The future of music

Audio Engineering: Your Career Guide

December 29, 2023
audio engineering

In today’s overview of audio engineering, we will tell you everything you need to know to enter the field.

We will explain different audio engineering roles as well as the skills and qualifications such jobs require.

More importantly, we will talk about the perks and challenges of working in the music industry and take you through the steps to becoming an audio engineer.

What Is Audio Engineering?

In short, audio engineering refers to the technical side of audio recording, live performance production, post-production mixing, and mastering.

And audio engineers (sometimes called sound engineers) are music industry professionals responsible for the recording, mixing, and mastering of music.  

Audio engineering is a wide and versatile field, and it’s not only related to music.

And audio engineers play an important role in a variety of settings, situations, and live events.

That said, you can take many different career paths in audio engineering, depending on your interests, skills, and abilities.

But building a career in audio engineering takes time, even though there’s a big need for audio engineers nowadays.

Either way, we’re talking about a very technical role, but it’s also a quite creative one – you need to possess technical skills as well as a musical ear. 

In other words, to become a successful audio engineer, you need to be interested in sound and/or music as well as technology. 

What Do Audio Engineers Do?

As professionals who specialize in recording, mixing, and manipulating sound, audio engineers work in a wide range of settings and fields.

In any case, they are responsible for the quality of the sound – but in a slightly different way than audio producers are.

Unlike audio producers, audio engineers capture, mix, and reproduce sound using digital tools and technology, and they often do it live – during concerts, shows, events, and so on.

DJ booth music mixer

Generally, audio engineers can work in:

  • Film production
  • Movie theatres
  • Broadcasting
  • Live theater
  • Colleges and universities

Audio engineering is indeed a versatile field, but becoming successful in it does require a special set of skills.

Besides intricate technical skills and knowledge of audio production fundamentals, audio engineers also need to have communication skills as well as problem-solving skills.

Since they often handle sound reinforcements at live events, they need to be ready for all kinds of challenges – and that requires a calm and efficient response.

Good audio engineers also possess knowledge of musical instruments – this helps them understand their sonic characteristics which allows them to mic them properly.

All things considered, an audio engineer’s knowledge and skills have to go beyond technology and acoustics.

And their roles are sometimes similar to those of music producers.

However, audio engineering and music production are two different things.

Audio Engineer vs. Music Producer 

The main difference between audio engineers and music producers is their main focus.

Music producers create songs and albums from start to finish – they oversee and guide the whole production system, so they’re involved both in the creative and technical parts of making music.

Therefore, music production also involves songwriting and arrangement, as well as the managerial part of the whole process.

Audio engineers, on the other hand, are focused solely on the sound.

Also, music production refers only to music, while audio production and engineering can refer to any recorded sound.

Their job duties can sometimes overlap though, and both professions require basic knowledge of music theory, production skills, and understanding of recording equipment, DAWs, and various tools.

a room filled with organs and guitars

Many music producers are good sound engineers – they need to edit, mix, and master their tracks, after all.

However, not many audio engineers can jump into the role of a producer so easily.

Music producers are managers and supervisors of the music-making process, and they also advise musicians artistically.

That said, audio engineering is more suited to individuals who are interested in the technical aspects of music production. 

So if you want to learn more and deal with all of the mechanics of recording, mixing, and reproducing sound, audio engineering might be the perfect career path for you. 

And what about audio production?

Audio production is often used interchangeably with music production and audio engineering – but audio production refers to an umbrella term for a wide range of tasks related to recording and manipulating audio.

Audio producers are in charge of the recording and editing process of audio, but they’re also often involved in the songwriting and arrangement stages of music production.

While music producers bring an artist’s vision to life and are focused on the creative flow, audio producers focus on the quality of the sound.

And when it comes to the difference between audio production and audio engineering, audio producers usually manage the aspects of the recording (and everyone involved), and engineers are technicians focused on the equipment and production techniques.

Audio Engineering – Everything You Need to Know

Although they’re primarily focused on the technical part of the production, audio engineers are often involved in all kinds of tasks throughout their careers.

However, many aspiring engineers eventually find their niche and they specialize in a certain type of audio production.

Nevertheless, their skills are usually quite versatile, even though they do revolve around technology and hardware management. 

