What Is a Sound Engineer? (With Duties and Career Advice)

Updated 21 August 2023

Technical jobs that operate behind the scene in the creative arts industry are often overshadowed by their more popular visible counterparts. As a result, there is often a lack of information about dynamic careers like sound engineering. Getting clarity on what makes a sound engineer can help you determine if this is the right career path for you. In this article, we answer "What is a sound engineer?", explain the skills you may need to become one and offer steps for how to pursue a career in sound engineering.

What Is A Sound Engineer?

A sound engineer is an expert on how to bring out the best form of audio by recording, mixing, manipulating and mastering it through mechanical processes. Also called audio engineering, this job requires equal parts of creativity and technical expertise to create desired sound and effects. Whether working on a music album or covering a cricket match for live television, sound engineers work behind the scene to ensure the quality, volume and tone of the recorded sound. They are also involved in the research and development of enhancing audio, alongside monitoring, recording, mixing and mastering sound in studios.

What Does A Sound Engineer Do?

Many sound engineers work in the music industry and they primarily record and master songs. While they are an essential part of the music industry, they also work in television, radio, film, games, sports, theatre, concerts, advertising and other fields.

Sound engineers work closely with other creative artists, like performers, actors, singers and sound designers, to understand their vision of music and execute it. In addition to setting up the audio equipment for recording, mixing or mastering, they also add sound effects, stabilisers, bass and other enhancers. After the recording or event, sound engineers are also responsible for dismantling the audio system and mastering the mixed and edited sounds to create a final complete audio version for further release or use.

Related: Top Jobs in the Arts (With Duties and Earning Potential)

What Are The Different Types Of Sound Engineering?

Depending on the chosen specialisation, sound engineers work in different roles and support different aspects of sound recording or processing:

  • Studio recording: Recording with an artist or musician involves setting up audio equipment, individually recording different instruments, using distortions and filters to achieve the right effect and recording high-quality audio.

  • Studio mixing: Mixing is when the recorded sounds are brought together to focus on the right instrument or audio source as per the theme of the intended audio.

  • Studio mastering: This involves post-mixing processes to enhance and refine the sound for consistency. Sound master engineers are usually the last people to work on a recording before a studio approves it for replication and distribution.

  • Digital games: Sound engineering in game studios involves adding theme music to video games and producing the right sound effects.

  • Radio and broadcast television: For sporting events or on-ground news reporting, sound engineers are responsible for set-up, live audio sync and other technicalities to ensure the best sound quality.

  • Live events: At live events like concerts and theatre, sound engineers ensure balance and control of sound, sound effects and live mixing. They need to ensure that each audience member experiences the sound and acoustics as the performer has envisioned.

What Is The Difference Between A Sound Engineer And A Sound Designer?

Many people assume that sound engineers and designers do the same work. While there is an overlap between the two roles, they are sufficiently different as well. Sound engineering relates to the more technical side of sound in recording sessions or during live events. A sound engineer must choose the right equipment, arrangement and instrument to ensure that the output is of the highest level possible.

The role of a sound designer, comparatively, is related to deciding the artistic direction of the soundtrack or theme of a particular project. Sound designers usually work with sound engineers to execute their vision and create the sound tone, quality and style. Sound designers also have an understanding of the technical aspect of the process. Both the roles are complementary and work in collaboration for the best result.

Related: How To Write An Audio Engineer Resume (Tips And Template)

Is Sound Engineering A Good Career?

The sound industry offers several job opportunities for talented sound engineers who work in film, television, gaming, advertising, music, theatre, radio and mobile app development. Many institutes offer specialised sound engineering courses to produce skilled sound engineers. There is a recognition among professionals that this is a stable and secure field with many perks, like travelling or working with high-profile artists.

What Are the Skills Needed To Be A Sound Engineer?

Here are some fundamental skills to develop to succeed as a sound engineer:

  • Technical expertise: sound knowledge of subjects like physics and mathematics

  • Troubleshooting: finding solutions to unforeseen equipment and soundscape challenges in foreign environments

  • Communication and collaboration: working within a team of sound designers, artists and other creative people and effectively communicating with them

  • Adaptability: being able to work in new environments on strict deadlines and under high pressure

  • Quick learning: learning about new instruments, equipment and tools in a short period and applying that knowledge

  • Attention to detail: having an ear that spots even the slightest of noise, distortion or issues with sound

  • Passion for audio or music: the ability to understand the power of sound, and possibly music, in creative arts and other industries

Related: Soft Skills: Definitions and Examples

What Are The Educational Qualifications To Be A Sound Engineer?

There are a few institutions that offer degree courses in sound engineering, sound production or sound and music technology. These are full-time courses that span two to three years. Many diploma courses with shorter durations, like from six months to one year, are also available. Note that sound engineering is a complex subject that requires time, dedication, practice and learning multiple disciplines.

You can pursue a bachelor's degree in sound engineering after completing your senior secondary education, regardless of what subjects you have studied. You might have to undergo entrance tests and interviews to qualify for admission in most institutes offering dedicated sound and music-related courses. It is also important to remember that while most sound engineers require formal training, the actual learning and application usually begin on the job or when working on personal projects.

How To Become A Sound Engineer

Here are some steps you may follow to become a sound engineer:

1. Obtain the right education

Pursue degree courses and diplomas that help you understand the basics of sound engineering, recording, mixing and editing. The domain is highly technical and requires years of practice, so a bachelor's degree is necessary. If you are inclined, you may also want to earn a master's degree to gain more expertise in a particular niche.

2. Enhance skills with courses

Consider shorter diploma and certification courses that usually last for one year and offer specialised training. You can join these courses either concurrently in the last year of your bachelor's degree or immediately after that. This can help you develop skills specific to your goals, whether it is working in the gaming, music or media industries.

3. Volunteer and intern

Internships, apprenticeships and volunteering opportunities are some great ways to obtain professional experience and develop a network. Considering the overall shortage of sound engineers in the market, companies tend to hire interns or onboard them as freelancers more frequently than in other industries. You may also be able to gain employment with the company you intern with if you display the qualities and skills they look for from new hires.

4. Develop your library

Regardless of whether you are working, create original sounds and mixes to build a library of your own. This acts as a testament to your skills when applying for jobs or seeking collaboration with artists. Furthermore, it also helps you practise and perfect your craft.

Work Environment, Duties And Everyday Routine Of A Sound Engineer

Depending on the role and the company, the work environment and routine of sound engineers can be drastically different. For example, a sound engineer working with a television news crew can be on-ground for most days and work unpredictable hours. However, a studio engineer might spend the entire day in a closed studio and work for fixed durations.

No matter the industry, the working hours are mostly long and irregular. Many creative processes, like recording or shooting, or even live sporting events, usually end late at night. The industry has traditionally employed more freelancers and contractors on a project basis as compared to hiring full-time employees.

What Is The Salary Of A Sound Engineer?

The average base salary of a sound engineer is ₹ 2,57,911 per year. Mumbai, Pune, Delhi, Chennai, Bengaluru, Kolkata and Hyderabad have several well-paying opportunities for talented sound engineers. To increase your earning potential, complete certificate courses and find ways to enhance your skills.

Salary figures reflect data listed on Indeed Salaries at time of writing. Salaries may vary depending on the hiring organisation and a candidate's experience, academic background and location.


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