Are you ready to have the tryst with acoustics? Are you fascinated by how your noise-canceling earphones negate even the slightest of sounds like the clicks on a keyboard? Would you like to develop new speech-to-text software to build new stenographic robots? How would you like to take a deep dive into the film shooting world where you can record the beauty of natural sounds while on camera? Or maybe recreate the sound of boots stomping across a deserted corridor? Or the synthetic sound of someone knocking on a creaky door recorded in a studio? Or that of glass bottle cracking? These sounds may not have to be recorded while the actual events happen. They can be faux sounds generated from similar-sounding objects. These are just a few of the marvels of the fascinating realm of sonic wonders. You may be building new audio technology or creatively using one. How about taking a closer look at who Sound Engineers and Audio Engineers are, what they do, how they do it and how to become one?
Sound Engineers/ Audio Engineers either work for companies involved in the creative media industries which include films, television, music, radio, etc. or they work with electronics companies that develop and manufacture various types of sound equipment – from microphones, headphones, and speakers to high-end music systems, music processors, amplifiers, AV Receivers, car audio systems, public address systems, and musical instruments. Some Sound Engineers may capture, design, and edit the background sound of a film, some may work in music recording studios, some may work with music bands and theatre companies to record, edit, and produce sounds of live concerts and shows, while some other Sound/ Audio Engineers may work to design and develop amplifiers, AV receivers, headphones, and speakers for companies like Bose, Yamaha, Marantz, and Sony.
Why Become a Sound Engineer?
Sound/ Audio engineers are responsible for manipulating acoustics to achieve the desired result. Now, this is considered in two roughly different contexts. Number one: training in the creative use of audio as a sound engineer. Number two: training in science or engineering topics, which allows the application of learned concepts into developing audio technologies.
A) The Creative Context
You, as a Sound/ Acoustics/ Audio Engineer, may be involved in live events (music concerts, theatrical performances, at ad/film shoot locations, sporting events etc) to record live sound. You could also work in a studio, recording for commercial music, film, TV, radio, advertising, gaming or interactive media purposes.
Studio/ Live Sound Engineers must be aware of how audio signals travel, understand which equipment to use & when, how to mix different instruments with amplifiers, which microphones to use and how to position them in order to get good quality coverage.
A.1) Studio Sound Engineers
Studio Sound Engineers are responsible for planning a recording session with an artist or musician. This involves setting up the required equipment, recording each instrument separately and then editing & mixing the recorded tracks.
A.2) Live Sound Mixing Engineers
Live Sound Mixing Engineers focus on the blending of multiple sound sources using a mixing console or software. This also includes on-location or sync sound such as at shooting locations during the shoot (recording live sound).
This also includes sound generated by sources like those instruments & voices which are picked up by microphones for a drum kit, lead vocals and acoustic instruments like piano or saxophone or electric bass etc.
Individual sources are typically adjusted through an equalizer and routed to processors for amplification to be reproduced via a loudspeaker system. There can be different types of roles for Live Sound Mixing Engineers.
A.3) Editing, Mixing, Mastering
It also involves working on the edited mix to refine and perfect the audio. A master engineer strives to ensure consistency of sound across different playback formats and produces a master copy, which is a final, replicable, version of the track. Tasks vary depending on whether you’re working with live or recorded sound.
A.4) Regular duties at work
They have to be capable of designing, setting up and testing audio equipment including microphones and the speaker system, conducting individual recordings of each instrument and vocal (in case of studio audio, not live), using a mixing console, adding sound effects, enhancing/editing/mixing studio-recorded tracks; mastering the mixed & edited tracks by listening to them and then using equalizers or filters (specialist equipment).
The majority of jobs today is in live sound and are usually freelance, short-term contracts. These also involve frequent national or international travel.
B) The Engineering Context
Alternatively, as an Engineer who designs, develops & builds audio or musical technology, you may be employed in research & development in the audio/acoustic/consumer electronics/software industry applying engineering principles, software programming skills and Mathematics.
