Sound Engineer Job Description - Skills, Tasks and Career Path
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Sound Engineer Job Description
A sound engineer (sometimes referred to as an audio engineer or sound technician) is a professional involved in all of the various aspects and phases of sound production, including sound capture, recording, mixing, reproducing and editing. Sound engineers work in a wide range of industries, including the entertainment industry, the music and recording industry, cinema, television and radio.
Let’s take a detailed look at what the job of a sound engineer involves.
Sound engineers are responsible for both the technical and artistic aspects of audio production, with the overall aim of their work being to deliver the required sound quality. The tasks of a sound engineer essentially involve installing and monitoring the equipment used for capturing, recording, transmitting and reproducing sound, music and dialogue.
Sound engineers may work in a variety of roles, including in live sound recording for cinema or TV (either in a studio or on location), as a live sound engineer for shows, concerts and other live events, or in a recording studio, recording musical performances and then mixing and editing the recorded audio using specialist equipment in a phase known as post production.
Since each sector (e.g. studio recording, live events and concerts, television, cinema and theatre) has its own different characteristics and requirements, the tasks of a sound engineer can vary significantly from sector to sector. Accordingly, sound engineers often tend to specialize in one particular area.
Working in interiors allows sound engineers to exercise complete control over the environment and achieve perfect sound quality.
The first step in preparing an interior setting for audio purposes is to carry out an on-site evaluation to determine the location’s sound amplification requirements and decide the placement of directional and ambient microphones, with a view to obtaining the cleanest audio possible.
Sound engineers are also responsible for setting up the various components of a sound system (e.g. speakers, microphones, amplifiers and mixers), installing audio cables and for ensuring that all electrical connections have been correctly made. Once all the equipment has been installed, the sound engineer performs a sound check to verify the levels of the various sound components and the quality of the sound in the room.
In some cases, such as recordings of theatre and film performances, the microphones used to capture dialogue are hidden in actors’ clothing with the help of costume and set designers. In cases where projected video footage is accompanied by an audio track, the sound engineer has to coordinate with the video technician to ensure the sound and the images are synchronized. Sound engineers also need to able to intervene promptly in the event of problems arising with the sound system.
At live outdoors events, such as concerts, fashion shows, sporting events and conventions, sound engineers collaborate with other event personnel, including microphone technicians, DJs, cameramen, and video and lighting technicians.
The job of a live sound engineer at a live show is to ensure that sound recording and reproduction are of the highest possible quality. One of a sound engineer’s main key tasks when working at outside locations, is isolating the sound of the performance from the ambient noise so as to ensure that the audio is as clean as possible.
During post-production, sound engineers are responsible for monitoring and adjusting the levels and quality of analogue or digital sound recordings. This typically involves cleaning up recorded audio by eliminating any extraneous sounds that may have been captured accidentally and enhancing the sound quality - for example by adjusting the frequencies using graphic and parametric equalizers. Sound engineers working in post-production also carry out editing, mixing and mastering for studio albums and other audio recordings, as well as for a range of other commercial, artistic and journalistic audiovisual products (such as advertisements, music videos, films, news reports and documentaries). They may also be responsible for synchronizing audio and video and adding in sound effects, samples and dubbed dialogue.
Good sound engineers need an extensive knowledge of the tools and equipment used for capturing, recording, transmitting, amplifying, reproducing and processing sound, such as sound cards, digital and analogue mixing consoles, microphones, speakers, amplifiers, headphones, synthesizers, recorders, sound level meters and acoustical calibrators. They should also be familiar with how such equipment works and be able to intervene to fix or adjust it in the event of technical issues and calibrate it to suit a variety of different settings.
Another essential skill for post-production work is a knowledge of the computer technology and software applications used for sound reproduction, processing, editing and enhancement. Since the technology in question changes very rapidly, sound technicians wanting to stay ahead of the game and make use of the latest, most advanced equipment, need to constantly update their knowledge and skills.
Sound engineers work in a range of different settings, including for recording studios, audiovisual production companies, TV and radio broadcasters, record labels and recording artists, film crews, as well as a wide variety of other public and private organizations.
