Music Recording Careers: Job Description & Salary Information

About this article
What are the pros and cons of a career in music recording? Get real job descriptions, and education requirements to see if a career in music recording is right for you.
View available schools

Pros and Cons of a Career in Music Recording

The music recording industry is comprised of different job titles and roles, including those in traditional music studios, modern mobile labs, home studios, or even at live events such as concerts and speeches. Three of the most common music recording positions that the industry offers are sound engineer, audio equipment technician and music producer. Check out the following pros and cons of each of theses career paths to see if the music industry sounds like a match for you.

Sound engineer Audio equipment technician Music producer
Career Overview Sound engineers record and mix music for a variety of different types of media. Audio equipment technicians set up audio equipment, maintain and oversee machines and make sure that recording sessions operate smoothly. Music producers oversee and mange the general direction of various recording projects.
Education Requirements Completion of an associate's degree or vocational program often required High school diploma or a GED, although further education/training is sometimes required High school diploma or a GED, although further education/training is sometimes required
Program Length 1-2 years for an associate's, 3-5 years for a bachelor's degree 1-2 years for an associate's, 3-5 years for a bachelor's degree 1-2 years for an associate's, 3-5 years for a bachelor's degree
Certification and Licensing Certain kinds of certification exist, though are rarely required Certain kinds of certification exist, though are rarely required Certification not often required
Work Experience Varies widely Varies widely Varies widely
Job Outlook for 2012-22 Slower than average growth (1%) compared to all occupations* As-fast-as-average growth (14%) compared to all occupations * Slower than average growth (3%)
2014 Salary (10th-90th Percentile) Roughly $22,820-$106,870* Roughly $22,290-$74,950* Roughly $31,180-$125,570*

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Sound Engineer

As a sound, audio or recording engineer, you will be responsible for operating the machines that record audio. Often, you'll need to set up and position microphones, record sound through a console or desk to audiotape or, more likely, computer software. Sometimes, you'll be responsible for recording live sound, while in other instances you'll work in a studio environment. Sound engineers may also function as mix engineers who adjust, equalize, compress and add effects to different recorded tracks to create a whole finished and final audio mix.

Requirements

The requirements for becoming a sound engineer vary a great deal from job to job. For example, the training and experience you'll need to be hired to work on a major label album will be considerably more than the amount you'll need to work for a local radio commercial or demo tape for an unsigned band. In many cases, you can gain experience and training by interning in a recording studio. You may also earn a professional certificate, associate's or bachelor's degree in audio engineering or a related discipline.

In November, 2012, the following jobs were listed online for professional sound engineers:

  • In California, candidates with five years of experience in 'audio development' were wanted for a senior audio engineer position with a technology start-up company. A bachelor's degree in an engineering discipline or the equivalent experience was required.
  • A music studio in New York City was searching for a freelance audio engineer with five years experience, a technical or associate's degree and prior knowledge of a SSL C100 mixing console.
  • In Miami, Florida, a recording studio sought a dubbing sound engineer to edit and synchronize image and sound using Pro Tools 10. Two to three years of experience were required.

Standing Out

With slow estimated job growth over the next several years, it can be imperative to find ways to make yourself stand out as a sound engineer. One way to do this is to become certified as a Pro Tools engineer. Avid Pro Tools is an industry-standard recording/mixing software that's used in recording studios across the country. Avid offers numerous different Pro Tool certifications like 'Pro Tools User', 'Pro Tools Expert Music' and 'Pro Tools Expert Post'. Some audio engineering education programs also offer or even require that you earn Pro Tools certification in certain areas.

Audio Equipment Technician

Audio equipment technicians typically take care of, set up and strip down the machines and devices used for recording audio in a live, mobile or studio setting. You'll often be in charge of labeling and organizing session information, connecting wires, troubleshooting equipment issues, operating mixing consoles and stripping down equipment at the end of sessions. In addition to the recording and live sound industry, many other industries hire audio equipment technicians for jobs both simple and complex. For example, you could end up working at a high school prom or maintaining equipment for recording insects in South America for a nature documentary.

Requirements

As is the case with sound engineers, job requirements for becoming an audio equipment technician can vary by employer. Experience is typically valued over formal education, although a degree or vocational certificate in audio engineering is sometimes required.

Here's a few job listings from November, 2012:

  • An art-based university in San Francisco, California, was searching for a music lab technician to work during the school year only. Knowledge of Pro Tools, Mac OSX and Apple Logic Studio were required.
  • Another university in Virginia was seeking a production technician to handle the recording, audio, lighting and video equipment for the stage and many other applications. Candidates were required to have at least two years of work experience and the ability to lift at up to 75 pounds.
  • In California, a music producer was seeking a freelance audio technician to set up and maintain the equipment and software for a recording session.

Standing Out

There are a number of measures that you can take to stand out as an audio equipment technician. Computer literacy is not only important for many employers, but is in many cases absolutely mandatory. In the modern era of sound, recording software will be the master of most sessions you'll typically be involved with. You'll usually need to connect all recording machinery to the software that's recording it, and the more kinds of software you understand, the more attractive you'll typically be to potential employers. For example, in addition to Pro Tools, you could master common software like Apple Logic Pro, Ableton Live and Steinberg Cubase.

