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Recording Engineer

Alternate Career Titles:

Audio Engineer, Mixer, Recording Assistant

Career Description: Manage sound boards and equipment during studio recording sessions.

Salary: $27,000 to $150,000+

Recording Engineer Jobs

About This Music Career

As one of the most popular jobs in the music business, managing the sound board and all electrical studio equipment for that matter is the main job for any Recording Engineer. However, this is not their only responsibility. In a large studio, there could be many different engineers working on a recording session, including the set-up worker, the Main Recording Engineer, the Recording Assistant, and maybe even another Engineer who would be responsible for mixing the tracks after they are recorded.

It is usually the Recording Assistant who prepares the studio before any recording takes place. Because of the fact that studio time is expensive, and booked by the hour, it is crucial the Assistant set everything up properly, including placing and turning on microphones, and checking all equipment.

There are many ways to record, and many different possible outcomes. It is up to the Recording Engineer to talk to the artist to get a feel for how they want the final product to sound. The Recording Engineer must take the wishes of the act and record it in such a way that matches up to how they wish the song to sound.

Very rarely is a song recorded perfectly the first time. So, once a song is recorded, the Engineer, the artist and the Producer all discuss what they are hearing and what they would like to see more or less of - for instance, the song may need a different tempo, or more bass, etc.

nce every track has been physically recorded, the Recording Engineer must decide something like how loud or soft a song should be, and then works to find that balance. They also might feel another instrument should be added to the recording, so they'll advise the Producer, who will then weigh the advice and make a decision.

In the unfortunate even that equipment stops working or fails to work properly, it might be up to the Engineer to figure out how to take apart and put together most of the studio equipment.

The schedule of the engineer must coincide with the artist's and the scheduled studio time, so the hours are often irregular, and long. But, many engineers start working around 9:00 or 10:00 AM, and work throughout the day, sometimes with multiple acts. Thus, they must have stamina and be dedicated to their craft.

The Recording Engineer usually reports directly to the Producer, the artist themselves, and the Chief Engineer.

Salary depends on how much experience the Engineer possesses. Beginners start as assistants or set-up workers and usually only make minimum wage. Those who are more experienced will of course be better compensated. Still, a lot depends on whether or not the engineer is on staff or a freelancer. Those on staff can expect to earn between $27,000 and $50,000 per year. Experienced freelancers can earn more, usually up to $75,000 annually. Aside from base salary, Engineers may also be given a percentage of the studio rent fees. Top producers who work with popular acts can make up to $150,000 per year.

This position usually requires a start at the bottom, and hard work to advance due to competition. But, one with patience, perseverance and talent can at least obtain an assistant job and then move up.

As mentioned, hard work and a little bit of luck can go a long way in determining advancement prospects. From a Recording Engineer, one can move on to Chief Engineer, supervises the entire studio and oversees all recordings that happen to take place.

Another form of advancement would take place as a Freelancer, starting out small, and then garnering respect with every new client. Eventually, with enough popularity, top artists, record labels and Music Producers will seek out the Engineer. Lastly, a Recording Engineer can eventually take on the role of Engineer-Producer. As the name suggests, this person Produces records as well as Engineers them.

Education and Training

Music schools offer courses in sound engineering and provide a great experience in terms of learning what it takes to become a successful Recording Engineer. Also, there are many technical and training schools that offer courses in sound engineering and/or recording technology.

You can also gain useful experience by working as recording studio apprentice, usually earning little to no money for your efforts. By working hard in this environment and asking good questions, one can really learn a lot about different engineering methods, and can eventually become a recording assistant at the least.

Experience, Skills, and Personality
It's tough to beat getting first-hand experience in an actual recording studio. Usually, the Recording Engineer will work with three to four different acts per day, with each requiring something different in terms of how they want their record to sound. To maintain success, the Recording Engineer must have a great musical interest and feel for what sounds will be successful among the general public.

Unions and Associations
Recording Engineers may be members of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS), which is the association that awards the Grammy each year. The Country Music Association (CMA) or the Gospel Music Association (GMA) are other associations Recording Engineers may also be a part of - these associations work to promote their specific type of music. Recording Engineers may also represent a recording studio as a member of the Society of Professional Audio Recording Studios (SPARS).

Suggestions for Getting Started

  • If it is a viable option, you may consider offering services free of charge to a recording studio in exchange for the opportunity to learn the business. This might turn into a paid position down the road.
  • Recording Engineers can also see what organizations are offering in terms of seminars. These can help introduce you to important contacts while giving you the opportunity to learn more about the industry.
  • Check to see if record companies (get your record label contacts list) are offering internships in the recording engineer department. This internship can possibly turn into a full-time position.
  • Look for record label sponsored minority training programs.