Audio Engineer: Career Profile, Occupational Outlook and Education Requirements

Audio engineers use electronic equipment to amplify, record and mix sounds for radio, television, movies or live events. Discover the education and training required to become an audio engineer. Schools offering Animation degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is an Audio Engineer?

Audio engineers, also called sound engineering technicians, use computers and other equipment to record, mix or synchronize music and sound effects. Their work is critical for movie or theater productions, audio recordings, live sporting events and more. They can combine recordings of music or events to create new multilayered tracks. These professionals often need to keep track of recordings and equipment, as well as report any issues or malfunctions with the equipment. Audio engineers may even need to perform routine repairs on mixing boards, microphones and other tools of the trade. Depending on their place of work, these professionals may specialize in one particular area of the field.

The following table covers the main requirements for this career.

Degree Required Certificate or associate's degree
Field of Study Sound recording technology, sound engineering, audio engineering
Key Responsibilities Setting up and operating audio equipment, adjusting and placing microphones, mixing recorded material, overseeing live sound for artists and performers
Projected Job Outlook (2014-2024) 8% (for all sound engineering technicians)*
Median Salary (2015) $53,330 (for all sound engineering technicians)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Are the Duties of an Audio Engineer?

Audio engineer is a broad designation for several related engineering specialties. Your specific duties will depend on which sub-type you choose. However, most specialties entail using equipment that captures and processes sound. Primary capture equipment includes amplifiers, microphones, tape recorders and digital recorders. Processing equipment includes mixing boards, equalizers, noise filters, analog-to-digital converters and digital editing software.

If you're a recording engineer, you set up and operate recording equipment during a studio recording session. As a field engineer, you set up and operate recording equipment on location at live events. Capturing the clearest and highest quality of sound is your main objective in either setting.

A mixing engineer creates composite audio tracks from multiple sources, choosing which combination of sounds and effects to emphasize or de-emphasize. You might mix music for albums or create soundtracks for TV programs and movies. In either instance you would confer with other interested parties about the content of a mix and the effect it should achieve.

Where Can I Work?

Recording studios, movie studios, video production companies, radio stations and TV stations are your prospective employers. You also could become a self-employed independent contractor. Geographic location can be a significant factor in job availability. Many large U.S. cities have recording studios. Nearly all have radio and TV stations. Small towns might have radio stations but not TV stations. For most opportunities in movie production you will need to be in Los Angeles or New York.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) in 2014, around 16,100 people were employed as sound engineering technicians. From 2014-2024, employment was projected to grow eight percent to 17,400. Growth prospects are likely to be strongest in the cable, video-on-demand and mobile broadcasting segments. Sound engineering technicians earned a median salary of $53,330 as of May 2015, the BLS reported.

What Education Would I Need?

You have a lot of flexibility in deciding which level of education to seek. According to O*Net Online, approximately 31% of audio engineers have a high school diploma, while 25% have some college but no degree. Another 22% have an associate's degree. A diploma or GED is sufficient for entry-level positions, though you could gain some knowledge and skill by volunteering as an assistant or participating in a student audio-visual club. High school-level computer courses can be helpful for learning to work with digital audio.

Certificate and associate's degree programs in audio engineering, audio production or audio production technology are widely available from community colleges. They introduce you to sound theory, music theory and acoustics and teach professional techniques for recording and manipulating sound. Some programs are more music-oriented and will emphasize live sound, studio production and multi-track mixing. Others are oriented toward film and video and emphasize film scoring and aural effects. Associate's degree programs may provide opportunities to work an internship at post-production facilities, radio stations or recording studios.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Electrical and electronics installers and repairers work in a similar field, and only require a postsecondary non-degree award. They install and/or repair electrical equipment in a variety of industries. Another related career is that of an electrical and electronics engineering technician. These professionals need an associate's degree. They work with engineers to design various electronics, evaluate products and repair equipment.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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