Music Producer

Music producers are most commonly in charge of overseeing, managing and guiding different kinds of musical projects, from albums to film scores. However, 'music producer' is a very broad title that can cover many different duties for different projects and genres of music. In fact, most music recording positions, including the ones covered above, are quite flexible and can include any number of tasks. Overall, producers are in charge of guiding the overall sound, feel and direction of a musical project, much as the director of a film might apply his or her vision to the screen.

Requirements

Because the title of 'music producer' is so broad, it can be a bit hard to pinpoint specific job requirement that would apply across the board. A certificate, associate's or bachelor's degree in audio production can be useful, in addition to any other music education you might earn. Again, an internship in a studio can be a useful learning tool as well as a solid way to make connections in the industry.

In November, 2012, the following were a handful of music production jobs that employers posted online:

  • A music publishing company in Oregon requested a freelance producer for a 4.5-minute hip-hop track. The candidate would be paid through an online bidding system if his or her track was chosen.
  • A Washington-based video game company was seeking a producer to handle the company's international music expansion. Candidates were expected to have at least three years experience and expertise of the market and would be required to travel internationally.
  • In California, an extremely organized audio engineer with at least three years experience was sought to produce music and sound for video games.

Standing Out

To stand out from other music producers can take a combination of reliability and ingenuity. Punctuality, a large amount of output, timeliness and a high level of quality control can be useful. It can also help to develop a signature sound that artists or companies seek out. If the sound that you apply to the studio sessions that you run is distinct and noticeable, it may help you gain the name recognition so integral to the music business. When earning your degree in music production, you might also consider specializing in a niche market such as video game music.

Popular Schools

  • Online Programs Available
    1. American University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Arts in Strategic Communication
      • Master of Arts in Strategic Communication - Advocacy and Social Impact Concentration
  • Online Programs Available
    2. Johns Hopkins University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Arts in Communication
  • Online Programs Available
    3. Purdue University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Science in Communication
  • Online Programs Available
    4. Regent University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Arts in Communication
      • Master of Arts in Communication - Political Communication
      • Master of Arts in Communication - Strategic Communication
      • Master of Arts in Government - Political Communication
    Bachelor's
      • Bachelor of Arts in Communication Studies
      • Bachelor of Arts in Communication Studies - Advertising and Public Relations
      • Bachelor of Arts in Communication Studies - Rhetoric and Public Culture
      • Bachelor of Arts in Communication Studies - Strategic Communication
      • Bachelor of Arts in English - Communication
      • Bachelor of Science in Professional Studies - Communication Studies
  • Campus and Online Programs
    5. The Art Institutes

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Film (MFA)
    Bachelor's
      • Audio Production (BS)
      • Audio Production (BA)
    Associate's
      • Audio Production (AS)
      • Video Production (AS)
    High School Diploma
      • Video Skills (D)
  • Online Programs Available
    6. Colorado State University Global

    Program Options

    Bachelor's
      • BS - Communication
  • Online Programs Available
    7. Penn Foster High School

    Program Options

    High School Diploma
      • Penn Foster High School with Early College Courses
      • HS Diploma
  • Campus and Online Programs
    8. Full Sail University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Science - Film Production
      • M.S. - Entertainment Business
      • Master of Fine Arts - Media Design
    Bachelor's
      • BS - Music Production (Campus)
      • B.S. - Recording Arts
      • BS - Film (Campus)
      • BS - Media Communications (Campus)
      • B.S. - Music Production
      • BS - Audio Production
  • Online Programs Available
    9. Queens University of Charlotte

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Arts in Communication - General
      • Master of Arts in Communication - Integrated Digital Strategy Concentration
      • Master of Arts in Communication - Undecided
  • Bloomington, IN

    Indiana University

Featured Schools

American University

  • Master of Arts in Strategic Communication
  • Master of Arts in Strategic Communication - Advocacy and Social Impact Concentration

What is your highest level of education?

Johns Hopkins University

  • Master of Arts in Communication

What is your highest level of education?

Purdue University

  • Master of Science in Communication

What is your highest level of education?

Regent University

  • Master of Arts in Communication
  • Master of Arts in Communication - Political Communication
  • Bachelor of Arts in Communication Studies
  • Bachelor of Arts in Communication Studies - Advertising and Public Relations

What is your highest level of education completed?

The Art Institutes

  • Film (MFA)
  • Audio Production (BS)
  • Audio Production (AS)
  • Video Skills (D)

What is your highest level of education?

Colorado State University Global

  • BS - Communication

What is your highest level of education?

Penn Foster High School

  • Penn Foster High School with Early College Courses
  • HS Diploma

What is your age?

Full Sail University

  • Master of Science - Film Production
  • M.S. - Entertainment Business
  • BS - Music Production (Campus)
  • B.S. - Recording Arts

What is your highest level of education?