WHAT DOES AN AUDIO ENGINEER DO?
Music is an art form that’s as ethereal as it is omnipresent in our culture. For people not involved directly in the production and creation of music it’s something that can appear mysterious and impenetrable. But there are multiple roles within the music production ecosystem. The most common of which is the audio engineer.
What is an Audio Engineer?
Yes, obviously, you have the producer, the studio musicians, and the artist, but the audio engineer is how many longtime industry professionals get their start. We sat down with recording professionals from across the music industry to ask them what their perspective is on what a good audio engineer should do and how to become successful within the industry.
What do Audio Engineers do?
“A recording audio engineer records the sound that the artist is making and then he has to manipulate it with the EQ, and the compression, and the gates, and all the other little toys, into sounding like a record when he’s mixing it”
– Rick Camp, RC1 Productions & Master Mix Live – Las Vegas, NV
Credits: Jennifer Lopez, Beyoncé, Mary J. Blige, Kelly Clarkson, Usher, Dr. Dre, Earth Wind & Fire
“As an engineer you want to nurture the artist and make them feel at home or special. This is one of the driving forces in creating a great final product, a track, demo, etc. When opening a new studio, your initial business concept should always include this, and it’s a part of my personal philosophy as an audio engineer: ‘Don’t ruin the artist.’ My best advice: Lose your ego. Don’t be a flake. Drop any negativity you may have.”
– Bill Davidow, Virlouise Recording – Anaheim, CA
Credits: Darren Vegas, Israel Houghton, Coca Cola, Powerade, Guitar Center
“The audio engineer can be employed by the studio or work as a freelance engineer. Meaning that he is completely independent and works for himself. The freelance engineer usually works at many different studios and will establish a name for himself as the engineer to call to get a certain sound. As an engineer that works for a studio, as an example, he will just be there when the studio calls and has a job for him. The freelance guy will have to get own jobs. The business of marketing and actually doing business is important. If you are planning to become an engineer, I might suggest that you also learn business and marketing to help with growing and maintaining your business of being an engineer.”
– Donny Baker, ES Audio Services / Open Call Productions – Glendale, CA
Credits: Beyoncé, Brandy, The Klassics, Alex Cantrall, Silk the Shokker, Candace Glover
“An audio engineer’s principle responsibilities these days are to keep everything connected and moving. There are a lot of different types of personalities in the room at any given time, and their main function if they’re working in the typical configuration, producer, artist, songwriter, is to make sure everybody is connected together and music keeps flowing.”
– Cameell Hanna, Serenity West Recording – Los Angeles, CA
Credits: Justin Timberlake, Adele, Florence & the Machine, Eva Simons, Wiz Khalifa, Snoop Dogg
“An audio engineer does, you know, one of two things. He’s got to either capture sound so it’s going to sound like music, or mix it, you know, blend the sounds together to make it like a presentation”
– Mike Johnson, Clear Track Recording Studios – Clearwater, FL
Credits: John Legend, Jeff Berlin, Boyz II Men, The Roots, Alice Cooper, U2, Madonna
“Audio Engineers are typically charged with the task of shaping and controlling sounds. The job varies depending on the specific field, i.e. recording, mixing, post production, live sound, etc… In the simplest sense, the job is about making things sound good. Engineering is a very technical job. Audio engineers draw on their knowledge of physics, electronics, computing, and math, in addition to utilizing their well-trained ears”
– Zach Phillips, Freq Lab Recording – San Francisco, CA
Credits: The Kooks, Talib Kweli, Dnae Beats, Jayleez, J-Banks, The Game, Alice Russell, Comedy Central
Audio Engineer Jobs
Life as an audio engineer is in many ways similar to being a music producer. Like music producers, audio engineers work in the recording studio. They’re all moving in an industry based on contacts. You’re only getting hired if you know the right people. In many ways their job descriptions are similar, as well. In fact, there are many people who work in both capacities, often at the same time.
Like music producers, audio engineers may record, edit and mix real audio sound in the studio. They’re often the backbone of the recording session. They’re putting out fires, solving creative problems, and making sure everything happens smoothly. They also must work with singers, arrangers, musicians, record producers, artists’ management and everyone else, to try and create the best sound possible.
Generally, however, an audio engineer’s side of the equation is more technically oriented than that of a producer. They’re the person getting their hands dirty and making sure that the trains run on time. While a producer may sit in the booth coaxing singer’s performances and artfully adjusting sound levels to blend best with one another, it is the audio engineer who has generally set up the microphone the singer is singing into. They’re going to be the person setting up any gear, recording equipment, or other physical work that needs to be taken care of.
What does an Audio Engineer do in Music Production? What is their job like?
Audio engineers often work with artists for weeks before a recording begins. Setting up equipment, arriving at good studio sound for voices and instruments, helping musicians and singers feel comfortable in the studio, are all things that must be done prior to actually starting a recording session.
During recording sessions many audio engineers will function as producers or co-producers themselves. Others will merely stay on top of the technical side of things, making sure that everything runs as it should and making adjustments as necessary.
A good audio engineer will learn the studio he or she is working at like the back of their hand. They also should have a good working knowledge of how common musical instruments produce live sound and how best to capture that sound on tape or through digital means.
Is Audio Engineering a Good Career for you?
Life as an audio engineer can be an exciting and very lucrative career for anyone with a burning passion for music. If you’re the type of person that really enjoys problem-solving and fixing issues, this could be a great career path for you. It’s also a career that is flexible and allows for different personality types to find the level at which they’re the most comfortable.