They are often hired to look after the sound reinforcement or PA systems at concert halls, live music venues, press conference venues, theatres, cinemas, auditoriums, sports venues, exhibition halls, trade fairs and conference centres.
Sound technicians are also highly sought after by major tour operators looking for staff to join the entertainment teams based at their holiday resorts (e.g. alongside DJs, set designers, performers, dancers and singers). The main task of a sound technician at a holiday village is to run the sound for live music events and shows.
Sound engineers are often self-employed. Where this is this case, work can tend to be irregular, with periods of intense activity followed by periods of relative inactivity.
Sound engineers also need to be willing to travel nationally and internationally, e.g. for concert and theatrical tours and film and television shoots. Working hours may be very flexible, depending on the specific circumstances and role and may include weekends, public holidays as well as - not infrequently - evenings and nights.
Sound Engineer Responsibilities and Tasks
A sound engineer’s tasks include:
- Installing, monitoring and adjusting audio equipment for recording and sound reinforcement
- Setting up audio equipment, sound reinforcement systems and microphones for live performances and sound recording
- Recording sound, music, television programmes, dialogue etc, using digital and analogue recording equipment
- Controlling the quality of sound recordings
- Mixing and creating sound effects
- Carrying out post production using sound editing software
- Synchronizing sound, noises, dialogue and special effects with images
- Carrying out equipment maintenance and performing minor repairs
How to Become a Sound Engineer - Education and Training
The best route to become a sound engineer is to attend a course for sound engineers to gain knowledge in specialist areas such as sound, acoustics, electronics, recording techniques, analogue and digital audio signal processing and audio technologies for live events and performances, music, film, radio and TV production.
Sound engineers also need to be able to install, operate and maintain professional sound equipment used to produce, record and transmit music and other sounds.
It may also be useful for sound engineers to have some musical knowledge or skills - for example the ability to play a musical instrument - or hold specialist music qualifications. Other key requirements include IT skills - especially the ability to use the latest sound processing software. Most of the practical skills needed for the role can be learned on the job - for example through an apprenticeship, traineeship or placement under the supervision of an experienced professional.
Skills and Qualifications
Sound engineers require the following skills:
- Ability to use sound recording and playback equipment and technology
- Ability to select and install the technology needed to achieve perfect acoustics
- Ability to set up sound equipment to ensure optimum sound quality
- Knowledge of techniques and equipment for sound mixing, mastering, optimization and equalization
- Knowledge of audio signal processing methods and equipment
- Post production sound editing skills
- Knowledge of musical theory, acoustics, electroacoustics and electronics
- Excellent hearing
Sound Engineer - Career Path
The career of a sound engineer typically begins in an entry-level position, such as microphone technician, boom operator or cableman, with a period of training under the supervision of a senior sound professional.
As they gain in experience, sound engineers may choose to specialize in a specific area of sound production, such as cinema, theatre, advertising, documentaries or music, or in a specific phase of the sound production process (e.g. live sound engineer, post production sound engineer, monitor sound engineer, studio engineer, recording engineer or sound effects technician).
The subsequent career of a sound engineer may take a number of different routes.
One option is to become a sound designer - i.e. a sound professional who handles sound assignments from conceptualization right through to post production.
Alternatively, a sound engineer may decide to expand his or her skill set to include visual effects and lighting for musical events, theatrical productions, TV shows and cinema, as an audiovisual technician or a sound and lighting technician - and eventually advance to a position as head of sound and lighting.
Top Reasons to Work as a Sound Engineer
A job as a sound engineer - an expert in recording, designing, editing and processing sound using a range of electronic and digital sound processing tools and technologìes - is ideal for anybody with a passion for music and an interest in the technical and artistic aspects of sound production.
With its variable working hours, irregular workloads and frequent travel, the job of a sound engineer can be very busy and demanding indeed. On the other hand, for many of those who decide to embark on a career in the music industry as a sound engineer, it offers a chance to turn their passion into a profession.