Pros and Cons of an Audio Engineer Career
Audio engineers run the equipment that records, edits and broadcasts voices, music and sound effects. Read on to learn about the pros and cons of a career in audio engineering to decide if it's right for you.
|Pros of Becoming an Audio Engineer|
|Above-average salaries ($58,000 on average as of 2014)*|
|A vocational certificate is sufficient for many entry-level positions*|
|It's the best-paid specialty in the broader field of broadcast and sound engineering*|
|Jobs in the arts and entertainment industries may involve glamorous settings and artists*|
|Cons of Becoming an Audio Engineer|
|Slow employment growth of 8% predicted for 2014-2024*|
|Round-the-clock broadcasting and tight production schedules can mean long, odd hours*|
|Working at live events or under deadlines can be stressful*|
|Because of swift technological change, skills needs to be regularly updated for many jobs*|
Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Essential Career Info
Audio engineers work in a variety of settings, including recording studios, radio and television stations, sports arenas, film and video productions, theaters, schools and corporate events. They're responsible for capturing, editing, mixing and reproducing voices, music and sound effects. They also synchronize audio with visual images. They use computers, plus a wide range of audio equipment that they need to keep in good repair.
Some audio engineers work in the more traditional media of radio, television and film, while others work in newer areas like webcasting, speech recognition technology and production of ringtones and games. Some jobs concentrate specifically on recording and editing music, while other positions come with extensive maintenance and repair duties. Some audio engineers focus on the research and development of audio equipment and consumer products.
Salary Info and Job Outlook
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) found that sound engineering technicians earned an average salary of about $58,000 as of 2014. Earnings can vary widely; the top 10% of earners in 2014 were paid $106,000 or more, while the bottom 10% were paid $22,000 or less. California and New York were the highest-paying states and had the highest levels of employment.
While the BLS expects employment growth of 7% from 2014-2024 for the broader category of broadcast and sound engineering technicians, it predicts job growth of 8% for technicians specifically in audio engineering. Consolidation in the radio and television industries and technological improvements are likely to improve the individual productivity of engineers, which may put the brakes on employment growth.
What Are the Requirements?
Audio engineering at the technician level normally requires a vocational certificate or two-year associate's degree, according to the BLS. Postsecondary programs in sound recording or audio engineering can expose you to the various technical aspects of the field, such as audio maintenance and repair, mixing, musical instrument digital interface (MIDI) and acoustics. Programs may also include business-oriented classes on the music industry, such as marketing, stage managing and studio etiquette, or introductory courses in music appreciation and theory.
Many schools offer bachelor's degrees as well. Bachelor's-level programs may be based in engineering or music departments (or both) and blend technical coursework in electronics and acoustic engineering with music studies. For instance, you might take a survey of Western music alongside classes on electronic and analog circuits or acoustic design.
As an audio engineer, you need to have excellent communication skills; the job involves interacting with clients and colleagues. To be able to operate and troubleshoot audio equipment, you should have good hand-eye coordination and strong problem-solving skills. In addition, audio engineers must be proficient with computers, which are becoming increasingly essential to the making, editing and broadcasting of audio recordings.
What Employers Are Looking for
Most employers look for audio engineers with specific technical qualifications. Employers also seek audio engineers who can handle multiple tasks in a fast-paced environment and are detail oriented. Here's a sampling of real job postings from May 2012:
- An advertising firm posted an audio engineer position in Florida. The job involved technical aspects of producing audio as well as booking and directing talent, selecting music and reviewing scripts for advertisements. A bachelor's degree in audio engineering or a related field and five years of experience were required.
- A radio broadcaster was looking to hire a chief engineer for its facilities in the Florida panhandle. Qualifications included familiarity with FCC regulations, availability for work at night or on weekends and an associate's degree or certificate in a relevant field. Society of Broadcast Engineers (SBE) certification was preferred.
- A non-commercial radio broadcaster in Texas advertised for a senior engineer to be responsible for all equipment used in studio broadcasting. Ideal candidates would have experience in supporting live radio and in IT as a network engineer. Technical qualifications included familiarity with satellite transmission systems, audio processing, NexGen automation software and Axia.
How to Stand Out
Getting certified can be a good way to assure prospective employers of your skills as an audio engineer, according to the BLS. The SBE offers the Certified Audio Engineer credential. Candidates must have five years of work experience and/or applicable education and pass a 3-hour proficiency exam. The SBE issues other certifications that could be valuable to you as well, such as the Certified Broadcast Radio Engineer.
As the BLS also notes, keeping up to date with technological innovations is important in audio engineering. The Audio Engineering Society (AES) offers a wide range of tutorials, workshops and master classes at its meetings so that members can stay on top of the latest developments. Students can join at a reduced rate and enjoy discounts on entry to conferences and other events.
If audio engineering isn't quite the right blend of technology and artistry for you, then becoming a film and video editor or camera operator could be an exciting alternative. Camera operators and editors work with directors and producers to record, edit and finalize the images for films, TV programs, music videos and the like. Both camera operators and editors normally need a bachelor's degree and extensive on-the-job training. Film and video editors, in particular, can spend years working up from assistant positions to full-fledged editing. As of 2011, camera operators earned an average salary of $49,000, according to the BLS, while editors earned about $67,000. The BLS expected employment growth of 5% for film and video editors and 2% for camera operators from 2010-2020.
If you think you're really an engineer at heart who should treat music and entertainment as a hobby, then a career in electrical and electronic engineering could be a good choice. Electrical and electronic engineering involves the design and development of equipment for navigation and communications, computers, medical monitors and a range of other high-tech devices. Technician positions normally require an associate's degree, while engineering or technologist jobs call for a bachelor's degree. The BLS found that electrical and electronic engineering technicians earned $57,000 on average as of 2011. They should see employment growth of 2% from 2010-2020 per BLS data.