Audio engineering roles 

Depending on your interests, skills, and education, you can find different roles as an audio engineer in the music industry.

Some of the most popular audio engineering specializations include:

Recording Engineer

Recording engineers (also referred to as sound technicians) are responsible for all the technical aspects of a recording.

Since they capture and document the sound of a live or recorded performance, recording engineers can work in a recording studio as well as in various live settings.

Some of the responsibilities of a recording engineer include mic placement, signal routing and processing, studio equipment setup, and so on.

Mixing Engineer

If you become a mixing engineer, you’ll be in charge of mixing recordings.

In music production, mixing involves combining multi-track recordings, balancing sounds, and generally blending everything together so it’s smooth and coherent.

man working on the music mixer

Mixing engineers and producers achieve these goals by using EQ, compressors, reverb, and other mixing tools.

So as a mixing engineer, you’ll need to make sure everything fits together seamlessly. 

Mastering Engineer 

On the other hand, mastering engineers are responsible for polishing the recording so it’s ready for distribution.

As a mastering engineer, you would take the track that has been previously mixed and assembled by the mixing engineer and make all the necessary adjustments.

In audio production, mastering usually involves adjusting volume levels, optimizing the sound quality, adding metadata, and so on. 

Live Sound Engineer 

As the name suggests, a live sound engineer works at live events and ensures that the sound of the performance is heard loudly and clearly.

Live sound engineers are responsible for managing microphones and equipment, setting levels and equalizing them, and dealing with any technical issues that may come up.

That said, working in live sound engineering can sometimes be challenging and even stressful, and that’s why it’s important to be well-prepared, confident, and ready to handle whatever comes your way.

Multimedia Sound Engineer 

Multimedia sound engineers combine different forms of sound (music, effects, dialogue, etc) to create the final audio mix.

They usually create soundtracks for games, films, TV shows, and other multimedia projects.

As a multimedia sound designer, you need to have in-depth technical knowledge as well as sensitivity and the skills necessary to create a cohesive audio landscape. 

Audio engineering techniques

As we mentioned before, the responsibilities and job duties of audio engineers and music and audio producers sometimes overlap.

In fact, all of these professions need to be familiar with the following production stages:

1. Recording

Whether you want to become a recording engineer or a live sound engineer, you need to be familiar with the recording process, techniques, and equipment. 

The recording is the first step in creating the final track, and it’s an essential part of music production in general. 

recording signage

As an audio engineer, you can record the music live, or you can play with different samples, virtual instruments, and effects.

Many beginner producers decide to create music digitally before recording live instruments and vocals.

But many audio engineers work behind the board in recording studios.

In studios, engineers need to make sure everything is in order before anybody starts performing, and that includes preparing mics, setting levels, and so on.

They are also responsible for taking care of many technical and aesthetic aspects of a recording session.

And they’re in charge of the quality of the overall sound of all recorded tracks.

That way, engineers who work in a studio ensure that the recorded material satisfies the artists and producers.

2. Editing

Once all the songs and materials are recorded, engineers need to manipulate and fix all the recorded sounds.

Editing usually involves using computer software programs that allow engineers to change these sounds with effects like reverb, delay, or distortion.

It takes some time and practice to get comfortable with editing.

But with modern digital tools and editing programs, editing music has also never been easier.

If you’re just starting out with audio engineering or production, you can edit sounds in your DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) without hassle. 

3. Mixing

In the mixing stage, engineers and producers make sure everything sounds right.

Mixing techniques simply allow engineers to tweak and change the sound as they see fit.

And the goal is to create a cohesive song, album, or audio landscape that makes sense to the listeners.

Some of the tools used in mixing include:

  • EQ – manipulates the frequency and shapes the sound
  • Compressor – helps you even out dynamic spikes and adjust the volume
  • Reverb – provides a sense of space and natural depth

4. Mastering 

Mastering can include enhancing the overall sound and optimizing the sound quality, and it’s usually done by using tools like equalization, compression, limiting, and stereo enhancement.

It’s the final step of post-production that usually prepares the track for the intended use. 

Mastering can be challenging for beginners, but there are many platforms and automated mastering services that make this process easier. 

