Who is a Sound Engineer?
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Sound engineer is an all-encompassing term that covers anyone who uses technical gear in conjunction with sound. The duties of a sound engineer can include setting up and testing sound equipment, as well as recording, editing and mixing audio tracks. A sound engineer is involved in all phases of audio: pre-production, production and post production.
Essentially, the sound engineer is the person in charge of event sound (concerts or speakers at conferences), broadcast sound (podcasts, radio, TV and satellite programming) and recording sound (films, music and video games).
Live sound engineering for events can be simple such as using a wireless microphone and house PA system for a convention speaker, or as complex as a performance of a band with multiple musicians and vocalists where sound is sent to both the audience (FOH-front of the house sound) and the band members (foldback or stage monitoring sound). The complexities not only deal with the number of performers but with the venue requirements and limits—providing live sound engineering for a mega star band in a stadium setting is several levels of complexity more difficult than providing live sound engineering for an unknown band in a local club.
Broadcast sound is all over the map in terms of sound engineering complexity. It can be as simple as making sure the playback levels of a TV show (and the roll-in commercials) are at proper and consistent levels. It can be somewhat more complex as in a radio or podcast broadcast where the host or DJ, audience phone calls, music cuts and guests may all be part of the show’s content. Or, it can be ultra-complex like a live broadcast of a music concert, where not only are the previously mentioned sound for the audience and foldback sound monitoring for the musicians involved, but an additional feed for the broadcast transmission (heard by the TV audience) must be provided.
Recording sound also has many levels of sound engineering complexity. It can take place in a recording studio where a band or singer is recorded in a controlled setting. It can take place on location, as in a film shoot, where the setting is less controlled and outside ambient sound can be an issue. It can also take place just about anywhere when it comes to electronic music and video game soundtracks where (nearly) everything takes place on the sound engineer’s computer. In many cases, the recording engineer is tasked with capturing the sound of performers (actors and musicians), editing the tracks, and sweetening and mixing down these tracks into a final mix. In other cases, the sound engineer is directly creating sounds. These might be sound effects used in a movie, a subset of which is Foley sound—the recreation of everyday sounds that are added in post-production to movies and TV shows. A classic example of this would be using coconut shells to reproduce the sound of a galloping horse. Electronic music and video game soundtracks are almost exclusively created by the sound engineer through the use of virtual instruments and pre-recorded loops and beats.
There are many different titles for jobs that require a sound engineer. These job titles include production engineer, audio visual technician, sound designer, audio engineer, chief engineer, sound mixer, live sound engineer, monitor engineer, broadcast engineer, field engineer and many more. The same job might be described by different job titles, depending on the organization. The same job title might have different duties, once again depending on the organization.
If you are thinking about a career as a sound engineer, a good starting point is to define what type of sound engineer you want to be. Do you want to record bands, or work at a local club as the house sound person, or create and produce your own music? Or would you like to travel with the band while doing sound for their concert tour, record sound for movies, or be the in-house tech for a corporation’s audio/visual needs? The possibilities are virtually endless. And while the skill sets for each person are related, the terminology and technical processes can vary immensely, so it’s important to start honing in on what kind of sound engineer you want to be from the get-go.