B.1) Work on what?
It will primarily be to develop audio-related technologies (design of headphones, microphones, loudspeakers, sound reproduction systems, recording technologies or other software applications such as FaceTime or Google Duo).
B.2) And also,
You may also instead be researching the design of musical instruments such as synthesizers; the human voice (the physics & neurophysiology of singing); the physical modeling of musical instruments etc.
B.3) Some more use-cases
R&D Audio Engineers invent new technologies, equipment and techniques. They might design acoustical simulations of rooms/halls inside buildings, specify the requirements for public address systems such as public radio, shape algorithms for audio signal processing, carry out research on video game consoles etc.
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Popular Specialization in Sound Engineer Profession
Musical acoustics Engineers are concerned with researching the design of electronic instruments such as synthesizers; the human voice (the physics & neurophysiology of singing); the physical modeling of musical instruments; and the perception and cognition of music.
This sub-branch combines knowledge from physics, psychophysics, organology (classification of the instruments), physiology, music theory, ethnomusicology, signal processing and instrument building, among other disciplines.
Musical acoustics Engineers are concerned with how sounds are employed to make music. Examples of areas of study are the human voice (the physics of speech and singing), computer analysis of melody, and in the clinical use of music in music therapy.
What Does a Sound Engineer do?
As a Sound Engineer / Audio Engineer, you will be engaged with one or more of the following roles & responsibilities as well as other associated duties:
- You will participate in the development of technology to power real-time audio and video communications features or design, develop & build audio or musical technology.
- You will help to produce any type of recording or a live performance, balancing and adjusting sound sources using equalization & audio effects, mixing reproduction, and reinforcement of sound for film, radio, television, music, video games or any type of media content.
- You will ensure the delivery of high-quality audio, and edit audio content to optimize continuity, integrity, style, consistency, and structure.
- You will design acoustical simulations of rooms, shape algorithms for audio signal processing, carry out research on audible sound for digital consoles, and other advanced fields of audio engineering.
- You will be responsible for overseeing recording sessions, identifying and integrating the best pieces of tape, tape clean-up and editing, and mixing and mastering.
- You will develop technologies and algorithms to design audio signal processing, and AI Audio models for recognizing & processing speech signals, improve voice recognition and differentiation based on the needs of speech and machine learning applications or develop a next-generation stream processing platform (real-time and offline).
- You will brainstorm & collaborate with the production team to develop compelling content and creative storytelling formats.
- You will deal with sound for a wide range of applications, including post-production and deliver advanced technology solutions for video & film, live sound reinforcement, advertising, multimedia, and broadcasting.
How to Become a Sound Engineer – Eligibility Criteria
To get into this field, you will need to pass the Class 10 examination with all subjects as per the scheme of studies. Then you must complete Class 11-12 :
- Class 11-12 Physics. Chemistry, Mathematics along with any other subject as per the scheme of studies
- Class 11-12 Physics. Chemistry, Mathematics, Computer Science along with any other subject as per the scheme of studies
- Class 11-12 Mathematics along with any other subject as per the scheme of studies
After Class 11-12:
- You can go for Bachelor’s in Music Technology, Audio Engineering
- You can go for a BSc in Sound Engineering/ Bachelor’s in Acoustics Engineering/ BA in Sound & Music Technology.
- You can go for a Bachelor’s in any of the core engineering fields.
- Bachelor’s degree in Physics, Mathematics, Computer Science
- You can go for a Dual-Degree program of B.Tech (Hons) in any Core Engineering.
- You can go for a B.Sc. in Visual Communication with a specialization in Audio Engineering.
