Where do Audio Engineers Work?
If you are seriously considering becoming an audio engineer you first need define what type of audio engineer you want to be. While many of the skill sets overlap, each of the various types of audio engineers mentioned below has its own set of specific skills. Therefore, more generalized training should be obtained first, then specialized training via a school, training program, or on on-the-job should follow once you have obtained a firm foundation in the craft.
Audio Engineers work in Recording Studios
Most audio engineers work in a recoding studio of some sort—whether it be the traditional brick and mortar recording studio, or a room or area of their home. The recording studio audio engineer must be able to develop a rapport with a wide variety of creative artists. The studio engineer has much in common with the live sound venue engineer. The equipment and space don’t change (except when they get upgraded), but the artists do. In these cases, the audio engineer should be familiar with the gear and the room and needs to concern themselves more with the artist’s preferences and recording the artist’s vision. The audio engineer with a recording studio usually has a sizeable investment in the equipment and in the case of a brick and mortar recording studio ongoing rent payments. This means they need to be constantly engaged in recording projects to pay the bills.
Audio Engineers work in Live Venues
As Live Music or Live Sound engineers, these professionals typically work in one or two venues and are the regular or “house” engineers. Much like the engineers who work in recording studios and those who go on tour, these professionals must be good at dealing with a variety of artistic personalities and interfacing with musicians on a regular basis. Achieving stellar live sound for all the venues patrons as well as preparing the band for their show with a sound check and providing them with a good mix if necessary are the main responsibilities of persons in this job.
Audio Engineers go on Tour
Audio engineers who do live event sound either work at one venue where the acts change frequently, or they travel to various concert venues doing the live sound for a specific band on their concert tour. For bigger bands, the equipment and the band stay the same but the venue or room constantly changes and there is a lot of equipment setup and tear down involved. Concert sound also requires two mixes: one for the front of house sound (which is what the audience hears) and one for the monitors (which is what the band hears). Sometimes this is done with two sound engineers and sometimes one engineer is responsible for both feeds. The audio engineer for live venue sound is relieved of the equipment investment burden—either the venue has its own equipment, or the touring equipment is rented and budgeted for.
Audio Engineers aka Sound Recordist work on Film Sets
The audio engineer for film shoots usually supplies the sound gear for the shoot. Some film audio engineers rent equipment, others own it. Regardless, the film audio engineer is responsible for having the right equipment to record on location. Recording audio for location film shoots requires skill in dealing with the unknown. The challenge is to record audio of excellent quality without the equipment getting in the shot. Furthermore, audio engineers who handle sound for film shoots can often find themselves on locations where the film is being shot.
And they work in Broadcasting and Television
In radio stations, television stations, and news broadcasts, a specialized branch of audio engineering, i.e. a broadcast and sound engineering technician works to record sound for television broadcasts, news segments, sportscasts, and basically any kind of media which has sound, from speech to music, to ambient noise, to the roaring of a stadium at a football game. Typically these professionals will work at the station, production facility, or a recording studio. Engineers who work “in the field” in news will work both indoors and outdoors and therefore need to know how to safely protect and operate various audio devices and adjust to changing weather and circumstances quickly and effectively.
Consider your Personality and Inklings
As you set out on your career path, don’t forget how your own personality and lifestyle comes into play. Do you want some degree of regularity in your life? Then, a venue engineer might be your top choice as it has set hours. Recording studio engineers have some regularity—after all, the studio is going to be in the same place day after day, but the hours can be quite varied and random. Do you want to see the world? Concert tour and film location audio engineers are on the road a lot. They often get to travel around the world, but not necessarily when and where they want to go. Also, take some time to consider the dynamics which will likely be at play. For example, the live event venue audio engineer needs to keep the venue owner happy. The live event tour audio engineer must deliver for the band or artist. The film location audio engineer must keep the director satisfied.
Before you decide to jump into a career as an audio engineer, try to get a feel for what each of the different types of audio engineers does, what life would be like in that career, and consider what will make you feel the happiest and most fulfilled.