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What Does an Audio Engineer Do?

Have you ever wondered what an audio engineer does?

If you are interested in the academic “book report” answer to this question, click here.
But, if you want to know the inside answer from professional audio engineers and music producers, continue reading – or listen to their own words here:
Rick Camp, Recording Connection Mentor“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
Recording
An audio engineer’s first duty is to set up an ideal recording environment. This includes setting up mics, checking equipment and creating a professional atmosphere for clients.
Editing
After a recording is completed, editing is done to correct errors and enhance the recording. This can include removing unwanted sounds like pops & clicks, or by looping sections.
Bill Davidor, Recording Connection Mentor“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
  Donny Baker, Recording Connection Mentor“An engineer is the guy at the studio that knows how to make stuff sound the way it should sound together with other stuff. The best way to describe what an engineer can do, is if everyone in the band thinks they are the loudest in the mix then the engineer has done his job and the mix is done. The engineer should also be proficient with what ever the recording medium is, Pro Tools, Logic, Nuendo, Etc. “The engineer is also the person that knows about how the studio works. Maybe the studio has a certain way of doing a certain thing and the engineer is the only person that can get that done. Like jiggling the toilet flush handle to get it to stop running all the time. It’s way more than that, but, you get the idea. Another thing the engineer is good for is knowing what it takes to get the job done quick and simple. Like maybe not have the backup singers sitting around the lounge the whole time we are tracking drums for the song. Maybe have them show up later. “The 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
Mixing
Once most of the editing has been done, the next step engineers take is mixing. Mixing includes adding effects such as reverb & delay, leveling dynamics, panning, and more.
Working with Clients
Engineers work closely with clients at all stages of recording, but the end of a project is most important. This is when the last final adjustments are made before mastering.
Cameell Hanna, Recording Connection Mentor“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
Mike Johnson, Recording Connection Mentor“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
  Zach Phillips, Recording Connection Mentor“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
Did you know?
The Recording Connection offers one-on-one audio engineering training at hundreds of professional studios nationwide for only $8,800. With a 72% hiring success rate after certification*, opportunity is just a click away.

Sound like something you’d like to do?

The best way to become an audio engineer is to hang around a bona fide audio engineer…someone who makes their living as an audio engineer. Now you could beat your head against the wall trying to setup an apprenticeship (externship) with an audio engineer OR you could get in touch with us, the Recording Connection. We knock on doors for your so you are on the inside dealing directly with a bona fide audio engineer from day one.

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Here's the academic "book report" answer:

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. In many ways their job descriptions are similar. 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 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. 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’ve also very likely had to mic the drum kit, plug the guitar, bass and keyboards into the soundboard and organize the background vocalists. Professional recording sessions for major artists often involve a producer and an engineer working together.

Life as an audio engineer can often mean being a second set of ears as well as a sounding board for the producer to bounce ideas off of. Good audio engineers often wind up contributing a lot more to a record than merely laying the cable for a tambourine mic. During the actual recording session it is the audio engineers job to make sure the recording of the studio is as “clean,” as possible, meaning that none of the technical elements interfere with the musical performances.

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.

Life as an audio engineer can be an exciting and very lucrative career for anyone with a burning passion for music and the drive and technical aptitude to put it into action.

* Job placement statistics represent the percentage of students who graduated between May 1, 2013 and April 30, 2014 and found work related to their studies within six months of their graduation.