- You can go for a Bachelor’s in Audio Studio Production or Audio Post Production
You can study for a Bachelor’s / Master’s / Doctoral degree in any of the following fields (Note that all these fields may not offer you a degree at all three levels, that is in Bachelor’s, Master’s and Doctoral. Some fields may offer a degree only at the Master’s or at the Doctoral level):
- Sound Design and Engineering
- Sound Engineering
- Electrical and Electronics Engineering
- Electrical Engineering
- Computer Science and Engineering
- Computer Science
- Electrical Signal Processing & Systems
- Electronics & Communication Engineering
- Electronics & Instrumentation
- Electrical and Computer Engineering
- Electronics and Computer Engineering
Work in this field is not very diverse. You will either
- Work with audio & design teams of software/ hardware development enterprises or sound experience companies which develop & manufacture media streaming devices such as consumer electronic devices, multiroom wireless audio equipment, digital consoles, radiofrequency streaming units, and wireless audio appliances such as for use in aircraft/ spacecraft etc.
- Work in engineering departments of multimedia organizations, studio & distribution networks producing news, information, & music programming or entertainment content across film, television, premium digital video, social, and virtual reality
- Work with technology development groups within corporations focused on using state-of-the-art Machine Learning, AI, SONAR or related technologies.
- Work with AV design/ production departments of engineering consultancies or contract manufacturing organizations
You may first join as a Trainee Engineer/ Research Intern/ Graduate Trainee/ Program Extern/ Support Intern or directly in one of these positions depending on your educational qualifications:
- Audio/ Sound Engineer
- Audio/ Media Streaming Engineer
- Electroacoustic Test Engineer
- Spatial Audio Experience Prototyping Engineer
- Realtime Media Engineer
- CoreMedia Playback Engineer
- Media/Audio Applications Senior Engineer
- Audio Authoring Prototyping Engineer
- Electroacoustic Engineer
- Live Sound Engineer
- Post-Production Audio Engineer
- Audio Hardware Engineer
- Research Engineer – Sound Tech
- Production Audio Engineer
- Laboratory Sound Engineer
- AV Tech Engineer
- Audio and Acoustic Engineer
- Acoustic Engineer
- AV Specialist
- You may work with consumer electronics & communications companies, TV businesses, and mobile phone businesses such as Bose, Sennheiser, Dolby Laboratories, Hitachi, Panasonic, Sharp, Sony, Samsung, LG Electronics, Toshiba, Philips etc.
- You may work with gaming, media production and the entertainment industry with biggies such as Nvidia, Sony Interactive Entertainment PlayStation, Fox Searchlight, Universal Audio Inc, Electronic Arts, Blizzard Entertainment, MGM, Twentieth Century Fox etc.
- You may work with the software development & IT giants such as Apple, Google, Microsoft, etc.
- You may work with media/ AV streaming brands such as Netflix, Amazon, Youtube, Investigation Discovery and more.
- You may work for engineering companies specializing in “architectural acoustics” to ensure maintenance, oversight, & management of entire audiovisual infrastructures in high-rises, skyscrapers, theaters, studios, galleries, lecture rooms, restaurants, railway stations, concert hall or recording studios etc.
- You may work with IT companies focused on software engineering in the field of AI such as IPSoft, OpenAI, AlphaSense, AIBrain, CloudMinds, Deepmind, H20, Iris AI, Active.ai, etc.
- You may work with various contract manufacturing organizations which work for space research & administration organizations such as NASA, ISRO, etc.
- You may work with engineering consulting agencies in partnership with public radio stations
- You may also work as a Laboratory Sound Engineer such as for setting up & maintaining recording studio spaces to be used in new digital psychotherapies for maximizing patient engagement.
Salary of a Sound Engineer
At the entry-level jobs with private companies, you may expect to get about: Rs. 25,000 – 60,000 or even more a month (higher sides by MNCs to premier institution graduates). In junior-level jobs (after 5+ years of experience), you can make about Rs. 40,000 – 1,50,000 or more per month.
In mid-level jobs with private companies in India, you can expect to earn about Rs. 60,000 – 2,00,000 or even more a month.
In senior-level jobs with private companies in India, you can expect to earn about Rs. 1,00,000 – 3,00,000 or even more a month.
All higher ranges are by MNC engineering firms and lower ones by medium to small-scale Indian companies/ studios and production houses.
