Sound Engineer – What are they?

Anyone who knows a sound engineer would say they do sweet FA because they swan around making themselves look busy, but in realitly they are the guys and gals that work backstage making sure all the sound equipment work for bands, theatre, TV corporate gigs and the like so people like you can hear.

Sound Engineers are responsible for the same thing no matter which part of the sound industry they work in.

A Sound Engineer is responsible for what the audience hears.

Depending on where they work, they may:

  • plan recording sessions with producers and artists.
  • operate equipment for recording, mixing and sequencing.
  • balancing and adding effects.
  • position microphones.

They record onto a multi-track tape machine or a hard disk drive, before mixing and mastering for final production.

The master can then be made into various formats, including CD, minidisc, DVD-A (Digital Versatile Disc-Audio), SACD (Super Audio Compact Disc), MP3 or digital audio files in different formats.

Hours can be long and unpredictable, and night and weekend work is common.

They also need to be flexible as their hours may depend on the availability of artists and producers and the needs of the production project.

Most of the work of a sound engineer is carried out in recording or post-production studios which can be air conditioned, spacious and well equipped, but smaller studios may be more uncomfortable.

A sound engineer may earn range from around £15,000 up to £75,000 a year.

A Sound Engineer should have:

  • excellent hearing.
  • the ability to listen and to differentiate between sounds.
  • a good sense of pitch, timing and rhythm.
  • a knowledge of sound recording and post-production.
  • a good knowledge of and interest in different types of music.

A sound engineer may be employed by commercial recording and audio post-production studios. Most of the major employers are based in London, but there are many smaller independent studios around the country.

Many are freelance. Competition for jobs is fierce. Networking, the ability to make personal contacts and experience in the industry are vital for a sound engineer.

It may be possible to enter the industry as a sound engineer without formal qualifications. Some commercial studios and audio post-production facilities houses take on runners or assistants who perform routine tasks.

If they show promise they may eventually work their way up the ladder. Larger studios may require applicants to have a related qualification. There is a wide range of relevant courses for a sound engineer at various levels.

A good sound engineer who has built up a reputation may become a producer and others may specialise in a particular area or go on to set up their own recording studios.

Rob Summers was a sound engineer on the West End hit, Priscilla, Queen of the Desert until 2012. He is now on Thriller Live.

I hope you have enjoyed my article on what is a sound engineer and how they do it.

Rob Summers