For example, services like LANDR, eMastered, and iZotope 8 allow you to create, master, and distribute music at a reasonable price, and they’re suitable for beginner producers.

See also: Best Online Mastering Services

Typical tasks

As you can see, audio engineers cover many different production phases and techniques.

It’s a very technical field, but being a good audio engineer also requires some other skills.

The thing is, an audio engineer can have a variety of roles (as we mentioned earlier), and a single role usually entails a wide range of tasks.

But some of the most common tasks in a typical day of an audio engineer include:

  • Managing equipment for recording, synchronizing, and mixing voices, music, and sounds
  • Collaborating with producers and artists
  • Placing microphones 
  • Editing audio
  • Exploring new technologies and ways of manipulating sound
  • Creating sound effects for movies, TV, and video games
  • Developing and setting up sound systems for live events 
man working on the music mixer

Sound engineers also need to think about panning.

Panning includes moving a sound anywhere in the stereo field of a stereo playback system with the goal to produce a wider sonic experience.

It’s true – audio engineers have a lot to think about.

And the funny thing is, when you do everything right, artists and producers most likely won’t notice it in the sense that the song or the recording should sound natural and logical.

From that perspective, audio engineers need to put a lot of effort into making something that seems effortless.

And that is a skill that takes a lot of time and practice to master. 

Skills and qualifications 

With all of these typical audio engineering tasks in mind, it’s easy to conclude that audio engineers need to possess many different skills and qualities.

Of course, different roles require different special skills.

However, there are some general skills and qualifications associated with audio engineering.

Some of those key skills involve:

  • Production skills (recording, mixing, and mastering)
  • Understanding of acoustics
  • Basic knowledge of music theory
  • Listening skills (an ear for music)
  • Technical skills 
  • Communication skills

Luckily, all of these skills can be taught and learned.

Of course, if you’re a technology buff or if you have been taking music lessons for a while now, the learning process will be much easier for you.

In any case, there are many ways you can acquire the skills necessary to start a career in audio production.

How much do audio engineers make?

Even though there are many ways to become an audio engineer, if you want to make it in the music industry, you’ll have to put in the work.

As you probably already know, the music industry has a reputation for being one of the more difficult industries to break into.

Nonetheless, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try.

And if you succeed, you’ll probably find the audio engineering career quite rewarding.

And now you’re probably wondering: can you make good money as an audio engineer?

Well, that’s hard to tell – an audio engineer’s salary depends on many factors, including type of job, skills, and experience.

But according to Comparably, the salaries of audio engineers in the US range from $18,776 to $508,892, with a median salary of $91,348. 

So, it all depends on your specific situations and circumstances.

How to Become an Audio Engineer

Building a career in the music industry is never easy – but it’s usually worth it.

If you’re passionate about music (or sound in general) and technology, audio engineering is definitely a field you should explore.

And with practice and persistence, success will come to you one way or another.

1. Hone your skills

If you want to know how to get into audio engineering, you should first think about your abilities and skills.

We already talked about the skills and qualifications of an audio engineer, so make sure you explore what gaining each skill entails.

After all, honing your skills and expanding your knowledge is the best thing you can do to improve your career prospects. 

2. Find your niche

While learning more about audio engineering, you’ll probably be drawn to certain aspects and production techniques.

And that will be the first step toward finding your niche.

The thing is, the best audio engineers have versatile skills and experiences, but they’re also experts in recording live audio, mastering, mixing, or something else. 

Therefore, research audio engineering specializations and see what resonates with you. 

That way, you can set clear, realistic goals and focus on achieving them. 

But if you’re still not sure what suits you best, don’t worry; many aspiring audio engineers figure this out during their studies. 

3. Consider an audio engineering degree 

Speaking of studies, if you’re seriously interested in becoming a professional audio engineer, you should consider enrolling in an audio engineering degree program. 

Some employers seek experience and skills, but others require at least a certificate in audio engineering.

That said, you should check out study programs in audio engineering, music production and engineering, or sound design.

a graduate woman holding a degree

Many great universities and colleges around the world offer music degrees.

You just need to find a program that meets your needs.

In any case, getting a degree would undoubtedly improve your career prospects and equip you with the skills, knowledge, and experiences necessary to enter the field. 