Career Progression in Sound Engineer Profession
If you join as a Trainee Engineer/ Research Intern/ Graduate Trainee/ Program Extern/ Support Intern, then after the completion of your training, you will be positioned as an Audio/ Sound Engineer, Audio/ Media Streaming Engineer, Electroacoustic Test Engineer, Spatial Audio Experience Prototyping Engineer, Realtime Media Engineer or in similar positions.
However, if you join after your post-graduation or have higher advanced qualifications in a relevant discipline, you can surpass traineeship/ internship to directly get a job as any one of these positions.
After 5-7+ years of experience, you can expect to become a Senior Audio Engineer; Media Applications Senior Engineer; Senior Engineer-Audio Electronics Design; Senior Engineer-Acoustics; Senior Staff Engineer, Senior Podcast Producer; or similar roles.
After 7-10+ years of experience, you can expect to rise to the roles of Senior Consultant, Acoustics Engineering Lead, Lead Audio Engineer, Chief Audio Engineer, Engineering Manager, Head of Audio or similar roles.
Then after 10-15+ years of experience, you can expect to rise to the roles of Assistant Technical Director, Associate Director, Director of Engineering, Director-Global Product Training, Director of Research & Development-Sustaining Engineering, Director of Business Insights; Senior Director, Global Customer Success; Global Partner Director; CEO or similar roles.
What does Industry Trends Say – Future Prospects
The future of this pathway seems extremely bright especially as the industry statistics are very encouraging.
The tricky thing about audio engineering is that before you get familiar with 1 technology, another is just around the corner. With the invasive growth & development of electronic media, there is a continuously rising demand for Sound Engineers. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics expects an 8% increase in employment for audio engineers by 2026. This number jumps to 13% for those with training in visual equipment or electronic music having a core engineering background. Opportunities exist in almost every sector of the economy: entertainment, business, education, health care, etc.
With so many innovations coming to the audio industry, computer-based audio modeling is picking up the pace making it much easier to design audio systems. We are also likely to see more podcasts in the coming decade. The audiobook market is on a steady rise too.
The Global Sound Reinforcement Market revenue is expected to reach USD 9 billion by 2024 and is likely to grow at a rate of 3.33% during 2018−2024. This is likely to be propelled by the increased use of such equipment like speakers, amplifiers, mixers, and processors in sports tournaments, educational institutes (adoption of innovative tools & technologies to promote e-learning in classrooms), corporate setups, government offices, institutional workplaces, live music concerts, exhibitions, trade shows etc.
The radio industry too is expected to witness continued growth and is not a dead medium yet. The Radio Industry market worldwide is projected to grow by USD 11.4 Billion to reach over USD 28.4 Billion by the year 2025, driven by a compounded annual growth of 3.1%.
The global Industrial Hearables Market size is expected to reach USD 2,038.3 million by 2026 from USD 151.7 million in 2018, growing at a rate of 37.6% from 2019 to 2026 compounded annually.
The value of the Global Sonar Systems Market is projected to reach USD 5.3 Billion by 2024 from USD 4.2 Billion in 2018, at a rate of around 4% during 2019-2024 compounded annually.
The Global Automotive Acoustic Engineering Services Market accounted for USD 2.12 billion in 2017 and is expected to reach USD 4.56 billion by 2026 growing at a rate of 8.9% compounded annually.
The Global Music Production Software Market is poised to grow at a rate of 8.65% during 2018-2022 compounded annually. The Global Music Production Software market is expected to grow at a rate of 8.65% during the period 2018-2022 compounded annually.
Global Smart Speaker Market is also expected to see a rise at a rate of 35% during 2017-2024. Global Audio and Video Editing Software Market is predicted to grow at 10.35% during the period 2018-2022 compounded annually.
The Video Management Software (VMS) Market worldwide is projected to grow by US$16.4 Billion to reach over USD 8.4 Billion by the year 2025, driven by a rate of 21.9% compounded annually. Video Intelligence, one of the segments of the market displays the potential to grow at over 22.9%.
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