A Day in the Life of a Sound Engineer

Sound engineers have a lot of masters to serve. Depending on what they are doing, they may need to please a stadium full of fans or millions of online viewers. They have the unique challenge of refining audio to its the best form. You may not be aware of the work that goes into creating the perfect sound. That’s why we’re pulling back the curtains and sharing a day in the life of four very different sound engineers.

  1. Sound Engineers for Live Performances

Live performances are the new trend in music. Since we all stream or download our music studios and labels can’t make money from CD sales any longer. Now it’s all about the live event. Ticket sales, concessions, and merchandise all add up to big revenue.

Think of Las Vegas. Most major hotels now make their money from daily DJ performances instead of gaming. This huge paradigm shift came as millennial decided music was more important.

And for every major live performance, sound engineers ensure success. They show up ahead of the act to connect speakers to mixers, run tests, and generally get things off without a hitch. The cost of the gear involved is staggering. It’s common for a major event venue to have well into seven figures of audio equipment on hand. We’re not talking about your bargain Bluetooth headphones here folks.

This can mean brutal days, weeks, and months on the road. In fact, a good sound engineer will travel with an act as one of the band. Early mornings, late nights, and rough travel schedules are all part of the deal.

The sound engineer’s job finishes when the last piece of gear loads into the truck. Their success comes from a flawless performance that engages every seat in the house. You can imagine how difficult that becomes when venue shapes are different.

  1. Sound Engineers in the Recording Studio

We’re all familiar with the image of the recording studio. Artists are sitting on a stool in a soundproof room while a team watches behind glass. The On Air sign is lit, and the performance begins.

But the reality of studio sound engineering is different than the Hollywood dramatization.

Studio sound engineers are responsible for more than a single recording. They need to make sure the studio is sonically-equipped to handle a variety of issues. Outside noise interferences, electronic interference, and recording acoustics are unique challenges. If anything is off, an entire track or album must be re-recorded.

The studio sound engineer may also perform post production work. This means reviewing recordings and making edits to the sound for consistency. For example, a recording artist may move farther away from the microphone for a moment. This momentary lapse can cause inconsistencies that need balancing.

When a studio sound engineer does a good job, the resulting product will be ready for final mastering. Mastering is the final preparation for streaming, pressing albums, or a motion picture score. The sound engineer needs to consider how people will be listening. Many will never use a home surround sound system. Instead the typical user may opt for Bluetooth headphones on a Smartphone. They may also be streaming from a popular service like YouTube. Either way, sound needs to be well formatted and crystal clear!

  1. Sound Engineers for Streaming Video

Streaming video is a new format for sound engineers. A decade ago most people listened to audio with an iPod, terrestrial radio, or home stereo. Today services like Sound cloud, Pandora, and XM Satellite Radio reign supreme. These formats rely on streaming to work well. That means compressing audio files.

Ask any sound engineer how she or he feels about compression. You’ll likely hear groans of protest. That’s because compression reduces quality. You can think of it as the mortal enemy of a good sound engineer. Streaming is needed though it’s far beyond that with which a typical sound engineer is comfortable.

Streaming companies are now hiring and employing full time sound engineers in house. These sound engineers are responsible for platform quality. They have to answer to any problems that occur with degradation. The streaming sound engineer meshes with systems management and coding. It’s a new kind of job for a new era in music. It’s far from the rough and tumble lifestyle of recording studio and liver performance engineers. Full time streaming is full time corporate.

  1. Sound Engineers During Live Broadcasts

Every day thousands of live broadcasts take place around the world. News crews, events, and streaming television are more common than ever before. Making the audio go from the site of the live broadcast to millions of users is no easy task.

Sound engineers for live broadcasts take special care to set up and manage equipment. That means bandwidth, geography, and crowd control are all in order. To top it all off, each site is a new experience. Even weather conditions can work against the sound engineer. If you’ve ever watched a hurricane broadcast you know what we mean!

Modern viewing habits are also a consideration. Live broadcasts are now watched over social networks like Facebook. That changes the dynamic of everything.

Live broadcasts also live on after they go off the air. Many web services save live broadcasts so viewers can watch on demand. That means if there’s an audio snafu it’s recorded forever. Not the kind of notoriety you want if you are an engineer on the project!

Sound engineers for live broadcasts are mobile and ready to move at any moment. They carry equipment including expensive mixing boards in vans. These days laptops with specialized audio software are also mandatory.

Sound engineers are extremely talented individuals with a variety of skills. Depending on the job the tools of the trade can vary, as can the talent involved. But one thing is for sure: Without sound engineers our aural experience in life wouldn’t be so wonderful.

Melissa Thompson writes about a wide range of topics, revealing interesting things we didn’t know before. She is a freelance USA Today producer, and a Technorati contributor.