What Does an Audio Engineer Do and How Do They Succeed?

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 23 August 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

If you love entertainment and have a finely tuned ear, you may wonder ‘What does an audio engineer do?' Understanding this job can help you decide if this career suits you. If you decide to become an audio engineer, you can focus on educating yourself about audio engineering and improving your skills. In this article, we explain the role of audio engineers and how these creative professionals succeed.

What does an audio engineer do?

Audio engineers manage the technical and artistic elements of sound during a recording or live performance. They optimise sound quality, ensuring all sounds are clear, audible and pleasing to hear. Their tasks vary according to their work environment, but may include:

  • Evaluating sites to assess their amplification requirements and ideal sound configuration

  • Arranging directional and ambient microphones to pick up sound

  • Setting up sound system components, including speakers, amplifiers and mixers

  • Performing sound checks to confirm sound quality

  • Collaborating with video technicians, lighting technicians and camera operators to sync up production elements with sound

  • Resolving any problems with the sound system during recording

  • Monitoring and adjusting levels and quality of sound recordings, including eliminating background sounds that detract from main audio

  • Editing, mixing and mastering audio to enhance its sound

  • Adding new elements including sound effects, samples, and dubbed dialogue to existing audio tracks

Do audio engineers make beats?

Audio engineers usually enhance beats, rather than making them. However, they may make beats if they work in studios where their role has a larger scope than most audio engineers. The formal job title for someone who makes beats is programmer. They are commonly called beatmakers, especially in hip-hop culture. Rather than hiring a programmer, many music producers make their own beats for audio engineers to work on.

What is the working environment for an audio engineer?

An audio engineer works in places where people record and use sounds, such as music recording studios, radio stations, film and television studios and theatres. They usually work in acoustically stable environments that are free of external forces that can impact sound, such as the weather. However, they may work in unpredictable environments during outdoor concerts and theatre productions. Audio engineers work closely with other creative professionals including performers, directors and producers.

Audio engineers often have flexible and irregular schedules. Many of these professionals work on weekends, evenings and public holidays. They may work long shifts or for a few hours at a time, depending on their projects.

How can you become an audio engineer?

Formal qualifications are optional for audio engineers, so there are many different career paths. Here is one of the most common paths people take to become an audio engineer:

1. Study sound engineering or production

While formal qualifications are optional, qualifications in sound teach audio engineers fundamental knowledge about their field. Vocational courses, available through TAFE and some independent training providers, also have a large practical component that provides hands-on experience working with audio engineering. Some of the most common qualifications for audio engineers are:

  • Certificate III in Technical Production

  • Certificate IV in Sound Production

  • Certificate IV in Music Industry (Sound Production)

  • Diploma of Sound Production

  • Diploma of Music Industry (Sound Production)

2. Observe audio engineers at work

The audio production industry is relatively small, so getting to know the people in it can enhance your job prospects. Contact places where audio engineers work, such as recording studios and theatres, and ask whether you can spend time there. Observe what the audio engineers do and ask questions about their processes. Over time, these professionals may give you some hands-on experience in audio production.

3. Experiment with audio engineering at home

Invest in some popular audio software and affordable equipment and create a studio at home. Spend time experimenting with these products at home, so you can feel comfortable using them. If you know anyone who plays music, you could work together to develop your skills.

4. Volunteer for audio work

Community groups and independent artists often lack the budgets for professional audio engineers. Volunteering for this work is a great way to develop your skills and expand your resume. Contact community theatre groups, amateur filmmakers and local musicians and volunteer your services.

Related: Everything You Need To Know About Volunteer Experience

5. Apply for entry-level sound jobs

Few people secure audio engineering roles after graduating. Most people work entry-level jobs in sound to gain paid industry experience before securing their dream roles. Apply for jobs like roadie and studio assistant. These roles give you a start in the industry and let you network with the people who could help you advance your career.

6. Apply for audio engineer roles

After gaining a few years of industry experience and building your skills and contacts, you can secure an audio engineer role. Apply for advertised vacant jobs and talk to your industry contacts about any opportunities they know about. Many audio engineer jobs are never advertised, and networking can be a great way to find out about these roles.

Related: Become a Networking Expert in 7 Steps

What skills do you need to be a sound engineer?

Businesses hiring sound engineers look for people with the following technical and soft skills:

Technical audio engineering skills

Successful audio engineers know how to work with audio to optimise its quality. They feel comfortable working with live and recorded audio. They also feel confident setting up equipment for sound broadcast or recording, including positioning microphones and connecting audio cables. Feeling comfortable with various sound equipment helps them adapt to the sound setup in different studios and broadcast locations. It also helps them confidently choose the right equipment for each project.

Passion for audio engineering

Audio engineers are passionate about their craft. Their interest in their industry motivates them to keep learning about their sector. They stay up-to-date with new sound equipment and techniques. They also enjoy experimenting with new tools and techniques and adopting the most successful. As technology changes, they adapt to the developments to make sure their work stays current.

Diverse musical knowledge

The many audio engineers that work on music projects apply a diverse musical knowledge. This knowledge helps them understand the genres of different musicians and their artistic visions. Audio engineers with a wide musical knowledge can more confidently work on music that's different from the songs they usually listen to.

Computer literacy

Modern audio engineers use software to process, modify, edit and enhance sounds. You can speak to industry contacts and perform research to learn about common software for this role. Audio engineers experiment with these programs and research their capabilities so they can work more efficiently.

Related: Computer Literacy: What It Is And How You Can Improve Yours

Communication

Successful audio engineers communicate clearly and confidently with other creative professionals. Their communication skills help them delegate tasks to audio technicians and assistants. These skills also help them collaborate with directors, producers and musicians. If they are unsure about someone's artistic vision, they know the right questions to ask to clarify their project's requirements.

Related: Why Interpersonal Communication Is So Important at Work

Problem solving

Problem-solving skills help audio engineers manage challenges so they deliver polished audio efficiently. If audio is unclear or out of balance, they use their problem-solving skills to improve its sound. If equipment stops working, their problem-solving skills help them adapt their sound setup or source new items in a timely fashion.

Is audio engineer a good career?

Being an audio engineer is a good career choice for people with the right skills for the following reasons:

Freedom to work on interesting projects

Most audio engineers are self-employed, so they can choose the projects that interest them. This freedom helps audio engineers feel fulfilled by their work. Working on projects of their choice helps audio engineers stay motivated and engaged.

Work-life balance

Being self-employed also helps audio engineers find the right work-life balance. They can organise their schedules to provide the balance they need. For example, they may take breaks between projects so they can spend time with family.

High salaries

The average salary for an audio engineer is $194,920. As most audio engineers are self-employed, they can easily negotiate their salaries for each project. Experienced audio engineers with strong resumes find negotiating high salaries easier.

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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