What (Today’s) Sound Engineers Really Do
Traditionally speaking, sound engineers record, edit and mix audio during recording sessions or live sound performances. Indeed, all sound engineers do this and more. In fact, it’s the “more” part of this job that is becoming increasingly more important and essential to being a successful sound engineer. The two most significant areas in which the traditional sound engineering job description has evolved are the creative and the business aspects of the work.
The Creative Evolution of Today’s Sound Engineer
Today’s sound engineer often acts as a music producer by default. More and more independent artists are hitting the recording studio without record label support. Previously, record labels employed music producers to work with the artists they represented and serve as the liaison with the recording studio and were tasked with the job of getting the sound the label (and artist) wanted to achieve. Today, the independent artist is often their own music producer out of necessity—they aren’t represented by a label and they can’t afford to hire a freelance music producer.
The biggest requirement for the sound engineer in stepping up and serving as the music producer is people skills. Music knowledge, especially when it comes to current trends is also essential, but knowledge alone is not enough. Today’s sound engineer must be able to communicate effectively with the artist, deal with their ego, and gain their trust so that recording sessions can go smoothly and end up with the desired results.
Additionally, the sound engineer is often asked to provide instrumental support to projects he/she is working on. Whether it’s laying down a guitar lick, a booming bass track, a steady drum beat or playing a virtual instrument, there are times when the sound engineer is both available and better than any other immediate solution.
The Business Evolution of Today’s Sound Engineer
Another related change in the traditional role of the sound engineer is to serve as a business resource to the artist. This can mean anything from assuming the role of music producer, as previously mentioned, to taking on all, or part of, the role of the record label in terms of distribution. From final mastering, through online distribution companies and monitoring residual payments, there’s a lot(!) to know and do and, chances are, the sound engineer knows more than the artist.
Inevitably, successful sound engineers are the ones who keep the doors open. There is a lot of competition out there for recording studios so it’s incumbent upon the sound engineer to engage in marketing outreach to gain new clients. While word of mouth recommendations from artists they’ve worked with are still the best new business lead source, they alone are not enough. Today’s sound engineer must be much more entrepreneurial than ever before. They need to maintain an active social media presence and more. Many sound engineers are producing audio engineering tutorials and tips via YouTube or podcast. Others are having open house events geared towards the musical scene in their community.
In short, today’s business climate means the sound engineer is a microcosm within the larger microcosm of the music industry, which is affected by fluctuations in the economy and the marcocosm of the business world. And as all things are related, it means that side hustle and role expansion are an integral part of what today’s sound engineer has to do to keep on earning a living and keep the doors open and the business and music flowing.
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