Music is a universal love language and a vital part of everyday life. Even if you don’t intentionally turn on a Tidal, Spotify, or an Apple playlist, you hear a song during some part of your day. And while one can dream of being as lyrical as Rapsody or as soulful as H.E.R., it takes a team of folks to make it all happen.
On that team, one of the most valuable and well-respected positions is that of the audio engineer. If your teen in interested in music, or sound production, share this article with him or her - this could be the perfect career path.
This person assists the artist in capturing their creativity in its purest form and helps shape ideas through microphones, faders, buttons, audio software, and most of all -- lots of knowledge. The Audio Engineer can exist in multiple forms and have varying tasks.
Sometimes the Recording Engineer, and Mixing Engineer, share duties or are one in the same, while the Mastering Engineer, and Live Show Engineer tend to be separate people. Below we’ll discuss these roles in greater detail, so you can see if a career in sound engineering is one for you!
The Recording Engineer
The Recording Engineer is responsible for making sure that all audio is captured during the tracking process. They have knowledge about specific types of recording procedures, which microphones sound best capturing different types of voices, and the vast world of instruments: guitar, bass, drums, horns, each having uniquely different sound qualities. This task can be regarded as the most crucial step in the audio chain, the recording is a tedious process that varies per environment.
The Mixing Engineer
The Mixing Engineer has the task of taking all of the recorded audio parts and manipulating their levels and tones, creating a unique blend that also meets industry-standard quality markings. This process can be equally time consuming, and most times take multiple days to complete. The Mix Engineer combs through 3 minutes of audio by as little as 4-10 sec intervals at times, making small decisions, shaping and molding sounds to achieve the ultimate balance. The seasoned Mix Engineer can get a song mostly mixed in one session but usually, goes back to it on another day with fresh ears to fine-tune things.
Some of the most notable special effects processing (fx) that you hear on the voices of pop and hip hop music like autotune, echo, and underwater are created and decided by the Mixing Engineer.
The Mastering Engineer
The Mastering Engineer has the specialized task of taking the final mixes and applying an expert use of equalization, better known as EQ, compression and other audio processing that helps the music to reach its maximum volume level for playback, and have an even distribution of frequencies.
The Mastering Engineer has an extra critical knowledge of how frequencies sound and use their knowledge to tune the audio so it is heard exactly the same no matter the source. If you’re listening in a car, on a TV, a pair of AirPods, Beats headphones, JBL bluetooth speaker - you name it - chances are the Mastering Engineer listened through similar sources before finalizing their work and deciding it was ready to be heard by the masses and ultimately performed by the artist.
The Live Show Engineer
The Live Show Engineer is affectionately known as the Front of House Engineer, because of their placement in the performance space. The stage where the artist performs faces the crowd, or in industry terms “the house”, where the speakers project outward, and in the middle of the concert floor, the audio is being manipulated by a front-facing engineer. This person takes all the work the other engineers completed in the recording process and transfers those sonic elements into a live performance space.
The performance space deals with many more variables than a controlled recording space. The room size, absorption material of objects, reflection style of objects, projection-type of speakers and subwoofers, and how all those things - plus microphones - interact with the musicians and artists' performance. The Live Engineer manipulates the audio using a console that controls the audio and microphones being heard for an hour or more each night of an artist’s tour, or my personal mantra “Another Day, Another Mix.”
Keep in mind, film, broadcast for TV and radio, video game, automotive, and a host of other non-entertainment related Audio Engineer careers also exist, so there’s a wide range of the work you can do!
Interested? Here’s how you can get started:
Build Technical Knowledge
The term Audio Engineer requires a considerable amount of technical knowledge but has become more of a creative space. Thanks to Apple and other software companies, the worlds of the audio engineer can be visited via the home studio: Pro Tools, FL Studio, Ableton, and Logic are all industry known software that is used for music production purposes and can be purchased. The software is also referred to as a DAW - “Digital Audio Workstation”. While these are some of the most common DAWs, there are also other free software and apps being created rapidly for use. Have fun recording on your phone and manipulating the audio in a DAW.
Practice Critical and Analytical Listening Daily
Intentionally listen to something and evaluate the details. Explore the dynamic range, loud or soft, the tone of the music - high or low, the imaging- left or right. How many instruments are being blended together and what instruments are they? Simply listening is an awesome first step to becoming a sound engineer.
All Audio Engineers have an understanding of exactly how certain frequency spectrums sound independently, and also what multiple frequencies sound like together. Like music, life is about finding the ultimate balance. If you’re interested in becoming an audio engineer it’s simple, let your ears lead the way.