produce high-quality sound. A sound engineer doesn’t have to work exclusively in the music industry but can use their skill in different avenues.

In addition to the music industry, they can work in film, television, radio, computer games, theater, corporate and sporting events. Their imagination only limits the scope of their job.

What Does A Sound Engineer Do? | The Recording Studio – Source

Sound engineers specialize in one area of sound engineering such as:

  • Studio – Recording for commercial film, TV, radio, music, advertising, gaming, and interactive media purposes
  • Live Events – Such as music concerts, sports games or ceremonies, weddings, and graduation ceremonies
  • Live Sound – Front of house or monitor and foldback
  • Broadcast for radio or TV
  • Advertising
  • Computer Games
  • Studio Recording – Mixing and mastering.

Operating a large mixing board at a live show is known as mixing the front-of-house sound. However, that’s only one part of sound engineering.

There are four steps to the professional production of a recording:

  1. Recording
  2. Editing
  3. Mixing
  4. Mastering

There are different types of sound engineers with specific skill sets and specialization for each of the steps.

It is common for small events to have a single sound person fulfilling all the roles, but a larger team of engineers is required for large venues and tours. Sound engineers have other roles, including:

Studio Audio Engineers

They work in studios to produce high-quality music, sound effects, and speech recordings.

Monitor Audio Engineers

Their job is to control the sound a band hears on their monitors when performing on stage.

Wireless Microphone Engineers

They are in charge of the wireless microphones during sports events, theater productions, and corporate events.

Systems Engineers

They are responsible for setting up amps, complex PA systems, and speakers for other sound engineers and bands.

Research & Development Audio Engineers

They are responsible for inventing new technologies, equipment, and techniques to improve sound quality.

Game Audio Engineer

They work on the sounds for computer and video games development.

Besides a degree of technical competence and sound knowledge of musical recording technologies, a sound engineer requires additional skills. A sound engineer usually has to work in a team, so they must be a team player and effectively communicate and collaborate with technical staff and performers.

How creative an engineer is determined by how well he will perform in the long run. A positive attitude with a good ear for pitch, timing and musical sounds is crucial for a sound engineer.

Live performances can be taxing, and one needs to stay calm under pressure. A good sound engineer must possess strong interpersonal skills and the capability of handling criticism.


What Does A Sound Engineer Do?

The responsibilities of a sound engineer depend on whether he is working in live or recorded sound and the size of their team. Some of the things that are required are:

  • Design, set up, and test the audio equipment, including speaker system and microphone
  • Assist in individual recordings of instruments and vocals in a studio
  • Conduct dialogue with the director, producer, or the artist to understand their artistic vision
  • Perform sound checks for front of house and the foldback system or stage monitor in live sound
  • Communicate with other departments to ensure smooth operations
  • Use a mixing console to create a live mix during a performance
  • Adjust and add sound effects during a live performance, such as equalization and echo
  • Manage any technical problems relating to sound that arise during the performance
  • Safeguard and maintain audio equipment during and after a performance or studio session
  • Edit, mix and enhance recorded tracks
  • Use specialist equipment such as filters or equalizers to create a final version
  • Archive and log the studio recording
Why Would Anyone Want to Be a Live Sound Engineer?

What Is A Sound Engineer’s Salary?

The salary of a sound engineer depends on the industry they specialize in, whether they are working in a small studio or a large one, whether they work in small venues or a live music tour. The average annual salary of a sound engineer in the United States is $53,876 a year. Depending on the scale of work and the engineer’s competency, they can earn up to $107,500 a year or as low as $19,500 a year.

The majority of sound engineers earn between $35,000 to $68,000, while top-earners make $90,500 annually in the United States. The average pay range varies greatly due to sound engineers’ skill level, location, and experience.

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Audio Engineer vs. Sound Engineer. What’s the Difference?

The difference between an audio engineer and a sound engineer is subtle. The skills and knowledge that are required to perform their respective roles are similar to a great extent. Both are involved in the production of music and aim at improving the quality of sound.

The main difference between the two is that audio engineers cover the various aspects of an audio application, but sound engineers cater to a specific job of designing. A sound engineer produces sound for films, TV, or games. They work in collaboration with composers function as an in-house studio manager. They act as the communication medium between engineers and acoustic consultants and provide audio, video, and acoustical design.

Related: What is an Audio Engineer


Do I Need A Sound Engineer Degree Or Go To School?

Most of the new entrants to the music industry have a degree in relevant music technology, such as audio engineering or sound engineering. As they are required to use complex equipment, they must possess a high level of knowledge.

It is possible to enter the industry with an undergraduate degree in music, physics, mathematics, or engineering, followed by a postgraduate in music technology.

Sound engineers mostly study engineering, music, or audiovisual communications technologies. Around 53% of sound engineers have a bachelor’s degree, while 26% hold an associate degree, and an associate degree is enough to land you an entry-level job.

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Sound engineers can gain certification from national organizations as the Society of Broadcast Engineers. The certificate is documentation of education levels and personal competence as per industry standards and can increase job opportunities and pay scale for sound engineers.

Other national organizations offer similar widely recognized credentials. Besides its various levels of certification, the Certified Audio Engineer requires a mandatory period of five years of related, full-time experience. Each year of technical education is equal to a year of experience.

Is an audio engineering degree necessary to become an engineer? No. Sound engineers learn through experience, starting as an intern in a studio and being mentored by seniors to hone their skills.

As the professional studio setting has changed, a newbie has a better chance of learning through YouTube than being in a studio. An audio engineering degree is excellent for learning fundamentals, but you acquire practical skills through real-world experience.


How Do I Become A Sound Engineer?

If a person wants to pursue sound engineering, they generally need a high school diploma, but a university degree and certification in a relevant subject may be necessary at times. Past work experience is often required for a sound engineer and even those assisting sound engineers.

The most important aspect is the knowledge of audio equipment and creativity.

When you decide to become a sound engineer, one of the first things to assess is the amount of education that you need. According to statistics, 53% of sound engineers have a bachelor’s degree, while 4.3% have a master’s degree.

However, it is possible to become a sound engineer with just a high school degree or GED.

The next point of consideration is choosing the right major. As a sound engineer must have extensive technical knowledge, a college can help significantly develop strong engineering skills. In the field of music, experience counts the most.

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Hands-on experience gained from other jobs related to the studio, live performance, or music, in general, can help you become a sound engineer. Many engineering jobs require experience in the form of an internship. If you decide not to study for a bachelor’s degree, you can develop your skill by taking music classes and joining sound editing courses.

Once you have gained experience and created a portfolio, you are ready to start the job hunt. Here’s a quick checklist for you to kick-start your career as a sound engineer:

  • Get a High School Diploma
  • Earn a bachelor’s or Associate Degree
  • Complete internship at a production company and create your portfolio
  • Start hunting for jobs

Summary of Sound Engineers

A Sound Engineer is a person who focuses on the technical aspects of sound, which include recording, editing, mixing, and live sound. While working with session musicians and mixing audio at live events, they are responsible for audio levels. They are taught how to use a range of equipment.

We hope you now have a good understanding of what a sound engineer is and what they do.

Mark V. at Hip Hop Makers

Written By Mark V.

Hip Hop Makers is a music production website that launched in 2008 to teach music lovers how to make music, sell beats, and make money from music.

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