What Does a Sound Engineer Do?

These music industry professionals work their magic behind the scenes

From Mic To Mix PNW
••• Mat Hayward / Stringer/ GettyImages

What exactly is a sound engineer? For starters, they play a vitally important role in the music industry. If you have ever been at a concert where you were blown away by the clarity and overall quality of the music you heard, chances are that there was a very talented engineer controlling the sound you heard.

What a Sound Engineer Does

Sound engineers or audio engineers work on the technical aspects of sound and music production by mixing, reproducing and manipulating the equalization and electronic effects of sound. 

Sound engineers don't have to work strictly in music. Some engineers end up designing and controlling the sound at conferences, in theaters, and in any other venue that requires sound projection for an audience. 

By controlling microphones, sound levels, and outputs, sound engineers combine their well-trained ears with their knowledge of acoustics to produce the best quality of sound for a variety of purpose. Some venues that hire sound engineers include: 

  • film
  • radio
  • television
  • musical recordings
  • computer games
  • live music concerts
  • theatre
  • sports games
  • corporate events

Different Types of Sound Engineers

Many people think of the sound engineer as the person who stands behind the big mixing desk at a show and mixes the sound the audience hears. This is also known as mixing the "front of house" sound. But this is only one aspect of sound engineering.

In fact, though, there are 4 distinct steps to commercial production of a recording including recording, editing, mixing, and mastering. As a result, there are other types of sound engineers with particular roles and specializations. 

Keep in mind, however, that it is common for all of these roles to be taken on by one sound person at smaller events and shows as having a whole team of engineers is a luxury usually reserved for large, well-funded tours. Some of the other roles and titles common to audio engineers include:

  • Monitor sound engineers. This type of engineer takes care of the sound the band hears on their monitors on stage. If you've ever heard a band say, "can you turn down my guitar a little bit" or something similar, they are talking to the monitor sound engineer.
  • Systems engineers. They take care of setting up amps, complex PA systems, speakers and such for the band and the other sound engineers.
  • Studio sound engineers. They work in a recording studio to make high-quality recordings of music, speech and sound effects.
  • Research and development audio engineers. They work to invent new technologies, equipment, and techniques, in order to enhance the process and art of audio engineering.
  • Wireless microphone engineers. They are responsible for wireless microphones during a theatre production, a sports event or a corporate event.
  • Game audio designer engineers. They deal with sound for video and computer game development.

How to Become an Audio Engineer

Sound engineers can come from a wide array of backgrounds and educational experiences. Postsecondary training in the fields of radio & television, music, audio, performing arts, broadcasting, or electrical engineering can all be lead-ins to a career in sound engineering. Many colleges and universities offer specific training in audio engineering and sound recording. Often, though, audio engineers may have no formal training, but instead, attain professional experience and skills in audio through extensive on-the-job experience.