See also: Best Audio Engineering Schools

4. Build a good reputation 

Once you improve your skills and learn the basics of audio engineering, you’ll be ready to start practicing and working.

But don’t expect to be involved in a cool project right away.

You first need to gain experience and learn how to get around in the music industry.

And one of the ways to do that is to network – music is a very network-oriented business, and meeting fellow engineers, producers, artists, and other people from the industry is important.

Networking can advance your career because it can bring you new opportunities and help you gain valuable information as well as the possibility to look at things from a different perspective.

But the most important thing is to do good work – after all, word of mouth is sometimes the best advertising. 

Speaking of advertising, if you want to find a good job in audio engineering, you should build a strong online presence.

Establishing an online presence can be fairly easy – you just need to be active on the relevant social media platforms and post regularly.

In this day and age, social media presence can do wonders for your career, especially in the fields like music and entertainment.

Audio Engineering Degrees and Courses 

With the ongoing development of digital tools, multimedia platforms, and audio technology, audio engineers are becoming more and more sought after.

But that also means the requirements and qualifications are becoming more demanding.

Audio engineers need to know everything about the latest trends, and they need to be able to keep up with new tools and technologies.

Moreover, hands-on experience is crucial for audio engineers.

And universities and colleges allow students to work in recording studios, venues, record labels, student-run radio stations, and so on.

And these are only some of the reasons many employers require a degree. 

So if you’re thinking about starting a career in the music industry, you should definitely consider enrolling in a study program.

two persons reading notes

Now, there are different degree types you can choose from – from Master’s and Bachelor’s degrees to audio engineering certificates and diplomas.

Depending on your goals and abilities, you should find a program that suits you best. 

Many top-rated music schools have audio engineering or music technology study programs, including Berklee College of Music.

  • Full Sail University
  • Drexel University
  • SAE Institute
  • Frost School of Music
  • NYU/Steinhardt
  • Middle Tennessee State University
  • Belmont University

All of these schools provide a well-rounded curriculum, hands-on learning, and the opportunity to study in excellent facilities.

Some of them also offer internship opportunities – and that’s really valuable in this field.

Alternatively, you can consider taking an online audio engineering or production course.

Online programs and lessons offer a flexible and affordable way of mastering the fundamentals of audio engineering, and they can equip you with the skills you’ll need to get started.

Either way, getting a formal or online education is the best way to get into audio engineering, especially if you want to earn a living as an audio engineer. 

And what type of education you should opt for depends on where you want to work and what audio engineering job you’re looking for.

See also: Best Online Music Schools

Is It Hard to Become an Audio Engineer?

With a ton of content being produced every day, the need for audio engineers is huge.

That being said, audio engineers are in demand, and you don’t have to worry about where you’re supposed to work after you graduate or gain experience – you have a variety of settings and engineering roles to choose from.

However, this is also a very competitive field.

Plus, many audio engineers start out as interns or apprentices and work their way up – and that can take years.

In fact, it usually takes a lot of time and practice before engineers start to work as live sound engineers or record makers.

Nevertheless, just because it’s challenging it doesn’t mean it’s impossible.

On the contrary – if you hone your skills, gain experience, and build a strong portfolio, there’s no reason you shouldn’t succeed in the music industry.

The important thing is to stay open-minded and always keep an eye out for opportunities.

Also, don’t forget to network and collaborate with different people from the industry. 

At the end of the day, every successful audio engineer has their own story and ways of getting things started – therefore, you should focus on your goals, find your strengths, and find the way that works for you.

Audio Engineering – Final Thoughts 

Even though the music industry is difficult to break into, if you’re motivated and persistent, we’re sure you’ll find your place there.

Audio engineering is a broad field, and there are many career paths you can take – you can become a recording engineer, mastering engineer, live sound engineer, and so on.

In any case, you should work on your technical skills and musical knowledge, and dive deeper into recording techniques, editing, mixing, and mastering.

Once you learn how to manipulate sound and make it the best it can be, you’ll be on the right track to success. 

You may also like: Careers in the Music Industry

Will Fenton

Will, the founder of MIDDER, is a multifaceted individual with a deep passion for music and personal finance. As a self-proclaimed music and personal finance geek, he has a keen eye for futuristic technologies, especially those that empower creators and the public.

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